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Profile in Human Ability by Mark Hatmaker


So, how many pull-ups can you do before you have to come off of the bar?

How about one-arm pull-ups, can you do even one with zero assist from the free-hand?

Prior to the 20th Century the record for one-arm pull-ups was 12 by an Englishman named Cutler performed in 1878.

Flash-Forward to 1918, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Mermann’s Gym, a gathering place for old-school gymnasts and physical culturists.

Veteran circus-performer Lillian Leitzel arrives at Mermann’s to refine some work with some acrobats. Leitzel was a noted aerialist [and notorious for her fierce competitive spirit and less than becoming temper.] She causally lets it drop that she could smash the one-arm chin-up record.

Asked to put proof to her claims she steps up to the bar, places her left hand behind her back, grips the bar with her right and knocks out 27 reps.

That not good enough?

Well, how’s this? She comes off the bar, shakes it out and then grabs it with her left hand and hits 19 reps.

At the time Lillian was 4’9” tall, 95 pounds and 36-years-old.

If anyone wants to scoff, “Well, at that bodyweight who couldn’t?”

I’ll tell you who couldn’t, most every human I’ve ever met at that bodyweight, and I’ll counter with, why at your own bodyweight can’t you do one?

Lillian Leitzel, was one strong hombre.

[Big thanks to Robert Lewis Taylor’s volume on circus history Center Ring, 1958.]

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