Stubbornness — Tenacity? — Knows No Age: CoVid 19 Re-Makes our Lives (Part 8)

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!


11 thoughts on “Stubbornness — Tenacity? — Knows No Age: CoVid 19 Re-Makes our Lives (Part 8)

  1. Loved reading this D. You are honestly a living example of kindness and the joy of giving by just being.

  2. Lifting the needle and stepping out of the groove is going to change the music so it helps if you have a tune in mind. Your writing is motivational to say the least, especially to this octogenarian who doesn’t feel like an old geezer and is looking for a way to make the world a better place. My son is encouraging me to start my own blog (what, another?) and sent me yours as a fine example of what can be done. My preference is to do my pull-ups verbally, checking the mirror daily to see if anything is bulging.

  3. Hi Dierdre, so lovely to read your story. I’m a late middle age climbing newbie too and I use a pull up bar with assistance straps. It’s the hardest part of my training routine by far and I suspect my BMI in the high end of the healthy range is not helping, but I’m doing it, and like you I can do what I never dreamed was possible a year ago. Looking forward to your posts.

  4. Petit à petit l’oiseau fait son nid. Never stop raising that bar D!

    • Gotta love that proverb! It’s ruled my life. 🙂 (I’m really tickled that you still remember it!)

  5. Good for you Dierdre. Great yarn. My wife does pull-ups all the time on the bar she bought. I have arms like T-Rex. You made me laugh. Thanks for that.

    • “Arms like T-Rex”… that’s me! (or was, anyway) Can I quote you on that?

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