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posted: 6/28/2010 12:01 AM

Pull ups 'immunize' Lombard kids against obesity

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  • Hannah Krause of Lombard works on her pull ups as part of Operation Pull Your Own Weight, a novel approach to combating childhood obesity.

      Hannah Krause of Lombard works on her pull ups as part of Operation Pull Your Own Weight, a novel approach to combating childhood obesity.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer


To pass the semiannual fitness test, a U.S. Marine must be able to perform three pull ups.

Most Marines can do a lot more, but only three are required. The pull up - or chin up, as some call them - is that tough.

"It is probably the single-most despised exercise in the world," said Rick Osbourne, a longtime coach, educator and author.

Yet in Lombard, little kids with skinny arms are eagerly learning how to do the exercise that makes big, tough Marines sweat.

It's part of a novel approach to nipping childhood obesity in the bud.

"You cannot be obese and do a pull up," said Osbourne, executive director of Operation Pull Your Own Weight. "It's oil and water."

If a youngster can learn how to do a pull up and maintains that ability, then he or she is "naturally immunized against obesity for life," he said.

Osbourne, who lives in Lombard, developed a method of teaching young children how to do pull ups using height-adjustable bars that are raised - inch by inch - over a period of months.

"Most kids can learn, some in two to three months, some in seven or eight months," Osbourne said. "At the end of nine months, 95 percent can do a conventional pull up."

Students in the Tri-Town YMCA after-school program at Manor Hill and Pleasant Lane elementary schools started working on pull ups in March. Volunteers from the Lombard Park District and Best Buy worked as trainers for the program.

It's all part of Healthy Lombard, a villagewide initiative to combat childhood obesity and promote healthy living.

Based on the pilot program's success, the Butterfield Park District, Lombard Park District, Salvation Army in Oakbrook Terrace and Campfire have all incorporated Operation Pull Your Own Weight into their summer programs.

Most children don't have enough upper body strength to lift their own weight, so they start with their feet on the ground and use their legs for a boost. And that's perfectly OK.

"We don't ever put any kid in a position that he or she doesn't succeed," Osbourne said.

Osbourne, who started Operation Pull Your Own Weight in the 1990s for at-risk kids in the Quad Cities, has taught hundreds of kids how to do pull ups. "We're not telling anybody this is a complete workout by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "It's a measurement tool that motivates."

Kids can tell they are getting stronger, week by week. "They have a real good reason to watch what they eat and stay active," Osbourne said. "Being strong is cool."

Healthy Lombard is the brainchild of Jay Wojcik, president-elect of the Lombard Kiwanis Club and communications director for Lombard Elementary District 44. She approached Lombard Village President William Mueller last fall about doing something about childhood obesity, "instead of just talking about it."

The idea took off. The consortium also includes the Lombard Lions, Lombard Rotary, District 44, Glenbard High School District 87, Lombard Park District, Butterfield Park District, DuPage County Health Department, Helen Plum Library, Best Buy, DuPage Medical Group, Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, Harris Bank and the Tri-Town YMCA.

The first group of students and trainers were honored before a recent Lombard village board meeting. Fruit and other healthy snacks were served.

For more information on Healthy Lombard, visit