Trying to Hold On

According to Merriam-Webster, a pipe dream is a hope, wish or dream that is just not possible or practical. Today on my walk home from the gym, I wondered, is achieving an unassisted pull-up my pipe dream?


As a child, *Sandra (a friend from my past) wanted to be the next Julia Roberts. As teenagers, we loved Mystic Pizza. We took Mr. Hook’s drama class in high school, and Sandra usually got the leading roles in his theatrical productions. The always precocious Sandra promised that as soon as she turned 21, she was Hollywood bound. On her way to Tinseltown to become the next leading lady with luscious curls and a big, white smile. I lost touch with Sandra when she went away to university to study drama and English Literature. Recently, a mutual friend of ours sent me a friend request on FB. I asked this friend about Sandra. Did she ever pursue her acting dreams? No, the mutual friend responded via a private FB message. Sandra is 42 with three children, on to her second marriage and works in accounting. Odds are that Sandra is not going to hop on a plane to Hollywood and make it as the next Julia Roberts at this stage in our lives with three children and a pending marriage.

That’s the funny thing about dreams. We can have them, but who’s to say they will come to fruition? We are told the old cliche of working hard and believing and it will happen. Surely though, we can work hard and pray and believe, but will it always happen?

This is how I feel about my pull-ups now. Maybe it is just not in the cards for a body shape such as a T-rex. Yes, weights have made me drop a lot of weight while transforming my body, but I still am genetically prone to having a larger lower body and a smaller upper body. A cop out? Perhaps.  I wanted to do 20 on my toe push-ups, and I made it happen. I progressively saw improvement. Starting with wall push-ups, then onto elevated bench push-ups, to on the knees and then on to toes. Same thing goes for planks. I wanted to do a 2 minute plank, and I made this goal happen. When I look back and think I could not do a plank for more than 20 seconds, I can’t believe the gains I have made. It feels incredible.

Naturally, I want this feeling in my pull-up progress, but it’s not even close to happening. I have received excellent advise from seasoned lifters of which have helped me immensely in many ways, such as building upper body strength and I truly am thankful. I am working, but I am starting to question the believing part. To be honest, I kind of feel a little foolish for putting it out there on my blog that my goal of one unassisted pull-up will happen, because I truly don’t know that it will. My palms are calloused and swollen. But for what? Okay, maybe for a nice tapered back that is starting to develop and better posture. True enough.

IMG_2577I am beginning to resent pull-ups. What I used to find fun and challenging, I now find daunting and intimidating. I don’t want to resent strength training because I love the sport and what it has done for me both mentally and physically. So, I have decided to let go a little bit and scale back in the demands I make on myself. I am not going to outright give up, but I am not going to give myself a time limit or be so hard on myself. I want to bring the fun back!

So, my very supportive brother-in-law Rick has made me a fun challenge I can’t refuse. He has put a pull-up bar in his basement, and we are going to work on our pull-ups. He wants to do 10 in a row, and I want to do 1…..when I’m ready. There will be no time limits and no more comparing to the countless women who can do pull-ups without assistance.  Exercise should be enjoyable, as well as challenging.

It is never something I want to come to resent. I love it too much.


31 thoughts on “Trying to Hold On

  1. Sometimes we just have to say what the F, just do it and surprise ourselves! You will do a pull up, not 1, but 2, 3, 4, 5! You did the full press up, you can do an unassisted pull up. I’ve given up waiting for the assisted pull up machine to be free and just concentrate on unassisted. I can do 3 set of 1. The 2nd rep I laugh. My chin just won’t get past the bar!

      1. 😃 Maybe give them a break for a week, then come back to them. You might find them easier. Don’t be discouraged and work on lat and core strength at the same time. Try suspension trainer/TRX Lat exercises. They’ll help with your quest!

      2. I used to find that when I took a break from Spanish lessons it stuck more. Same with the kids I taught English too. After half term, it sunk in more!

  2. Yes, just have fun with it! As soon as your stop loving the process, everything becomes so much more difficult. There is one thing I left out of my video I wish I hadn’t, and that was working negatives. But regardless, just keep at it and in time you’ll get it just like all your other goals. And the more difficult something is, the more pride and sense of accomplishment that comes with it. We’ve never been proud of something that came easy!

    1. I have implemented your tips in my training, and it makes a huge difference. Without the straps, I really have to use my own body weight, and stabilize my entire body independently. The difference is incredible. (albeit with support from a bench or step.) It really is a helpful video. I’m always working on my negatives, as advised by bodybuilder Dr. Lynn.
      I really don’t want to quit just because something is difficult. If it happens it will be my proudest moment! Thanks so much for your continued help and support, Colin.
      This is my second time trying to reply, but I really wanted you to know how effective I found your suggestions. For some reason, my comments kept going to spam 😫

      1. Cool very happy to hear it’s helping! And if they are helping, that means you are making improvements. And if you are making improvements, you are on your way. Not a question of if, just when! Can’t wait to see you nail it, but willing to wait as long as it takes! 🙂 Keep grinding!

  3. pullups are tough but I’m sure you will be able to do them with practice. I can only do 1 myself my goal is 10. Keep trying and if you don’t get it don’t worry I’m sure you are great at other exercises 😊

    1. Thanks Ivanna. That’s what I am telling myself. If it’s not in the cards for me, I’ll focus on other strength building endeavours. Congrats on 1. That seems so far away for me, but I’ll keep trying and stress less about it.

  4. Two thoughts. One, I think your approach is perfect because you always want to keep the fun in your workouts. Two, I have a feeling you’re eventually going to get that pull-up. I know you can do it. I wish I could hang out with you for a couple of gym sessions. As soon as you do one, your body will understand the dynamic of it and be primed to do another. It’s just the first one that’s a hurdle. One day, I want you to play a game with yourself, if you can actually do it seriously. If you can’t, that’s totally understandable. I have a weird mind and odd things motivate me. Try to imagine a dire emergency…or someone you love who needs help. You HAVE to do one pull-up to “save them”…get the baby off the roof/reach the button to stop the machinery they are falling into/ get the car to stop rolling toward them etc. Basically you’re creating an adrenaline rush using your mind. Close your eyes, make up your own scenario, conjure up the situation and see if you can get that first pull-up. I happen to KNOW that if the emergency situation was real, you definitely get up there. It’s a mind over matter moment and maybe you can gin one up if you use extreme focus. It’s a technique best done alone (other people tend to be distractions…their talking and moving break the spell) These tricks work for me…it’s the only way I was able to squat 220lbs. I had to “trick” myself….and make my mind out-will my body.

    (Maybe give it a try it one day when you’re feeling happy and energetic….If someone with evil intentions was actually chasing you, you’d be able to pull yourself over a wall knowing safety was on the other side. Motivation makes a big difference in performance! Ask those regular people, not strength athletes, who’ve lifted cars off their children in an emergency…)

    1. Hi Dr. Lynn. Thanks so much for your encouragement and continued support. THIS is a great idea! I think I can do it. Adrenaline can make the body do amazing things. I’ve seen people on television documentaries survive horrendous situations and do things they thought they could never do because of this rush to survive the odds. I always think of mental strength as just believing and perseverance, but this puts a whole new spin on it. I’ll let you know how it’s working via email. Thanks again!

  5. I cannot say I relate to wanting to do a pull up so badly (and I LOVE the assisted ones, good enough for me haha) but if it’s something you want don’t you dare give up on that dream!! You can do it!!

    1. I love the assisted machine too, and especially setting the pin to the appropriate place. It’s a great machine. I will keep trying, but it is tough for me. Thanks for the encouragement!

  6. Oh, I love this post because I too would love to do pull-ups! I’m going to lose 15-20 pounds before I attempt it again though. I love the assisted machine and use it all the time. I wish you all the best!!!

  7. Char! dont give up. hang in there, you got this. Alot of pull ups are mental barriers. Dont tell yourself you cant. Start repeating I can, I can, I will. Give yourself a break from them for a while and revisit them again in the future. There is no time limit to achieving them, remember why you started them in the first place.

  8. You can do it! You know what made the difference for me? Giving up using the assisted pull up machine, and instead getting one of those bars you clip on to your door frame, together with some elastic bands to assist me, of different levels in strength (some of greater assistance, some of lesser).

    I started using about three bands (and trust me, I needed them!), then gradually worked my way down to needing one band, then none! And now I can do about ten pull ups! 🙂 Go me! This from the woman who took about 1 1/2 years to do just one!!!

    These days I ****LOVE*** going to the park and showing off, because I dress like a mum, and then BANG! I get along to the pull up bar, and bang out a few pull ups in front of the teenage boys who are showing off to each other. LOL. It’s awesome, and an incredible feeling 🙂

    So yeah, that was what worked for me. You can do it, and you WILL do it. Just keep at it.

    1. Thanks for the advice. I love the assisted machine, but it’s true it will only get me so far to reaching my goal. Now, I just do hanging lifts for time and set the smith machine at the highest point and use a bench/step to assist me to pull-up. Sometimes I go back to straps too.
      Love the park story. I’m sure the boys think, here comes another mom at the park until you drop those pull-ups!

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