What Training To Do A Pull-Up Taught Me
By: Amy Chang Radosevich, MA, ACSM, ACE, AFAA
I started this blog article with the title “Set Yourself Up For Success,” but then found myself writing about my story of training to do my first body weight pull-up. It’s funny how one little thing can teach you many life lessons. So, here I am, sharing my pull-up story in the hopes that the lessons I learned can help you in your health, fitness, and life goals this year as well.
2017 has been a very fruitful year of growth and development for me personally. Even though I always pride myself as someone who is a lifelong learner and am never satisfied with status quo, I’ve discovered over the past year that I’ve gotten a bit complacent and it was time to break out of that warm and comfortable cocoon.
When I said I’ve gotten complacent, I’m not suggesting that I sat on my butt all year and did nothing; I still carried what most people would consider a heavy workload. Looking back, besides running our studio community with Thao; training all my dedicated clients and sweating up a storm with all my group fitness junkies, I traveled near and far on behalf of U-JAM and Pound to help group fitness instructors learn to teach new formats and students take their first step into their instructor journeys. In between, I attended and presented at fitness conventions, hosted several successful charity fundraisers, became a brand ambassador for Athleta, and still managed to fit in quality time with friends and family from coast to coast. I know this sounds like bragging, but the truth is YOU TOO should reflect back and take inventory of your year, if you haven’t already. For the to-do-list types out there, it feels so good to cross things off the list but that feeling is so short-lived. Within seconds, we go back to beating ourselves up over all the things we we still have not done. Am I right?
Okay, so once you reflected on your year and gave yourself a pat on the back about all that you’ve accomplished, it’s also good to take stock of any goals that fell through the crack or you just didn’t quite get around to focus on. Did they fall by the wayside because they simply weren’t important enough or was it because you thought they were too hard and you were too afraid to fail? If it’s the former, then the solution is obvious. If it’s the latter, what are you going to do differently this year to make sure you FEAR LESS and go for it even if it means you might fail?
With that, here comes my pull-up story. For years and years now, I’ve always wanted to be able to do a bodyweight pull-up. Instead of just training for it, I gave myself so many excuses (I will spare you the never ending list here) of why I can’t. So, for me, this is one of the those goals that gets pushed out year after year. As a 45-year-old, I decided in December of 2017 that maybe I should actually try to check this one off my bucket list. Of course, it was still a total cop out because I started in the last month of the year so if I don’t make it, I could still blame my failure on not having started soon enough. Regardless, this was still progress because I took the first step. I read articles, watched videos and came up with a strategy of how I was going to progress from struggling with even assisted pull-ups to using no assistance at all. After all, I am a personal trainer so I should have the knowledge to help myself achieve this goal. Otherwise, my trainer title should be revoked!
I’m sure many of you can relate to the scenario where your personal trainer shows you an exercise, it looks so simple, easy and effortless but then you go and try it and it totally didn’t play out like how you imagined. The quote, “What your mind believes, your body achieves” sounded like total B.S. at the moment. That pretty much sums up my first pull-up training session. The lesson here is that it’s always good to become a beginner again. Over the years, I’ve gotten comfortable with only going out of my comfort zone when I know it’s maybe not too far out. That way, I’m still challenging myself but chances of failing miserably are low. But from time to time, it’s necessary to attempt something scarier. It keeps you humble and grounded.
Knowing that I wasn’t going to be an overnight pull-up wonder, I continued to train. Even though my goal was to do a bodyweight pull-up, I can’t only train for that one movement. I must also breakdown the movement and strengthen all the muscles used individually. So here I go with the lat pull down, rows, bicep curls, core work etc. etc. I had to believe that all these components will eventually come together as a whole and contribute to my ultimate success. The lesson here is whatever your big picture, overarching goal might be, you need to put effort and work in all the components that play a role. If your goal is to get in the best shape of your life this year, what are you doing in terms of nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management, mindset to make that possible?
Despite putting in the work, my progress was so minute at times that it felt like it was never going to happen. The strength bands we have that can be used as pull-up assistance went as low as 30 lbs. Going from that to no assistance seemed next to impossible; and that wasn’t spoken from a lack of trying. I would jump up to the pull-up bar, pull with all my might, and came up a whopping 2 inches. Yes feel free to LOL at my moment. And this moment happened time and time again but I still stuck with the mantra “What your mind believes, your body achieves.” Then one evening, I had a couple minutes in between clients, I jumped up to the bar because I can be obsessive like that; I made it half way up! I felt like a child who just discovered how to go from crawling to standing. Talk about an adrenaline rush! What seemed so impossible all of a sudden felt possible. I waited a minute and jumped back up again and pulled myself all the way up for the very first time. Mission accomplished! So, yes the lesson here is that persistence wins. Never, never give up.
Sorry but that was not the fairytale ending. When we successfully executed a newly acquired skill, we are not totally confident that we can pull it off again. In my case, I wasn’t totally confident that I could pull myself up again. So, I tried it a couple more times that evening, and luckily had a couple witnesses who could vouch for me that I actually did it! I was set and could sleep well that night. The next day, like a kid with her favorite new toy, I figured I could just repeat the feat like it was nothing. Instead, I was defeated by that stupid bar once again. How could this be? I did it like 3 times the night before! As frustrated as I was, I knew I did it before and I could do it again. Later that evening, I was successful in my attempt once again. Phew! What I was reminded here is that one can never take anything for granted; and what’s granted can easily be taken if we don’t work at holding on to them.
Now that I’ve overcome one of my self-perceived limitations, what’s next? My new goal for 2018 is to make it to 6 pull-ups (Female Intermediate Pull Up Standard for my weight) and my stretch goal is 12-13 (Female Advanced Pull Up Standard). I have no idea if I am going to make it but I will certainly try with all my might!
To sum up the lessons for you:
- Reflect on the past year and congratulate yourself on your successes
- Cross off missed goals that are no longer important and be fearless in your pursuit of worthy goals
- Stop the excuses
- Do something that makes you feel like a beginner all over again
- Focus on the little steps that will ultimately take you to your Big Picture Goal
- Persistence always wins
- Never take anything or anyone for granted
- Get rid of your self-perceived limitations, because “Once You Become Fearless, Life Becomes Limitless.”
What is one of your self-perceived limitations that you will overcome this year? I would love for you to share your story!