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Why Pull Ups Are So Hard and How to Conquer This Tough Exercise!

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Why Pull Ups Are So Hard- And How To Conquer This Difficult Exercise

In this video, I’m talking about pull-ups, the exercise that people love to hate.

They love to hate it because most people can’t do ten decent pull-ups, all the way up, all the way down, unassisted. And these days, unless you have a serious athletic background, very few men or women who are untrained can even do one pull up.

And people tend to feel somehow or the other like they aren’t strong enough because they can’t do it and they should be able to do it.

Pull-ups are an extremely difficult exercise for both men and women

But the reality is it’s a very difficult exercise to do for men and for women.

Now, the question is, why is there such a discrepancy?

Why can some people do pull-ups so easily? And I’ll use myself as an example because I’ve always been able to do pull ups relatively easily. But there is a reason why people like me can do pull-ups so easily compared to others.

Natural Bodybuilder Kevin Richardson can still do 20-25 pull-ups at 49 years old!

And in this video, I’m going to talk about exactly what that secret is. So stay tuned, we’ll talk more about this.

The secret to conquering pull ups!

So in this video I’m talking about pull-ups, why is it that some people can do pull ups so easily, whereas others really struggle? 

But before I go any further, I’d like to thank everyone tuning in, especially those who say this is a one stop place for anyone interested in training naturally and without supplements. Thanks so much for all the support and do be sure to like, subscribe and hit that bell so you’re first in line to get the new content as it comes out.

So, on to our question at hand.

The Physics Behind Why Pull-Ups Are Hard For Beginners

Why are pull-ups so difficult?

And why can some people do pull-ups so easily, whereas others really struggle?

Well, first off, it’s a simple matter of basic physics. If you’re going to be doing a pull-up, it’s not like any other exercise.

The physics of pull-ups are such that you always start with maximum weight!

Let’s compare it with another exercise like, let’s say, a bicep curl.

If I’m going to do a biceps curl and I’m just starting off, I’m going to start with a relatively light weight that I can handle in order to actually be able to do the exercise, I’m not going to put more weight than I can lift to do it for the first time.

Naturally Intense Personal Trainer Erika Citrin demonstrates exercise with light weight

The problem with pull-ups is that because it’s a body weight exercise, you literally are starting with your maximum weight.

Doing a pull up for most people is impossible because it's like lifting above your maximum weight.

So if you’re not naturally strong enough to pull yourself up and bring yourself back down and pull yourself up again, you aren’t going to be able to complete even one repetition.

Those who weigh less tend to be better at pull-ups

Which leads to point one.

And point one is, people who weigh less tend to be better at doing pull-ups.

Relationships Between Bodyweight and Ability To Do Pull Ups

Once again, it’s basic physics.

The more you weigh, the harder it is to do a pull-up.

Obesity has skyrocketed making it less likely for the average man or woman to be able to do a pull-up

Now, rates of obesity have skyrocketed over the past 20 years and even globally, average body weight has significantly increased, making it far less likely that the average man or woman can do a single pull-up.

So next time someone who doesn’t weigh that much says that pull-ups are easy, understand that it might not apply to you.

 The less you weigh the easier it is to do a pull-up

And so if you were focused on trying to do as many pull-ups as possible, it would make sense to reduce your body fat percentage as much as is humanly possible.

Kevin’s Pull Up Progression Over The Years

But what about people like myself, who weigh well over 200 pounds but can easily do pull-ups?

And that’s what we’re going to talk about today, because I think by going over how it was that I was able to do pull-ups and do them relatively easily, it will shed some light as to why some people can easily do pull ups and others can’t, even though their body weight isn’t on the lower side.

Natural Bodybuilding Champion Kevin Richardson explains how he could do pull-ups even at 252lbs

So on my own journey with pull ups, I was first introduced to pull ups when I started doing Ninjutsu.

And within Ninjutsu, there’s a very strong component of climbing. And one of the key movements in our training to be able to climb, are pull-ups.

Pull-ups were a mandatory part of natural bodybuilder Kevin Richardson's training from a young age

And keep in mind, when I started Ninjutsu, I weighed somewhere around 120 to 125 pounds.

It was literally right before I started lifting weights.

And the combination of having a light body weight, plus the fact that I’ve been doing martial arts since I was nine years old and was in relatively good physical shape at the time, made doing pull-ups almost effortless.

Starting pull-ups at a young age and a lighter body weight makes pull ups easier

And I also did a considerable amount of free climbing, which I absolutely loved, and I was really

good at it because I didn’t weigh that much. And so pulling myself up, even with one arm, wasn’t that difficult.

Now, after having survived a pretty nasty accident, I stopped the free climbing, but I had started natural bodybuilding, and my early bodybuilding coaches were really heavy on the idea of doing pull-ups, which for me, weren’t that hard, because again, I only weighed at that time, 125 pounds. 

Bodybuilder Kevin Richardson did free climbing at a young age which aided his pull-up skills

And here’s where it gets interesting.

If we think about the story of progressive overload that’s usually told about that athlete Milo of Creton, who, as legend would have it, would lift a young heifer onto his shoulders every day.

Then years went by and the heifer got bigger and bigger.

Milo of Creton exemplifies the idea of progressive overload

He got progressively stronger and stronger, as he was able to adapt to the small increases in weight of the heifer, which in the end gave him a pretty impressive physique, and he was extremely strong. See my Article How Muscles Get Bigger And Stronger From Weight Training)

The same thing happened with me when I started off at 125 pounds, I was able to do pull-ups.

And as I slowly got bigger and bigger, I was still able to keep on doing pull-ups because my muscles had enough time to adapt to my increasing weight.

The slow and steady process of natural bodybuilding helped Kevin Richardson muscles adapt with progressive overload

And so even at my heaviest, at 252 pounds, I could still do at least ten pull-ups because it took me eight years to get to that weight, which was more than enough time for my muscles to adapt to the progressive overload.

Now, does that mean you won’t be able to do a pull up if you didn’t start doing them when you were younger or you don’t weigh that much?

Absolutely not!

Pull-ups are possible with a lot of hard work and training

I have seen many men and women being able to do unassisted pull-ups who started off not

even being able to do one pull up.

So it is possible if you work at it. (See my article Should Women Train and Lift Weights Like Men)

Pull Up Hacks For Those Who Can’t Do Pull Ups
Kevin's hack to getting the benefit of pull-ups even if you can't do them yet!

But there’s one very important point in terms of how our muscles work if you want to get the benefit of a pull-up, but you can’t do a pull-up.

Now, our muscles contract concentrically when we pull ourselves up, but they also contract eccentrically when we lengthen our muscles and come back down from a pull up movement.

That’s the point in time, in any exercise where we have the most muscle damage as the muscle lengthens.

Eccentric contractions or the lowering motion of a pull-up creates the greatest increase in muscle growth.

Now, it’s that muscle damage that signals to our brain that we need to have our muscles repaired bigger and stronger than they were initially in order to deal with the overload we just experienced.

Jump Pull Ups: The Pull Up Alternative To Build Your Back Muscles

And so if you can’t do a regular pull-up, but do a jump pull-up where you jump up to the bar and lower yourself under control, you will have a significant amount of stimulation of your latissimus dorsi muscles that’s actually not too far off from someone who can do regular pull-ups.

Naturally Intense Personal Trainer Erika Citrin demonstrates jump pull-ups

In fact, if you do it to the point of momentary negative or eccentric failure, you would actually get a stronger contraction and work your back muscles even more so than someone doing regular pull-ups who’s not pushing it.

In fact, jump pull-ups are so effective that I would strongly recommend anyone who can do pull-ups to add them to your routine, because you will see a significant difference in your overall back development.

Jump pull-ups are strongly recommended for those who can't do pull ups for overall back development

And I strongly credit these exercises with my own back development as well. 

So I hope this video gives some food for thought. 

Thanks so much for tuning in, and as always, Excelsior!

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CLICK FOR A FREE COPY OF KEVIN’S WEIGHT LOSS EBOOK!Featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to CBS News, Kevin Richardson’s Naturally Intense High Intensity Training have helped hundreds lose weight and transform their bodies with his 10 Minute Workouts. One of the top natural bodybuilders of his time, Kevin is also the international fitness consultant for UNICEF and one of the top personal trainers in New York City.

Kevin Richardson
Kevin Richardsonhttps://www.naturallyintense.net
Featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to CBS News, celebrity Personal Trainer NYC and with over 2.6 million readers of his blog, Kevin Richardson is the creator of Naturally Intense High Intensity Training, one of the top lifetime drug free bodybuilders of his time, the first International Fitness & Nutrition Consultant for UNICEF, 2020 and 8 Time Winner of the Best of Manhattan Awards for Personal Training and a world recognized authority on high intensity training. Kevin has helped thousands, from celebrities to CEO's over the past 30 years achieve their fitness goals with his 10 minute high-intensity workouts done just three times a week in conjunction with his holistic nutrition approach. You can learn more about about his diet and training services at www.naturallyintense.net

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