The single-arm pushup is a favorite exercise to demonstrate top-level upper body strength and control, even if it’s not super effective for training purposes. Still, that doesn’t stop people from trying to master the move.
“It’s a high-skill, high-strength pinnacle exercise,” says Mike Fitch, C.S.C.S., of Global Bodyweight Training, previously told Men’s Health. “The move ensures that both of your arms are equally strong, and activates your core more than a standard pushup does, forcing it to work harder to stabilize your body.”
Single-arm pushups are absolutely a goal for lots of strong guys—so it should come as no surprise that Brendan, one half of the YouTube channel Goal Guys (alongside his brother Cam), attempted to master the movement. To challenge himself during quarantine, Brendan documented his training exercises and calisthenic body weight exercises he did along the way. His goal: to do five single-arm pushups on each of his arms.
His journey starts in his kitchen, stretching out his shoulders, lower back and chest. And at his first attempt, he can’t even do one pushup on either side.
“I don’t succeed on either arm,” he says after his first attempt.
From there, he set out on his training plan, which included:
Assisted one-arm pushups (with sliding disk)
Diamond grip pushups
Incline one-arm pushups
On his recovery days, Brendan did light band work to strengthen his biceps, shoulders, upper back and traps.
By Day 14 of his training, he was able to do two single-arm pushups on his left side, but not his right. So he added additional assisted one-arm pushups to his training on his right arm. By Day 21, he could also do two single-arm pushups on his right. However, he notes that he had having trouble keeping proper form after two reps.
“My abs and lower back start to buckle after my third pushup, throwing my body out of the proper position,” he says.
To fix this, he added more abs and lower back exercises in at the end of his workout, including bicycle crunches, scissor kicks and hollow holds, to firm up his core strength.
By Day 50, he was up to four reps on each arm. And on Day 61, he hit five reps on his right arm. Two days later, on Day 63, he hit five reps on his left.
“Since I started this challenge, I can see how much I improved in my strength in my chest, core and triceps without access to a gym,” he says.
If you’re looking to also master the single-arm pushup, Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., likes the post pushup variation. “The post pushup places a great majority of the load on your pressing side, but it still pushes you to keep your hips and shoulders square to the ground,” he says.
But if you really want to master the single-arm variation, work your way up the same way you would when mastering the standard exercise: scale, like Brendan did. Just swap out diamond pushups for a close-grip variation to strengthen your triceps, and work from multiple elevated surfaces (hands on a box, then hands on a shorter box, then hands on the ground) to build your strength and technique.
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