I *Finally* Did a Chin-Up at Age 32. Here’s What I Learned From Years of Failure.

By Karla Walsh

In my mid-20s, I created an ambitious “30 Before 30” bucket list to add more spark and excitement to my days—and to bust out of my Groundhog Day-style rut. Adventures and challenges ranged from enroll in dance lessons to go skydiving. To round out the list, I peppered in a few lifelong struggles I’d like to overcome such as eat a decadent dessert with zero guilt (at that time, I was still in the thick of recovery from anorexia-related body image issues) and complete a chin-up.

The latter might sound silly, but that pesky metal gym bar had been taunting me since the presidential fitness test. You know, the day back in grade school when you’d run the mile, measure your sit-and-reach, and, if you were me, flail your legs around for a few seconds while hanging from the bar until you land back on the ground, unsuccessful and deflated.

RELATED: 3 Reasons You Should Set Goals, Not Resolutions 

Most of the other bucket list items were easy to check off the list. Complete a gratitude journal for a month or more. Check. Volunteer for Habitat Humanity. Check.

I’m a certified personal trainer with a kinesiology degree, so why was doing a chin-up so hard?! The mechanics made sense. I knew exactly what muscles need to be strong (back, biceps, core, forearms) to get above the bar. Heck, I could coach someone else to do it. Yet for some reason, be it physical or mental, I couldn’t crack the code myself.


So in my late 20s, I signed up for the most chin-up-focused workout program I could find: CrossFit. For five times each week, I’d plow through WODs of box jumps, burpees, and banded pull-ups, envisioning that someday this had to help me gain the strength I needed.

Two years, a few injuries, and a couple thousand dollars later, I turned 30 and still had no luck. So I added it to my “40 Before 40” list and reset my intentions. I shifted from CrossFit to activities I find more joy in: cross-training and cycling. I figured that as long as I continued a steady program of cardio, strength, mobility, and flexibility—and added in a nice dose of patience and positivity—it could happen. No, it would happen.

Flash forward to a chilly December day. It was about five months to the day after making it through boot camp to teach indoor cycling classes. The high-intensity interval classes are peppered with upper body and core moves, which drastically improved my strength and endurance. Feeling strong after teaching class one day, I wandered down to my apartment gym. 

“Maybe today is the day?” I dreamed.

So I wrapped my fingers around the bar, engaged my back and core, and started doing something I had never done in my 32 years. I was moving on up—as were the corners of my mouth as I burst into an uncontrollable smile.


While I never imagined that more cycling was the change I needed to conquer that chin-up, it was. Perhaps it was the confidence that came along with those new muscles that provided a mental boost. Or maybe it was the fact that I was finally fueling myself properly to build and keep that strength. (Eating disorder recovery was a two-steps-forward, one-step-back process. And after about a decade, I embraced real foods that helped my body add and keep muscle.) Regardless, the journey was not quite what I expected, but that surprise—and more than three decades of failures along the way—made reaching the goal all the sweeter.

Next up, I can’t wait to fail my way through learning how to sail (item #22 of 40). Because failing is better than quitting, even if it takes years to achieve your goal. So as resolution season approaches, remember these wise words from the scientist George M. Moore Jr., “A winner is just a loser who tried one more time.” Or, in my case, countless times.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

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