Given I write a blog about running ridiculously long distances, it won’t surprise you to learn that my primary forms of exercise are either running or running’s slower cousin, walking.  This isn’t the entirety of my fitness routine, but it’s pretty close.  In addition, I do 5-10 minutes of core work 4 or 5 days each week.  This entails push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, crunches, and the now occasional planks.  Somewhere over the past month or two I’ve developed the idea of trying to do 1,000 pull-ups and 2,000 push-ups in a month (now thinking October).  This would be a large challenge for me since I typically only do 10 of each per day.  My thoughts tend to wander though and this led me late last week to wondering how many pull-ups I could do in an hour.

It didn’t take much more than a minute for me to decide I was going to do it.  I seemed to go straight past the “Should I do this?” stage and into “How do I do this?” in the span of a couple heartbeats.  I think it resonated so strongly with me for these reasons:

  • Completely new challenge.  I’ve never tried to see how much of any exercise I could do in a period of time.
  • Far beyond anything I’ve ever done before.  The most pull-ups I’ve ever done is 30 in three sets of 10 with 2 minutes rest and that was well over 3 years ago.
  • Short, discrete time frame.  I only had to invest an hour of my time.  Compared to a 4-5 hour long run, this is relatively nothing.
  • No build-up needed.  I didn’t need to train for this over a period of weeks or months.  Just a matter of doing it.
Slow and Steady

Now that I had decided to do it, I needed to figure out how to pace myself.  I wanted to do a nice steady effort over the hour, not go out too hard and be done after 20 minutes.  My normal effort is one set of 10 in about thirty seconds.  Assuming 30 seconds rest between sets, that would translate into 600 pull-ups in an hour.  Let’s call this my highly theoretical max.  Highly theoretical because it would assume no slow down over the course of the hour.  My 100-mile running pace is about twice my normal 5 mile run so translating this into pull-ups would give me a theoretical max of 300.  Thing is, I can run 100 miles at that pace only because I’ve done lots of runs over 5 miles as practice.  Since I don’t have any practice for all intents and purposes over 10 pull-ups, 300 would be way outside my current abilities.

I then started thinking about it on a per minute basis.  Three per minute (180) seemed like it might be too much and only 60 in an hour seemed kinda weak so similar to Goldilocks I settled on two per minute.  I felt good with this assessment until I realized that 120 would be 12 times what I normally do and started second guessing myself.  A hundred pull-ups is just a ridiculous number.  Can I do this with essentially no training?

Let’s Find Out

I decided to do it Sunday morning as I only had a one mile run on my schedule.  I grabbed a stool to rest on in between sets (can you even call a set of 2 a set?), got a pen a paper to track my progress (I was afraid I would lose track once I got into the second half hour), set my phone up so I could see the time pass, and then set the timer on my stove for an hour.

I spent the first five minutes trying to get into a good rhythm.  I would start getting ready 10 seconds before the top of the minute, rip off my two pull-ups, place 2 marks on my piece of paper, and sit back down on my stool.  The clock on my phone would then stare me in the face for the next 40-45 seconds until I got up and repeated the process.  As you would expect, doing 2 pull-ups when I’m used to doing 10 is easy.  So after 5 minutes, I decided to do them every 50 seconds.  It only took me 2 minutes to realize that it was starting to get a little harder so I switched back to 2 every minute.

Right around 10-15 minutes in I started to hit a flow state.  I was staring at the time slowly tick down, but it seemed like as soon as I sat down on my stool I was getting back up to do my pull-up.  At twenty minutes, I started to work a bit.  At thirty minutes, my forearms were getting tight.  Five minutes later the second pull-up was starting to take some real effort.  I had grabbed my MP3 player at some point and was glad to have some tunes to provide a little distraction.  I know I was struggling by minute 44 as this is when I started counting down the minutes (88 pull-ups done, 32 left) until I would be finished.  At 50 minutes, I was no longer able to do consecutive pull-ups so changed to doing one every thirty seconds.  I was able to keep this pace up for a couple more minutes until I couldn’t even do one pull-up.  I figured I may be done so took a complete rest for a minute.  When I started again, I was surprised that I could do 2 back-to-back again.  This only lasted for a couple minutes, but I was getting real close by now.  I reached the last minute with 117 marks on my paper.  I pulled with everything I had for a rep – 118.  I gave my arms a brief shake and massage, then gutted out 119.  The seconds are ticking down and with 10 left in the hour I threw every last ounce of strength into doing one more, but to no avail.  Halfway up I stalled and then dropped back down after a second of max effort.  The timer sounded and I was done.

I am very happy with my effort and total number reached.  (Note: these were full extension pull-ups with none of those kipping cheats.)  Also, I’m more than a little amazed that I was able to guess the correct pace without having anything to go on heading into this.  Frankly, I think that’s more incredible than the total number that I did.

So to answer my original question, no I don’t think endurance is transferable.  Just because I can run 100 miles, doesn’t mean I can swim the English Channel (or even a lap in an Olympic-sized pool).  Now the ability to pace oneself?  That’s a different matter entirely.

I wonder how many push-ups I can do in 60 minutes. . . .