Recently one of our forum members at TeamStaley made a casual comment regarding Charles Poliquin’s Pull-up recommendations. The comment was:
“Charles Poliquin said that women should be able to do pullups in as little as 12 weeks and with a counterweight of 33kg (72.6lbs) I still have a long way to go.”

That comment sparked a recollection about Poliquin’s statement, so I did a little digging, and eventually found his statement regarding women and pull-ups, which was printed in his Question Of Strength column at the T-Nation website.
His exact statement was:
“I tell people who get certified by me that if they can’t get a female to do 12 chin-ups in 12 weeks, then they don’t know how to train. That’s how you can evaluate a good trainer. If he can get a female to do 12 chins, he’s a good trainer. If he doesn’t know how to do it, then he doesn’t know training. Period.”
Now that’s quite a statement, but before I address it, I’d like to note that his column generated many thousands of views and 80 comments, few of which questioned the veracity of Poliquin’s assertion.
Poliquin Is Wrong
Now let’s critically examine Poliquin’s statement.
On the face of it, he seems to be saying that you don’t know how to train people if you can’t get any women to the 12RM pull-up level in 12 weeks. Meaning, octogenarians, amputees…any woman. But in the interest of fairness, clearly he means that you should be able to train any “average” woman to the 12RM level in 12 weeks. So to be charitable, let’s assume he means a healthy, active 20-30-year old woman. OK?
So with that in mind, let me ask you a question: how many women do you know who can do 12 or more pull-ups? (I’d actually love to have you answer this question by replying to the article- the “discuss” link can be found at the end). I’m guessing none.
Over the past 20+ years, I’ve had the good fortune to have trained, or trained with, or trained by, numerous elite female athletes, including several Olympians, and I can only think of one, or possibly two women who could complete 12 legitimate pull-ups. That’s it. And one of these women was an absolute freak of nature who achieved national-level proficiency in 3 Olympic sports, and World-level talent in 2 of those sports. She could power clean approximately 220 pounds and run a 4.5 40, just to give you a sense of how highly talented she was.
So the idea that you suck as a trainer if you can’t get any & all of your female clients to a 12RM pull-up performance is nonsense.
But what if we decided to be even more charitable and amend Poliquin’s statement to:
“I tell people who get certified by me that if they can’t get a female to do one chin-up in 12 weeks, then they don’t know how to train. That’s how you can evaluate a good trainer. If he can get a female to do one single chin, he’s a good trainer. If he doesn’t know how to do it, then he doesn’t know training. Period.”
Would you still buy that? I’ve given it a lot of thought and I don’t buy it. I would say that a good trainer should be able to get about half of his female clients to one chin in 12 weeks. But all of them? Nope. And all of them to 12 chins in 12 weeks? C’mon. I mean seriously.
A better statement might be:
“If you believe me when I say that if you can’t get a female to do one chin-up in 12 weeks, then you don’t know how to train, then you don’t know how to train.”
Women: Training yourself to get one chin in 12 weeks is a very achievable goal. Some of you might even reach 2-3 in 12 weeks. Remember, well less than 1% of all adult females will ever achieve a chin-up. It’s not a small accomplishment. And because it’s such a great achievement, I hope you’ll think about making it a goal for yourself. And if you do, let me know if you’d like some help!

  1. Bridgett 15 years ago

    Well, that is a bit discouraging. My goal is 15 chinups and 15 pullups. I don’t care how long it takes, however. i am hoping to achieve 1 in 4 to 6 weeks. I have a series of excersizes I downloaded from someone (don’t remember). We’ll (or rather I’ll) see if it works at all.

  2. Author
    Charles Staley 15 years ago

    Bridgett, are you saying that you hope to be able to do one pull-up in 4-6 weeks?

  3. bo 15 years ago

    I am currently trying to do atleast one proper pull up and I have to push myself up first and lower myself slowly just to get some kind of benefit from it.I am not quiet sure how to do it properly,but I will eventually get one complete pull up sometime this year. It is a lot harder for an average woman to do pull ups,but it’s not all of the trainers fault if someone can’t do anything.

  4. Bridgett 15 years ago

    Yes, that is my goal, assuming I can be consistent with the work. Don’t know whether I’ll make it but it is a goal to keep me doing the work. I know women who can do pullups/chinups, although not how many. BTW, I am 49; I’ll be 50 in June.

  5. Author
    Charles Staley 15 years ago

    Bridgett, doing one chin at age 50 as a woman is a serious accomplishment- don’t be discouraged- that was the whole point of my post!

  6. Bridgett 15 years ago

    One may be a serious accomplishment. I just want more, that’s all. 🙂

  7. Author
    Charles Staley 15 years ago

    Bo- slow negatives my friend- multiple sets of 1! Focus on the most difficult range of motion

  8. Sallie 15 years ago

    Hi, I am a 52 year old female (very soon to be 53) and would like to be able to do just 1 pullup or chin up.I will continue to try and achieve this, however if I don’t achieve it I won’t be disappointed in myself. I have already achieved far more than I ever thought possible!

  9. cate 15 years ago

    Hey my middle-aged sisters! Chins and pulls can be yours!!!!! I’m 48, I weigh about 175 (lotta stocky and some fat – down 110 pounds from my max weight), and can do one clean pull-up and 3-4 chins. Jumping CUs and PUs, hanging for time, and negatives got me there, as well as my regular lifting routine. It took me about 2 years from onset of intention/training to my first chin, and then to my double chin, :D.
    It’s very easy to lose your conditioning on these. I hurt my arm (on something else_ and couldn’t chin for about 2 months, and had to start almost from beginning, but it came back quicker than the first time.
    I’m going for 5 each. I’ll let you know when I get there. Don’t stop training – you can do these!

  10. Yoke 15 years ago

    I’m just wondering though…why is it so hard for women to do chin ups and push ups?

  11. Robyn Booth 15 years ago

    Pull ups are very achievable for us to do. I do about 3 sets of close grip pull ups at present, with about 10 first set, then about 8 and 6 respectively. I was doing more, but am carrying a bit of extra weight at present! I can do about 3 to 4 wide grip pull ups in a row and am aiming to increase that. I can’t remember how long it took me to be able to do a few in a row, but it wasn’t too long, but I was doing a lot of other strength training for a while and didn’t bother with them, until my trainer then wanted to see how many I could do and I did two first time and kept increasing each time from there.

  12. Fairlane 15 years ago

    I have to agree with Charles on the negatives aspect of the pull-ups. It is a very similar approach to Will’s “Perfect Rep” article. Taking 4-5 seconds on the way down during a pull-up, then exploding on the way up helps develop more strength down the line. It’s just another weapon in the arsenal but for me seemed to help quite a bit. In the beginning I was only able to get maybe 5-7 good ones for one set. After a two month period I was getting maybe 2 sets of 10-12 with the third set back to 5-9. I am a guy, but still, if a guy can improve, so can a woman, so Charles is right, don’t get discouraged. My wife tried to do one when I first got her in the gym, and she was so embarrassed. I said OK, lets do other things for a while (3 months) and we’ll come back. After the 3 months she was able to do 5 good pull-ups (I think). She asked me, “that was lame, right?” and I replied, “who are you and what have you done with my wife?” 😉

  13. Author
    Charles Staley 15 years ago

    Yoke, it’s largely because women tend to have higher bodyfat and also relatively more lower body muscle- neither of which help in chins/pullups

  14. Will Brink 15 years ago

    My (ex) wife went from being able to do none, to sets of 8-10 wide grip chins (vs close grip pull ups) which are the most difficult. She went from being the classic “skinny fat” aerobics instructor, to someone with some functional strength and muscle mass after focusing on strength via resistance training. The route was as Charles mentions, negatives, assistance lifts, sets of 1, etc. Chins up are always going to be a challenge to most women, but a few have the structure and muscle mass to do them well. They are tough for plenty of guys too!

  15. Yoke 15 years ago

    Thanks for the reply Charles. Just means I gotta work harder 🙂

  16. DP 15 years ago

    At my gym in Creswell, OR, there are two olympic-style weightlifters who can do 12+ pull-ups. One is Jessica Gee who will be competing in the Olympic lifting nationals next month in Chicago and the other is Sarah Bertram, who will be competing in the Pan-American meet next month. One caviat, both use the kipping method.

  17. XOX 15 years ago

    once I could do ONE and it took ALOT of work and I can deadlift 185

  18. LindaE 15 years ago

    I’m 54, can do 5 or 6 chin-ups (by about the 6th there’s a real question whether my chin is above the bar or not), 3 regular grip pull ups (more with kipping) and 0 wide-grip pull-ups. But I have a friend older than I who can do in one workout session 10 wide-grip pull-ups and 10 regular grip pull-ups. The fact that she can do that is incentive for me to keep trying.

  19. Erika 15 years ago

    I’m 48 and can do several sets of wide grip pull-ups – starting with 12, 10, 8, 8. It took a long time to master the move though – using more of my bigger & stronger back muscles than my arms. In my early 40’s I actually did weighted pull ups. Once you get the feel of doing it right the move just ‘clicks’ into place and you can continue to focus on using your back rather than focusing so much on using your arms to pull yourself up. It is kind of freaky though – there’s only one other female bodybuilder in the gym who can do them – and she’s my trainer. Have competed in 3 shows so far and back is one of my better parts. And for those women working at it….DON’T GIVE UP!!! Visualize those strong back muscles pulling you up!!

  20. kathleen Ellman 15 years ago

    Hi, I’m 43 and have NEVER been able to do a pull up OR chin up. In grade school when we took the President’s Physical Fitness Test, I always passed everything but that…I couldn’t even hang for long enough to get a “girl pass”. I am more fit than I have ever been in my life. I work out 5 to 6 days per week. I can do about 22 consecutive push ups and as many as 70 or so in sets. Not having tried chin ups in years and feeling full of myself because I can do so many push ups, I recently gave them a go…epic failure! I couldn’t budge myself. It has been about two weeks now and I am getting closer. I have been starting on my tippy toes, jumping SLIGHTLY, pulling up, holding for 15 seconds and then lowering slowly. I can now get about 1/3 of the way up and then can’t budge. I am making progress and think I will be able to do it if I continue this regimen. My fear is (and maybe it’s all in my head) is that my arms seem to be getting a bit bigger. I don’t want big arms but strong, lean, sculpted ones instead. Will chin ups give me big arms? If so, I’d rather find another exercise. Thanks for your help. Kathleen

  21. Author
    Charles Staley 15 years ago

    Hi Kathleen, glad you enjoyed the post. As to your question- chin ups didn’t give ME big arms, so I doubt they’ll give you big arms

  22. Jess 15 years ago

    I’ve recently started to incorporate chin ups and pull ups into my training, however I don’t seem to be improving. I can do 8 chin ups but only 3 wide grip pull ups. To improve on this is it better to do them little and often (ie every time I go through the doorway I have my bar) or once or twice a week in sets at the gym? Would really appreciate some guidance.

  23. Mark 15 years ago

    Jess, performing 1-2 reps on your doorway bar a few times per day is a great way to add weekly volume to this exercise. Your regular gym routine can include both pull-ups and chin-ups, if you use a four-day split and train your upper body twice per week. Alternating between the two exercises would be good.
    But depending on your previous routine and how long your plateau has existed, you might benefit more from using ‘assistance’ movements to improve your performance. For example, instead of using actual pull-ups in your weekly routine, use weighted scapular pull-ups. This has you employing only your lats for the beginning of a pull-up—your arms do not bend at all. This is a very short range of motion, but with some added weight hanging from your waist, and with a slow negative motion, you will experience increased strength that you can use when you return to pull-ups.

  24. Mark 15 years ago

    On a tangential note, I think Charles’ observation about Poliquin’s hyperbole regarding training a woman to do pull-ups is quite accurate, and it applies to most of the stuff that Poliquin writes for public consumption. Of course, given the forced machismo of the T-Nation site, writing like Poliquin’s is probably mandatory there, as is his nonstop plugging of Biotest supplements. I doubt that his clients receive the same kind of treatment.

  25. Jess 15 years ago

    Thanks for the reply Mark. At the moment I weight train 4 times a week split into – chest/triceps, legs, back, shoulders/biceps. I will include pulls ups on my back day and chin ups on my biceps day. Is it ok to be doing them everyday (just 1 or 2 reps, a few times a day) on my doorway bar in addition?
    I shall give weighted scapula pull ups a try. Thanks for the advice.

  26. Mark 15 years ago

    I don’t recommend using chin-ups, pull-ups, and scapula pull-ups in the same week—you don’t want to overtrain in this movement. Since you are at a stasis point in your development, the inclusion of a new exercise should provide a good stimulus, so leave out the pull-ups for now and substitute the scapular pull-ups on your back day. Using the chin-ups on bicep day is OK. Make sure that there is enough rest between these sessions—three days would be good. Your daily 1-2 rep minisets should be fine, provided that you are not doing them too frequently.
    Keep in mind that all pushing and pulling motions use the shoulders heavily. Therefore, three of your four training days are taxing the shoulders, and shoulder overuse can contribute to a lack of progress in any of the exercises that use them. Monitor your weekly results to make sure you are doing well in all of your upper-body lifts and to notice any shoulder soreness or pain.

  27. Bridgett 15 years ago

    Well, it has been 7 or 8 weeks I guess. I had one week that I wasn’t at the gym at all (mostly life; partly small upper arm injury from pushups of all things). I can’t do one chin up yet but I can do 10 negatives with a 10 second lowering for each. Improvement at any rate. I am now concentrating on negatives and possibly static holds. I don’t have any one to do assisted chin ups with.

  28. Bridgett 15 years ago

    It took 10 weeks, one of which I was not working out, chin ups or otherwise, but Friday, July 17, 2009, I did my first chin up! Visualization helped. 🙂

  29. Author
    Charles Staley 15 years ago

    Amazing Bridgett— were you inspired to do this based on my post here?

  30. Jess 15 years ago

    Thanks for your advice Mark. I do actually have a shoulder injury at the moment. It’s not so bad that it stops me training but I have had it for a few months and it’s getting worse rather than better. I shall try and ease off a bit.

  31. Bridgett 15 years ago

    I guess my reply didn’t go through when I just hit reply from the email message. Anyway, I had already decided to work toward being able to do chin ups and pull ups before reading this post/blog/article. (Sorry.) 🙂 Even being able to do one feels so awesome. Working toward at least 3 by September 2009.

  32. Bobbie 15 years ago

    Wow thanks a lot for the info! I’m finishing my second month of exercises, which have all sorts of pull ups and chin ups: wide grip, reverse grip, closed-grip, switch grip, corn-cob pullup,and towel pulls. All of which I do with one foot on the seat of a chair, and I still can’t get a full and proper one done, BUT I’m not giving up, I’ve made small improvements over the last months, but up until now I thought that I would never be able to do any of those exercises properly. I thought that there was something that I was doing wrong, so I’m very glad to hear that this is going to take quite sometime, before I can even do one completely on my own!! By the way I’m 2 months shy of my 48th b’day, I’ve already lost 15 lbs. and I have 45 more to go!!

  33. Jill 15 years ago

    Interesting comments here. I am posting for my daughter who is trying to be able to do 3-5 pullups for military entrance. She is 5’9″, 160 lbs., approximately 25% body fat. She has been working out consistently for 8 weeks and during that time has lost 5% body fat. During a workout she will do a set of 30 pushups, a set of 30 situps, and then a pullup exercise. She does this 6 times to get about 180 pushups, etc. Her pullup exercises include negatives (up to 10 at this time), assisted pullups (she can do a pyramid to 5 with a counterweight of 25 lbs), then lat pulls (she’s at 110 lbs, doing 3 reps of 8), then curls and rows. We are wondering if this is a good upperbody workout that should enable her to do pullups shortly. She does this 3 times a week so she has time for muscle recovery. Would anyone have any suggestions, modifications, etc to this workout? She wants to pass the PT test in about 8 weeks but can’t get the elusive pullup. Any advice would be helpful. Thanks!

  34. Bodybuilding Advice 14 years ago

    My girlfriend needs to up her pullups so I will forward this to her.

  35. Alison 14 years ago

    Look, I was a female wrestler for 3 years. I never trained on pullups and rarely was ever asked to do them, but during my season I was always able to knock out 3 of them. But I was NEVER training my arms while wrestling, I was focusing on my leg strength because I have long legs. I was a mediocre wrestler for it too. I guarantee you, if I wanted to I could do 12 pullups. Not that it'd be the easiest thing in the world but it's not some super unachievable thing for all females.
    I'm 19. I started wrestling at 16. 2 of those seasons were high school, one collegiate. I don't really appreciate you spreading this shit that women can't do pullups.

  36. Lucy 12 years ago

    At 51, I went from 0 to 15 chin ups and 8 pull ups, in 8 wks. Guess I just don’t fit in the ‘box’ very well. 😉

  37. Kylie 12 years ago

    My most was 13 pullups but when I stopped doing them every week, I dropped down to 8. What’s the difference between pullups and chinups in the sense of why women typically excel more at chinups where men excel more at pullups, or am I wrong? My pullups however are at least a few reps better than my chins.

    • A finn 11 years ago

      I’d guess(as a male) that women and men should do better at chinups than at pullups, because in chinups the biceps can work more efficiently in the movement.I can do about 88% of my chinup reps at pullups, so it’s very interesting that you’re better at pullups. 13 pullups is a very good number btw.
      It may be that men just don’t do chinups nearly as often because of a silly saying that has been around a long time, that claims that pullups give wider lats. That’s ridiculous, chinups are just as good for the upper back. I’d say they’re better, because(although they can stress the elbows a bit more) they’re safer for the shoulders and normally you can use more weights if you’re doing weighted chinups. I recommend using weights after one can do 13-18 clean reps.
      Shoulder width neutral grip would be the best grip variation IMO.

  38. Victoria 11 years ago

    Hi my name is Victoria and I am 19 years old. My goal is to do 7 pulls up. I am working out a lot of upper body muscles and I am about to start Cross Fit classes as well. I want to accomplish this in 3 months to the most. I would love advice and if someone could email me that would be great!

  39. Heather 10 years ago

    My max for pull ups is 20 in a single set, but that was at a weight of less than 100 lbs. It did take me more than 12 weeks to be able to do pull ups, but now that I can I include them in my workouts regularly and challenge myself with different types and added weight. I guess I am in the less than 1%. Too be fair, it probably has a lot to do with being short and not weighing much.

  40. Alvos 10 years ago

    You have quoted Charles Poliquin as referring to chin ups, yet you extrapolated that to mean pull ups. They are two different things. Either way, I do not respect him or believe anything he says. But I think as a matter of correctness you should attack the substance of his statement, instead attacking your erroneous interpretation of his statement.

  41. Mark Cotton 10 years ago

    I’ve been PICP certified for years and I have come to understand that some of what Charles says is for either shock factor or to get people to talk. The internet has it’s examples. I just filter it out. As far as the litmus test he gives? Well, then I suck. My question would be how many Average Joe clients can do 12 really strict pull ups? Let alone the Average Jane? Not many…

  42. Kristin Moore 10 years ago

    In 6 weeks (as a woman, who works full time and has 2 children under 8) I have achieved 10 consecutive Chin ups and 3 consecutive Pull ups. At the beginning of that 6 weeks I couldn’t do 1 of either. It is possible if you work for it. Most women never try to do them…nor do they have a goal to be able to. If the woman is in decent shape when the 12 weeks starts…then it should absolutely be attainable. It comes down to determination and consistency.

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