One-Armed Push-Ups

Good fun.

RockyThe one-armed push-up certainly got a bit of attention following the Rocky movies, but has unfortunately slipped away from prime-time in recent years. Having seen them mentioned in an article I came across yesterday, I decided to give them a go - quickly discovering just how difficult they are.

Performing a one-armed push-up

The technique for these is not all that complicated. Begin in a standard push-up position, separate your feet a little more (for stability), and move the supporting hand slightly closer to the centre line of your body. Tighten your lats, abs and glutes. Pull yourself to the floor - don't attempt to fall and catch yourself. Imagine screwing yourself into it.

The progression

The first time I tried this, I got about a quarter of the way down before acquainting my nose with the ground. Not wishing to repeat this (at least the nose/ground part), I decided to try out the following series of exercises for a week or two :

Standing push-up, one arm, sideways in doorway

Standing in a wide doorway, a couple of feet or so from the far side, lean over sideways and push back to vertical with one arm. Move back a little and try again - repeatedly moving back until you feel almost ready to fall over.

This can also be done against a wall - the door frame simply affords a better surface to grip.

Kneeling push-up, one arm

The same as the full version outlined above, supporting yourself on knees rather than feet.

Offset push-up

A standard push-up with one hand on the floor, the other on a box (or anything that gets it a few inches off the ground). The height of the box, as well as its distance away from your torso, will determine how difficult this one is.

Offset push-up (stabiliser)

As above, using a box around 6" high, and well out to the side. The hand on the box is used for balance only, not to raise and lower your body.

One hand pull-up (on Total Gym)

This in itself has a progression (although a very short one) - I started with the most difficult version I could do comfortably (several reps with good form).

Starting with the incline at its steepest (for this machine) - which reduced my bodyweight to around 44%, or 36kg - I performed pull-ups with one hand grabbing the handle, and the second grabbing the wrist of the first. The further down the wrist, the more difficult the exercise. A week or so was enough to move from hand-on-wrist to hand-behind-back for 5 reps.

One hand push-up (floor)

Once I can comfortably do 10-12 reps on the Total Gym (as described above), I expect to be able to do a rep or two one-handed on the floor.

Supplementary work

There are three main muscle groups I intend to strengthen for these : lats, delts and obliques. The first two are obvious; the obliques are worked a lot more in the stabilisation of a one-armed push-up than you may realise.


Having a somewhat limited set of tools at my disposal, most direct lat work will be from variations of the kettlebell row. If the equipment wasn't an issue, I'd also do a little seated row and one-handed pulldown work.


Rather than trying to hit only one part of the shoulder, a few solid sessions of kettlebell pressing should make a world of difference. I'll probably support this with the kettlebell equivalent of the standard dumbbell raises.


These get a fair bit of work in exercises such as the Slingshot and Suitcase Deadlift. Kettlebell versions of Side Bends will also feature, not to mention the various forms of crunches.


There are two more exercises I'll keep doing on the Total Gym which will no doubt help this obsession more than a little:

Behind-the-neck chin-ups (Total Gym)

Lying supine on the Total Gym, reach up and grab the bar overhead. These feel similar to behind-the-neck presses, and have the same tendency to hurt shoulders a little if you're not used to them. Still, I subscribe to the theory that they shouldn't harm healthy shoulders; and a couple of weeks of doing them occasionally seems to have borne this out.

Front press (Total Gym)

As with the one-armed pull-ups, there's a short progression with these. Start by lying face down, with hands on the bars near the floor (it's basically a handstand push-up on an incline). Once you can lower/raise yourself under control, move one hand to the wrist of the other arm. Once again, move your hand further down your wrist (and eventually off it altogether) as you get stronger.


In a week or so I'll evaluate my progress. In the meantime, any suggestions on this proprosed progression are more than welcome.

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Scott Andrew Bird

Scott Andrew Bird is a writer, photographer and a guy who just loves this stuff. He's been at home in front of a computer for more years than he cares to remember (OK, 38) and is now making amends for years of many mistakes noted in the De-constructing Computer Guy articles (part 2) on T-Nation.

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