The Perfect One-Arm Push-Up – many claim to be able to perform it, still there’s almost no video proof to back up those claims. Why so? Firstly, everybody has ego. And claiming that you can do such complex skill like the Perfect One-Arm Push-Up [POAPU] boosts that ego like nothing else. There’s no harm in bragging, unless you cannot back up your words. Secondly, it’s surprisingly easy to get trapped in improper technique with this skill. You can see lots of videos of One-Arm Push-Up but 99% of them are half-assed-twisted-body-feet-wide-pseudo-push-ups. That’s not what we’re discussing here. That exercise has almost nothing in common with real One-Arm Push-Up and is walk in the park comparing to our beast. Many people push this shitty technique as POAPU, but don’t be fooled. They just don’t have the patience to gain strength required for this move. Thus, they can forget about achieving anything great. Also lots of people don’t believe POAPU can be done the proper way, but that’s not true. It definitely can be achieved, but the process will require lots of time, hard work and patience. So let’s get closer look to what the hell that Perfect One-Arm Push-Up is?
What Is Perfect One-Arm Push-Up?
This question is highly debatable. Everybody has its own criteria for “perfection” of the One-Arm Push-Up. Anyway, I will give you my personal requirements for proper technique. Let’s make a list:
- Shoulders should be parallel to the ground
- Feet should be not wider than shoulder-width
- Twist of the body should be minimal
- Body should be straight (looking from the side)
- You should lower down until there is no more than 10 cm between the ground and your chest
If you don’t meet even just one requirement, then you should reconsider your technique, stop fooling around and start training the real One-Arm Push-Up.
How Have I Learnt about It?
I’ve learnt about the possibility of the One-Arm Push-Up long time ago. I was just starting training at that time. I remember exactly that moment when after a set of push-ups my dad came up and asked me: “Can you do it with one arm?” And I was like: “Why not?” Of course, I failed miserably. However, after couple of attempts I figured out that if I spread my legs really wide, twist to the side and lower only half the way, I can do it. With feeling of accomplishment (in reality accomplishing nothing), I happily forgot about the skill for some time. Many years later I was lucky enough to read one book that changed it all. That was Convict Conditioning. In one of its sections Paul Wade (author) was writing about the Perfect One-Arm Push-Up. I considered myself pretty strong at that time. “Bench pressing 120 kg for sets of 4, man, I should be able to crush that bodyweight thing” – I believed. Again, I got another reality check and deep understanding and appreciation for heavy calisthenics. From that moment my fight with POAPU began.
NOTE: Many people call this skill Prisoner Push-Up (popularized after Convict Conditioning). I’m OK with it but will use my term anyway.
Can I Do It Now?
Well, not at the moment of writing this article. But I’m pretty close to it. I was able to nail Partial POAPU (on the video below), Incline POAPU from couch, 2 finger (sliding) assisted POAPU and many other similar feats. The main bad guy is still out of my reach, but it’s quite close.
What Muscles Does It Work?
Honestly, I don’t like such questions. “Hey, dude, will it work my biceps?” or “What can I do to work my rear delt?” You know what I mean. But let’s make exception for this exercise. Why? Because it’s quite interesting in this aspect (as well as probably any high level calisthenics exercise).
Perfect One-Arm Push-Up is a horizontal push (obviously). So we can expect that it works our pecs, front delts and triceps. From experience I can say that triceps stimulation is the most significant. The second place is shared by the front delt and, wait for it, your lat. How unexpected is that? This happens due to high demand for body stabilization. Then goes your pec. In Bench Press (it’s horizontal push too), for example, lats work as stabilizers, but you can’t feel them this much, you primarily feel either pecs and front delts, or triceps.
NOTE: Of course, everything written in previous paragraph is just my experience. You can feel it differently. Who cares, anyway?
Why Train It?
Because it’s awesome. Not enough? How about insane core and body stability and inhuman pushing strength? Maybe increased arm size as well as hypertrophy in all upper body will interest you? What about stronger grip? Add to the mix the fact that all you need for training is floor (and you can find it anywhere, unless you are falling from some height). So the advantages are obvious for me.
The Main Question
Now just ask yourself the question: “Is it worth the effort?” If you doubt even for a split-second, then forget about it, go play with other girls in “Dauthers-Mothers” (popular girls’ game here in Ukraine) and call it a day. But if your answer is “Hell-fucking-yes!” then read on.
10 Tips to Master the Perfect One-Arm Push-Up
1. What are prerequisites? Or when should you consider starting learning POAPU? Well, it’s not that easy to answer this question, but let’s be reasonable. You should be able to do somewhere around 20+ Diamond Push-Ups, 10+ wall-assisted Handstand Push-Ups, 3-5 Full ROM wall-assisted Handstand Push-Ups. Then you can start, but you need to progress…
2. …slow and steady. I can’t emphasize this enough. You can learn POAPU only very slow due to high demand of the skill. Let me give you an example. I was talking with one highly known Ukrainian powerlifter one day. Here is he squatting 360 kg:
And I mentioned POAPU in conversation. He said: “Hey, I can try it”. Here are couple of details:
- He was at bodyweight of 93 kg at that time
- He bench pressed raw 170 kg for double couple of days ago and I was spotting him (so he’s pretty strong)
I explained him all the technique points and he got into POAPU starting position. He tried to do the repetition and after heavy struggle he finally has got one very shaky ugly rep. Why am I telling this? Yes, he had no skill in this move, he tried it for the first time and in couple of weeks/months he could do easy 5. However, the main point is that even high-level powerlifter (that can bench press 2 times his bodyweight raw for reps) struggled big time with this move. So if you are not in that category, I advise you to start as slow and light as possible. This leads us to the next tip…
3. Always shift your weight to the working arm. Sounds simple, but, again, it’s very easy to get carried away and end up with shitty technique and no strength. Lots of progression exercises will involve two arm work. One arm will be as close to POAPU position as possible and will be doing all the work. The second one will be assisting. This type of progression will work only with one condition: your working arm should do the majority of work and assisting arm should only assist. Otherwise, you will fail.
4. Vary the progressions. I’ve noticed that with POAPU the issue of training variety is critically important. Oftentimes increasing strength with one type of progression becomes really hard very soon. So it is wise to vary them or to use several in one training cycle. What progressions to use?
5. Here are some example progressions. There are two main issues in learning POAPU: front delt/triceps/lat/pec strength and core strength. The latter can be trained by simply holding the proper top position of the Perfect One-Arm Push-Up. It’s the easiest of the two. The delt/triceps/lat/pec strength requires progressive approach where we would use resistance from the easiest to hardest until we can do a push-up solely with one arm.
I can divide the learning approaches to three:
- The one with changing the body position in space
- The one with the assisting arm
- The other one
The one with changing the body position in space. This is simple. If you cannot perform the POAPU on the floor, use the surface that is higher. For example, couch, table, even the wall. Find the one that is suitable for your current levels of strength and start from there.
The one with assisting arm. You will be in actual POAPU position and will assist with your non-working arm. Again, there are several ways to do it. I can think now about 4 reasonable ones.
First way is finger assisted. You get into POAPU position and place your assisting hand on fingertips close to you. When you get stronger just use less and less fingers. 5, 4, 3 etc.
Second way is towel assisted. Get into POAPU position on slick surface. Put a towel near you and place your assisting hand on it. As you lower down you just slide the towel forward and when you push up – slide it back. The main point here is to hold your assisting arm locked in the elbow throughout the whole movement.
Third way is a mix of both finger and towel assisted versions. The same as the second, but instead your whole hand you put only fingertips on the towel.
Fourth way is to hold a ring with your assisting arm at shoulder height. As you lower down just slide the ring to the side. It is similar to towel assisted version, but feels a bit different. Again, the elbow of your assisting arm should be locked throughout the whole move.
The other one (my classification is awesome as always). In this category you can put any other reasonable progression. For example, band assisted version. Put the resistance band under your chest. As you lower down, it will support you and decrease the resistance.
Another choice would be leg progression. If you can do POAPU with feet wide, you can progress through decreasing the feet width.
And, of course, don’t forget the partials. Put some books under your chest to decrease the range of motion. Once you get stronger, just take out one book and start over.
I think I gave enough progressions to keep you busy for some time.
6. You need to follow set/rep prescription for strength. 3 sets of 5, 5 sets of 3, 4 times 4, 4 sets of 2, 6 sets of 1 etc. There are lots of reasonable schemes. In addition, you can use more flexible scheme of total reps. For example, perform a total of 15 reps in 5 repetition maximum exercise. So your session can look like this:
Set 1: 4 reps (I prefer to leave one in the tank)
Set 2: 4 reps
Set 3: 3 reps (things get harder)
Set 4: 2 reps
Set 5: 2 reps.
Total: 15 reps.
7. How often? This is another tricky question. Everybody is different so you will need to experiment to determine the frequency that works for you. Start training it once per week. Do it for 4-6 weeks. Then try twice per week. Stick to this frequency for 4-6 weeks. Then compare the results. Pick the one that turned out to be the best. You may also experiment with 3 times per week but in this case you’ll need to balance intensity and cut the volume.
8. How to include POAPU work into a program? Do you remember “What Muscles…” section? POAPU is a horizontal push. Here are couple of thoughts on programming:
- If you want to get good at it, you need to put it first.
- You can alternate POAPU work with One-Arm Chin-Up work. Read this article.
- Basically you can switch any horizontal push exercise for POAPU work.
- If you train POAPU once per week it is reasonable to stick to one progression for 4-6 weeks.
- If you train POAPU twice or 3 times per week, it is good to use different progressions on different days.
9. When to progress? A good rule of right time for making it to the next step I learnt from Mike Mahler. When you can do 2 reps more than you need on the last set it is time to go further. So if you need to do 3 sets of 5 and you can do 7 reps in last set, add resistance for the next session.
10. What’s next? So let’s assume you’ve mastered the Perfect One-Arm Push-Up. How can you progress further? Several ways come to my mind:
- Add weight. Straight and simple. You can use weighted vest, chains, bands or backpack like I explained in this article.
- Elevate your feet. This will definitely make the POAPU harder. Work your way up until you end with OAHSPU.
- Try fingertip version. You’ll gain incredible strength in your fingers. If you are brave enough, you can work up to Claw Fingertip Perfect One-Arm Push-Up.
- Mix of the above. Screw it all and try Weighted Feet Elevated Claw Fingertip Perfect One-Arm Push-Up (notice how good I am in creating pointless long names for exercises)
Is It Reasonable to Use Weights to Learn POAPU?
Nothing will be better in learning the POAPU than actual practice of the skill. With this in mind you can try to add assistance exercises with weights. However, it all depends on individual. Some will benefit while others will see no difference.
Try adding One-Arm Kettlebell Floor Press (or use dumbbell if you like). In addition, Military Press won’t be a waste of time.
What can I say in conclusion? Perfect One-Arm Push-Up is the skill that requires lots of patience and hard work. Not everybody will be dedicated and disciplined enough to earn this skill. However, those who will still manage to push through all the obstacles will acquire the skill that very tiny amount of the Earth population has. Then comes the bragging part. Nevertheless, remember, you can’t brag unless you grow some beard or at least mustache. That’s it. Thanks for reading.
Do you have that friend who thinks that he can do the One-Arm Push-Up? Give him a reality check by sharing this article.
Do you have any thoughts? Does this article pisses you off? Do you want to get drunk with me or punch me in the face? Let’s chat in comments.
Alex “Ultimate Pointless Long Name Creator” Zinchenko
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