Fitness chronicles: A helpless dangler

Fitness is tough. Especially if you want to be Mr. Apollo and do pull-ups (and kick sand in people’s faces, ha!).

Wanting something a little different yesterday morning, this is what I did:

3-4 minutes walk then 5 mins jog (to Regents Park)

3 sets of:

  • 12 inverted push-ups (feet on bench)
  • 2 reverse pull-ups from branch
  • 2 x 100 metre sprints, there and back again

1 set of Tabata body-weight squats (keeping at around 11-12 for all 8 rounds of 20 seconds).

Walk home (about 15 mins)

If you’re wondering about the weediness of the pull-ups (‘reverse’ ones mean “start at the top and then gradually lower yourself down”) it’s because I just don’t have enough upper-body strength yet to manage anything else! But I’m given hope by this great article from the BBC, and these bits in particular:

At first, you will be a helpless dangler. Go ahead — dangle. Dangling and straining to pull yourself upward is more of a workout than it appears to be. (Note: if you get embarrassed easily, don’t do this at a public gym.) Eventually, you will get to the point where you can flex your muscles while you dangle, though it won’t change the angle of your arms a jot. Then you’ll be able to flex an oh-so-difficult five degrees… and finally, you’ll be able to drag yourself up to a 30° angle.


It isn’t just the physical act of doing pull-ups that is difficult — mentally getting up the nerve to train for them is even harder. Beginning a workout is like diving into a cold swimming pool before breakfast. It means attempting again and again to do something you know you will fail to accomplish, over and over again, for weeks. Most people like to succeed, which is why most people don’t do pull-ups. It is daunting. You will doubt yourself. You will doubt your goals and priorities. You will doubt your physical ability. Everyone does, so get used to it.

But here’s what may happen, with a little grit and luck:

Unless you already work out, it will probably take you a month or two (depending on gender, workout intensity, genetics…) before you can do that first pull-up. There will be little or no advanced warning – no drumroll or dramatic music – leading up to it. One day you won’t be able to do a pull-up. The next day you will. Feel free to test your disbelief by repeating it several times throughout the day. And congratulations! You have joined a fairly exclusive club. The drive and determination that saw you to this milestone will doubtless aid you in many future goals.

The article also makes the point that it gets easier (sort of) as you lose weight, so the fact that I’ve gone from 81.2kg in about June to 75.2kg today should help a little.

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