Dr. Hyman is an independent Orthopedic Surgeon. Our Mission is to provide expert sports medicine education. This is not a site for medical treatment. This site is not affiliated with, sponsored by, endorsed by, nor approved by CrossFit, P90X, Insanity or any other third party.
Before I begin. Let’s be clear: some women can, many guys can’t. A lot of it has to do with fitness, not so much gender. That said, the 2015 CrossFit Games final event July 26th exposed an Achilles heel in female fitness: the Pegboard. Almost none of the phenomenally elite women athletes were able to climb the pegboard, while the guys seemed to make it look easy (though it’s clearly brutally hard). Castro said all the women on the demo team were able to do it. A scant few women were able to do so in competition. What made them different? Most of the women at the top of the leaderboard, however, were nearly paralyzed by the pegboard, effectively giving up on it to rest for the next workout. Fatigue alone can’t explain it, b/c the men were similarly fatigued and yet rolled through it. (Both had recently done a 100 pull-up WOD).
Dave Castro, CrosssFit Games Director, stated, “I was surprised more women didn’t go up the peg board. I tested it with my demo team and every single woman on the team got up it three times but the weekend caught up to them. It’s a great bodyweight element to incorporate into the plethora of bodyweight elements that we incorporate.”
Sara Sigmundsdottir may be the fittest women in the CrossFit world, as she was dominating the field until the final event, but she couldn’t even make half of one ascent on the pegboard. The hammer wielding Thor, with his inhuman grip strength, would probably have been disappointed, but not as much as she was, I’m sure.
Sara Sigmundsdottir. One of the most elite CrossFit athletes in the world.
As an aside, the Icelandic women have some totally cool names don’t they?!
Makes me want to try out HymanDottir.
Back to subject. If a female climbs a pegboard, apparently it’s a noteworthy event. Here’s a new story about the first middle school girl to do so in her school’s 50 year history.
Horizontal pegs are a frequent part of American Ninja Warrior training and I have some patients who’ve competed in that. The grip is a killer I’m told. Having done rope climbs many times at the box, the grip fails fast, and is often the rate limiting step in couplets that involve climbing and the bar. That’s one of the reasons we put an Endless Rope in our Physical Therapy rehab center:
Endless Rope workout
Everyone knows that women have less upper body strength generally as compared to men, but that can’t be the explanation of why these incredibly strong women were standing around the bottom of the pegboard looking at each other in utter shock. These are not your typical athletes. They are affectionately referred to as ‘mutants’…i.e. they are MUCH stronger than 99% of women and much stronger than most guys. Their Popeye-ish muscles make most men look like Olive Oil. There must be something more to it than lacking upper body strength.
Men scaling the Pegboards.
Interestingly, the elite CrossFit women were also able to do ‘no leg’ rope climbs like it was nothing. Their grips are strong and they are immensely strong overall. So what could account for the inability to climb the board? I don’t think it was fear of falling nor the pressure of the limelight on prime time ESPN stage. These women are nearly fearless and their training regimens and discipline are nothing short of super heroic.
Here’s my theories on the anthropomorphic factors:
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In the end, I don’t know the answer. I wish I could watch the event again, in slow motion, b/c I think I might have a better shot at figuring it out, and adding a little math to the analysis. But alas, not enough time. In the same way women used to not be able to do strict pull-ups, and now they can bang them out, and couldn’t do handstand pushups, and now they kill them, they will figure this pegboard thing out quickly.
While most women probably still cannot do a strict pull-up, most CrossFit women can. They’re inspiring girls all around the world to get more fit and accelerating the ‘Girl Power’ movement. Although they seem to benefit more from kipping, the kip is not essential for these women at the highest levels of fitness. It will take more time and attention to technique and a fair bit of practice, but they’ll get it. Women will be climbing pegboards like spiders before too long. In fact, don’t be surprised if we see a SpiderWoman movie in the wake of it all.
Dr. Hyman is a Board Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine Expert who concentrates on helping his patients understand their problem and get the results they want. Understanding the problem from the patient's perspective, how it impacts their life, their family, their sports/jobs and goals is his primary concern.
Aside from surgical and technical expertise, he has a reputation of providing thorough second opinion evaluations. He seeks to answer all your questions and teach you about things you may not have known to ask, so you leave feeling informed, re-assured and satisfied. Knee, Hip and Shoulder surgery and non-surgical options generally, are his specialty.