Angela Gargano is a fitness coach determined to help all women successfully complete their first pullup—then another, and continue progressing until each small victory adds up to long-term wellness and lifestyle gains.
Gargano, a four time contestant on the NBC hit “American Ninja Warrior,” teaches from her own experience of having to start from the ground up. The athlete, model, and motivational speaker had to once pull herself from the “Ninja Warrior” mats—on national television—after blowing out her knee during the event.
Physically and mentally, the injury, seen by millions of viewers in 2018, set her back temporarily. But throughout the rehab process, Gargano was able to discover a new, greater purpose, on in which she could utilize her athletic gifts—helping others get started on their fitness goals.
In addition to helping over 500 women conquer their pullups with her online program, Pull-up Revolution, the former 2016 Miss Fitness America also heads up Strong feels Good, a wellness platform geared toward encouraging women to ditch the scale and focus on strength as a tool to measure their physical progress.
Gargano is also currently training for her fifth “ANW.” Although she’s never won the event, just making it back to the platform following an ACL tear (her second ACL injury) after a dismount from an obstacle in 2018—is a victory.
“Making it on the show was an accident, but coming back was definitely the most fulfilling thing ever,” she says. At that point, I didn’t really care how I did.”
Gargano today calls herself “Oprah of pullups,” which partly came from her gymnastics days as a 5-year-old. Her advice is sought out by thousands today, but back then growing up as a female with an athletic build made her a target of bullies, which forced her at the time to cover her young and athletic frame. She turned the experience into a positive: Her pullup challenge encourages women of all walks of life and body types to start working toward self improvement. And according to Gargano, it all starts with a hang, just one element of Gargano’s Winning Strategy.
“For those who say they cant do it, that’s a belief you need to change,” Gargano says. “If you believe you can do it, you can do it. So I think that that’s just a reframing of the beliefs that you have. And that’s what anything, not just with ‘Ninja.’”
1. FINDING YOUR WHY CAN TAKE TIME
I was in a social studies class in high school, and I think we were watching some sort of action movie. This guy comes out all strong and some guys shout it out. Oh, well, that’s Angela. And I remember just crying. After that, I covered my body every single day, I wouldn’t let anybody see my arms, even if it’s 100 degrees out
I was a gymnast—my mom put me into gymnastics classes, and I guess my body just kind of transformed in that way. That’s how my body was built. I was more built than most people in school, but it was very different. Part of me really just wanted to be normal. But I just hid from everybody instead of giving up gymnastics—that was my happy place where I could go and be myself.
I thought it would be better when I went to college because I assumed I was going to be around people who were all like me, but that really didn’t happen either—I was still the most muscular on the team.
Finally, I really think the shift happened when I started doing fitness competitions outside of college—where now you’re going onstage and showing off your body. And It was beautiful. For the first time, I was seeing more people around me who were like, Oh, my God, we love your body. We love your arms. I think the confidence of getting up onstage in high heels and showing off my muscles really helped to finally transform me. So it really didn’t happen till after college that I really began embracing my body.
2. FOR ANGELA GARGANO, ONE UNEXPECTED MOMENT CAN TRANSFORM A LIFE
I tore my left ACL my junior year of college gymnastics, so I didn’t really get to do exactly what I wanted to. I was a biochemist at Brown University and I kept feeling like when I was there that I wanted something more, but wasn’t sure what can I do.
So I started looking into what was available to me and I wound up meeting a woman named Dawn Butterfield. She was big into Fitness America competitions, and I saw her doing all these cool flips onstage and I was like, I want to do that! D met with me and she told me all about this whole other worlds where again, you can you’re doing fitness competitions, a whole routine, but then you’re you know, going on stage and doing the posing, which was way outside of my comfort zone at first.
She introduced me to Cathy Savage, who back in the day was on MTV’s “I want the Perfect Body.” They had a whole segment on fitness competition. So Dawn introduced me to her, then when I sat in her office, she told me, “I’m sponsoring you and I believe that you’re gonna do this.
I was like, “what?” And in a couple of weeks I was competing in high heeled shoes.
This person, Cathy Savage, really believed in me, and then all of a sudden it was I was it like it literally took off from there because that one person believed in me so much that I actually started to believe that like I should do this. I finally had people who were encouraging, and it was very uplifting.
3. THE RIGHT ADVICE CAN LAST A LIFETIME
I think it’s important to know that you’re gonna have really low moments in life.
One time I remember a mentor just looking at me and I was fighting it so hard. I was down in the dumps, not looking strong, and she said: It’s OK to feel that way and cry about it, but you can’t get stuck there.
So I think what’s important is that when you’re going through the journey and you are really down just reminding yourself that it’s OK to be down for a second it’s OK that you’re having that moment and not try and fight and resist it instead of like lean in more to it and learn from it. And then make sure you get out okay.
I tore my ACL in college and then on American Ninja Warrior. I opened a gym then had to close it. II just think you see it repeated over and over again. But now when I see it, I have the tools to understand. Like I almost like embrace it more now. If you become familiar with you get pretty good at it. And then you’re able to come out of it quicker and learn from it instead of taking it as this awful thing that keeps you down.
I lean into it now, but I needed to go through those other moments and it constantly comes back and I know will continue to come that’s OK. Tearing my ACL on national television taught me is that it’s OK to be down but also you can have a solid comeback and from that, and you can really learn from that moment and you can use it as an opportunity.
4. DWELL—FOR A MOMENT—THEN SNAP BACK TO YOUR WORK MENTALITY
When I decided to post myself in the recovery process on Instagram, I was literally just like poking around in practice and trying to make it fun—even though the inside I was like falling apart.
All of a sudden people started responding to me and they were like, Wow, because you posted what you were going through, I decided to get up today even though I was going through something—whether it be a breakup, losing a job, something like that. Aa soon as I took a moment and stepped back and looked at it, I realized there was a huge opportunity here to really help others. this actually isn’t fully just about me—I have an opportunity to show people that I can get unstuck. So I feel like the snapback moment was again that one month at one Instagram at one person who messaged me, and all of a sudden I was just like, You know what, here we go. Let’s do it.
Social media is definitely a great tool—if you use it correctly, it can really benefit you. If you don’t use it correctly. And you’re setting it instead and looking on it to compare yourself which is tough because you’re seeing a lot of people’s highlight reels and stuff like that right? And you’re getting sucked in and you’re consuming more than you’re creating and you’re doing then I can feel like it can be a bad thing. So I think it’s just how you utilize it. I think it’s amazing though, because I’ve been able to connect with now thousands of people who have done my program which is pretty incredible. So I think it can be used in a great way—if you use it correctly.
5. ANGELA GARGANO USES HER GIFT TO HELP PULL UP OTHERS
During this whole process, a lot of women kept coming to me and were like cool, you were on American Ninja Warrior, I just wanted to do a pullup. A lot of women just saying that. I’m like, Why can’t you do it? And they were like, it’s impossible—I’m never going to be able to do that. And I’m like, No, it’s not like it’s not impossible. Let’s try it.
So I started working with people in person when I owned my gym. I saw when they did work on it consistently, they got, and everything lit up—impossible goals suddenly became possible.
So it’s like there’s an opportunity here. I looked into like all the other programs they had online for pullups and there wasn’t anything that was very welcoming, especially for females. It was all these like intimidating jacked guys doing pullups, like you might see some articles. If you look it up, it’s just kind of intimidating and like not actually like what’s gonna help you get your pull ups.
That’s when I decided that’s going to be my mission. I feel like I saw a bigger picture of it, not just being about the pullup, but about the fact that if someome can complete this impossible task, what else can they do? I saw my one client get her first pullup and now she’s running Spartan Races, all because she saw that something was impossible was possible forever.
It’s the entire process—you’re starting from the bottom, which is what we actually call it in my program. Now we’re here that we’re here to get to the top. And what I like to do in my program is I break it down into little steps. So instead of you thinking I have to get all the way up to the top of the bar, you break it up into Can I just get to hang on the bar. Well, you can do that next step. You’re trying to get a slight bend in the elbow, you’re not trying to go all the way up.
So if you can break up your pullup like I do in my program, you can break up anything in life like that and take it in baby steps and baby wins and celebrate each little step.