It might be surprising to you that there was a time (as an adult) when I couldn’t do a single pull-up. But it’s true.
When I got to college, I wanted to try something new, so I joined the rugby team my freshman year. Max pull-ups were among the traditional lifting tests that we did. I wasn’t able to do a single one with control.
In high school, I had been part of the football team, so going to the weight room had become part of my weekly routine. The things I learned how to do then were all about lifting as much external weight as possible. There wasn’t a focus on skill work, or how to use our bodies. I got stronger for sure, but that strength didn’t help me when I got to college rugby and had to do pull-ups.
I remember feeling pretty dejected about my pull-ups. I considered myself to be pretty strong and being unable to do a pull-up felt like something I should be able to do. I was a 19 year old who (naively) thought himself invincible – yet I couldn’t do a pull-up.
(While there’s value in focusing on your weakest links to improve, it’s also important to celebrate your wins. At the time, I didn’t do this very well. And it’s still something I have to remind myself of daily. If you’re like me, you do this to yourself – focus on the things you don’t do well. All while not acknowledging the things you’ve have worked to excel at. But this topic is for another post…)
A few of things happened that first rugby season that changed my life and got me hooked on training:
1. Having a solid strength program written by a thoughtful coach (thanks Ryan Capretta!). He put me on a program that helped me get stronger and faster by the end of the season. I was even able to do 6 whole pull-ups!
2. The motivation of seeing others who could do pull-ups and wanting to be able to know how that felt. There’s something about achieving a new skill that you couldn’t do before that is very satisfying. You don’t know what you can do until you see someone do it and envision yourself being able to do it. Whenever a client athlete achieves a milestone, I get goosebumps.
3. Being set up with a training partner. That year I realized that I take deep pride in showing up for others. The accountability of having someone to meet and train with, is very motivating. If I schedule a solo session in my calendar, I often find that I won’t honor the time and choose to do something else. However, if I have that time booked with someone else, I’m 100% likely to show up, because I’m accountable to the other person. That accountability gets me to shift gears. From there I’m ready and willing to begin training.
I still wonder at the training process which resulted in my first bodyweight pull-ups. (I had done plenty of assisted machine pull-ups in high school, but never even thought about bodyweight pull-ups. Likely because no one else was doing them, so I didn’t feel that I was missing anything in my training. Most things are like this. You don’t know you are missing something until you’re exposed to the possibility. After which, you can begin to envision all the ways your life could be different once you’ve learned this new skill. I guess, that’s kinda what marketing does…)
Initially, my desire to want to do pull-ups was an ego thing. As I began to train for it, I began to want it because it would be an achievement. It would show that I was able to overcome a challenge. To me, it meant that I was getting better. Did I have a specific purpose for it other than performing better on the test? For me, no. But did it improve the way I moved, and performed on the pitch? Most definitely.
There are many experiences in my life that have influenced who I am as a coach today. This is one that illuminated the power of training to change what my body is capable of. When coaching, I’m thinking about how the training affects the way client athletes will live. I believe the coaching process should change your life in a positive and meaningful way.