Pulling Your Own Weight

The Dream of Pull-ups

I am not embarrassed to say that my fantasy life is heavily influenced by two television shows: Arrow and American Ninja Warrior. The star of Arrow and the contestants on American Ninja Warrior have incredible upper body strength and agility. They are not just bodybuilders, they are at their absolute highest fitness level. One of my not so secret goals is to do 10 pullups. No matter how skinny or muscular I have been in my life, that has been an elusive goal. In fact, I really couldn’t do even one. I couldn’t jump up on the monkey bars and do one pullup. Why is this goal so important to me? The reason is that this is a way to take control of my physical fitness- If I can do 10 pullups, I’m in great shape, strength-wise. It is empowering to be able to do 10 pullups. The ability to pull your own weight, literally and metaphorically, is empowering.

Setting Goals

Every time you join a new gym, the trainer asks, “What are your goals? Is it weight loss, weight gain, strength, stamina?” My answer is always a quick one, “I want to be able to do 10 pullups.” So, for the last 15 years when we joined a gym, that was my goal. The good news is that I have been getting in better shape by doing boot camp and running, but my goal of 10 pullups has been elusive. That is, until I bought a pullup bar for my house. At the entrance to my kitchen, a pull up bar is a constant reminder of my goal. Every time that I pass by, I try to see what I am capable of doing. After one week, I was able to accomplish one, and after 3 weeks, I can do 4 pullups.

Proper Technique

So, it seems that I’ve done everything properly. I set a goal, I bought the equipment, and I’m even practicing daily. Every time I pass the bar, I will do a few quick pull-ups and determine whether I’ve reached the next milestone. But, there’s one other need: proper technique. My goal of 10 Pull-ups is almost realized because I learned the proper form. I needed to learn how to do one correct pull-up before I reached my next goal. If you do pull-ups incorrectly you will never reach your goal and you’ll probably injure yourself.

Identification of Specific Goals

There’s another question: What kind of pull-ups will I try to accomplish? There are many different kinds of pull-up/ chin-ups: Commando, Behind the Neck, One Arm, Wide-Grip, and my favorite Neutral Grip pull-up. This is part of the technique process of living your dreams. What pull-up technique will help me achieve my goal of 10 pull-ups? I found that the neutral grip pull-up is the easiest for me, for my particular muscle memory. Although many people say that chin-ups are easier, they are not for me.

However, the Commando or One Arm pull-up are on my radar. If I can do 20 Commando or One-Arm pull-ups, I can do my ultimate crazy dream: The Salmon Ladder!

Crazy Dreams

What the heck is the Salmon Ladder? Imagine a pull-up bar that you can detach and swing up a few inches to a higher pull-up bar. It is a common TV show obstacle for those who are in the highest level of physical strength. In order to accomplish this goal, I would need to be able to accomplish at least 40 pull-ups without any difficulty. That’s a crazy dream, but not impossible. In addition, after reaching that goal of building your strength there is a special technique for increasing your plyometric (explosive muscle strength) ability. The Salmon Ladder must be one of the most difficult feats of physical fitness. If this dream is so crazy, why even think about it? There’s a difference between having a crazy dream that’s impossible to achieve, and a crazy dream that is possible, but highly unlikely. If I had a crazy dream of running a marathon, it’s possible, but highly unlikely given that I hate running for long periods of time. It bores me terribly. I just can’t imagine spending hundreds of hours of running to accomplish that goal. It bores me just thinking about it. However, a crazy dream like meeting the President of the United States and getting a warm introduction to the Chef at the White House, that’s crazy, but possible. Of course, there’s a lot of preparation, technique, and support needed to accomplish this dream, but it could happen tomorrow. The Salmon Ladder crazy dream will help my lower goals of doing 10 pull-ups. If I know that I’ll need to do 40 pull-ups to do the Salmon Ladder, the lesser goal of 10 pull-ups will be more fun and less threatening. Have high goals, but also have that crazy dream that is connected to that goal to help you reach even higher.

But, do you know what the most difficult issue with the Salmon Ladder? Giving oneself permission to do it. Some may call it courage. When you have a goal, and you have the technique and ability, do you have the courage to actually accomplish the goal?

Giving Yourself Permission to Achieve your Goals

I am crazy competitive in every portion of my life. I don’t mind losing, though. I would rather play basketball with someone who is a foot taller than I am, and who played basketball in college than with someone I easily dominate. If that taller, more accomplished player destroys me on the basketball court, that’s great. If I can get at least a few points playing a much better opponent, that is pure joy. I’m only 5’10” and ¾. Not even 5’11” without rounding up. I am a decent three point shooter, but it’s not always reliable. A standard lay-up is possible, but very difficult when someone is a lot taller than you. So, many years ago when I was playing basketball several nights every week, I began my goal of jumping higher and higher. At most gyms, one way of building plyometric ability with your jumping is to jump higher using steps that may be stacked on top of each other. Put a few steps together and that’s not too difficult. But, as you continue to stack them higher, doubt begins to grow. Is that really possible? What if I miss? Will I get injured? Again, is that possible for me, my height? With many things in life, the key component to success is belief in yourself. Why can some people sing in front of thousands and others are extremely anxious and scared around just a handful of people? It’s just courage or a lack of courage. It’s self confidence that allows you to accomplish your dreams and goals.

Loving Support from Family and Friends

There is yet another component to this story of the 10 pull-ups: I have tremendous support from my wife and kids. I shared with them my goal of the 10 pull-ups. I demonstrated, at the beginning, that I couldn’t even do one pull-up. Then, I purchased the pull-up bar, installed it, and began to teach them how to use it with or without the rubber band assistant. I got the rest of the family involved. As I demonstrated the first through the fourth pull-up, they were supportive and expressed how proud they were of my accomplishments. In addition, I shared with them that my ultimate crazy, out of this world, dream is to be strong enough to do the Salmon Ladder. Will I ever, ever accomplish the goal of doing the Salmon Ladder even once. Who knows? But what a blast I’m going to have speaking about it and trying to achieve that goal. Goals often can be achieved without support from friends, family or acquaintances, but it’s a lot more difficult and it takes a longer time.

Update: After 4 weeks, I can do 6 neutral hand pull-ups without assistance!

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