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One-arm Pushups and Pull-ups

Q: What’s your opinion of one-arm pushups and one-arm pull-ups? As a bodybuilder, should I consider incorporating them into my workouts?

A: Very few individuals can even dream of doing a one-arm pullup, as it’s estimated that only one out every 100,000 trainees has the genetic potential to do them. The athletes most likely to be able to do one or more one-arm pullups are gymnasts and mountain climbers.

One of my clients had a bodyguard who, aside from being a sharpshooter, was a very accomplished mountain climber. He could perform a full-range, one-arm chinup, taking 20 seconds for the concentric phase and 20 seconds for the eccentric phase—oh, and he could do it with only his middle finger wrapped around the bar! I also saw another mountain climber, who worked for our national ski team, perform 23 one-arm chinups with a pronated grip. He did them while holding on to the diving board of a drained swimming pool.

Both of those men were quite slender and didn’t sport excessively muscular arms. Obviously, though, they had superior motor-uni-recruitment abilities. Typically, the direct applications of one-arm chins are rather limited because of genetic factors. Furthermore, the movement would be considerably harder for the average bodybuilder, the rest of whose body is generally a lot more massive than that of the average mountain climber or gymnast.

One-arm pushups, made popular by Sylvester Stallone and his Rocky movies, are more readily accessible to the average person, as they require much less maximal strength. A more impressive form of the one-arm pushup is to do them with only the contralateral foot on the ground. If you’re doing one-arm pushups using your right hand, you extend your left arm in front of you, and keep your right foot a few inches off the ground.

I first saw them performed by the late Kay Baxter in the ’80s at the Pro World Bodybuilding Championships in Toronto. What I like about this advanced form of the one-arm pushup is that it requires a much greater range of motion than the classic Rocky ones, and you also need to fire a much greater number of motor units to stabilize yourself.

Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most suc-cessful strength coaches, having coached Olympic med-alists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit  IM

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