10 Tips for Mastering the Perfect One-Arm Push-Up

Perfect One-Arm Push-Up by Alex ZinchenkoThe 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.

Incline Perfect One-Arm Push-Up

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.

Fingertip Assisted Perfect One-Arm Push-Up

Fingertip Assisted Perfect One-Arm Push-Up

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.

Towel Assisted Perfect One-Arm Push-Up

Towel Assisted Perfect One-Arm Push-Up

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.

Closing Thoughts

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.

Play rough!

Alex “Ultimate Pointless Long Name Creator” Zinchenko

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47 thoughts on “10 Tips for Mastering the Perfect One-Arm Push-Up

  1. Cole

    Good article. I see a lot of people who claim to be able to do one arm pushups but their form looks like a three-legged dog being twisted and strangled by a snake. It’s refreshing to see bodyweight strength being done the right way!

    Reply
  2. Jose Manuel

    Alex, I congratulate you on your page and articles.
    I have experimented with three types of progression for POAPU. Not at the same time, but independent periods.
    1. – I used a extensible bar door, which was going down slowly (cm to cm). The position of the body changes and becomes more difficult as the bar nears the ground. I found a problem with the footing, as it tends to slip your foot on the same side of the working arm. Requires a surface or non-slip footwear, or make one foot support, which is more difficult. However I consider a very natural progression.
    2. – Also partial repetitions, placing books with very small thickness on the floor. The progression is to remove books one by one to increase travel. In this way I managed to POAPU, for 4-5 reps, but with more advanced elbow to the head (Lalanne pushup type).
    3.- Currently I am using the help of the other arm (arm assisting), using fingers to it. I think in this case the problem may be that the jumps between different combinations of fingers may be too large in some cases. Perhaps you can use a mixed progression, adding weight. Do you have experience in this system of progression, as to which combinations of fingers support easier use of harder?
    As POAPU with perfect technique perhaps should be included with the elbow down not advance to the head.
    Best regards from Spain.
    Jose Manuel

    Reply
    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Thank you, Jose.

      All the progressions you used are viable.

      As for Lalanne push-up, it is definitely easier than POAPU due to leverage advantage.

      I use finger sliding assistance now. I get into POAPU position and put the index and middle fingers of the assisting hand on towel. Then as I lower down I slide them forward and as I push up I slide them back. Of course, my assisting arm is locked in elbow.

      What is your progress now?

      – Alex

      Reply
      1. Jose Manuel

        I am using the thumb and ring finger of the other hand to help. Although I try to load the weight on the working arm itself however I move the assistance arm elbow. Sounds like a good idea sliding finger technique as an alternative. I will test it and let us explain how it goes.

        Although these techniques help “assisted” increase strength, I tend to return to unassisted progressions (partial reps or decreases in height) as they provide more work and similarity POAPU entire body, for example by having to control the shift that occurs when only one arm is used as a support.

        Assuming that only works with progressions with assistance of the other arm, at what point might occur from these pushupus transfer assisted and POAPU?.

        Reply
        1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

          If I got the question right you are asking at what time you should move from assisted to full version?

          My answer would be: it depends. I think that when you can do at least 5 pinky finger sliding assisted POAPU you should probably be able to do 1 POAPU.

          Correct me if I got the question wrong.

          – Alex

          Reply
  3. Mack U. Wheeler

    The one arm pushup is a challenging, but very attainable skill. While you may find that your have a favorite version, try to work and master each type. Don’t limit yourself to regular pushups if you really want to build up your strength!

    Reply
    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      It is not “very attainable”, I assure you, Mack. Use the technique described above and let me know about your progress.

      – Alex

      Reply
    2. Jose Manuel

      I disagree that make a real POAPU be a very achievable goal. Maybe make one arm pushup with momentum, partial stroke, very separate working arm and elbow body front, legs spread wide and twisting the body is. But POAPU not as described in the article, in my opinion.

      Reply
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  5. Asatar Bair

    Alex, thanks for this article. I’ve gone through exactly the same experience. I worked on the one-arm pushup for two years with the Convict Conditioning program, and finally achieved it. I was really happy, but then I realized my form sucked.

    Back to the drawing board!

    One thing I’ve learned along the way is the importance of getting your pressing arm directly on your center line, and how hard this really is. But if your pressing arm is on your center line, the POAPU becomes possible. As I’m sure you know, in CC one of the progressions is close pushups (aka diamond pushups, where the thumbs and index fingers are touching). I was astounded to learn that though I can do perhaps 20 close pushups, if I bring my hands closer together, so the bottom hand is on my center line, the exercise gets significantly tougher (I can get 1 or 2, with great effort). I feel like this is a productive progression for me at this time. I also want to note that some of the progressions with a supporting arm doing various things (uneven, up on a basketball, on a slider, with fingertips, etc.) do not force you to get that pressing arm under your center line. As an example, I can do 14 lever pushups with the assisting arm straight and elevated on an 18″ chair. I like this exercise, but it doesn’t feel like it’s giving me quite the right skill for the POAPU.

    cheers
    Asatar

    Reply
    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Asatar,

      Yes, that was one of my tips. Always pay attention to the working arm (and check how much work it really performing). Good points, though. Thanks for contribution. What is your current progress?

      – Alex

      Reply
      1. Asatar Bair

        I’ve been working on the two-hands overlapping pushup, of which I can do 2, and the incline POAPU with two-finger assist, of which I can do 4 or 5 at a 29 inch height. I also do the lever pushup, either with fingertips, or with the assisting arm elevated, as I mentioned. I can get 10-14 of these a side. I can do 3 one-arm pushups with “twisted worm form”, but I don’t want to engrain bad habits.
        By the way, your video with you doing a 2-finger assisted OAHSPU is awesome!
        A

        Reply
        1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

          Good progress, Asatar.

          By the way, it was not me on video. It was Jonathan Ferland-Valois. I mentioned it in the article. Anyway, the video is truly awesome.

          – Alex

          Reply
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  14. Dhruv

    Man! You’re awesome!! I am gonna train for one arm push so hard and get selected for a competition. I have to do 15 reps with single arm in next 3 months.. Currently, I am doing 50+ basic pushups.. Tomorrow, I will be starting diamond pushups..

    I am going to follow your each and every step mentioned here!!

    Thank you so much for explaining in so depth :)

    Reply
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  16. Brindley

    I am very interested in how working the one arm push up has affected tyour performance in the bench press? Any strength increases?

    Reply
    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Well, I haven’t “benched” in a while. Like, in 3 years or so. Thus, I can’t really tell much about the possible carryover.

      However, I can say for sure that these skills have completely different movement patterns. It would be unwise to drop the Bench Press and concentrate on the One-Arm Push-Up if your goal is to get stronger in the Bench Press. You will lose skill in this case. On the other hand, complementing each of the skills with another might be a good idea because you will get stronger in a wider way.

      – Alex

      Reply
  17. Brindley

    What is your opinion on the tuck squat. I came across it on another website. First time I heard of it.

    Reply
  18. Modsisu

    Hey Alex,Good stuff man.Really detailed.
    I’m currently working on this.I have a question I was hoping you could answer:
    I’m using finger assisted version.Does it matter which fingers I remove when progressing?

    Reply
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  21. Moises

    Nothing wrong with beginning a stance with feet wider apart; progressively move feet closer together. It’s working for me.

    Reply
  22. jeff clark

    I have been doing the Rocky style one arm push ups for a couple of years. I’ve taken exercise programs and taken bits and pieces from them. Most of my exercises come from the P 90 x and Insanity, and military workouts. With the one arm push up I was always had the understanding that you wanted a wide foot base and some twist of the body was expected. After I read this article on my way back to the time clock to clock back in from lunch I tried the one arm push up using your recommended form. The push up was much harder. Look forward to putting this into practice with my work out. (I was only able to perform 2 on the right arm and 2 on the left). Thanks

    Reply
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  26. MartinMarti

    Going the “false” way for training worked for me, even if you hate guys doing them.
    Started with the feet spreaded widely, but always the full way down, chest/shoulder of the not-working arm slightly touching the ground. As soon as I could complete 20 of those, I started bringing my feet together untill they were shoulder width.
    Now I will try to bring my upper arm parallel to the body, but it’s harder as it sounds, lol

    Reply
  27. Brendan Ijor

    Hey Alex, have you managed to achieve the prison push up yet? If so, do you have a video of you performing it? I myself am attempting to master it. I have achieved the version in the DVD with the body bend but moving from there to a straight body as Coach Wade details in the FAQ is proving extremely difficult although progress is coming. Would be awesome to see it performed to get some of the finer points like hand and elbow positioning down. I’ve heard that it can be performed either with a vertical hand like in a regular push up or with a slanted hand as in a diamond push up.

    Thanks,
    Brendan

    Reply
    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      No, I haven’t achieved the skill yet. I’m working on the straight-body straddle version now. I will either add a back pack to it in future, or I will put my feet a bit closer to each other. This skill is rather at maintenance mode for me nowadays, and I’m working with high reps in it, thus the progress is slow.

      – Alex

      Reply

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