There may still be one elusive exercise for female exercisers: the pull-up.
A 2012 New York Times article revealed that only a tiny percentage of women could perform the exercise, even though the group increased upper-body strength by 36 percent and lowered fat by two percent.
Even if they’re exceptionally fit and capable of other challenging exercises, why can’t women do pull-ups?
Tony Coffey, the founder of Bloom Training, says one challenge is muscle distribution.
Coffey says, “Pull-ups can be challenging because of biological sex. It requires total upper-body strength to complete. Male biology naturally imparts a larger frame with a greater capacity to hold lean body mass and muscle, supporting the entire upper body.”
Coffey says that women are naturally lean in their lower bodies, while men are naturally leaner in their upper bodies.
Although women tend to have less upper body strength, pulling up can still provide women with many benefits. It strengthens your arms and shoulders, core, and back.
A senior clinical professor, Professor Michele Olson, notes that women “have bigger hip girdles and similar muscles,” whereas men have bigger shoulder girdles.
If you plan to start with a pull-up, experts suggest trying different exercises first, each with its benefits. Coffey notes that inverted rows be a good starting point for people who want to work up to pull-ups.
Olson says “negative pull-ups” are also a great starting point.
She explains, “Use a chair or bench. Hang from a pull-up bar in the flexed (ending/up) position. Then, lower yourself slowly. Repeat.”
Experts say not to stress mastering the pull-up: It isn’t the only barometer to focus on when it comes to fitness.