I’m Adam Sandel aka “Professor Pull-Ups” – Harvard philosopher and Guinness World Record Holder for “Most Pull-Ups in One Minute” (55, set September, 2017).
If you’re looking to reach new personal bests, shed some pounds, balance training with work, improve at your sport, or simply get to the gym for the first time, this blog is for you!
It’s also for anyone interested in connecting fitness and philosophy – exploring the ways in which the age-old wisdom of thinkers like Socrates can benefit you in and out of the gym.
My passion for fitness and philosophy
Fitness and philosophy have always been big parts of my life. I grew up an avid baseball player and began lifting weights at the end of high school to improve my game. I played JV ball at Harvard University and came to love training for its own sake – especially pull-ups, which have been a personal favorite ever since my dad challenged me to a pull-ups competition at age 17. (He beat me with 10 to my 7.)
As a college kid, I took pride in being a student athlete – an “Athenian scholar” and a “Spartan warrior.” When I would encounter difficulty in class or get lost in some dense reading, I was able to find encouragement and rejuvenation in a hard-fought workout. When I didn’t hit my goal in the gym, I could at least take comfort that evening in some philosophy.
I pursued my passion for fitness and philosophy in graduate school, at Oxford University. While working toward my PhD in political philosophy, I competed in international powerlifting. I also came to a deeper appreciation of how philosophy and fitness can reinforce each other. To deal with the pressure before competitions, I’d read about Socrates and his pursuit of wisdom while lying in a hot bath to shed a last minute kilo. The simple activity of thinking through ideas proposed by people who lived centuries before me was comforting. In some way, difficult to express, these philosophers continued to live through me.
Thinking through the big issues of existence and what it means to live a good life helped me put the competition in perspective. “Whether you succeed or fail,” I’d tell myself, “the competition tomorrow will become a thing of the past.” “But the lessons you take away from it, and the journey it represents, will live on.”
My path to pull-ups
After getting my PhD and returning to Boston to teach philosophy at Harvard, I retired from powerlifting. I had gotten a lot out of the sport, but I felt that I was capable of more in the area of bodyweight strength and conditioning. I decided to throw all my energy into being as fast, strong, and well-conditioned as possible. And I decided to focus on pull-ups.
Why pull-ups? Since the competition with my dad, they had a special place in my heart. They also came naturally to me, and I noticed they were my relative strength compared to other lifts. On top of that, I had just won a pull-ups competition at my local Boston Sports Club and wanted to preserve my reputation as the “pull-ups champ.” The rest is history.
My aim for the blog
As I’ve continued to train pull-ups and teach philosophy by day, and read and write by night, I’ve come to see a deep connection between fitness and philosophy. Much of my success in the gym comes from motivational insights I encounter in great thinkers such as Socrates, Aristotle, and Nietzsche; and much of the insight I gain from philosophy comes from my experience in the gym.
As I encounter big ideas on the good life, the pursuit of happiness, pleasure, pain, hardship, and redemption, I find myself relating them to the trials and travails of training. Fitness and philosophy can powerfully reinforce each other. Yet so little is written on the connection between the two. My blog aims to fix that.
I want to make the age-old wisdom of philosophy accessible to a wide audience and relevant to the way you live—from how you confront disappointment and hardship, to how you can increase your pull-ups.
I also want to share training tips and workout programs – relevant to all levels – that I’ve developed from years of competitive powerlifting, running, and pull-ups training.
My effort to stay atop the world of pull-ups has forced me to develop innovative, sometimes unconventional strategies for strength and conditioning. Every day I try to get creative, drawing on principles of multiple sports to be as fit as I can be and ready to propel myself over the bar one more time.
I believe that the full-body, athletic motions at the core of my workouts can benefit a wide range of athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
If you’re interested in upping your game on pull-ups right now, whether that means hitting a new PR or getting your first, sign up to receive my free Full-Body Workout Plan!
What’s to come
In future blog posts, you can look forward to the following topics of discussion:
(1) Philosophy insights to keep you motivated in the gym and in life. Themes include: the role of pleasure and pain in a life well-lived; setbacks, suffering and redemption; the meaning of happiness; the power and danger of anger as a motivation; the limits of planning in life and the power of response to the unexpected; the joy of adventure
(2) Training advice to up your game no matter what level you’re starting from: designing a program that’s right for you, conquering the snooze button and getting to the gym, attacking the workout, using the latest science wisely, eating well, taming the game day butterflies, balancing training with the rest of your life
(3) News on my own fitness journey: My quest for 60+ pull-ups in 60 seconds, workouts, daily motivation, what I’m cooking to stay lean and mean