Why Pull-Ups Are More Difficult for Women
If you’re slim and strong and still can’t get through a single pull-up, don’t stress. According to a new study from the University of Dayton, even fit women have a hard time performing the exercise, which works the biceps and latissimus dorsi, a large muscle that spans the lower half of the back and attaches to the inside of the upper arm.
The researchers recruited 17 normal-weight women who couldn’t do a single pull-up. For four months, the study participants did a series of exercises that would presumably prepare them to tackle the challenging move. Three days a week, they lifted weights, practiced modified pull-ups, and did cardio to reduce their body fat percentages.
When the women finished the training program, they had increased their upper-body strength by 36 percent and cut body fat by 2 percent. Still, the scientists were shocked when only four of the 17 women could perform a single pull-up.
So what was different about 13 of the study subjects? The researchers suggest that being able to do a pull-up requires more than just upper body strength and low body fat. Stature is also part of the equation, and explains why some men struggle with the exercise as well. “Generally speaking, the longer the limb, the more of a disadvantage in being able to do a pull-up,” study author Paul Vanderburg told The New York Times. “I look at a volleyball player and wouldn’t expect her to be able to do a pull-up, but I know she’s fit.”
On top of that, women are at a particular disadvantage when it comes to the basics. Lower levels of testosterone prevent them from being able to build muscle the way that men do. They also can’t trim as much body fat.
Sure, this is a bummer. But don’t let biology hold you back. Use these pull-up alternatives to tone your biceps and lats:
—Hollis Templeton, associate editor
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