How to Achieve Your First One-Arm Push Up

Master your bodyweight control by learning how to create maximum muscular tension.

The one-arm push up is a great expression of strength, tension, and balance. Many strong athletes are not able to do it. But this article will share tips that can help you join the one-arm push-up club.

There are many examples of one-arm push ups on YouTube and in movies. I learned how to do a one-arm and one-leg push up after completing the StrongFirst bodyweight certification. The key was learning how to apply the strength I already had. Below are the some basic elements of this movement that might help you.

How to Build the Skill of Tightness

The biggest key is to be able to generate tightness throughout your body. Imagine lifting one side of a pipe (that’s the same weight as you) off the ground. Now, imagine lifting a similar weighted object that has the rigidity of a noodle. A more rigid object is easier to lift. (The only exception is if you use a timed kipping motion that assists with the lift, but we are not trying to create kipping push ups in this article.)

“The key to doing a one-arm pushup is to generate tightness. The skills for this movement require a great deal of tightness in the abs.” 

Tightness is a skill that needs to be practiced. The easiest way to build it for the push up is in a plank position:

  1. Get in a push up position, but on your elbows.
  2. Start by tightening your thighs. If you’re not sure how to do that, think about lifting your kneecaps.
  3. Next, tighten your glutes as if someone is going to hit you with a paddle.
  4. Finally, tighten your abs by thinking about bringing your elbows to your knees.

The same tightness that you build in the plank can be applied to other movements, such as at the top of a kettlebell swing or in overhead pressing. The tighter we are, then the more upward power we can generate.

Practice creating whole body tension with properly executed planks.

Positioning of the Push Up

Many people try to do regular pushups with a wide grip. This can put more stress on the chest muscles, and in the one-arm push up this position won’t provide enough support. We want the hand to be below the shoulder. We also want to avoid shrugging up with the shoulders. Pull the shoulder blades back and down. One way to think about it is if you were to corkscrew your shoulders externally.

The One-Arm Push Up

The one-arm push up relies on all the skills we mentioned above. It is often good to start with a nice tight push up position and release one arm at a time to work on balance. Once you can maintain a one-arm plank, then you can work on the downward portion of the push up. The downward portion will build a great amount of strength. The more you practice that portion of the movement, the faster you will be able to do the push up.

The One-Arm One-Leg Push Up

To make the challenge even more difficult, we can lift one leg off the ground. This change will force you to be even tighter as you do this movement.


The key to doing a one-arm pushup is to generate tightness. The skills for this movement require a great deal of tightness in the abs. These skills directly transfer over to the tightness you can use in strict pull ups or strict presses. The tighter you are the easier it will be for you to execute these movements.

As a challenge, how many of you can achieve the one-arm pushup (or one-arm one-leg version)? Upload a video and put a link in the comments (hashtag it with #onearmpushupchallenge).

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