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How to Get Grandma to 1 Chinup

One of my aunts (late 40s), who is not overweight or extremely out of shape, has decided that her goal for 2022 is to be able to do a chinup. I think it’s a very realistic goal for her, given the one-year timespan and her current physical state. Her husband and daughter are climbers, and her husband teaches at a climbing gym, so she has access to training partners, equipment, support, and advice. Shouldn’t be too challenging.

My grandma (early 70s), has decided she is going to pursue this goal with her daughter. Now, my grandma’s in pretty good shape for a woman her age. She stays active - does some machine circuits, not Nautilus but similar, yoga, walks the dog, gardens, etc. She’s still a grandmother, but she’s done a good job of taking care of herself. I don’t think she has any plan for what she’s going to do, and I don’t think she actually will be that bummed out if she doesn’t reach her goal, since she’s honest about the stage she’s at in life, but she wants to try, and figures the process of trying will yield good results whether or not she is successful.

She has asked me if I have any suggestions. She has no medical issues or any reasons why she feels the need to clear this with her doctor (really, it’s just a slight increase in the level of her training intensity, not that she’s going from couch potato to marathon runner). She isn’t deadset on it so she doesn’t want to pay a coach or anything. No joint troubles or past injuries that a PT would need to help with. It’s pretty much up to her, and both her and I would plan on very slowly and carefully advancing things to prevent any overuse injuries or anything.

Does anyone have any suggestions? In my mind, working towards small goals that are steps towards doing a chinup would be best. First goal, maybe just a deadhang from a bar. No idea if she can do this right now or not. Then, maybe increase the time of the hang. After that, things like a flexed arm hang, maybe from different positions in the ROM a chinup would take you through, then an assisted chinup, either with bands or someone holding her legs, then less assistance, then eventually (maybe) a real chinup.

Things to include in training would be some grip work (those grip squeezing things?..can’t remember what they’re called, haha), some curls and rows to begin getting the biceps and back stronger. Maybe some pull aparts or face pulls to strengthen the shoulders and keep them healthy. Do all that for a while just to get things started.

#1 goal is just to not rush anything or do more than is wise. Always gonna be keeping an eye out for if anything isn’t feeling well. She doesn’t want to spend any money (like on a trainer) since this is so informal, and she’s pretty good about knowing her limits, like she wouldn’t push herself (or let herself be pushed) further than she can handle.

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Loads of options as you have a year.
First steps/month 1:
just get her in the gym 3 days a week.
Lots of TRX moves/bodyweight rows at an incline
Hit all back machines from all angles
Start off high reps and moderate volume 2 sets of 20 etc

Perfect world try a suuuper beginners climbing class. Not a climber but I presume if can string together a few months proper climbing by the end of the year then a pullup will be automatic

Take vit D3 and Flameout/Krill -stay way ahead of things re joint comfort.

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No climbing options in our small town, but this would be cool.

Everything else is helpful, thank you very much. Getting in the gym 3 days a week will be no problem - she does her circuit stuff 3-5 days a week, depends on what she has going on, but it takes a half hour and is pretty low level stuff so it shouldn’t be hard to fit in a few more sessions. I do have gymnast rings on my pullup bar, so progressively harder BW rows on those should work well. Only have 1 chest-supported row machine at my house (train at home, no gym membership) but she can get stronger at that over time and I’m sure the place she goes to has a lat pulldown or something else.

Wasn’t sure about the rep scheme, but a couple sets of 20 sounds good to you? I was sort of thinking something like this Tip: The 8-12-8 Method at least as far as the rows went, and going for those higher reps on the little stuff like curls and band work.

Her diet is pretty healthy, but will look into anti-inflammation supplements and let her make her decision regarding those.

Thanks man, this was helpful.

@tlgains - Did @T3hPwnisher post something in your log once about his CoC training method? I can’t find it, but I thought it was in your log. I liked it and wanted to revisit it, mostly for myself, but maybe it’d be handy here.

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It’s in the e-book I released, but a quick recap.

Do 5x5. Next workout, do 5x5 but hold the final rep of the final set for max time. When you can do 30 seconds of that, hold the final rep of all sets for 5 seconds. When you can do that, do that, but then hold the final rep of the final set for 30 seconds. When you can do that, hold all reps of all sets for 5 sets. When you can do that, do that and hold the final rep of the final set for 30 seconds.

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Oh man, I totally forgot about your book! I gotta take another look at it to see what you got in there.

But thanks, that’s exactly what I was wondering about.

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I’m going to go against the grain here and suggest that if you’re training grip for the sole purpose of doing a pull up, dead hangs are more than enough. They’ll also do plenty for abs and shoulder health, without having to add extra exercises.

I would let dead hangs take care of all the “Little bits” and then strengthen the main movers in a traditional way.

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I’m not sure yet if a dead hang is possible at this point. We’ll test that soon. That’s why I’d consider grip work.

What’s your (and anyone else’s) opinions on the hangs? Go for time? Multiple “sets” or just throw one hang in per session?

And chinup is my go-to word, but it could be a pullup too…chinups are supinated and pullups are pronated grip, I think, haha. Not sure if there’s much of a difference in terms of ease on the joints or anything…I could see chins being more likely to annoy the elbows.

Chins annoy my elbow more, but if the aim is 1 in a year, I suspect this isn’t much of a difference. Whichever she’s strongest at is going to be the right answer. Am I reading it correctly that weight loss is not likely to be an issue there?

I believe Dan John reccomends one a day, aiming for 30s.

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I don’t think weight loss will be needed. I mean, there’s some BF but not much and I think at her age, more activity would be the answer rather than reduced calories. She doesn’t eat much unprocessed stuff, doesn’t drink, watches portions, etc.

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Awesome. Keep us updated how she does then.

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@jshaving I was enlisted in the crayon eaters division (USMC) and being able to do pull-ups/chin-ups equated to higher likelihood of being promoted…

Where this matters is that the physical standards for women changed partially through my enlistment and the ladies suddenly had to perform pull-ups where it was not required before. What most of them found success with was starting off with a “flexed arm hang” which effectively means having them stand on a chair so they can be in the “up” position, and remove the chair so they can try holding that position for as long as possible. They would typically do this 3-5x per ‘session’ and it got most of them to a point of being able to at least perform a pull-up/chin-up.

Another method for the men was to integrate some thick bands to reduce resistance - allowing for higher reps (the men were required to do 20 pull-ups while women were required to do 7, because ‘equality’). Most of us had sticking points somewhere around 12-15 reps but the bands allowed us to gain muscular endurance - and most ended up reaching 20 full bodyweight pull ups.

Finally, you could always have them use one of the assisted pull-up machines and increase intensity.

None of this has any bearing on ‘training’ whatsoever, simply information/experience I had from my crayon eater days.

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Thanks man!

I don’t think this is going to be possible yet, but something I have used for other (younger) people in the past.

Won’t have access to one of those. I did used to have fun doing 1 arm pullups on that machine in high school though, haha.

This is what I think we’ll be working towards. Once these are possible, I think the rest will be pretty simple. It’s just building up the necessary strength to hold onto the bar, begin the movement of pulling up, etc. Once the full ROM can be done, it’s just a matter of raising or lowering the amount of assistance.

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Just to start out.
Most women especially a senior citizen I would imagine, get at bit freaked out at the sensation of lifting properly heavy or very pumped, so for that alone want to ease into it.
ie next month 3x15, then 4 x12, 4x8.etc
Down the line stuff like 10x3 with bands or lat-pulldown (if she can handle/doesnt get too beat up)