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Me and my friend are debating about if it's easier or harder for a light person or a heavy person to be able to do a pull up, provided they are both begineers.

My arguement is that, while it's easier for heavier people to lift heavier weight at beginning (since muscle scales with body weight), it would take much longer for the person to reach the strength required for them to realize their full pull up potential than a skinny person.

While, my friend argues the opposite saying that people who are heavier progress faster, and hence would outdo, in time, a light person even while they have less weight to pull up in total.

So, what does the studies say? Does people gain more muscle per time intvreal when they are high body weight or low assuming maintenance caloeirs?

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  • higher body weight = muscle + fat. I suppose it depends on the amount of muscle.
    – Luciano
    May 22, 2023 at 14:27
  • Forgot an adjective @Luciano
    – Babu
    May 22, 2023 at 14:31
  • Define "light": There's a difference between a BMI 19 person and someone critically underweight (read BMI <13). Both might be called "light", depending on the perspective.
    – arne
    May 23, 2023 at 8:43
  • I mean someone normally weighted. As in, the average guy on street who is not too fat, neither too thin @arne
    – Babu
    May 23, 2023 at 9:09
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    It's a silly argument. Most "heavy" untrained people aren't strong enough to perform even 1 pull up. If you are at the point of your pull up progression where adding more weight makes sense, you can just... add weight, the normal way, by carrying some heavy objects while performing your training, no need to get fatter.
    – Cubic
    May 23, 2023 at 10:18

2 Answers 2

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There's no evidence to suggest that heavier people progress faster than lighter people. They may start slightly more advanced in certain lifts due to mechanical reasons, or they naturally have more muscle to being with, but they are not necessarily going to progress at a faster pace relative to their starting position. There are also lifts that a lighter person may find easier due to mechanical reasons.

So to look at a pull-up, you'd have to look at what mechanical advantages and disadvantages people would have.

Of course a heavier person is at a disadvantage because they have more weight to pull. A heavier person may be heavier because they are taller and have a longer arm span; in which case they are also at a disadvantage in a pull-up. However they may be heavier because they have slightly more muscle build, in which case they may be at an advantage. A lighter person could be lighter, but still have a very long arm span compared to the heavier person. This would imply that the lighter person has less muscle mass and thus longer to progress which may put them at a disadvantage.

Given two people with the same arm-span and strength level (tested by a strict lat pulldown), then I would say the lighter person would have a much easier time performing their first pull-up. Both would progress relatively the same, but the lighter person wouldn't have to lift as much and would meet the strength requirements to perform the pull-up sooner.

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I don't know of any studies that have clear results to either confirm or deny that heavier people would have an easier time learning a pull-up.

That being said, from my personal experience (about 8 years of experience training many, many people reach their calisthenics goals) it has always been harder for a heavier person to be able to do pull-ups, ESPECIALLY when they are beginners.

The main reason why heavier people can usually lift more as beginners in exercises like benchpress or deadlift is because these movements scale well with their bodyweight. In these exercises the bodyweight is an advantage. While in a pull-up their weight would be a disadvantage. But that still doesn't mean they will progress faster, they just start at a higher base weight with those exercises.

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