How David Goggins Broke the World Pull-up Record
What isn’t David Goggins known for when it comes to athletic or physical feats?
If you don’t know Goggins from being the only member of the U.S. Armed Forces to complete training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller, maybe it’s for completing over 60 marathons and ultramarathons. Maybe it’s for authoring Can’t Hurt Me, a New York Times Bestseller that documents all of these incredible accomplishments and more.
One of those stories was on Goggins’ attempt to break the Guinness World Record for pull-ups in 2013, which was 4,020 in 24 hours at the time. The chapter was titled, “The Empowerment of Failure.”
What Terry Crews Taught Me About Failure
“I knew from then on that I could have the courage to fail on my own terms.”
Lights, camera, action!
The story begins on September 27, 2013 and takes place at the studio of The Today Show. In the prior six months, Goggins had done 40,000 pull-ups in training.
Training could not prepare him for the other elements of the challenge, however.
Goggins began his attempt for the world record right after his appearance on The Today Show, on a set with hot lights and right in front of a large glass window facing the streets of New York City.
This type of environment didn’t suit Goggins, who typically likes to do his work behind the scenes.
It wasn’t just that, though. You know what may be an important part to a pull-up challenge? The bar. This one had too much give, reducing Goggins’ ability to explode and do pull-ups the proper way.
This meant holding a tighter grip and using more energy to complete each pull-up. In an endurance and strength challenge such as this, the wasted energy weighed on Goggins throughout.
After 2,500 pull-ups, Goggins ended his attempt due to tension and lactic acid buildup in his muscles.
A change of environment
Goggins wasn’t done, of course. He’d try again in Nashville two months later.
He studied his first attempt hard, setting adjustments to overcome its challenges. He found a pull-up bar he liked, which was sturdy and didn’t have any give. He even designed his surroundings to make him more efficient with his energy, like stacking wood boxes next to him to keep his water bottle closer.
Goggins received online criticism after his first attempt, though, citing poor pull-up form that would make this record hard for him to achieve. Critics said his arms were too long, that he weighed too much, and that he put too much pressure on his hands.
He didn’t worry about his hands. They weren’t a problem in the first attempt, but that was because of the loosesness of the bar.
It only took 150 pull-ups in Attempt #2 for Goggins to feel the burn on his hands. His hands were splitting underneath his gloves and he had only just begun.
Ten hours into the second attempt, Goggins took his first break. As he pulled his three pairs of gloves off, layers of skin came off with them.
That wasn’t Goggins’ only problem, though. He was in rhabdomylosis, which is where muscles breakdown and release myoglobin into the bloodstream. Myoglobin, a protein that stores oxygen in the muscles, can cause kidney damage if too much ends up in the bloodstream.
Rhabdomylosis is common for endurance athletes that push their bodies to the brink, as Goggins was here. It can be deadly if not treated properly.
Almost anyone would stop with skin-stripped hands and rhabdo. Goggins kept going, though. He did a few hundred more pull-ups, most with just a few fingers or even his wrists, before eventually quitting.
He failed for the second time.
Goggins got back on the bar two months later in the same gym in Nashville. To overcome his largest obstacles, the blisters, Goggins had a mattress company design custom foam pads for his hands.
Twelve hours into Attempt #3, Goggins was already at 3,000–1,021 pull-ups short of the record. Goggins was exhausted, but he couldn’t take a long break otherwise his body would start locking up. He kept breaks to four minutes, giving him time to adjust his foam pads and gloves.
After 17 hours and two failed attempts, David Goggins broke the Guinness World Record for pull-ups, going to 4,030 just to be sure. (Note: the record has been broken several times since.)
Between the training and three attempts, Goggins did more than 67,000 pull-ups in nine months — equivalent to over 7,444 a month, 248 a day, and 4 an hour.
Goggins showcased the power of repetition. The repetition wasn’t just in the form of the actual pull-ups, though. He tried three times to accomplish this goal, collecting new perspectives and knowledge in the first two to set him up for success in his final attempt.
Four pull-ups an hour doesn’t seem like much. Over time, it becomes increasingly more challenging to the muscles, but increasingly more empowering to the mind.
Can’t we all do four pull-ups an hour in our own way? What if that means writing 40 words an hour? Or running one mile per day? Or signing one client a week?
Small numbers grow through consistent repetition. Small numbers are boring and don’t seem useful in the grand scheme. But small numbers are a necessary step before getting to the large numbers.
The Importance of Making 10 True Fans
Before worrying about your first million, worry about your first ten
As Goggins would say, you have to callous your mind to overcome your doubts and failures and keep moving forward. In this specific case, you might have to callous your hands, too.
Challening yourself is important. When you fail, take a look at why. Then, take that knowledge forward to guarantee your own new personal record.