How to Do One Arm Push Ups for 20 Reps

January 3, 2010

I typically don’t make new year’s resolutions, but one thing I would love to be able to do is the one arm push up. When I first started lifting the big goal was to bench press 225 pounds for reps (because I thought it looked cool to have two 45 pound plates on each side of the bar). I reached that goal in a short period of time and it felt good, but it is not even close to impressive as doing full-range one arm push ups. In fact, I would guess there are more guys who can bench press 315 pounds (three 45’s per side) than men or women who can do 5 full-range one arm push ups. I want to become one of those people.

One Arm Pushups

[We will talk about steps to progressively build up strength to be able to do one arm push ups. One of the steps is close grip push ups. The guy in this picture is demonstrating decent hand positioning for close grip push ups.]

The Lost Art of “Progressive Calisthenics”

These past two years I have used various body weight circuits as a way to burn fat while maintaining muscle. This is a great way to condition the body and keep the body fat low, but it is not a way to greatly improve muscle strength using only your body weight as resistance. Before weight training became mainstream, men and women used their own body weight to get incredibly strong. In fact, it is believed the Spartans used extensive calisthenics to create extremely powerful bodies and crush their enemies in battle.

These Days When Someone Uses the Term “Calisthenics”…

Up until recently, when I heard the term calisthenics…I thought of Junior High or Elementary School P.E. classes. What came to mind was push ups, jumping jacks, burpees, situps, etc. I had images of awkward skinny kids with no muscle strength learning how to develop a tiny bit of base muscle (for some reason I think of white “tube socks” with two red stripes when I think of P.E…part of being a 70’s and 80’s kid). Once these kids became 16-17, they could then move on to something “real” like lifting weights for strength and conditioning. Well, my thinking has changed a bit.

A New Controversial Book That Has Changed My Thinking

Last month, I ordered a book called Convict Conditioning because it peaked my curiosity. I was hesitant to talk about it in detail on my blog…I just don’t want people to think I am glamorizing crime or think it is cool to “do time” (so I left this part out of the post until now). That being said, this is by far (by a mile) the best book for gaining strength and muscle with body weight exercises. In fact this post is a summary of Coach Paul Wade’s approach to doing one-arm push ups. He uses 10 steps, to get to the one-arm push up but the idea is the same. Again…if you can get over the name of the book, you will pleased with Convict Conditioning. It is right up there with Pavel’s Power to the People…which is probably my all-time favorite fitness book.

Why the Military Focuses Heavily on Calisthenics

As I mentioned before the Spartan warriors used calisthenics to create powerful bodies made for combat. So as far back as ancient times men and women were using calisthenics to create amazingly powerful and functional bodies. Calisthenics create a “combat ready” body that is much more mobile and functionally powerful than a body that is created with nothing but weights. This is a big reason that it is such a big part of military training. I am all for lifting weights, but to become truly physically impressive…I believe that some body weight work needs to be included in your routine along with weights.


Ancient Statue Shows Muscularity

[Ancient statues demonstrate that impressive musculature was around thousands of years before weight training was introduced.]

Using “Progressive Calisthenics” to Do One Arm Push Ups

The mistake most people make when attempting to learn one arm push ups is that they hop right to the actual movement. Many people will start by attempting one-inch one arm push ups and then gradually increase range of motion and then attempt two, etc. This is not what progressive calisthenics is all about! Progressive Calisthenics is starting with a super easy related movement, mastering that movement…then moving on to a slightly “progressively” harder version of the movement.

Here’s a Sample Exercise Progression to One Arm Push Ups

1) Push Ups Against a Wall: Stand 2-3 feet away from the wall and slowly push your body away from the wall. Once you can do this for 3 sets of 20 reps, you are ready to master the next progressively harder movement.

2) Push Ups on Your Knees: Get on your knees and do push ups at a slow pace. One second down, slight pause at bottom…then one second up. Master this movement for 3 sets of 20 reps before moving on to the next level of difficulty.

3) Push Ups With Feet on Floor and Hands on Bench: The higher the bench, the easier this is. A standard bench in the gym works well, or a chair at home. Master this movement for 3 sets of 20 reps before moving on to the next movement.

4) Full Regular Push Ups: This one is self explanatory. Just focus on good quality push ups, all the way down in a controlled manner. Same deal, move on to next exercise once you can get 3 sets of 20 reps.

5) Close Grip Push Ups (Hands Touching): I like to make my hands form a diamond shape, like the guy in the first picture. Some people for a triangle. Just make sure your fingers are touching and you will be good. Once you can get 3 sets of 20 reps in perfect form, then move on.

6) One Arm Assisted Push Ups With Basketball: You can use a medicine ball if you have that available as well. What you are going to do here is put as much weight as possible on the hand that is on the ground and another hand on a basketball. Use the had on the basketball to assist you on the way up and the way down. As you get stronger, place that basketball further out to the side of your body away from the center. The further out the ball gets from your body, the less you can assist that working arm. Once you can do 2 sets of 15 reps per arm with very little assistance, it is time to move on to one arm push ups unassisted.

7) One Arm Push Ups: Your goal here is to eventually have the ability to do 20 full strict one arm push ups on each arm. If you can do that, you will have triceps as hard as a rock. If you mastered the previous movement correctly, you should be able to do 3-5 reps on each arm. Over a period of months you will work your way up to 20 reps per arm.

Here is what a good rep looks like…

[This guy is using decent technique, but could improve a bit by getting his feet closer together and tucking his elbow into the side of his body. This increases the range of motion and makes the movement more difficult to perform.]

A Weighted Exercise That Will Help

I have been doing an exercise called Renegade Rows that have increased the muscle density on my obliques without increasing the size of that muscle. This is great for “framing” your six pack and creating not just great abs, but all the detail muscles of the mid-section. This exercise also tends to make any pushing exercise much easier over time, due to having to support so much weight with one-arm. The great thing is that it strengthens the core tremendously for push ups. When doing one arm push ups you don’t want your body to twist and turn due to weak obliques. This is the exercise you will want to do to insure this doesn’t happen. Click here to read my post on that exercise —> Tighten Your Obliques Without Adding Size With These Isometric Exercises.

Some Other Tips on One Arm Push Up Progression

The best way to insure that you reach the point where you can do one arm push ups unassisted, is to make sure and really master the previous movements before moving on. The more time you spend mastering the previous movement, the easier time you will have with the next movement.

“One Step Backward to Take Two Steps Forward”

I would suggest you start with an exercise that you can easily do…and spend a week or two on that movement before moving on the the next movement. As an example, I plan on spending 2 weeks doing the “feet on floor hands on bench” push up before moving on to full push ups. This will be easy, in fact the next level won’t be hard either. This approach works well, because you are teaching your body to progress successfully to the next high-demanding movement…you are training the habit of success. If you jump to quickly to the harder movements you will get stuck at some point.

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{ 74 comments… read them below or add one }

FitJerks Fitness Blog January 3, 2010 at 9:40 pm

I duno, that guys technique looked pretty good… though doing one arm pushups with feet close together is insanity. Mainly because balancing your body is quite the b*tch. For those that can pull this off… my hats off to you.

Rusty, have you considered un-assisted handstand pushups? Not many can do those either. For 2010, my goal is to hit 10… halfway there.

Matt January 3, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Hey Rusty, DragonMatt here,

Interesting post as usual.

At the moment I can do 3-6 1 arm push ups (depending on the day…!).

A quick question: What weight dumbells are you using for the Renegade Rows?

Cheers,

Matt

carla January 3, 2010 at 11:15 pm

I am a girl and I am so going to try this out. Right now I can do 3 x 20 full close grip push ups. I have yet to try the ones with a ball. This may seem a bit nuts, but what do you say, you train, I train and let us see who gets this done first? 5 one arm push ups (arm of choice). I would be more than willing to post a video of myself doing it!

I like challenges, especially when i get to compete against someone else. male or female.

Are you game?

Dave January 3, 2010 at 11:23 pm

I’m at stage 5 – diamond push-ups. There bloody hard but I get one hell of a upper body workout with them, especially triceps and chest.

Never really wanted to perform a one-arm pushup but this post may have inspired me.

Wilson January 4, 2010 at 12:21 am

Great article! I think one are push ups are one of the top upper body exercises one can do. I think another good method to progress to them instead of using a ball in step 6 is to play with the placement of your alternate arm, the one that is going to be free once you get to a one arm push up. From regular push ups, you would just move one arm further and further back, so that it is closer to your hips. By doing this it gives that arm less pushing power and puts more weight on the pushing arms. Eventually that arm will be so far back that its just resting on the ground. I hope that made some sense.

John January 4, 2010 at 2:38 am

Rusty, really awesome article. Been reading a lot of this blog lately. What do you think is more impressive a one arm pushup or one arm pullup? I think a true one arm pullup without holding on with the other arm is the hardest isometric exercise possible. I can do one arm pushups but never a true one arm pullup.

Also, sorry if this is the wrong place but I wanted to ask you something that has been on my mind awhile about whey protein. I have sensitive skin and am wondering if you have known people for whom whey has caused acne. I know “everyone is different” etc is the standard line but barring freak allergies (I know I am not allergic to dairy) is there something specific in the whey besides dairy (weird, freaky cow hormones?) that is known to possibly cause acne? The old “try it and see” approach is kind of bs because I am very suggestible and when on whey at times have psyched myself into believing it does cause acne and then seemed to breakout slightly but I’m not sure? I remember in the past I don’t think I did breakout on it. I am trying to do some modelling here in NYC (dont laugh) and the breakouts drive me insane. I don’t want to run my body thru numerous trials. If I knew that whey most likely didn’t cause acne, I could just give it a rest and focus on other stuff to get my skin totally clear. I could stop the whey but it is so convenient and easy especially for a poor college student. So, if you could just give me an honest opinion I would really appreciate it. I am 20 with clear skin most of the time but have mild acne flare-ups and heard a rumor whey causes acne. Thanks for your help.

Sophie January 4, 2010 at 4:37 am

Rusty- I have been hanging around your site for over a year now. 5’7 20 yr. old woman. At first, I would read your posts but I couldnt get up the motivation to do anything. however, since september I have really pushed myself and have gone from 163 lbs to 140 lbs. My goal is 130 lbs. I would really like to achive this before I go back to university on the 23rd of January. (I have been studying abroad and look forward to showing off my new hot body when I get back to university!)
I am very active, have run 2 half marathons (under 8 minute miles), and play soccer. However, I used to replace the calories I burned with food and thus was counter productive.
How Have I lost the 20 lbs since september? I no longer had access to a gym and stopped working out. However, i drastically changed my diet. I have one yohgurt (160 cal) and some granola for breakfaast. A few pieces of fruit (kiwi and apple) during the day, and my “meal” at about 4 in the afternoon. (usually soup and then either boiled buckwheat and sliced turkey or a piece of fish). I also have a few wafer cookies before I go to bed. My goal is usually about 1000 cal. a day but I would say I range from 800 to 1600.
This christmas I left my study abroad location for xmas with the family (and arrived to tons of compliments) but am very nervous to step on the scale. Worried that my weight gain was large.
however, I have saved up the money and joined a gym for the month of january (until the 23rd) when I leave and am ready to really train hard/eat light for a few weeks to reach my goal.
What kind of plan do you recommend? What kind of workouts? An extended version to your “aggressive dieting approach?” I am very athletic (can run far and fast) and will have a lot of spare time to focus on this goal.
Thanks for your help, knowledge, and your motivation,
sophie
ps: thought you would be interested in my take on your treadmill interval workout: 5 minutes 9 mph, 5 min walk, 4 min 9 mph, 4 min walk, 3 min 9 mph, 3 min walk, 2 min 9 mph, 2 min walk, 1 min 9 mph, 1 min walk, 1 min 10 mph, 1 min walk, 2 min 10 mph… DONE!

Rahul January 4, 2010 at 6:25 am

Hey Rusty,

I tried out one-armed push-ups some time back and could do about 5 each arm.

One tip i can give is that it’s more about balance and less about strength. You have to keep your body stiff as a board and focus on balancing along the line between the arm that is not being used and the opposite side leg ie: if doing a right arm push up you really got to concentrate on balancing along the line that goes from your left shoulder to right leg. Also there will be a force that will try to force your left leg up in trying to complete the push up. Mastering that balance is the key.

Also it is better to try with legs wide apart to distribute the load. That’s easier to do than with legs together (‘coz I’m guess THEN it would REALLY be about strength)
And personally i found it easier to do with hands wide apart rather than with elbows tucked in but i think that might vary for different people.

Well, I hope that made some sense.

Fitjerk, I am with you on the handstand push-ups. I can’t do even one but wud love to…how does one build up the strength for it?

Regards,
Rahul

Bruce January 4, 2010 at 9:29 am

Thanks

A one-arm pushup is one of my goals this year. it seems reachable.

Another goal is a pistol squat which seems much more difficult for me. maybe you can address it in a future article.

McSalty January 4, 2010 at 10:48 am

Rusty, have you received and read your copy of convict conditioning yet? As someone who’s long been into bodyweight feats of strength, I’m waiting on a review from someone I trust.

Another insane pushup variation is the planche pushup (pushup without your feet touching the ground). I can do about 5 one-armed-pushups on each arm, but can’t even do a single straddle-planche pushup. Here’s a progressive routine similar to the one above: (right now I can barely crank out 10 wall planches, but I’m making progress)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvbLSgWMJec

Make sure you don’t rush this progression or you can injure your wrists! It might be uncomfortable at first, but take it slow and they will get stronger. I was skeptical because I used to sprain my wrists frequently, but after doing the first exercise for a few weeks I don’t have any more problems.

Helder January 4, 2010 at 12:35 pm

That’s what i call a real challenge, it’s probably one of the toughest exercises i know of, and the same applies for chin up, try that one too, it will be close to impossible…

Anyway with progression and persistence, it’s an amazing goal to achieve, and also a huge satisfaction.

Hard goals make you feel awesome when you hit them

Chris Cannon January 4, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Rusty,

Great tips on progressive calisthenics. Funny how the exercises such as this and things like gymnastics doesn’t get talked about much in health and fitness circles, when some of the strongest and fittest athletes do it.

You’re spot on when you said, “… you are training the habit of success. If you jump to quickly to the harder movements you will get stuck at some point.”

A lot of people fail and give up because they try to do too much and end up over training or not achieving a new level of success each week.

Sincerely,
Chris Cannon

Richard January 4, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Rusty,

I wanted to commend you regards your response to the post re this entry on Dragondoor.

Good on you,

Richard (Chiggers)

Rick January 4, 2010 at 4:41 pm

wow, awesome post. I am going to start this. 20 one arm pushups on each arm sounds gnarly! I am going to set a goal of 10 strict one arm pushups. I think these kinds of things are much more impressive than lifting big weight. Also very impressive when people can do human flag and one arm levers, etc. I am definitely interested in incorporating more bodyweight/gymnastics into my routine.

Daniel January 4, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Rusty,

would you say that an ideal amount of muscles is what one would naturally have from living in the wild and never becoming sedentary or overweight? In other words, can we say that the goal for a normal active human should be of maintaining muscles rather than building muscles?

I always read the claim that paleo humans were strong and impressively muscular that that hunter-gatherer are made of steel. But when I saw pictures of hunter-gatherers I didn’t see big muscles or anything. What I saw were lean toned physiques but “healthily skinny” (for lack of a better term) expecially their arms. I think nothing could be more of an hindrance in the wild than big muscular arms or legs.

You mentioned Junior High, but I actually think that those kids that are active but have no goal of making their muscles bigger, look healthy and lean in their “skinniness”, look healthy and lean with their natural amount of muscles.

Check Sage Northcutt. One might this young guy is skinny but he is also strong, lean and toned and I think there’s a huge difference between “skinny” but defined and toned and skinny and flab.

I often read people claiming that as you get older it’s very hard if not impossible to build muscles and by that they mean that it’s impossible to remain fit. But the bodybuilding dogma has brainwashed people into thinking in term of “building muscles” while the whole point of being “old” and fit is maintaining muscles.

Do you think we can say that maintaining your natural amount of muscles you would naturally have from being active and not pushing your body into building more mass than it actually needs, is what being fit, healthy and functional is all about?

Gino January 4, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Loved the comment on training the habit of success.

For more info on the one-armed pushup, over at Beastskills, he did a good progressive and technical tutorial on it. http://beastskills.com/OneArmPushup.htm

Rahim January 4, 2010 at 10:09 pm

I’m gonna get that book because all I do is calisthenics. I’ve been looking for new kinds of body weight exercises to do because I’m not getting anymore growth (atleast not like I want). Is the book anything like the Bar-barians or the Bar-tendaz?

Thomas Ehle January 4, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Hi,
nice post.
There are 1 Arm Pushups with the ellbow in and 1 Arm Pushups with the ellbow out. Ellbow in is the one Pavel is selling in his Naked Warrior book. Ellbow out is the one Bruce Lee and other martial artists have been doing on hands and fingers for ever.
For a focus core strength and hook/punch power, I would recommend ellbow out style. The best/most I could ever do was 5 sets of 10 reps. Now, I am probably down to about 1 set of 8 reps as I have not done them for ages. The progression you suggest is good, but a switch to a single arm pushup version earlier in the progression would make a little more sense.
The progression I have been using for me and others is
1) Knee Pushups
2) Regular Pushups
3) 1 Arm Knee Pushups with knees far apart
4) 1 Arm Knee Pushups with knees closer together
5) 1 Arm Pushups with feet far apart
6) 1 Arm Pushups with feet closer together
Where to go from here?

1 Arm/1 Leg Pushups or 1 Arm Pushups on Fist/Fingers etc.

Doing them once a week in an all-out training session (as many reps as possible hitting total fatigue) as well as doing them more often in a rep controlled manner (1 to 3 sets of a 1 to 5 reps) will both bring rapid strength gains.

Have fun!

Thomas

Yash January 4, 2010 at 10:55 pm

This reminds me of a Bruce Lee video where he does two finger pushups. Bruce Lee is another one of those good examples of ridiculous strength and ability to move his body very effectively, something you can’t learn in the gym.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g70Z4egrnuk

Luke January 4, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Hey Rusty, great post.

Check this vid out its only 10sec long…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g70Z4egrnuk

These are the push ups I want to be able to do.

One finger and thumb, one arm push ups performed by the one and only Bruce Lee!

AMAZING!

Luke January 4, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Sorry!

I just commented on a Bruce Lee video but Yash above me beat me to it!

admin January 5, 2010 at 2:02 am

FitJerk,

Don’t get me wrong. The guy in the video is MUCH stronger at one-arm push-ups than just about any video on Youtube. He has very good strength levels. I have a long way to go to get close to that level, but I want to eventually learn slightly stricter technique. I have a loooong way to go to do hand stand push ups. I would be more likely to master one-arm chin ups before handstand push ups. I have a lot better pulling strength than pushing strength.

Matt,

I have just recently added weight to Renegade Rows. Last workout I was using 55 pound dumbbells for sets of 3 reps (slow and controlled). I am guessing I will be able to reach 65-70 pounds before it becomes really tough. The hardest part for me is putting up with the weight that gets places on my planted hand. The good thing is that it is making my bench presses feeling lighter in my hands…and I am getting stronger as a side benefit in pushing exercises.

Carla,

I am not big for making videos. I may at some point, but I am more of a writer than a video guy. I may change my mind at some point. I bet others would be up for the challenge.You sound like you are pretty darn strong!

Dave,

I am not great at diamond push ups yet. I start strong but then quickly fade as I do multiple sets. Like I said before though…I will back track to an easier version first.

Wilson,

Yeah that does make sense…good tip. I think one arm push ups are outstanding, and at some point I am going to master one arm pull ups. That is going to be really tough.

John,

I think the one arm handstand push up might be the toughest, but it depends upon your build. The one arm pull up is probably harder than the push up. I have not heard of whey causing acne. Great that you are modeling…some people have the good genes for it.

Sophie,

For one month…you should try to hit the gym 4-5 times per week. Possibly spend the first 7 days on this aggressive diet to get things started. If you want to know what sort of workout, possibly download Vacation Body Blueprint and use one of the aggressive strategies for 4-6 weeks. Just make sure you back off after that. Great looking treadmill workout. Also, averaging 8 minute miles in a half marathon is damn impressive…some people can’t even keep up that pace for just one mile.

Rahul,

Even with legs apart it is damn impressive to do one arm push ups. Great job. I have a ways to go.

Bruce,

Convict Conditioning has a 10 step progression to the pistol squat. A lot of that involves ankle mobility and hamstring flexibility. I actually do plan on mastering that at some point this year as well, because of the mobility required. I believe in getting flexible by doing an active motion rather than stretching.

McSalty,

I just submitted my review over at Dragon Door. It is a ground breaking book. I rarely put something up there with “Power to the People”. It is just as revolutionary and innovative, but with body weight training. You can’t go wrong.

Helder,

The one arm push up has a great “party trick” aspect to it. It is something you can crank out anywhere. In Convict Conditioning, Paul also teaches you how to do a stand-to-stand back bridge. I will never attempt that due to my back, but that may be the most impressive thing out of all of the exercises taught.

Chris,

Yeah…I think people don’t talk about gymnastics because it is a super-high level of conditioning that few are willing to attempt. Plus people actually have to watch what they eat and maintain a strong strength-to-weight ratio. Many of the fitness sites are full of guys who just lift heavy and put on bulk….fat mixed with muscle. If they attempted gymnastics they would have to admit that much of their size is actually body fat, not muscle.

Richard,

Dragon Door is full of a great bunch of men and women. I appreciate the feedback about my site. I really think it is one of the better run online companies online. So much great info!

Rick,

You want to see impressive. Watch these guys at Barbarians. I am consistently amazed by these guys!

[All of these are impressive, but there is a guy who does clap push ups in a really interesting way. He is fast! Also, check out Rick doing back hand-springs into burpees, into pull ups. Sick…absolutely sick!]

Daniel,

I have always been about maintaining a natural level of muscles with exceptional tone. Depending upon the person that could be slim and toned (Brad Pitt – Ryan Kwanten), Medium and toned (Daniel Craig – Taylor Lautner), or big and toned (Hugh Jackman…Laird Hamilton). I think it is fine to push a little beyond your natural musculature if that is what you want, but when a Brad Pitt guy tries to look like Laird Hamilton then his physique looks odd. If Hugh Jackman tried to get as slim as Ryan Kwanten that is equally odd. My natural build is just slightly slimmer than Will Smith in “I Am Legend”, which is much slimmer than Hugh Jackman…but I am cool with that. Once people understand their natural size, they can work on getting that physique as detailed as possible. All of the guys I listed have outstanding physiques, because they stay within their natural range.

Gino,

Great link! That is a darn good article. Clever name for a website as well.

Rahim,

I dig the Bar-Barians. Great guys (who happen to be uber-strong). Convict Conditioning will give you 10 steps per exercise. These are the exercises that you will learn to master…1) one-arm pushups 2) one-arm pull ups 3) one arm handstand push ups 4) pistol squats 5) stand-to-stand back bridges 6) Hanging straight leg raises. If you can master each of these movements…you will be in better physical condition than anyone I know. Seriously…I do not know one human being personally who can do these 6 body weight lifts with any sort of efficiency. You will become an amazing physical specimen!

Thomas,

Good point about the two different types of one-arm push ups. They are both pretty darn impressive. I guess I have just seen a lot fewer people with the ability to do the “arm in” variation. That looks like a good progression as well. I like the idea of practicing on one arm when doing these from the knees.

Yash,

I get more and more impressed with Bruce Lee the more I hear about this guy. What an amazing athlete!

Luke,

Great minds thing alike!

Good comments!

-Rusty

Rafi Bar-Lev January 5, 2010 at 2:10 am

Rusty,

I think the trick to getting really high repetitions with body weight exercises is doing them everyday and stopping well before fatigue. Your muscles then adapt to any given exercise and the skies the limit to how many you can do.

Anyway, the book looks really interesting. Great post!

-Rafi

John January 5, 2010 at 4:46 am

Rusty, thanks. I tend to think your right..the problem is with myths it can really get in your head…amazing the stuff out there.
I am in NYC now and at 6’2 and 170 get called skinny all the time by my old hs friends. It is definitely what the modeling world wants though. In fact I am STILL too big for a lot of jobs. 170 is probably a little skinny for my height but seriously at 175 I was told to lose at least 5 pounds of muscle (my bf probably stayed the same since I still wear 30 inch waist).

My old hs friends make fun of me for being a ‘bitch’ and my benchpress has gone way way down. My max is like 240 (I can barely do 225 for 6) and it used to be 325 when I was 17 and 205 pounds on creatine and a ‘superman’ workout.

Also my face is much better, much leaner and ‘sharper’. Even my facial features seem more ‘well defined’. I get a HELL of a lot more attention from women.. I was getting looks and hit on in high school and then noticed after I bulked up a lot of that diminished. Now even at a ‘scrawny sissy weight’ (as my old gym ‘buddies’ call it) I get a lot more looks and am starting to model part-time etc. Also being this weight is a lot easier on my body. No more stuffing myself and constantly getting sick…

Bill January 5, 2010 at 6:51 am

Really awesome post Rusty. Been doing a similar routine to get to doing 10 one-arm pushups per side. Did it with a ball on some days on other days slowly slid my opposite hand out to the side farther eventually moving it back farther. Found my hand in close for OAPs works more the shoulder and arm with chest and helps in balance. Now working on moving my hand just outside shoulder width with arm at 45 degrees and legs in line with shoulders. Again progressing like you describe and now up to 4 OAPs that way.

Like you said ~ It’s all about taking your time with your progression to get locked in solid before the next step.

Thanks again for this Super post.

By the way, for one-arm HSPUs popped into it in the corner of the room so the corner shape (like a V) helped then did the same steps so currently do 2 one arm HSPUs. My 2010 goals are 10 one arm pushups with legs even with shoulders and 5 one arm HSPUs…

All the best to everyone on your Quest !!

Bill

Jedidja January 5, 2010 at 9:37 am

Awesome..i’ve always been interested in doing these and will definitely give the progression a try πŸ™‚

Pete January 5, 2010 at 11:22 am

another really great post rusty. I’ve been following your blog for a while, but after reading this I put in in my favourites folder…if you keep producing this kind of quality information, I might just make it my god damned home page!!

I applaud your pioneering work in bringing “progressive calisthenics” back to the masses. For a few years in the 90’s my brother worked as a prison guard in Australia, and he used to tell me how awesomely strong some of the (very dangerous) prisoners got using this kind of thing. Funny thing was, he used to laugh that prisoners got WEAKER when they bought the gyms in, and the old body-weight methods became put on the back burner.

I don’t think you are promoting crime by analysing methods used by convicts. If anything you are liberating these secret arts for the rest of us to employ and enjoy!

Keep up the good work,

Pete

Jason G January 5, 2010 at 2:50 pm

30 pullups is my goal this year. This is also the year that I get down to the 8 percent bodyfat range.

Daniel January 5, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Rusty,

Can you really develop a lean defined and toned physique with bodyweight exercises alone, if you really wanted to?

I went to T-nation and everyone there said that bodyweight exercises are useless to sculpt the body, and that they are so soft that not even a short young girl could benefit from them and that the only way to see a difference in your physique is by lifting very heavy weights.

Are they wrong and is there a scientific evidence that you could sculpt your body with just bodyweight?

Marc Feel Good Eating January 5, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Rusty,

Patience is a virtue πŸ˜‰
Progress is slow….but it WILL come if you keep at it.
Since you’re first Bar-Barron post around August, I committed myself to the challenge.
I’m finally up to my 3rd muscle up. πŸ˜‰ 2 and 3 are ugly…but i get up.

Dang it….now you’ve given me another challenge….one arm pushups.

All the best from cold Florida. (yes, it’s even cold here)

Marc

Clement January 6, 2010 at 6:11 am

Hey rusty,
I’ve been a follower if your blog for some time now and I must say, awesome post yet again! I just wanted to ask you something quite unrelated to this post, though it could be placed under calisthenics. I’m sure you’ve heard of an exercise called the dragon flag. Does it injure your lower back? I know many fitness experts like you and Craig Ballantyne are opponents of exercises that flex the lower back. This exercise doesn’t, but it dies seem a bit hard-core. Please help!

John January 6, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Rusty, you know I’ve always been a great admirer and fan – I think your website is the best fitness site on the Internet and I tell everyone I know about it. But I just got an e-mail from you advertising CONVICT CONDITIONING . . . which sort of fits into the subject of this article which is why I’m posting this here.

I think that advertising a book written by a convicted felon who GLORIFIES his status by calling it “CONVICT CONDITIONING” is disgraceful and disgusting. It’s a slap in the face not only to his victims but to all of us.

I sincerely hope you stop advertising this guy’s work.

Yavor January 6, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Renegade Rows definitely help with one arm pushups.

Here is our strongest athlete – Vasko (sprinter), doing perfect RR’s with 40kg dumbbells:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yewviZvEj5Y

Incidentally, he also does PERFECT one arm pushups.

And here is a female athlete – Maria (high jumper), who is super light, but ridiculously strong, doing 25kg RRs:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7D1nt6Mtay0

Just for fun – the most bad ass exercise – one arm evil wheel by Nino (Taekwondo, Capoeira and Singing πŸ™‚ ). It pays to have biomechanics on your side. But still – brutal:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeKEe4ujceM

Steven Ponec January 6, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Thanks so much for the book recommendations! Even though I’m sure you are right that Spartans and such used calisthenics to build functional strength, statues made back then are very unrealistic anatomy wise. I know that’s a nitpick, but I just hope people don’t try super hard to look exactly like that epic bearded statue.

And out of curiosity – have you ever tried fist pushups or fist one arm pushups? I have chronic wrist tendonitis and have lots of trouble and pain when I do real pushups. Any ideas?

Thanks for the great post Rusty! I love your blog – it is very helpful.

admin January 6, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Rafi,

That would make a lot of sense, since that is exactly the technique to get stronger at weights as well. Fatigue and pushing to failure is great for mass, but not as good for strength. Good call.

John,

That is slim, but my guess is that you have a slim bone structure, like most models. Brad Pitt was 155 at right around 6 feet tall, in Fight Club. My guess is that you have similar proportions which isn’t a bad place to be. Let the other guys obsess over getting bigger, you can move on to better things while looking better in the process.

Bill,

Two one armed handstand push ups are on a whole different level! Great job. I am not even going to attempt these until maybe next year.

Jedidja,

The progression helps a lot…especially if you master the steps before moving on to the next one.

Pete,

Glad you enjoyed this. I am still torn a little at promoting a book written by an ex-convict…but he did do his time and paid his debt to society. He is also making a positive contribution by writing perhaps the best body weight book to date (as far as gaining strength goes). Thanks for reading my blog. Comments like this really give me energy to keep pushing hard.

Jason G,

The great thing about those goals if that they work together well. As you lean down then pull ups should get easier. 30 pull ups is a huge goal be the way. Your back and biceps are going to look incredible.

Daniel,

You need to take the “Shopping Cart” approach with T-Nation (actually any site for that matter)…some great info mixed in with advice that probably is a little biased. You won’t develop a big bulky bodybuilder build with body weight exercises…you will look muscular and dense like a Navy Seal. There are countless examples of guys who maintain an amazing physique with body weight only work. Head on over to Bar-Barians, if you want to see what body weight stuff can accomplish…or simply watch Gymnastics. Again…you won’t wind up looking like a lot of guys over at T-Nation if you mainly focus on body weight stuff…which is a good or bad thing depending upon you goals.

Marc,

Fantastic to hear from you. I may try out one of your recipes today, because I am in a major food rut! Naples is actually cold? Like 60 degrees cold or really cold? Anyway…I have a feeling you will be able to pump out one-arm push ups in no time.

Clement,

I think if you have a healthy back that is injury free that this is a fine lift. I used to do these and they did irritate my back so I dropped them. My advice is just pay attention to the way your back feels after doing them. Speaking of exercises and back injuries…My back is feeling better than it has in years by doing hip bridges (I have a recent post on this). My posture is better, I sit up straighter when typing, etc. It is a wonderful exercise.

John,

You have a good point. I thought a while about this before I posted it. The issue is do we forgive someone after they have paid their debt to society? In the book, Paul Wade really makes a point that he hopes that nobody ever winds up in prison, he calls it the loneliest place on the planet, etc. He paints a very grim picture of being in prison. The message is the book is a good one. Besides that, this is the best book I have ever read on using body weight to build strength. I like the fact that he took his bad choices and turned it into something positive. He could have given up and then did something to wind up right back in prison, but looks like he is trying to contribute to society. It is a tough call, but my hope is that this book will help a lot of people (even if it is written by someone who made some seriously bad choices in his past).

Yavor,

You have some serious athletes in that gym…puts most of the people in my gym to shame.

Steve,

Yeah…good point. The statues were probably made as an ideal rather than the typical physique back then. I like the fist push up when I am on a padded surface or carpet, but not so much on concrete or wood floor. If I was a fighter (which I’m not), I would do the fist variation for sure. Thanks for the compliment about my site…I appreciate having you as reader.

Cheers,

-Rusty

Tyler January 6, 2010 at 8:08 pm

I can’t dream that far, that is doing push up on one arm. I can’t even do it on two! At least not yet. πŸ™‚

Coach B Meyer January 7, 2010 at 2:03 pm

I like the use of teaching progressions to get to your end goal. Using bands to aid, bench pushups, TRX pushups are a great place to start. Isometric holds and staggering your hands are easy ways to progress. Hope this helps some people who need a little guidance.

wwww.bmeyertraining.com
Coach B Meyer

Abril January 7, 2010 at 3:28 pm

I think you advertising Convict Conditioning is fine. Just had to add that…being the daughter of a person who spent nearly 15 years in the state Penitentiary. Best we learn the secrets that convicts use than remain weak victims.

One handed pushups sounds like a great goal. Right now I am trying to be able to do 10 consecutive pullups without stopping. I can only do 5 right now. Maybe I will add training for the one-handed pushup as part of my training regimen. I try to do pushups every other day, being former military I ketp alot of my training regimen from back then. I feel bored with my pushups and feel like I am not improving anymore . I think this type of pushup training will kick it up a notch! Thanks for this great article and wonderful blog overall. I’ve probably mentioned it before but I lost a good 30 lbs since I found your site.

Jake January 7, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Nice post. I am doing something similar myself, and I am documenting it on my blog, but I am not doing as good of job with the details as you are! I am doing a bodyweight circuit that consists of one-leg squats, one-arm push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups, and a number of static holds. Like you, I cannot do a great number of one-arm push-ups at the moment so I doing them on a 22in platform to decrease the difficulty of the exercise. Thanks for the motivation.

Jake
acleanresolution.com

Clement January 8, 2010 at 12:41 am

Thanks, rusty! I don’t feel pain in my back after doing them, so I’ll probably continue it. My workout style is more along the lines of athletic-style conditioning, with high sets and low reps to build functional strength, but I learn great stuff from you nonetheless! And I actually knew about the book quite long ago and ordered it. I mean, if dragon door recommended it and Craig Ballantyne and you endorsed it, among others, it must be something else, right? My goal is to meet his expectations of conditioning as far as the one-armed exercises go! Keep up the good work mate!

Clement January 8, 2010 at 12:47 am

Oh by the way, do you have any opinion on whether an alkaline diet helps to burn fat or aid recovery? There’s been a lot of confusing information out there, with studies showing stuff like salmon, cashews and oats are good for you but are condemned as making the body acidic. For me, I don’t care much as long as it helps me in recovering after exercise. But the kind of breakfasts I’m having – whole grain oats with natural peanut butter – are being described as extremely acidic! Should I be worried about this?

jo January 9, 2010 at 7:27 am

Hey Rusty, great post as ever. I was thinking if you enjoyed convict conditioning then you would enjoy “building the gymnastic body” by coach sommer, that has some great bodyweight exercises. Responsible for introducing me to ring based training which is awesome

Daniel January 9, 2010 at 8:42 pm

These complex exercises have the potential to really improve strength, muscular density and balance. The ones that come to mind are: one arm push-ups, L-sits, hand-stand push-ups, pistols.

What else?
I wonder if a whole workout could be built on mastering complex movements alone.

Rusty, do you believe that a lean and strong physique can be develop with bodyweight exercises alone? I mean never touching a weight? Would that be possible?

vacoder January 10, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Excellent post Rusty.

Would love to see a similar post on how to be a Bar-Barian!

Ersin Kilic January 18, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Hey Rusty, I would say i have a good physique but i have excess skin which makes my muscles look like fat what can you suggest me to do.. Thanks!

Ersin Kilic January 20, 2010 at 8:40 pm

when does he reply to comments

Computer Flat Screen Monitors January 21, 2010 at 2:08 am

I don’t think it’s really necessary to do one arm pushups. Just focus on your form and you can even your strength out between both arms. Focus on slow reps and you will surely feel the burn.

Ersin Kilic January 21, 2010 at 2:22 pm

with one arm push ups you can show off

Kathy January 24, 2010 at 10:59 pm

I wish I could say 1-armed pushups were on my radar, strength-wise. There is a lot technique to the 1-arm though.. you must’ve read Pavel’s ‘Naked Warrior’, which in typical Pavel style ‘field-strips’ the movement down to some of the tiny technical bits that I would imagine could get you to a true 1-arm pushup if you are already close. good luck!

geoff January 26, 2010 at 10:32 am

Hi. I got into this a while ago, and found that starting off with a weedy press up (knees on the ground) was the way to build up to it. On a masochistic note, try the finger end press-up, and gradually reduce the number of fingers you use. I had it down to index finger press-ups for ten reps at one point. There’s always that slight worry at the back of your mind; ‘Is it going to snap this time?’

jason February 6, 2010 at 2:40 pm

I think your point about the one arm rows is key to the success of the one arm push up. The 1 arm push up requires lots of core strength as do the renegade rows. I think many people have the strength to do a 1 arm push up, like you said lots of people can bench 315 plus, so if you are an average size person that is plenty of upper body strength.

Vegasboi February 6, 2010 at 10:21 pm

John-

Don’t let other people ever tell you what you should weigh or look like. I’m 5”11 and 135 lbs (shooting for 130-I had more tone at that weight) and I can do pushups on my fingers and lift and move heavy objects better than many of my 200 lb friends (who, I might add, get winded after about 30 regular pushups).

Skinny=weak?
No, sitting on your ass all weekend drinking=weak

fitbritz March 16, 2010 at 7:00 am

Hi their great article we have a video from a personal trainer who is doing different styles of push up here is his video
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqQicZ06AP0

are website http://www.fitbritz.co.uk
facebook http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Fitbritz/330465358586?ref=nf

Alden April 8, 2010 at 10:55 pm

how often should i do this a week?

alex. May 19, 2010 at 12:02 pm

hey, rusty, i am on step 6 right now, and not having to much trouble so far, but the diamond push-ups are one hell of a good workout.

bossy June 21, 2010 at 4:08 am

geoff got it bang on re. tha one arms.. start with knees on floor in some pansy female pressup position and gradually put less weight thru knees and more through toes.. before startin to gradually lift knees tho would suggest working up to doing 5 with arm tucked close to body (similar to mentioned somewhere in article).. as for the one finger pressups however wtf why lol

Michael Lindsay July 2, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Another way to do the one arm assisted is with a push up board. We regularly do these during our body weight workouts at Fear Systems. It takes a while to get to the point of being able to do them, that is for sure! Interesting post! I have several posts on push up board workouts on my blog if anyone is interested. Don’t think any of them feature the one arm assisted though. I’ll have to work on that!

Alex Allmert - Hardcore Natural Bodybuilding Tips August 30, 2010 at 4:54 am

Rusty, I will check out the book you mentioned.

Also there is a book called Never Gymless by Ross Enemaim.

Ross is a former boxer who now trains athletes, he answers all the emails sent to him, I had the pleasure of discussing kickboxing with him over an email conversation, he’s very knowledgeable.

His site is rosstraining.com he has some interesting insights.

-Alex Allmert

Most Comfortable Shoes September 15, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Rusty, this is a little off topic. Is there another option rather than the push up? I do yoga, but I need to fast track my strength building routine. I believe yoga to be fantastic for teaching the fundamentals of body movement and your limits, however I need to build up my muscle, particularly my legs and arms. Any suggestions would be welcomed.

Ronald September 23, 2010 at 3:20 pm

I don’t know anything about professional fighting but I am so glad I have searched this site on Google. I think I learn something today which I can use for self defense. It is a very dangerous world out there and some techniques are very useful in case of danger.

Snow October 24, 2010 at 2:27 pm

20 reps?

5 or 10 would be a better number lad πŸ˜‰

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fU3KTlth84

Graig shows perfect form for this exercise and I would love to see someone do 10 of those on each side.
I push 3 on each side but with feet spaced closer, also performed very slowly to watch form. With feet spaced out, twisting shoulders or legs or lifting one leg it becomes a lot easier.
Try this to built up strength, halfway down the one arm pushup hold contraction for 10 secs then explode back up. Same with Pistol Squats, halfway down (thigh parallel to floor) hold for 10 sec then explode back up.

Love the site Rusty, keep up the good work bro

ps. the yoga guy should perform his routine holding each exercise for 30 secs. That’s how I always do my yoga workout.

Terry Harris - New Zealand December 1, 2010 at 12:01 am

this is a great post lots of comments and good information Convict conditioning is a great book working on all 6 movements up to close grip push ups now also starting hand stand push ups .have trained with weights etc for 34 years really enjoying the body weight work can feel the strength growing in my muscles and joints
wish you all well on your way to the big six

Keep up the great work Rusty

Interactive December 21, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Oy this is a good workout… I’ve tried it, and I’m not in great shape, so I couldn’t even quite do it the first time, but I’m getting there!

Steve - Jogging Tips January 4, 2011 at 7:18 am

Bruce Lee used to do one-armed push-ups and he was in great physical condition.

buying shares February 17, 2011 at 12:47 pm

I find one-armed press-ups virtually impossible to do at the moment. I think I’ll really need to build up to accomplish them.

Georgiann Schmitke February 24, 2011 at 6:13 pm

I love this post

Botox Miami March 11, 2011 at 12:47 am

Really interesting choice of goals! I have to say I admire your plan to be one of the few people in the gym who can do one-arm push-ups. Those are exactly the kind of unique goals that I think make a real difference in your attitude toward your workout.

Maddog Workouts May 19, 2011 at 3:13 pm

I am currently working on the convict conditioning progressions. It’s a fantastic book and reall inspires me to do similar exercises. I cannot wait ntil I am pumping out 1 arm press ups.

JohnSep May 20, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Rusty, can’t thank you enough for this site. I’ve been passing the word around and am an avid reader of your articles. I am in Afghanistan supporting a remote base with poor gym equipment (NATO base, not US) and your articles have been great for me. Been using bodyweight exercises for about three months now and getting ready for my leave in a month using your workout suggestions and diet. I am 5’10” and was 175- don’t know what it is now because we have no scale but I went down two notches in my belt which I now need to keep my pants up. The eating right part is tough because there isn’t a big selection, but at 47 I look better than half of the soldiers on this base that are half my age. Keep up the great work!

Ron July 14, 2011 at 1:19 am

A month ago I found out I couldn’t do a clap push-up. Now I’m up to three sets of ten. I think the one arm push-up is the next challenge! Btw, those Barbarian guys are crazy!

sean July 19, 2012 at 1:13 pm

i can do over 60 to 70 push ups on one arm per set i usually do 25 per but sometimes i do 50 per arm until i reach my set number which may vary from 400 to 600 . Right now i do one arm variations as well as a constant single form one arm push ups.

David T. August 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Yes i love to do pushups in various of ways and i just am in love with the one armed pushup. The only suggestion is that can anyone tell me any tip on how to keep your back/torso straight during the exercise. It is kind of straight, but as we all know almost doesn’t count. If anyone has any input, all suggestions are accepted.
Thank you.

David October 6, 2012 at 8:42 pm

I can do 31 on my left and 21 on my right ive been doing them for about 6 months and i love them great workout for the body its easier if your lightweight to be honest im only 140 lbs tring to gain weight at the moment but this workout is pretty nice.

Brad July 12, 2013 at 11:09 am

Hey Rusty! Big fan of your fitness blog, and also of Paul Wade. I love the whole idea of gaining strength without size. I’ve started following yours and Paul’s training philosophies religiously, it really works! My problem is my leg strength. I’m like you and I gain a lot of mass quickly, so I avoid lower body lifts, my problem is that I’m working towards becoming a firefighter, most of which is leg strength and lung strength. I’ve considered doing Convict Conditioning all the way to the full one legged squat, or plyometrics, or anything to increase leg strength without size. Maybe I should just lift really light weights and have hard muscle contractions in my legs to strengthen my nervous system? I’m at a loss and could really use some help!

Thanks,

Brad

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