How I got my first pullup

Written by Arianna Hoffman

When I was in high school, I nervously awaited fitness testing in gym class every year. I would think to myself “this is the year that I’m going to be able to do my first pull-up!” I would hang from the pull-up bar and squirm with all of my might, but I barely got my elbows to flex. Disheartened, I would wait for the following semester to conquer my pull-up woes, but I never did. You might be surprised to hear that you don’t get better at something if you don’t actually practice doing it. (17-year-old Arianna thought she could get stronger by osmosis, I suppose!)

Fast-forward to 26-year-old me: I can do multiple strict muscle-ups and recently did a weighted chin-up with 50 lbs (more than ⅓ of my bodyweight). Pull-ups, push-ups, dips, and handstand push-ups are all in my wheelhouse. That same girl who once couldn’t get her chin above the bar for even one repetition can now do multiple with ease.

So how did I do it? As much as I would love to claim that I inherited some sort of pull-up prowess overnight, that’s simply not true. You see, I worked on them—relentlessly.

In college, I made a commitment to work on my pull-ups twice per week. I would use the assisted pull-up machine with as little help as possible and go until failure on two to four sets. I would then religiously decrease the amount of assistance whenever I felt ready to do so. Once I could do them without any assistance, I would follow the same protocol: I would go until failure, even if I was only able to get 1-2 repetitions per set.

This unabating consistency allowed me to get stronger. I realized that working on my weakness (pull-ups in this case) once per week wasn’t enough. Two or even three pull-up sessions per week allowed me to practice them often and gradually build in strength. If you’re looking to get your first pull-up too (or muscle-up, double unders, or handstand push-ups, etc.), then you must make a concerted, regular effort to improve. Spend 10-15 minutes before or after your classes at NOVA to tackle your weaknesses!

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