Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Training College-Age Women to Perform the Pull-Up Exercise. (Physiology)

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Training College-Age Women to Perform the Pull-Up Exercise. (Physiology)

Article excerpt

The purpose of this investigation was to determine the effect of a combined strength and aerobic conditioning pro gram on the ability of college-age women to perform the pull-up exercise and to identify the characteristics of women successful in performing a pull-up at the end of the program. Participants significantly increased upper body strength and fat-free mass and decreased fat mass and percentage of body fat. Participants successful at performing a pull-up had significantly greater repetition maximum strength, strength to mass ratio, and strength to fat-free mass ratio. A two variable equation (% body fat and strength to fat-free mass ratio) was developed to predict which women would be successful at completing a pull-up at the end of a similar training program.

Key words: body composition, periodization, prediction, strength training


The pull-up (1) is a widely used test for measuring the strength and endurance of the arm and shoulder girdle. The pull-up has been deemed a reliable test (test-retest reliability, r= .82; Engleman & Morrow, 1991) and requires minimal skill and equipment to perform. Additionally, the need to lift one's body mass is obvious in certain occupational settings, such as law enforcement, military, and fire fighting, and correlates well to certain physical performance measures, listed below.

Davis, Dotson, and Santa Maria (1982) found that chin-ups were a major predictor of physical work capacity in fire fighters on performance tasks such as the ladder extension, standpipe carry, hose pull, simulated rescue, and simulated forcible entry. Williford, Duey, Olson, Howard, and Wang (1999) found that climbing, pushing, pulling, lifting, and chopping were critical to job importance and that the ability to perform pull-ups was significantly correlated to these tasks. Additionally, they found the following performance tasks were significantly correlated with the ability to perform pull-ups: forcible entry, hoist, hose advance, victim rescue, stair climb, and total time to perform all these tasks in a circuit fashion (physical performance assessment). Of all the fitness parameters tested, the model with the best ability to predict the time to complete the physical performance assessment included pull-ups, a 1.5-mile run, and fat-free weight (r= .73, M= 303.54s, SE= 96.19 s). Therefore, it is reasonable t o conclude that not only is the pull-up a reliable test, it is also valid for occupations that require one to manipulate his or her own body weight.

A potential problem arises, however, if the pull-up test is administered to women in law enforcement, fire fighting, and the military. The pull-up has not been recommended when testing women (Baumgartner, 1978; Baumgartner &Jackson, 1991; Gotten & Marwitz, 1969) because of the assumption that most are unable accomplish one repetition. Since the 1970s, the United States Marine Corps has required men to perform the pull-up/ chin-up and women to perform the flexed arm hang based on this belief. Attempts by the Marine Corps to investigate use of the pull-up for women as part of its physical fitness test failed, because too few were able to execute even one repetition. Other organizations, such as the ChryslerAAU Physical Fitness Program, also substitute the flexed arm hang for pull-ups when testing women (Baumgartner & Jackson, 1991; Safrit&Wood, 1995).

In accounting for what appears to be women's inability to execute one pull-up, at least two factors must be considered. The first is that, in general, women do not have the upper body strength of men. In a review of the literature, Laubach (1976) found that women had an average mean percentage difference in absolute measures of dynamic upper body strength that was 55.8% (range, 35-79%) of men. When comparisons are made across gender with respect to body mass and lean body mass, the differences in strength between men and women narrow (Holloway, 1994; Ricci, Figura, Felici, & Marchetti, 1988). …

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