Pullups. Most people cannot do them. That is right. Most men and women cannot do pullups. Whether you are an overweight male or a female who lacks upper body strength, the PULLUP is an exercise that has easily replaced with pulldown machines, dumbbell rows, and bicep curls in the gym for as long as there have been weight rooms. People who do pullups are either tested in pullups regularly or know they are a foundational exercise of strength that build the back, shoulders, and arms better than any other calisthenics exercise out there. In fact, you would call the pullup, handstands and dips the heavy-lifting exercises of the calisthenics world. Lifting 100 percent of your bodyweight is tough and requires work. Just as you worked to get your running times faster and your body fat reduced, you have to work even more diligently to do pullups. That is why people cannot do them. They just do not DO THEM, or maybe feel there is no need to do them. Just in case you are wondering where this is going – THERE IS A NEED FOR PULLUPS!
For the past twenty plus years I have been involved with military fitness, there seems to be debate every year or two about military members being testing at pullups (both men and women). We hear only about the women’s inability to perform pullups mainly because most of them cannot do them at all. But there are men as well who need to perform better at pullups.
What follows are some reasons WHY we need to get better at, or at least practice, pullups:
1. Pulling Your Own Weight: It is as simple as that. If you can do a pullup, you can pull your own weight literally and figuratively. Carrying combat gear, climbing over obstacles, getting up ropes and caving ladders require the strength and grip that pullups help us build.
2. Tactical Grip: Carrying equipment, an injured buddy, and grabbing hold of people all require grip. There are many ways to build grip, such as climbing ropes, dead lifts, throwing battle ropes, and many other old school methods (Operator Grip). However, the pullup is an exceptional test to finding candidates who will have the capability to endure training, or real life and death situations, experienced in many tactical professions.
3. Keeps Weight Down: As you increase your bodyweight over the years, you will find your ability to do pullups more difficult. This is where most men fail in the pullup exercise. They could likely do a pullup if they were not 20-30 pounds overweight. If you are tested regularly in pullups, you will not only have to keep your body fat down, but you have to train in pullups, which will help you keep your muscles strong. This will increase your lean body mass and general ability to do more with your bodyweight.
4. Tactical Needs: There are upper-body strength and grip job requirements within the military, police (swat), and firefighting communities. Climbing rope, ladders, walls or fences, pulling gear up to a higher story building on a rope, pulling hose, grabbing an injured person by a backpack strap and dragging them to safety, and countless other skills you have to do using your pulling muscles. It is part of the job. Doing pullups is an exercise that easily transfers to being able to do those skills well. Sure, you can use your legs to help you with many of these pulling motions when done in real life (sometimes). But sometimes, due to the angle of the situation and the movement, you have to rely solely upon your pure pulling and grip strength to save a life -- and it may be your own. Yes, is it that serious!
This is not an anti-woman in the military article, this is an anti-weak person article. Serving in professions where your physical abilities mean life or death to themselves, others within their unit, or victims that they are trying to save requires strong and capable people -- both men and women. There are many strong women more than capable of performing these jobs. There are also many men who lack the ability to safely perform their jobs, and therefore put others at risk every day.
Whether it is age, injury, or weight that has reduced the abilities of such people in tactical professions, there may be other jobs within these units more suitable for their knowledge and experience. Going into any dangerous situation underprepared physically is just as bad as going into these situations untrained tactically.
Standards are standards for a reason. Reducing standards for the same job is a slippery slope in all dangerous professions for both sex and age, in my opinion. If you can do your job with no issues, regardless of age or sex, and have proven your abilities and cannot do pullups, then maybe the pullup is not that important. But people who cannot do pullups typically have a much harder time doing other elements of their job. Reducing any standards as a whole has never proven to be helpful in creating a competent working environment.
Keep the pullup and build a stronger force in our country’s tactical professions. Why weaken our abilities?
There have been many pullup articles written over the years about HOW to improve your pullups. See related articles: - Pullup Push (Building MORE pullups quickly) - Perfecting the Pull-up - Tips for Better Pull-ups