How to beat Ryan Gosling at pull-ups

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My 9-year-old went as Ken for Halloween this year. The original plan was to go with the movie’s Sly Stallone-inspired look, but instead of a white fur coat, the Goodwill gods delivered up a perfectly sized acid-washed jean jacket. So the (sleeveless) Canadian tuxedo it was. Add to that his blond hair and the Himes six-pack (nature’s compensation for shortchanging us on height) and the kid was a mini Ryan Gosling.

“All the Kens in that movie had a pull-up content and Gosling won,” I told him. That piqued his interest. He’s very competitive and runs with a particularly sporty crowd of fourth-grade boys; everyone knows exactly where they rank according to various athletic metrics.

“How many?”

I didn’t know, so I guessed. “Fifty-two.” He nodded just enough to convey respect without admitting that he was impressed. “I’ll install a pull-up bar,” I said.

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Thing is, my son could beat Gosling in a pull-up contest, if he set his mind to it. I could beat him, and I recently earned a free AARP prescription and a some intimate photos of the inside of my colon. And I bet you could beat him too. Of course, you shouldn’t take any exercise advice from me that you wouldn’t take from a qualified medical professional, but my point still stands. Pull-ups are wonderfully egalitarian that way.

Just ask David Goggins. Back in May he did what he thought was a new world record of 7,801 pull-ups in 24 hours. As he was submitting the evidence to Guinness, he found out another guy had just done 8,008. That record stood for a whole five months, until an Australian policeman named Gary Lloyd hit 8,600. Quoth Goggins, There is always some motherf**ker out there working harder than you hunting your ass.”

Get your form in order first. None of that CrossFit kipping like Mark Wahlberg did when he said he could do more pull-ups than Dwayne Johnson. You want explosive on the way up and slow and controlled on the way down. Don’t use momentum; use your back muscles. Keep your core engaged the whole time. Use an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width, knuckles up so your wrists and not your fingers do the work. Hit the bar with your sternum to encourage proper form, and use your full range of motion. More detailed information on form here and here.

You don’t need an in-house pull-up bar, but I spend much of the work day hunched over my computer about 15 steps from my bed, so I like the idea of banging out a set every couple of paragraphs. The bar I bought is a Rogue Jammer pull-up bar in red knurled Cerakote. Pricey, but Rogue is arguably best in class when it comes to made-in-the-USA fitness products, and we’re talking about potentially tens of thousands of future reps here. Besides, those cheap ones you wedge in the doorframe never seem to fit my doors. Titan Fitness and Fringe Sport also offer American-made wall-mounted bars that come highly recommended, while FitBar makes the best doorway pull-up bar I’ve seen.

Women should pay heed as well. Forget leaning in — what about pulling up? Yes, your relatively weak upper body strength can make it seem impossible, but you haven’t met Angela Gargano yet. If you can hang, she can get you to your first pull-up and beyond.

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