Goal: 10 pull-ups — slow but steady progress is doing it

  • By Bruce Overstreet
  • Friday, December 20, 2013 9:42am
  • Life

“You can’t do ten.” It started out as a brash challenge from one of my sophomore World History classes. I’m always up for a challenge, so in order to save face in front of these skeptical 15- and 16-year-olds, I accepted. Ten pull-ups. That’s it.

A pull-up bar has protruded quite visibly for a couple of years in our garage, just above the garden equipment. The original thought was that my young sons would get inspired by a LeBron James commercial and decide sporting a chiseled frame was the key to happiness and the ladies, as well as better performance on the pitch. They were both soccer players who could have used a little more muscle on their skinny frames.

But, like many visions I’ve had over the years, this one never really took hold. And I can’t blame them. Doing pull-ups certainly isn’t as sexy and easy as chugging Muscle Milk.

And so it sat. Until I was challenged.

That was about three months ago. You would think that by now I would have gotten to ten in a row without stopping or I would have choked on a big piece of humble pie and admitted that I couldn’t do it. But neither has happened because I am still making progress. Granted it’s slow progress and not without setbacks, but I am making progress. It’s kind of like a slug climbing up a front door.

What I’ve discovered is that consistency is the key.

It was easy to get up to three pull-ups. After three weeks of regular trips to the garage just prior to bed, I managed to get up to five in a row.

In my excitement, I started doing multiple sets of four-plus pull-ups every time I opened the garage doors. My thinking (and there’s my mistake) was if one attempt a day could so quickly get me to five, just imagine the quantitative leap one could make doing four, five, or six attempts a day.

I should’ve known better. I didn’t consider the scientific fact that the body, when stressed, needs time to recover. Quick math reveals that for a handful of days I was doing upwards of twenty to thirty pull-ups in a day. And initially I showed some real gains. Within a week I was up to six in a row.

That’s when the body spoke loud and clear. “Time out!”

I had tweaked my left shoulder and couldn’t even manage one pull-up. So, I took some time off. The students hadn’t said I needed to get to ten by any definitive date; they simply stated they doubted that an old man could do ten pull-ups, period.

One week led into two weeks and then into three. The shoulder wasn’t getting any better. I needed help.

It’s always nice to have your local physical therapy clinic on speed-dial, especially when you’re aging and attempting to prove some irreverent sophomores wrong. Cody at Everett Physical Therapy diagnosed my limp left limb and stated it was simply a case of a shoulder impingement. Time heals all wounds and time would heal this shoulder, he stated.

Prescribing a couple exercises to aid in the recovery, Cody encouraged me to keep the faith and put the limp limb through the drills. I will admit that I didn’t do much of the exercises. Does anyone? But time did provide relief and full recovery.

Once I had rested the shoulder enough where I felt confident that I wouldn’t re-aggravate the limb, I started out back at near Ground Zero with two pull-ups. Fast forward to five weeks of singular trips every night to the garage and I have reached a new plateau of seven pull-ups.

When I made the announcement in class, the applause was over the top. Do they really not think a guy in his 50s can lift his body two-plus feet ten times in a row? It’s time for them to watch a YouTube segment of Tom Hutchman, the 51-year-old who made it through the qualifying for American Ninja Warrior.

Ten pull-ups? No problem. As long as I just do it once a day. As long as I’m as patient as a farmer waiting for fall harvest after planting the seed in early spring.

I’ll let you know when it happens.

Heck, you may hear the deafening applause from my second-period class across the Snohomish Valley when it happens. That’ll shake the farmers out of their winter comfort.

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