Anyone can build up to this super-impressive skill if you follow these expert tips from the trainers at 12RND and Fitesque.
Hands up if when I say ‘one-arm push-up’ you start humming Eye of the Tiger and THAT fighting montage starts playing in your mind. Now, do you want to learn how to use that hand in a single-arm push-up that’ll make you into a lean, mean fitness machine à la Rocky Balboa?
And you don’t have to be all bodybuilder muscly and superhuman, either. With the proper guidance, right attitude and the correct technique – anyone can do it.
Fitspo has become a whole new beast during the coronavirus crisis, with lockdown necessitating at-home workouts, forcing trainers and gyms to get creative, and introducing us to a whole range of wellness challenges. One of these has been the push-up challenge that had the added bonus of raising awareness for mental health. But where there’s a challenge, there’ll always be those who take it a step – or many steps – further. Like the man who live-streamed himself doing 2400 push-ups in less than 12 hours and the self-improvement fanatic who challenged himself to mastering the one-arm push-up in just 60 days.
If this last one has inspired you to up your push-up game, here’s what you need to know…
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First thing’s first
You need to be realistic, you’re not going to go from zero to pro in a matter of weeks. “A one-handed push-up is a very complex exercise that utilises full body strength,” says Fitesque founder Melony Cherrett. “It’s super important to work up to this in stages to make sure it’s performed correctly.”
And anyone with previous shoulder, elbow or wrist injuries should probably give this one a miss, warns sports scientist and 12RND Fitness COO Jonah Hales. “They put a lot of load and stress through the working arm,” he explains. “If you’re just starting out on your fitness journey, then this won’t be the place to start, but it can certainly give you an impressive goal to work towards.”
“Typically you’ll see martial artists and bodyweight athletes being very well positioned for this exercise, as they are used to working with their own weight and usually on the smaller and more agile side,” Jonah adds. “Having said that, if you have the base strength and training commitment, most people should be able to work up to this achievement over time.”
Your pre-push-up checklist
“Do not go straight into this exercise – ever,” warns Melony. Make sure you warm up first.
“You’ll also want to make sure you know how to engage your core properly,” she says. “I recommend taking some Pilates classes or checking in with your physio if you’re unsure.”
You also need to know how to do a regular ol’ push-up on your toes before you try getting fancy. Once you’ve mastered the classic push-up – emphasis on mastered – you’re ready to start increasing the intensity and work towards the one-arm push-up.
4 steps to mastering the single-arm push-up
1. Take your push-up to the next level
Melony recommends you start building your one-arm strength with one-arm planks. “Set yourself up in push-up start position – with your legs wide and your core braced – and practise holding a high plank with one arm, holding for 10-20 seconds on each arm,” she tips.
“Practising eccentric push-ups [where you lower your chest all the way to the ground and push your way back up to the start position] will also help increase your strength,” she says. “Other types of push-ups you can do to help increase your strength are diamond push-ups or single-arm push ups on a park bench, stable chair or ballet barre.”
Jonah also suggests a good place to start building strength is by creating ‘additional’ load on a single arm in a normal push-up. “Set yourself up normally with joints stacked on the working arm – wrist directly below the elbow and elbow directly below the shoulder – and slightly offset the ‘non-working arm’ by placing it a little further out in front of your body,” he explains. “By offsetting the ‘non-working arm’, you’re placing additional load on the working arm, which will assist in building up strength in that arm.”
While the goal is to get your feet as close as possible, you may want to start with them further apart for more balance and support.
2. Start transferring weight slowly to your working arm
“As this strength is built up,” he explains, “you can move the non-working arm further in front, which will reduce the support it gives to further condition your working arm to the movement.”
3. Now you can start removing the second arm out of the equation altogether
“Once a push-up can be achieved successfully as in step 2, the progression is to start from a normal push-up position and when in the lowering phase of the push-up, slide the non-working arm along the floor until the arm is out straight at the bottom of the push-up. Then bring it back in as you push up,” Jonah says.
“At this stage, the working arm is taking the majority of the load and you’re not far away from your goal. As before, build up until the sliding arm is taking the smallest amount of load possible. When you’re confident here, you can go for gold and completely take that arm from the floor.”
4. Perfect your single-arm movement
You may still need to keep your feet wider apart in the beginning stages of your one-arm push-ups for balance.
Speaking of balance, always remember to work both sides equally and not to let one arm drastically get out in front of the other, Jonah tips.
Now that you’ve got the one-arm movement down, you can improve on it by gradually moving your feet closer together until you’re performing one fluid, strong movement you feel comfortable with.
Melony adds: “Make sure you engage your core and glutes, and use your breath to help facilitate the movement.”
How long should it take to achieve?
“This is going to depend on the baseline upper-body and core strength you start with,” says Jonah.
“People relatively trained and comfortable in bodyweight exercises such as push-ups and dips will be able to work through the above progressions over an eight- to 12-week period – maybe quicker depending on your training focus. If you’re starting from a lower base, then this will take longer, with the first step being to master the push-up before working on the single-arm variation.”
So keep your (tiger) eye on the prize and you will get there. Good luck!