Pull-Up Persistence Pays Off


one of Brenda Sue’s first pull-ups without resistance bands

Lifelong Pull-up Dream Fulfilled!


All the way through Junior High and High School we had those damnable physical fitness tests EVERY YEAR. I did okay on everything except pull-ups. Running was not my best event but I could not do a single pull-up. When I would grasp the bar, it seemed that there was some sort of magic that was supposed to transpire that just did not happen for me. There seemed to be NO WAY to get my body UP THERE. To make matters worse, my best friend, a girl that grew up on a farm, could do them easily. I felt terrible. I was always pushed to excel in everything in school so I was not accustomed to failure.

Pull-ups were my waterloo in P.E. I could shoot the basketball, hit the softball, even run the bases pretty well but those pull-ups evaded me. I was a good enough guard in basketball that I made enemies. No one could get a basket if I guarded them. I was obnoxious. As a result of being unable to do a pull-up, I began to think of myself as non-athletic. My self-esteem plummeted. If I could not pass the basic physical fitness test standards set by the government then I couldn’t possibly be strong. Thoughts like that tormented me for years. I felt like a second class citizen.

After high school I went to college and P.E. was not required. I avoided it except for one semester, I took a purely running class and got in with some seriously athletic runners. It seemed that I barely survived that class intact. I thought I would die but at least I didn’t have to do a pull-up!

Do You Have A Pull-Up File?

As my life unfolded, pull-ups got filed away under “Can’t Do It” and I just forgot about them altogether for the most part. I absolutely cannot bear failure and it was always there looming in the background every time I saw someone doing them online or went to the gym. The significance of that exercise was profound. It seemed to be the great divider of the athletic and the rest of us. Every time I watched someone do them I was mesmerized.

About three and a half years ago I asked David to teach me how to do pull-ups. He told me to get some resistance bands and a pull-up station for my doorway and begin. At first I bought one band but pretty soon found out that was not enough. I wound up with three good bands that I used for three years. Shortly after beginning this quest, I began serious weight training.

I had been a stay-at-home mom for over 20 years and had recently began working for a major weight loss company that involved a lot of travel. Although I had been doing HIIT training and walking and some resistance training on a pulley system, I was missing workouts to travel and getting weak. The strength training came just in time. My sad little 35 pound squat began to climb and the 100# deadlift that I feared soon became a thing of the past. The Newbie Gains were good to me but… I still could not do an unassisted pull-up!

Strength Gains for Pull-ups

About three years into the weight training, David put me on the Doug Hepburn Powerlifting Program. In some ways, I thought I had died and gone to Hell. It was tough. The workouts in Hepburn are long and arduous. The psychological component of subjecting yourself to the intensity of that workout are significant. I was both proud and mortified at times. Although there are some harder programs, Hepburn is respectable in any arena. I worked that for about 6 months and David moved me into Bodybuilding. The weights are lighter in Bodybuilding but you do more reps so your workload is still pretty intense. It has to be intense to build muscle. I feared that I would lose some of my hard-earned gains but I trusted that David knew what he was doing.

Along with my regular lifts, I have accessory exercises that are meant to give me a balanced physique. Unless you make sure that every muscle is worked, you can wind up looking disproportionate. We have all seen the “Don’t Skip Leg Day” memes of the guys with massive biceps and no quads. The accessories help to round things out nicely. I thought that I could feel myself getting stronger in some ways. It seemed that some of my smaller muscles were working in a different way. I doubt that is the case because in Hepburn, they ALL work. It seems that I was feeling the hypertrophy that Bodybuilding gives us. I felt a new strength that seemed to emanate into my core from my sternum to my lower abdomen.

You Don’t Know Your Own Strength

I was still using all three resistance bands! A pull-up was something that I could not do! Only “those” people, you know, the genetic freaks that were born ripped and lean could do those things. There were months that I never even thought about taking bands off when I approached my pull-up station.

Then…last week after my Over Head Press, (that seemed very difficult when I began the workout), I was feeling strong. The endorphins were working. About midway of the Press workout, I began to feel like a weightlifter. When I went to my pull-up station, I got my bands and started to put my foot into them and stopped. I had played around with different numbers of bands recently but had not pulled all the way up successfully with less than two bands.

Something clicked in my head and I tossed them to the floor, grabbed the handles of the station, took some deep breaths, made my body as tight as I could get it, engaged my lats and PULLED…and I looked over the top of the bar! I almost cried! This was a dream come true that was 50 years in the making. Think about that…50 years. Your new workout hasn’t made you look like an IG model in 6 weeks? Please…


Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash persistence

Pull Up and Get Going!

You will never get where you want to go until you begin your journey! There have been many times that I simply didn’t start a project because I dreaded the task. As a result, I would wallow in the misery of knowing that although I was not happy, I was not doing anything to change my situation. The snails in the picture above have a long, dangerous task ahead of them but they were not content where they were, so they got started. They would move slowly, climbing over rocks and hot pavement. They would run the risk of certain death as they ventured out into unknown territory. The journey would be hard and exhausting but as long as they kept moving, they would make it to their goal. I ask you, are you content where you find yourself today?

It is almost impossible to convey the feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment that being able to do pull-ups has given me. I will be turning 65 this summer. Don’t tell me that you can’t build muscle or improve your life or your body at any time that you choose. Regardless of any “scientific data” or examples that you present, I will present you with my pull-ups and my deadlift. It all depends on what you want and how badly you want it.

I encounter people young enough to be my grandchildren every day that don’t believe that they are capable of getting strong and healthy. I have heard many women say things like “Oh, you know, I’m 50, (or 40, or even 30). So what? As the years pass, it simply means that we have to work harder. A young girl asked me incredulously, “You track every bite that you eat?!? That seems HARD!” My response was, “Not nearly as hard as being sick and in the doctor’s office all the time. THAT’S hard.”

I challenge you today. Choose your hard.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jimi Magenheimer says:

    Great post, having ALWAYS been husky I too
    Struggled with pull ups. Could just get enoigh to pass but never excelled in max count for 100%.
    Loved your post

    1. Brenda Sue says:

      Thank you, my friend!

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