Pullups: Common, yes; an undisciplined exercise, yea; but the fear and desperation, the daring -- to lift your own weight. Why will thhe same person who cringes at the thought of hefting iron weights equal in mass to his own body jump into the air, grasp a gar and pull up that weight?

Perhaps some simian ancestry calls, some light tracing on a DNA spiral urging us to swing off the ground. A child on playground monkey bars will curl his legs and arch his spine as if expecting the steading counterweight of a tail.

Pullups seem uncomplicated: The hands grasp a bar, the feet clear the ground, the arms move from full extension to full contraction, bearing the body. But consider: Those hands are probably more accustomed to manipulating a ball point pen or a door handle. This serious grasping is a sudden and severe strain on muscles and tendons from finger tips to elbow.

Almost immediately the arms complain, small rips of pain are telegraphed to the brain. These, though, are survival muscles with built-in mufflers for pain. The function of the hands to grasp is on the level of reflex. The least infant has a power to grasp far beyond adult expectation. The weakest person can hold on, when scared, with remarkable tenacity. "Cliffhanger," slang for thriller, is gut terminology derived from hanging on over the void, fear of falling, feet off the ground. The skinny twined sinews of grasp will shhift into automatic pilot and hold while more sophisticated thighs are al aflutter.

Nonetheless, the grip on the bar in only an overture. The arm must begin to froce a turn around its elbow, that area packed with vulnerable tendons like a drawer full of socks. The biceps flex over the under-lying and more powerful brachialis. The tricips activate, providing a necessary resistance more than movement. A crescendo of shoulder, back and chest muscles joins the orchestration. It it's done with style, all the muscles in the legs, like timpani and back row triangle, keep the extremities in line.

All this is done while the mind falls back in retreating concentration, abstracting short arm movements into sequences of up and then up again, until will disolves in a soup of gravity.

Pullups are the equalizer in exercise. Great brawny men find their won bulk working against them at the chinning bar. At Marine Corps boot camp at Paris Island I have seen men who might be able to tear you head off hanging futile on the democratic bar.

Dr. Davic Johnson, former Olympic swimmer, physician for the U.S. National Swim Team, Consultant to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and clinical instructor in orthopedics at Georgetown University Hospital, says pullups are an "excellent exercise, after you've gotten to a certain point in development. You need a lot of strength to begin with.

"It's a sheer power move, not building up endurance. As with any exercise, you should warm up first." Johnson often has to treat neck mucles damaged during pullups.

A pullup may become more than gross exercise as the practioner comes to care as much for form as count. And there may be variation.

One may lift the legs to a straight horizontal while the arms and back continue up. One-handed pullups are possible, though here style is difficult.

Rock climber, for utility, have lifted the pullup to a more difficult platiau. They hang on with finger tips, and they often practice on door jambs.

A pullup on finger tips immediately advances the metaphysics -- a finger-tip pullup is an exercise for mental fitness as well as physical capability.

John Gill was legendary as a rock climber who specialized in "boulder problems," climbing to overcome difficulty instead of gross heights, often on the faces of boulders, where climing seemed impossible. He was able to cling to mere rough spots on the rock, keeping in motion, as if he could slide against gravity.

Gill practiced pullups with fervor. He could unwind finger tip pullups as smoothly as breathing, working on a square wooden beam.

Gill, before anyone knew he was trying, could hold finger-tips on the beam and, in a trancelike state, lever his body into a horizontal position by pushing down on the beam, keeping his arms straight.

He was never able to explain how or why he did it, or what it was like, just that it was a special state of mind that made it possible.