Stubbornness — Tenacity? — Knows No Age

How many pull-ups can you do? Chin-ups?

A few days ago I mentioned to a friend, a man a decade younger than me, that in all my 6 decades of life I’ve never been able to do a single pull-up or chin-up. All my life, my body and mind have not been able to even imagine lifting the whole weight of my body just by my arms.

His raised eyebrows and guarded response let me know very clearly how odd he found that. I guess the ability to lift your body weight from a dead hang on your arms is normal for most people.

For me, it’s always been completely inconceivable.

So in March, when the country shut down for Covid, I went online and ordered a pull-up bar, the kind that just hangs from a doorjamb, held there by its own weight and the weight you add to it. If I was going to be stuck in my house for who-knows-how-long anyway, I might as well get something productive done.

I’ve been a language teacher for 44 years. I raised two kids. I know about baby steps. You can learn anything if you break it down into baby steps. So I used a little white plastic step, the kind kids stand on when they’re too small to reach the sink — “baby step” indeed — and started just lowering myself, to the floor. ‘Negative pull-ups’, as it were. Down only.

I ‘knew’ at the outset that what I was attempting was impossible. After all, I’d tried, off and on, all my life. And everything I’ve read on the subject tells me you can’t develop muscle at my age. As a senior.

Stubbornness, however, has no age.

On March 20, I lowered myself off that little white step. I was amazed how much it hurt, each time! My elbow! My shoulder! The skin on my fingers! My abdomen! I forced myself to do it 3 times.

The next day I again lowered myself 3 times. So much pain! Such unsteadiness & wobbling!

Each day, a repeat. After a few days I added one more to each session. After a few more days, two more. On March 27, I lowered myself — slowly, resting after each try — 12 times! I knew I’d reached my peak.

I’d gone from nothing, never, to being able to lower my whole body weight 12 TIMES! (With pauses in between.) My gut feeling was that I’d never get beyond that. But stubbornness knows no bounds.

On May 4, as I stepped up onto the little white step, it occurred to me that I should at least try, once, in the other direction… I didn’t exactly pull myself up, it was a combination of a tiny jump propelled by my foot on the step, and catching my weight to then lower it. Wobbling. Straining. Gasping.

I call them “jumping pull-ups”…and I did 3 of them.

All of Sacramento probably heard the joyful shouts!

On July 3, I didn’t jump. I just raised myself, wobbling and straining, from the white step up to the bar, chin level, and back down. I stopped after the first one, to rub my painful elbow, but mostly to convince myself I’d really done it.

I call those “half-raises,” since I was still starting from the little white step, almost halfway up. Arms almost right-angled. But the direction — up — is the incredible part.

Today, in August, I did 12 full raises.

Everything I’ve ever read says that you can’t develop muscle at my age. So what’s going on?

The media doesn’t know you. Or me. They sell. They try their darnedest to convince you that you need what they sell. But they don’t know you. Somewhere, there must be researchers who know that you can, indeed, develop muscle as you age. But they don’t get the big bucks for advertising.

Whatever you want to do — push-ups, pull-ups, marathons, rock climbing — no one can tell you it’s impossible…except your own head. If you believe the hype that says you can’t, then you can’t. If you believe you can, then you can. Simple. Your choice.

All my life I heard that women are weaker than men in upper-body strength. Fewer, smaller muscles, weaker joints. Girls can’t do pull-ups. A few half-hearted attempts during my life convinced me of that lie.

Ha! The truth is out! Every day now, I go down the hallway and do the impossible — a set of pull-ups and chin-ups. Yesterday’s session consisted of 12, and I did 2 sessions. 24! A year ago, I never would have believed it.

Age is relative. Gullibility is relative. Tenacity is not.

No matter how old you are: Believe you can — it’s much more fun!