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I'd like to do a one-arm pushup. I'm aware of the guide on Beastskills, but it fails to get into much specifics on how to actually progress to it (for the record, I'm trying to do what is referred in that guide as the "arm in" method - ie. normal pushup form, one arm, not contorting myself somehow to shift my center of mass).

Currently, when I try it, I cannot even lower myself: I manage a few centimeters and then just drop. I guess I can't handle the tension? No method of stiffening my body, visualization or anything else helped me get past that point, so I guess it's a problem of strength (my endurance is fine, I can crank out 50 pushups easily enough). What's a good exercise to work toward a one armed pushup? I don't have any weights available but I do have a pull up bar.

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Note: I've accepted Greg's answer below, but if someone comes with a more detailed answer I'll gladly accept that instead. –  VPeric Jul 14 '11 at 19:32

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Pavel Tsatsouline's The Naked Warrior focuses extensively on bodyweight exercises, and the one-armed pushup is his choice for a daily upper-body exercise. A couple hints from TNW:

  • Use an incline. Do the pushups against a couch or a bench and gradually reduce the incline to keep the effort at a challenging, but not impossible, level.
  • Experiment with the width of your stance. Wider feet will make the pushup easier.

Also keep in mind that this is going to be as much about full-body tension as it is about upper body strength. Even when doing easier versions of the exercise, focus on keeping your entire core tight.

Tips for maintaining tension:

  • Tension starts with the core; keep the core tight by imagining a straight line between butt and belly button and tensing to shorten that line as much as possible.
  • Your feet play an active part in that they should "anchor" or "root" to the ground; this doesn't mean to cheat by pushing but to feel rooted for tension.
  • Breathing out naturally reduces tension (ask a competitive arm wrestler!) so don't exhale during a pushup.
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I actually know about that book too, and have read it a long time ago, but I no longer have access to it. If I remember, it talks a lot about maintaining that tension - I think that is my biggest problem. Could you expand your answer with some tips on that? –  VPeric Jul 6 '11 at 7:10
    
@VPeric I'm on the road and won't have access to the book until next week; have added a few tips from memory but I don't guarantee these are all from (that particular) Pavel book. Anyone feel free to add/edit as appropriate. –  Greg Jul 6 '11 at 20:18
    
My man! Bringing out the Pavel-nator! I abuse the heck out of his greasing the wheel principle (I grease all my wheels baby) –  Merritt Mar 27 '12 at 20:43
    
+1 for wider stance. Spreading the legs out for more balance than the width that's used for standard pushups help tremendously. Often a person will find the one arms extremely difficult even able to do several sets of diamonds and claps with ease. Balance is the key. –  BigHomie May 24 '13 at 14:40

Convict Conditioning has an excellent 10-step progression to the one-arm push-up. It's also detailed here. It took me a month to go from not being able to do one to doing three one-arm push-ups.

Basically, you should start doing these:

  1. Diamond grip push-ups - will strengthen the arms much more
  2. Push-ups with one arm stretched out to the side or on a basketball - will put much more weight on one arm
  3. Clapping push-ups - will give you much more strength and explosive power

After you can do 20 of each of the above, you should be able to do one-arm push-ups. If you're still having trouble, try putting a basketball under you so that you can touch it with your chest to help you push back up with one arm and not lower down as much.

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You could work on improving overall core strength and doing different variations of pushups (standard, military, wide, decline, etc). Work at increasing strength and eventually working up to one armed pushups.

Remember, you are doubling the weight that your arm must push when doing a single arm pushup as compared to a two arm pushup. That's like if you normally curl 30 lbs. at 8 reps and then suddenly start trying to curl 60 lbs; you will strugle.

Increasing strength isn't the only option to making them easier, but sheding unnecessary weight (fat) will also help. I don't know what your body fat percentage is, but if you lower your body fat percentage it should make it easier for you to do pushups.

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