Musings of An Old Man

by Brian K. Moore

Chin Up Boy

All my life I’ve been good at chin ups. For the uninitiated, a chin up is the act of raising one’s body weight, with the arms, from a hanging position on a horizontal bar to a position where the chin is level with the bar. My introduction to chinning was at age 10. Most pre teen boys can’t do any chin ups. It takes puberty to develop the muscles required.

I was in a public rest room and a couple of older boys were doing chin ups on the horizontal bar across the top of a toilet stall. I said, “I want to do that.” So, one of the older boys lifted me up to the bar and I did one. The boy said, “Do as many as you can.” So I did 10! The older boys were quite impressed.

This got me interested in chinning. I found a tree branch at home that I could practice on and through my life I have done chin ups on just about anything that was horizontal including real horizontal bars in the high school gym, bars that my brother and I built in our back yard, and the horizontal member of the truss which supports the roof of my daughter’s garage. (Phyllis and I used to live in this house.)

At about age 17 I was walking in the park one evening with a couple of friends and we walked under a shade pergola that was constructed of a wood frame covered with palm leaves. I said, in jest, “Wanna see me do a one arm chin?” (I had no idea that I could do it.) I jumped up and grabbed a 2 by 4 with my right hand and pulled right up! The guys were surprised and I was amazed! I kept my composure and said, “Now I’ll do it, left arm.” I had no idea if I could do it. I jumped up and grabbed the 2 by 4 with my left hand and again pulled right up. As before, I was amazed! I had been doing regular two arm chins at home but hadn’t tried it with one arm and I obviously had built up the strength to do it.

The ability to do one arm chins lasted until my early twenties when my involvement with a full-time job and a full-time girl friend cut into my training time. Nevertheless I was able to set a record of 36 underhand (with palms of hands facing body) chins in my 21st year. This record held for me for over four decades. And even though I later became a chin up champ in the Navy, I never bested this record until well over four decades later!

In 1944 at age 25 I was drafted into the Navy. At Boot Camp I immediately entered the chin up competition. Not only did representing my company in chin ups bring prestige to me and the opportunity to win a banner for my company, it relieved me of many of the chores and drills and inspections that go with boot camp. I also got on the boat racing team which relieved me of more and allowed me to eat dinner at the officers’ mess because I came back from boating practice too late for the regular mess. At officers’ mess you get better food and all you want.

In the Navy we were required to chin with an overhand grip, holding the bar with the palms of our hands away from our body. This is a more difficult way to do chin ups than with the underhand grip, and was especially more difficult for me, because my right elbow had been broken at age 9 and I had never regained full movement of my right arm toward my shoulder. With the overhand grip, at the top of the chin up, the bar on my right was considerably farther out in front of me than it was on the left. If my right arm had bent like my left arm the bar would have come up right under my chin.

Nevertheless, in spite of this handicap, I was the chin up champ of three regiments which consisted of about 2400 men. I only got beat twice and each time by just one chin up. The first time was when our company had a hard workout on the obstacle course and then I went to boating practice and rowed real hard for about an hour. When I went to the chin up contest I was tired. The other time I got beat, I thought I was the last contestant and had done 21 and could have done more, but the closest contender had only done 18 so I quit. Then another guy came along and did 22. I came back in a week and did 25 and beat him.

I had a pretty cocksure attitude about my chinning ability. In a recently found letter that I had written to Phyllis from Boot Camp 65 years ago, I say, “I went to the chin up competition tonight, naturally I won!”

The old letters to Phyllis reveal that a few days later I told her, “You can pat yourself on the back. Your husband is the strongest man in the company.” Our company had taken the Navy’s strength test which consisted of chin ups, push ups, sit ups, squat jumps and squat thrusts. These various tests were rated according to their difficulty, with the highest rating for chin ups, second highest for push ups, third highest for sit ups and the lowest rating for squat jumps and squat thrusts. It just happened that I was good at the three highest rated things, so I won the strongest man title.

This was great but it had a down side. While I was doing my 100 sit ups on the hardwood floor of the gym, the seam in the back of my jeans wore the skin off my tailbone. No big deal, except that it got infected, and I developed cellulites, and the cellulites caused me to start having boils. I had a ripe boil on my right knee and I went to sick bay to have it lanced. The medic there opened it up and he stuffed a piece of fuzzy string in it and then pulled the string out again. I don’t think he knew what he was doing, because my leg swelled up to twice its normal size, and I went to the hospital for two weeks!

When I got out of the hospital, my company, that I had been in all the way through Boot Camp and where I knew everyone, had graduated. So I went into an another company, where I knew no one. It’s tough being a stranger in a group of 150 men who all know each other. A couple of days later there was to be a chin up contest, and although I still did not feel like I had my strength back yet, I decided that I would represent my new company. It might help me get acquainted. So I entered the contest, and I won! That night in the barracks, guys who hadn’t known me before, were slapping me on the back and saying, “Nice going, Moore.” I still didn’t know all of them, but they all knew me! My nickname in my new company was Chin Up Boy!

After the Navy, although I always had a bar or something to chin on, I got somewhat out of practice for about 30 years. In my late 50s I was trying to retire and had cut down on work and had a little more time, so I started bearing down on exercise again including chin ups. In my early 60s I broke my forty year old record of 36 underhand chin ups by doing 38. I kept my exercise program going pretty steady for about 15 years and, despite my age, slowly gaining on my chin ups. By the time I was 70 I had raised that record to 40!

The last day of my 76th year I broke my lifetime record by doing 42 underhand chin ups! During this session I had done my 40 chin ups that I was pretty sure of. I thought I’ll try for one more. So I pulled and pulled and rose very slowly.

At last when it seemed my muscles were past exhaustion my chin came to the bar! I had broken my 6 year old record! I let down to arm’s length and hung there for the best part of a minute. As I was about to drop off the bar, the thought came, “I am going to try one more!” Chin up 42 was a repeat of 41, only longer and harder, but finally after kicking my feet and wiggling side to side, my chin came to the bar! Wow! I had not only broken my record, I had done it by 2!

The next day, on my 70th birthday, I retired from chin ups!