personal project

I Just Want to Be Able to Do One Pull-Up

Animation: Stevie Remsberg; Source Video Getty

Personal Project is a week about hobbies and digging into our hidden talents.

It’s never made sense to me, on an intellectual level, why I can’t do a single pull-up. I was an extremely restless kid, meaning I cycled through a new sport every year or so: gymnastics, basketball, tennis, dance, track. In my adult life, I regularly exercise, both by strength training and by awkwardly hoisting a 50-pound bag of cat litter up to my second-floor apartment every few weeks. All of which is to say: I consider myself to be relatively strong, even the top half of my body, which I largely ignore at the gym. So why does the single pull-up feel so insurmountable?

I’ve been transfixed by pull-ups since the moment I learned of them: the first time I was forced to do the torturous Presidential Fitness Test in elementary school, during which I failed abjectly at the task. Since then, I’ve sporadically tried to master the physical feat. Two years ago, I became so obsessed with accomplishing my longtime goal that my boyfriend at the time bought me a doorway pull-up bar, which I would throw up over my door every time I had exhausted all my other options for entertainment. A month after attempting to use it approximately five times, I gave up in shame. But now that social distancing has confined me to my own apartment, I cannot escape the siren song of my modest exercise ambition: Why not give it another go? What better way to take advantage of this imposed alone time than by accomplishing an ultimately inconsequential goal that has eluded me my entire life?

This time around, I have developed a new level of commitment. I’ve been preparing by doing special pre-pull-up exercises, usually by dangling along to a two-minute-long video in which a compact man with prominent biceps and a fresh undercut shows off his preferred warm-ups: an “active hang,” which I think is pretty self-explanatory, then some sort of mid-suspension shoulder isolation that makes your back muscles bulge like a beefy cartoon monster, and finally another hanging exercise in which you swing your legs back and forth in a nice, controlled manner.

“Hanging out,” in this context, is a deceptively strenuous activity. But I’m determined to keep going;  I’ve decided that the weird shoulder pull-up is the funnest of the exercises, even though I’m pretty sure I’m doing it incorrectly. The other day, in a stunning accomplishment, I was able to clench my jaw and “actively hang” from the bar for an entire interminable minute.

Sure, the exercises may be daunting, but I’m motivated by a totally realistic image of me in a post-quarantine world — one in which I’ll frequently use my bulging biceps to do pull-ups all over the place, impressing everyone lucky enough to witness such a feat of fitness.

I Just Want to Be Able to Do One Pull-Up