95% of the World Can’t Do 10 Strict Pull-Ups

It’s been said that 95% of the world can’t do 10 full strict pull-ups!


Let’s look at the numbers.

35% of the US is overweight and therefore we will assume that they can’t do a pull-up. That leaves 65%. More than 80% of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, and more than 80% of adolescents do not do enough aerobic physical activity to meet the guidelines for youth.

That leaves 20% of 65 which gives us 13%. Let’s say 1 out of 3 can do a pull-up, which I think is already an overestimated number, especially considering that we’re talking 10 strict pull-ups, so, that would leave 4.3% that can do it.

Yes, I’m generalizing the world based on statistics from the US.


Why can’t most people do pull-ups?

It’s a hard exercise because the pull-up is a movement that we don’t regularly perform in our day-to-day life or jobs. We lift, we push, we press, and we even sometimes pull things toward us, but we hardly ever pull ourself toward another object, especially vertically.

In most cases, it’s the lack of strength that’s the problem, strength in the prime movers for the exercise. But It’s not always strength that lacking, I’ve seen plenty of cases where the athlete had enough strength but was lacking the connection (MMC).


When I teach pull-ups I provide the following cues:

  • arms up in a Y shape
  • jump up
  • hang
  • firm grip (this changes once they get the movement)
  • forget about the elbow flexors
  • think about pulling your elbows into your ribs

This last cue helps provide as much isolation as you can get for the lats.
If that doesn’t work, add the elbow flexors.

  • think about pulling your shoulders to the bar at the same time as you pull your elbows into your ribs

If that still does not work, lat activation drills and try again, otherwise negative pull-ups, or assisted pull-ups.


What is a strict pull-up?

First, let’s define what a pull-up is. A pull-up is an exercise in which from a vertical hanging position you pull yourself to the bar. A dead hang or chin-up defines the range, even though it has been generally accepted that a chin-up is an underhand shoulder-width grip.

A full strict pull-up is a rep that is performed from a dead hang–I prefer using hang as it’s not really dead—to chin over the bar without using momentum and return down in a controlled movement. A half one is where you drop down back into the hang. The way it’s performed is not defined in the name, i.e. overhand or underhand, narrow, neutral, or wide grip.

PS. to me kipping pull-ups are not classified as pull-ups, it’s more like a throw-up, and I don’t mean vomit.


Pull-up variations and muscles worked

There are plenty of pull-up variations but I’m going to focus just on the variation of grip.

Underhand or overhand. Underhand generally provides more resistance for the elbow flexors and overhand more for the lats.

Narrow, neutral, or wide grip. The wider you go the more you take out the elbow flexors and put the focus on the lats. With a narrow grip, you can still work the lats but in general, the elbow flexors will take over.

In the end, the angle, grip, and mind-muscle connection play the role in what muscles are used the most.

Muscles worked:

  • Elbow flexion
    • Biceps brachii
    • Brachialis
    • Brachioradialis
  • Shoulder extension
    • Deltoid (posterior head)
    • Latissimus dorsi
    • Teres major
    • Triceps brachii (long head)
    • Pectoralis major
  • Shoulder adduction
    • Latissimus dorsi
    • Teres major
    • Pectoralis major
    • Coracobrachialis
    • Triceps brachii (long head)

Elbow flexion, think bringing your hand to your shoulder. Shoulder extension, think pulling your elbow back. Shoulder adduction, think pulling your elbow into your ribs.


Celebrate and motivate!

With all that said, we’re going to celebrate the 4.3% that can and motivate the 95.7% that can’t. Let’s see those videos of 10 strict pull-ups.

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