Women CAN’T Do Pull-ups (Guest Post)

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Howdy, everyone! I’m excited to bring you a terrific guest post by fellow Beautiful Badass Shawna Kaminski.

Here’s an awesome fact about Shawna – she can do more pull-ups than most men I know. And she’s almost 50. Shawna’s a serious badass!

Got your attention didn’t I?

It’s true. According to the New York Times and a study from the University of Daytona, women CAN’T do pull ups. Researchers came up with all kinds of reasons for the fact that in this particular study, exercise physiologists were unsuccessful in getting their subjects to achieve an unassisted pull up. Clearly if these ‘experts’ couldn’t get this group of 17 women to do at least ONE pull up, it’s fair to assume that NO WOMAN should be able to do a pull up ever. Right?

Go ahead, sit back down on the couch girls. The experts have spoken.

Oh dear, I need to go find my pull up bar and knock out a few sets. Even though I’d be the least likely candidate to be able to do multiple sets of multiple reps of pull ups…

2011 Impact Magazine, Shawna Kaminski

Hi, I’m Shawna Kaminski. I’m nearly 50 years old and I have no business doing pull ups, (according to the researchers at the University of Daytona that is). You can see me doing 20 pull ups HERE, this was after a workout when I was asked to do this video.

The fact is, I CAN do pull ups and I’ve taught several others, including hundreds of women to do pull ups too.

First of all, I applaud the University of Dayton for ‘proving’ that women will be unsuccessful at learning a pull up by training with three resistance training sessions a week for three months. It’s a fact, unless a woman is a freak of nature, it’s unlikely that this workout protocol is going to bring much pull up fame.

But, let me tell you that intense and proper training for a little longer will yield better results.

And if three months doesn’t yield a pull up, then maybe four months will. The point is, it may take a little longer for some, but it’s POSSIBLE.

There’s weight training and then there’s weight training…you need to put away the pink dumb bells and really LIFT some weight if you plan on lifting your entire body weight.

Pull ups are downright empowering for women. If you can do a pull up, you can conquer anything as far as I’m concerned. It takes mental toughness to stick to a pull up plan and that same toughness can be applied to any aspect of life.

I think one of the best ways to motivate a woman is to tell her she CAN’T do something, for many of us this will light a fire under our butts to prove that person wrong. If you’re a woman who currently CAN’T do a pull up, or want to do more quality and quantity of pull ups, let me give you some tips. (After all, us girls need to stick together, if I can do them, so can you.)

Here goes…


Get UNDER the bar. Your goal is to lift your chest under the pull up bar versus lifting your chin OVER the bar. If you focus on getting your chest UNDER the bar, you’re more likely to be pulling with the muscles that count-the stronger muscles of the back versus just the arms.

Scap Retraction – Huh?

You need to learn how to engage the back muscles and scapular retraction can do that for you. Hang from a bar without bending the arms. Imagine squeezing the shoulder blades together. Look up and voila…you’ll notice that you’ll initiate some movement, you should be able to move an inch or two this way.


Get a lil help…

Yup, I said it. You’re gonna need to do assisted pull ups in order to be able to do them unassisted. Don’t expect to do lat pull downs and pull ups on the assisted pull up machine and all of a sudden magically be able to do an unassisted pull up. One of my favorite assisted pull ups is with a resistance band. You’ll see what I mean in the video below. The cool thing about using a band is that it gives you help when you need it most, at the full hang position and eases up on the assist at the top of the movement where you’re likely the strongest.

Get Negative

I mean you need to work the ‘negative’ or ‘eccentric’ contraction on the pull up. So just get UP to the bar anyway you can and come DOWN from the bar with control. It’s this descent that builds strength, so even if you’re doing a band pull up, take as much of your weight on the way down and you’ll see that you’ll build a surprising amount of strength this way.

Cheating is Good

Oh dear, I mean at the pull up bar…Adding a small kip (see the video) is totally fine with the pull up. It’s like a ‘forced rep’. Who cares if you don’t do every pull up rep with picture perfect form with a dead hang in between reps? Let’s remember the PURPOSE of training, which is to increase your strength (and in turn you’re going to have a rock hard physique). Adding a slight kip to your pull up doesn’t put you at risk of injury, so why not?

I need to point out that cheating with loaded movements is definitely a no-no. Remaining injury free is my top priority when training.

Take a look at this video for a summary and demonstration of these tips:

Let’s prove the University of Daytona and everyone else that women CAN do pull ups.

Let me give you a hand.

My program is designed help you even if you can’t get one pull up. There are three levels to progress through. Admittedly, some of my women clients have to repeat the first program more than once, but hey, it’s a great full body plan that even addresses your cardiovascular and fat loss needs.

Check it out here and see if it’s right for you.

Hope y’all enjoyed this article. Give some of those tips a shot in your next workout and start busting out more pull-ups!

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  • “I freaking LOVE this info! I'm determined to be a Beautiful Badass!” -Tina V
  • Shawna K

    Thanks for sharing my tips Nia! All beautiful bad asses need to be able to rock the pull up bar ;)

    • Nia Shanks

      Thank YOU, lady!

  • KellieDavis

    Shawna, what a wonderful post! I can’t tell you how exciting it is for a client to do her first pull up (okay, I can because you know the feeling). I remember not long ago when I so desperately wanted to do just one pull up. I implemented many of the practices you discuss and just stuck with it. I placed a pull up bar in my closet and used it as much as possible. And something amazing happened. Something not even researchers can explain. I did a pull up! You are gift to the female fitness industry. Keep on inspiring!

  • Michele

    Thank you for this! I am 43 years old -at age 41 I managed to get myself strong enough to complete several chin ups, but due to pain in my medial elbow, I have had to change to pull ups as the overhand grip causes less strain on the flexors! I NEVER thought I could do one, EVER!! However, with some work, I can manage 3 – which is not much to some, but to me it is a lot! Thanks for the ideas and I hope one day soon to belt out 10!!! (before I turn 44 ;)!!!

    • Nia Shanks

      Awesome stuff! The majority of the time I use a suspension trainer for chin-ups because they’re much more shoulder/elbow friendly. After that I use parallel grip chin-ups.

  • Becky

    Awesome tips! I can crank out chin-ups like no one’s business, but I’ve been struggling with doing more than one pull-up at a time. I think I know where I’m going wrong now. Thanks!

  • http://unblob.blogspot.com/ Cort the Sport

    Great post!! Technique is such a big part of this exercise, but it’s one of my favorite things for making me feel strong and capable! Women will try a time or two, fail, and then simply avoid it. I thankfully learned to do them in my 20′s and last year did 45 wide-grip pull ups when I turned 45 (took 7 sets but in quick succession). Check it out – http://www.cortthesport.com/2012/03/45-pull-ups-birthday-adventure.html.

  • Aizan

    Shawna… When I grow up I wanna be like you.

  • Stacey

    I am Looking for a resistance band to help me attain unassisted pullups (at home). What size/rating should I be looking for? When it says “50-120 lbs” is that my weight or the assistance the band gives?

    • Nia Shanks

      I’d give a few different sizes so you can progress towards using a smaller and smaller band. Usually the size refers to the lbs of assistance provided by the band.

  • Stephanie Larivee

    My gym doesn’t have the right bands for assisted pull-ups/chin ups, so I’ve been working on doing negatives (neutral grip pull-ups) but I feel like I’m only using my arms, especially as I get fatigued. Is there a way to set up (similar to what is explained in the video about bringing your chest under the bar) for negatives? Thanks!! I’m hoping to be able to do some unassisted pull-ups by this summer :)

  • jeff

    Adding a small kip? Those were huge kips, and it was done for every pullup. No doubt she has great upper body strength, and I like how she is getting more people into the pull up fold as it a great excersise. But I highly doubt she can do even 15 honest, dead hang pullups.

  • Gina McNeal

    Just the advice to focus on lifting the chest *under* the bar rather than the chin *over* the bar helped me do one (assisted) pull-up today. I have worked on chin ups for months at a time, and only been able to do at most 5-7 of them in one set. Pull ups? Not one. Ever. Not even with a band. Until today!! Thank you, Shawna!