How Many Pull-ups Should I Be Able to Do?
Dec 05, 2022
“How many pull-ups should I be able to do?”
A friend of mine asked me that the other day. I wasn’t expecting the question. I’m not sure he was expecting my answer, either.
Before I tell you what I told him, I’ll tell you what I was thinking.
I was thinking I didn’t know, but I did know that I didn’t want to create a standard for him. I didn’t want to give him a measuring stick of “this means you’re strong” or “this means your worthy.” We often hold ourselves up to unreasonable standards that have nothing to do with WHO we are or WHERE we are. Not only that, in all my years of searching, I have never found a magic number in reps, sets, or weight that has ever solved all my problems, or any of my problems for that matter.
Sure, I’ve met some numbers that made me smile for about a day. But that day always passed, and then I was still there with the same problems I had before I reached my goal. Sometimes I was worse off than I was when I started chasing the numbers. It’s really easy to neglect your body’s best interests when you are chasing your ego’s interest. Getting injured or creating a limiting issue just isn’t worth it when it comes to strength training, yet they are often the result of strength training for numbers set by someone else.
So when my friend asked me that question, I was struck with another question in my thoughts. “What is the number that is going to make you happy?” In other words, I was wondering what number would be the number that was “good enough” for him. The truth is, that number may not exist; if it does, it could be just as ill-conceived as any other number guessed up as a standard from someone else.
And that’s the rub.
We are the only ones who can answer the question of “how much is enough,” but rarely do we know how much is enough. There is only one way to determine how much is truly enough for us, and it’s not easy. It requires us to search within ourselves and ask questions. “What do I really want,” “Why am I doing this,” “If I can do this, will it make my life better,” “Am I more than a number, “Is achieving this worth the cost,” “Can I train for the joy of expressing my strength,” “Do I need a number to prove my strength?” There are so many more questions that could be asked, but you get the point.
How much is enough can only come from our own deep internal reflection. Learning who we are, knowing where we are, and being comfortable with ourselves is the best way to determine how much is enough. Strength training should be an adventure of self-discovery, but we often miss this and make it a misadventure in chasing an imagined lack or shortcoming. And that’s not true.
If I have a point at all, it’s this: You are so much more than any number could boast, and to measure yourself up against a standard of strength could leave you always wanting “something more,” never realizing you are strength itself. You are strength learning how to express itself, to enjoy itself. If you can realize that, you’ll know how much is enough.
So what did I actually tell my friend?
I had been watching him do pull-ups that morning, and I saw what he could do. So I told him, “I don’t know what a good number is. But maybe try to make three ridiculously easy. If three is ridiculously easy, that means you can do a whole lot more without even trying.”
I don’t know if that was the right advice or not. I’m certainly not saying it was. I was trying to give him an answer that left him room to explore the pull-up and his own strength, to make it an opportunity to learn and discover his strength versus chasing a target and mistaking strength for a number.
Again, I don’t know that that was the best answer. After all, I gave him a number. But something tells me he was looking for 10 or 20 to be my answer. I know he can do three. I also know if he makes three pull-ups ridiculously easy, he will have learned a whole lot about himself and the pull-up.