Tackling the One-Armed Push-Up

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The one arm push-up is a classic bad-ass feat of strength. Master this one and you'll not only impress your friends at parties, but more importantly, build monstrous strength in the process.
Big muscles are not necessarily the key to performing body-weight feats of strength - you need look no further than my 165 pound frame for evidence of that. The key is core strength and total body control.

It's hard to get a consensus on what counts as the definitive one arm push-up. There are different variations, and like all other feats of strength from the pull-up to the human flag, everyone has their own opinion.

How low can you go?

I like to go low on push-ups and I've even heard of trainers insisting that clients touch their chest to the ground on every rep. Other times I see trainers letting clients get away with only lowering themselves one or two inches. There needs to be a middle ground! You won't benefit much from doing a one inch push-up but many people cannot maintain safe form while going chest to the floor.

I believe that the ideal range in somewhere between 90-110 degrees of flexion as measured along the OUTSIDE of the elbow, depending on the mobility of the individual. If you aren't sure how low you are getting, have someone else watch you. Sometimes it's hard to feel how your body looks when you exercise. People often think they are going lower than they actually are. I know - I was once one of them! In order for me to count a rep in any sort of competitive situation, I would need to see a minimum of 90 degrees of flexion.

One-Armed Push-up
Feet wide.

Elbow in or out?

There are different ways to position your body when you do a one arm push-up. You can put your feet wide, you can put your feet narrow; you can put your arm out or keep your arm in. Most people will find keeping their legs in a narrower stance to be more of a challenge. Keeping the elbow in can be more difficult for some people as well, as it shifts the emphasis from the chest onto to the front delts and triceps. I don't care which way you do them as long as you maintain control and keep your body straight (or mostly straight, a little rotation is unavoidable).

More than just one arm

A strong midsection helps to get your whole body to work together. You also need to think about your opposite leg; If you are doing a one arm push-up on your right arm, your left leg needs to be engaged and vice versa. I find it best to practice keeping my whole body tight during the entire range of motion.


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One-Armed Push-up
Progressing.

Progressions up to the one arm push-up

Obviously you should have the strength to perform many two armed push-ups - at least 30 or 40 consecutively - before you even think about trying a one arm push-up. It's also helpful to practice other push-up variations. Doing standard two-arm push-ups on an unstable surface helps build the core stability required to do one arm push-ups.
A great way to practice the technique of the one arm push-up is to perform it up on an angle by using a bench or bar that's a few feet from the ground. Using paralettes or push-up bars can also be a good tool for practicing technique once you get closer to the real deal.

...and beyond
There's a lot of new challenges that lie ahead once you get the hang of the one arm push-up, like plyometric one arm push-ups, one arm push-ups on a medicine ball and the one arm/one leg push-up. With so many ways to vary this classic you can keep your workouts fresh and challenging!


Al Kavadlo

Al Kavadlo is a personal trainer based in New York, New York; and the author of superb books such as We're Working Out: A Zen Approach to Everyday Fitness (review), Raising the Bar : The Definitive Guide to Bar Calisthenics and Pushing the Limits! Total Body Strength With No Equipment.

Swing by his blog for regular updates on bodyweight strength-training, conditioning, and nutrition. You'll also find him on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube and Google+. And, of course, in Gymchat 223 - Progressive Calisthenics. Fantastic conversation.



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