Girls Can’t Do Pull Ups! Oh Really?

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

A column by Rick Osbourne

Because people who can do even one conventional pull up are ALMOST NEVER OBESE, I help kids learn to do pull ups. It’s one simple way to prevent childhood obesity.* But one reaction I hear to this strategy is, “Girls can’t do pull ups! That’s a boys’ activity.”

From years of working with a project known as Operation Pull Your Own Weight though I can assure you that, given the opportunity, MOST GIRLS DEFINITELY CAN LEARN TO DO PULL UPS! Furthermore, at the elementary school level where this option is most appropriately introduced, girls are often (at least half the time) BETTER THAN THE BOYS at pull ups.*

On one hand it’s true that as kids grow older, boys tend to develop more muscle mass (thus strength) than girls. Advantage boys. On the other hand, if girls learn to physically pull their own weight while in elementary school, and they maintain the ability (which requires decent eating and exercise habits along with 30 seconds/week to practice) odds are better than 9 out of 10 that they will carry NO EXCESS BODY FAT at all! And they’re virtually ASSURED OF AVODING OBESITY according to the only study that’s ever been done on this strategy.

Preventing Obesity is One Good Reason, But…

So preventing obesity and the myriad of problems that follow in its wake is one extremely good reason for girls to develop the ability to do pull ups. But that’s not the only reason.

Confidence and Self Esteem

Consider the toll that obesity takes on the confidence, self-esteem, self-worth, and self-respect of so many young girls across this nation today. And when a girl’s self-esteem takes a hit, it undermines all kinds of other things, starting with her social relationships. It often undermines her academic performance and school attendance. This in turn undermines her future educational plans and eventually her occupational opportunities as an adult. Yah, really!

Just Watch Me Boys…

Any way you cut it, preventing obesity by learning to do pull ups is a slam dunk winner for both boys and girls. And old school expectations suggesting that girls are unable to do pull ups could be the strongest motivator for girls to take action. “So, you think I can’t do pull ups? That’s all I need to hear. Please step aside and watch me boys. Just see if you can keep up.”

*This is a simple acid test, certainly NOT a fitness program or an activity that burns many calories. And if you prefer, you can use parallel bar dips, hand stand push ups, single legged squats, or rope climbing in place of pull ups.

**Despite the fact that it’s easy to learn, less than 10% of all students (including boys and girls) today are able to do a pull up. That’s right – 90% are unable do even one conventional pull up. But check out my friend good friend and colleague Ingrid Marcum in order to see one of the finest examples of female fitness that I’ve ever known.


Rick Osbourne is a former physical educator and a pioneer in the field of functional childhood obesity prevention. He currently serves as President of the Pull Your Own Weight Foundation which is an Illinois based, 501c3, not for profit organization whose focus is functional childhood obesity prevention. He’s written and published three books in this field, the latest of which is entitled Beating Childhood Obesity Now: A Simple Solution for Parents and Educators. He’s the Examiner’s national childhood obesity prevention correspondent. He writes an online column for The Edvocate. And you can connect with Rick via Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook.

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