The One Arm Pushup



We’ve all seen Rocky Balboa banging these out in the classic movie training montage.  There is something special about the one arm pushup.  It is sort of like a holy grail exercise that tells bystanders that your no ordinary workout guy/gal.  No, you are one tough mutha that no one should dare piss off.  It also signifies that you are moving up the ranks of bodyweight training past the traditional beginner exercises.  Alright, enough ranting, let’s talk about how to get you to do this feat of strength.



Before you attempt this exercise, make sure you can do ALL of the following:

  • 20 Perfect Pushups
  • 10 Perfect Diamond Pushups
  • 10 Deep Uneven Pushups
  • 10 Archer Pushups (explained below)
  • 5 Hand Stack Pushups (explained below)

These exercises will build the proper foundational strength necessary for achieving the one arm pushup.


The one arm pushup is much more than just an arm strength exercise, it is a full body effort.  Your core, legs and arms will be shaking.  In fact, I remember when I did my first one arm pushup I was seeing spots.  Aside from requiring a great amount of strength, they are also a test of balance and coordination, much like the pistol squat.  These are the variables that people overlook with these exercises, especially those who discredit bodyweight training.  Yet, these variables are what distinguish bodyweight training from traditional strength training.  Neither style is superior to each other, but both should be trained to maximize athletic potential.

Starting From The Top

That’s right, just like the regular pushup, we are working our way from the top down.  Find an elevated surface of some kind, preferably high at first, to get the form down.

Once you pick your platform:

  • place your hand directly in the center of your chest
  • trace your hand out directly in front of you and place it on the object’s surface
  • dig your fingers into the objects surface as hard as you can
  • breathe into your abs
  • lower yourself down to the surface
  • press back up

That is the way you properly execute a one arm pushup, easier said than done.

Now, just realize that this is probably going to take some time and your form is not going to be perfect when doing these at first.  This is perfectly alright, remember for most of your training career you have been exercising with two arms.  So spend some time on one arm and get the feel for it.

Climbing Down


Once you start to get used to being on one arm, you can start to clean up your form a bit and start descending down to the floor.  As you start to load more weight onto the movement more problems will start to reveal themselves.  Don’t get discouraged these are nothing more than muscle imbalances and weaknesses getting drawn out.

Now when climbing down to the floor, we are going to try something a little unorthodox.  We are going to add 2 assistance exercises while still climbing down to the floor.  This serves 2 purposes.

  1. Accustoms you to bearing weight on one arm while being on the floor.
  2. Prepares the joints (elbow, wrist, shoulder) for the demands to soon be placed on it.

This will also make the transition to the floor easier as well.  After all, calisthenics require more than just brute strength, they require balance, stability and coordination.

Assistance Exercises

The first of these assistance exercises is the archer pushup.  The archer pushup got its name because when you observe people performing them from above, their body moves like a bow and arrow.


To perform this exercise place your hands wide outside your shoulders, similar to the set up for the wide grip pushup.  From here, lower your chest down to either your left or right hand.  Go all the way down until your chest touches the ground.  While going down, your other arm should be kept perfectly straight.  This, takes the uneven pushup one step further and prepares the body further for the coordination necessary for the one arm pushup.

The second assistance exercise is the hand stack pushup.  This is like the diamond pushups evil twin brother.


To perform, get into a pushup position and walk your hands as close together as possible.  You’ll notice that one hand will actually be on top of the other.  This is the starting position.  From here simply lower your body until your chest touches your hands.  This teaches the shoulders and core how to stabilize and keep the body in balance for the one arm pushup.

The One Arm Pushup

You have now reached the lowest point you could possibly get to, it is now time to put the rubber to the road.  Get yourself set up and take a big breath.  Lower yourself as low as you can possibly go, while maintaining good form, then press yourself up.


Don’t be upset if it is not much at first.  To assist with this just place a medicine ball or some kind of object on the ground in front of you and try to lower your chest down to that object.  Try to aim for 3 reps each arm.  This will build that strength that is necessary for you to perform the full range.  You can also do a few eccentrics on each arm as well.

Remember, an exercise like this does not come easy. But with hard work and consistent effort you will succeed.  Big things start with small beginnings.

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