How You Can Conquer the One-Arm Push-Up
With hard work and persistence, you can master the one-arm push-up.
One-arm push-ups are good for more than just looking cool on Instagram. They build incredible strength throughout the upper body, even out muscle imbalances and hone total-body stability and core strength in a way that other push-ups just can’t.
That’s because unlike traditional push-ups, which focus on the chest, one-arm push-ups turn much of the emphasis to the often-neglected triceps and lats. Think about it: If you flare your elbow out to the side in a one-arm push-up like you do with regular push-ups, physics takes over and you fall to the floor.
Instead, one-arm push-ups require you to keep your elbow in tight against your torso through every rep, increasing the load on your triceps and lats, says Karen Smith, chief bodyweight instructor with STRONGFIRST and Girls Gone Strong advisory board member.
With one-arm push-ups in your workout arsenal, you don’t just get better at the one move (which would still be pretty cool). You get stronger at all upper-body exercises, from bench presses to pull-ups, and your core is better able to power you through everything you do, Smith says.
And who doesn’t want to brag to their friends about doing a one-arm push-up?
But if actually cranking one out seems (and feels) impossible, don’t worry. Using simple progressions, you can tailor one-arm push-ups to meet you right where you are.
The farther apart your feet are, the easier it will be.
How to Do a One-Arm Push-Up
Whether you do your one-arm push-ups on the floor or at an incline or decline, following these instructions will help you get the most out of every rep.
1. Start in a plank with your hands under your shoulders. Spread your feet wider than shoulder-width apart (the farther your spread your feet, the easier balancing will be). Focus your gaze between your fingers.
2. Squeeze all of your muscles, from your lats to your glutes. This will increase tension and strength and allow you to move through the push-ups as one solid unit.
3. Lift one hand from the floor and place the back of your hand on your back. Keeping your body stable, don’t let your hips or shoulders tilt.
1. Take a deep breath in through your nose as you slowly bend your elbow toward your side and allow your body to lower toward the floor. Focus on actively resisting gravity, rather than dropping to the floor. Don’t let your shoulder shrug.
2. Once your chest just barely touches the floor, forcefully exhale through your mouth and push through your triceps, chest and shoulder to straighten your elbow and return to the start. Focus on keeping your entire body engaged and in a straight line throughout the movement.
The Right Progression for You
When it comes to one-arm push-ups, tailoring them to be either beginner-friendly or super-advanced is easy. Just adjust your angle. To find the right level for you, start with the first progression, and if you can perform five push-ups on each side with proper form, move on to the next progression.
Perform nearly vertical one-arm push-ups against a wall. Don’t be fooled, though, these are more difficult than you might expect. To ensure proper form, set up in the lowered position. Place your hand in line with your shoulder, and then walk your feet out from the wall as far as desired. If you set up in the top position, your hand will likely be too high on the wall.
Bridge the gap between the wall and the floor by doing your push-ups on a stable box or bench. When setting these up, stack your shoulders and elbows directly over your hands in a vertical line. Again, in the lowered position, your hand should be at shoulder level.
Do the full one-arm push-up version described above. This is the traditional one-arm push-up that most will want to work up to over time. Be patient and persistent.
If you’re in serious beast mode and the last progression just isn’t enough, you can try performing the exercise at a decline. Place your feet on a stable surface that’s higher than your hands. Start with a short surface like a weight plate and work up to stable box or bench.
What Do YOU Think?
Can you do a one-arm push-up? Have you tried? Is it on your fitness bucket list? Do you think you’ll try one of these progressions? Let us know how you progress with these variations!
K. Aleisha Fetters is a health and fitness writer. She holds a master’s degree in New Media from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and is currently studying to earn the National Strength and Conditioning Association's CSCS certification.