The simple pull-up rises in exercise popularity

01/17/2013 12:00 AM

01/17/2013 7:35 AM

The old-fashioned, no-nonsense pull-up, all but forgotten amid user-friendly fitness machines in gyms throughout the country, is making a comeback.

Thanks to high-intensity CrossFit aficionados and mixed martial-arts athletes, among others, who often incorporate bodyweight exercises into their training, the classic pull-up seems to have reached critical mass, coveted for its simplicity and respected for its difficulty.

You don't have to look far to find countless fitness experts who consider the pull-up a crucial exercise to build a powerful back and develop overall upper-body strength for men and women.

"From my standpoint, pull-ups have always been popular," said Allyson Goble, head trainer at BodyTribe Fitness, a midtown Sacramento gym known to embrace classic weightlifting movements and eschew gimmicks. "There is a resurgence with body-weight exercises. When anybody does a bunch of pull-ups at a gym, people stop and watch because it's pretty impressive – if done properly."

California Gov. Jerry Brown, lithe and fitness-minded at 74, has been known to challenge reporters and staffers to pull-up contests. How fit is the governor? In 2010, a staffer wrote on Brown's blog that Brown did 12 pull-ups before hitting the floor and doing 50 push-ups. (By the way, Gov, you know where to find this reporter if you're looking for another challenger.)

Yes, pull-ups are not only good for you, they will make you look cool, as well.

There's just one problem: Pull-ups and chin-ups are really, really hard. In fact, doing them with correct technique – hanging from a bar with arms fully extended and pulling yourself straight up until your chin is over the bar – is so challenging that only the most accomplished gym-goers attempt them in public.

Pull-ups, with palms facing away, are considered marginally more challenging than chin-ups, in which your palms are facing you, though both work the back muscles thoroughly. Depending on the number you do and the amount of weight you're pulling, the exercise can build significant muscle mass for men and lean muscles for most women.

"Of all the upper-body exercises that you can choose from, the pull-up ranks at the top of the list," writes fitness expert and author Chad Waterbury on his popular blog. "That's because it builds strength and size in your upper back, arms and gripping muscles . You'd be hard-pressed to find another single upper-body exercise that does so much good."

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