Girl Pullups/Pushups?

By Coach Mel 

There are a few trends I have noticed in my 8 years working in the fitness industry:

  1. 90% of women (made-up percentage but definitely the majority of the women) who walk through the doors of a gym say, “I can’t do a pullup.” 
  2. 90% of people (same percentage-rule applies) refer to pushups on your toes as “pushups” and to pushups on your knees as “girl pushups”. 
  3. Women don’t say “I can’t do….” insert other exercises. Point being this block is primarily with pullups and pushups.

What is this? Maddening. Why is this? I have a few ideas…

This thought has been floating across my mind the last few weeks as we headed into our strength segment: Pullups. Now that we are doing a focus on pull-ups in our PDXFit classes I have been more privvy to this line of thought than usual. 

So it got me thinking… and it got me really angry.

I journeyed back in my head all the way to grade school where I can still remember the tiny little metal pullup bar in the back corner of the gymnasium. I would watch on as the boys got tallied in their pullup capabilities and we girls were not even given the option to pull ourselves up; we didn’t even get to try. We did the flexed arm hang. Probably not long after in our fitness tests we were judged on our pushups. Boys were told to do them on their toes and girls, again not with the option, told to put their knees down.

I remember looking at the bar in the corner and thinking I could totally kick those dumb boys’ butts. But they would never know that, never know that it was possible for a girl to be stronger than they were. 

This sets both boys’ and girls’ minds in a certain direction from this very impressionable age. 

It teaches:


That they are not strong.
That they are not could not possibly even be stronger than the weakest boy.
That they can’t do pullups.
That they can’t do pushups like the boys.


That they can’t be “weak.”
That they are stronger than girls.
That there is a girl-way to do things involving strength and a boy-way. 

The negative effects that this has had on both genders explains a lot about what we see in gyms today as adults. Women come in, being faced with a pullup bar for the first time since grade school, and they immediately say  "I can’t do pull-ups." Now I think, well how do you know this when, probably, you've never been given the chance to try. And maybe they can’t do a pullup, but it is not because they are female; it is because they aren’t strong enough yet.  We have bands that you can put a foot in to give you a boost up and help work your way up to pullup on your own.  An equal amount of men and women use one of these bands in our gym workouts. 

Another exercise that has gotten a bad rap within the mentality of a lot of women is pushups. These have adopted the name of “girl pushups” leaving women to think it is the highest form they can do and men to think that they are weak if they do them. What the heck?  If you are doing pushups on your toes you are doing pushups. If you are doing pushups with your knees down you are doing a modified pushup, but you are still doing a pushup. There is not a gender associated with either.

It’s 2016, men and women can be equally strong beings. Women, grab the bar and do a pullup, even if you can’t; don’t say it, don’t even think it, grab a band, find your confidence, and try it. Pick up your knees and see if you can do a pushup, even if it is one. Find your starting point and gain strength from there. 

Men, there is nothing wrong or “girly” (not that girly is a bad thing!) about you putting your knees down during pushups, or using a band for pullups. This does not make you weak; it makes you someone who hasn’t done a pushup or pullup in awhile. 

So, next time you are at the gym, try that pushup on your toes, use a band that is harder than one you have used before or even just try a pullup without a band and see how far you get. Don’t let some silly old school measuring technique determine your confidence level as an adult.