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Cougars doing pull ups?

Ok, I have no idea who put up that headline. It wasn't me.

I think we should be supportive of women who take the time to work hard in the gym, buy expensive sexy workout clothing and have a personal makeup artist and hair stylist prepare them before hitting the weights.

God look at her Deltoids!

The New Midlife Fitness Flex: A Pull-Up

As women embrace strength training, executing a pull-up has become a way for many to show just how strong they are

Rachel Harrison, 47, owns a luxury hospitality firm in New York and achieved her first pull-up last month after a bit over one year of training.

By Jen Murphy, WSJ

Aug. 5, 2023 6:00 am ET

The pull-up has become the ultimate fitness flex for women in midlife.

This winter, London-based consultant Claire Warner embarked on a pull-up quest, hiring a trainer with the goal of being able to do one unassisted pull-up by summer.

Pull-ups, says Warner, 45 years old, are “the unicorn exercise,” adding: “Everyone wants to be able to do one.” She can now do three and has set her sights on five.

As women embrace strength training, executing a pull-up has become a way for many to show just how strong they are. Social-media mentions of “female pull-ups” have amassed millions of views; stars like comedian Chelsea Handler share videos of upper-body gym feats, and executives like Meta’s head of product, Naomi Gleit, post about their push-up and pull-up feats. (Her boss, Mark Zuckerberg, posts fitness photos, too.)

This body-weight exercise, which taps the back and shoulder muscles, is challenging for anyone, but can be particularly daunting for women, who anatomically tend to have more lower-body strength.

Kirsten Joyce gave her fitness instructor the stink eye when a pull-up was thrown into her group strength class at Life Time gym. She hopped up to the bar, kicked and squirmed, then dropped down, joking to her instructor: “If I can just do one pull-up in my life, then I’ve made it.”

Joyce, 33, decided to use the pull-up as her benchmark for overall fitness. She started incorporating exercises that work pull-up muscles, like single arm lat pull downs and pull-up shrugs, into her routine.

Her motivation? Mothering three children under age 5. “I wanted to be able to keep up with them but also set an example,” says the part-time nurse in Eden Prairie, Minn.

In July, after five months of training, she got her chin above the pull-up bar and can now do three with good form.

The Pull-Up Journey

Compared with weighted exercises like back squats or dead lifts, pull-ups can be intimidating, says Lex Dreiss, a trainer at Absolute Power Fitness in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“As a girl, you’re told that you have a weak upper body compared with boys,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean women can’t do pull-ups.”

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Many people assume the move is all arm strength, but it’s actually a back-dominant exercise, says Dreiss.

Traditional pull-ups are performed with an overhand grip, shoulder-width or wider, and engage the upper back muscles, including the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids, the deltoid muscles in the shoulders, and the biceps. The movement also works the core and grip strength.

Some people try first to do a chin-up, which is slightly easier because it uses an underhand grip versus the pull-up’s overhand grip.

Getting to a pull-up can take about 12 weeks for someone at a healthy weight and baseline fitness level, says Andrew Jagim, director of sports-medicine research at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, Wis. For someone new to strength training, 16 weeks is more typical.

Both pull-ups and chin-ups are body-weight exercises, so someone who is overweight might need more time to develop strength before doing a pull-up, he says.

Chelsey Wilkins, a trainer at SoHo Strength Lab in New York, recommends clients focus on learning to lower their body weight before they try to pull it up. She prescribes exercises that work grip strength and eccentric strength—where the lowering phase of a movement is slowed down—like carefully lowering your chin down from a pull-up bar.

Harrison uses resistance bands to assist her perform a pull-up.

Dreiss has her clients practice hollow body holds, where you lie on the ground, then lift your arms, legs and head up off the ground until your body looks kind of like a banana. “If you’re doing a pull-up properly your body is vertical in this position,” she says.

With these key muscles strengthened, trainers then focus on technique, using assisted weight pull-up machines or looping a resistance band around the bar and beneath the client’s feet to lighten the load of the pull movement.

One of Dreiss’s clients, Rachel Harrison, could effortlessly pump out dozens of pull-ups during her time as a young gymnast. When her boyfriend left her for a personal trainer, she set herself a goal of doing an unassisted pull-up before she turns 48 this month, and 10 by October.

She’s shared her progress on Facebook and Instagram, with videos showing her performing aided pull-ups with resistance bands looped around the bottom of her feet, and doing two unassisted chin ups.

Harrison lowers herself as slowly as possible from the pull-up bar to build strength.

The Rewards

As a child, Taylor Trabulus, a New York gallerist, disliked being made to do gym-class pull-ups so much that she got a doctor’s note excusing her from P.E. As an adult, she assumed she couldn’t pull her body weight up, but within six weeks of working with a trainer in 2020, she was able to do a chin-up.

“I felt like the biggest badass,” says Trabulus, 35. She can now do five chin-ups and is working on her overhand grip for a pull-up.

Warner, the London consultant, says her pull-up aspirations were sparked by a desire to gain muscle mass and remain independent as she aged. Muscle mass decreases approximately 3% to 8% per decade after the age of 30. The rate of decline is even greater after the age of 60.

Dreiss believes many women shy away from upper-body strength training, particularly pull-ups, because they fear they’ll get bulky muscles. But some relish the view.

Warner, who used to be self-conscious about her arms and would only wear long sleeves, now proudly goes sleeve-free.

“I am so in love with my muscly arms,” she says. “People compliment them all the time.”

Harrison, who owns a luxury hospitality firm in New York, has received dozens of supportive messages since she began posting about pull-ups in May 2022 and has lost around 35 pounds. With stronger muscles around her spine, her back no longer goes out and she can see the striations of muscles in her shoulders when she wears a backless dress.

“I’m healthier now than I was in my 20s or 30s,” she says.

Last week she finally nabbed her first unassisted pull-up. “Working out is like life,” she says. “There are times you feel like you’ll never succeed but you need to be mentally strong and keep trying.”

Write to Jen Murphy at

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