Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Even fit women can't do pull-ups, study finds

You're lean. You're strong. You're in good physical condition. So why can't you perform a single pull-up?

Relax. Scientists at the University of Dayton in Ohio have found that even fit women struggle to do the exercise manoeuvre, which involves gripping a bar overhead and pulling your body off the ground using upper-body strength.

According to The New York Times, the researchers wanted to test whether pull-ups (also known as chin-ups) are a good measure of physical fitness. It turns out they are not.

Story continues below advertisement

The Dayton researchers recruited 17 women of normal weight who were unable to perform a single pull-up. They then trained them for three months, prescribing exercises to strengthen their upper bodies, improve their aerobic fitness and lower their body fat.

All that training produced results: the women's upper-body strength increased by 36 per cent and their body fat was reduced by 2 per cent. But they failed to produce the main result researchers were looking for: only four of the 17 women were able to perform a pull-up.

"We honestly thought we could get everyone to do one," study author Paul Vanderburgh told the Times.

One reason women have greater difficulty doing pull-ups than men is because women develop less muscle and typically have more body fat. But tall, long-limbed individuals are also at a greater disadvantage, regardless of gender.

"Generally speaking, the longer the limb, the more of a disadvantage in being able to do a pull-up," Vanderburg said. "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."

Even the Canadian Armed Forces do not use pull-ups as part of their official fitness evaluation.

Try telling that to your bootcamp class instructor.

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles as we switch to a new provider. We are behind schedule, but we are still working hard to bring you a new commenting system as soon as possible. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to