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 How to Excel at One-Arm Bodyweight Exercises

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PostSubject: How to Excel at One-Arm Bodyweight Exercises   Wed Dec 07, 2011 9:57 pm

How to Excel at One-Arm Bodyweight Exercises

Alexander Lechner

Have you ever tried a one-arm handstand time hold? A one-arm chin? A one-arm dead hang? Or, if you are awesome strong, a one-arm handstand pushup? In my opinion the exercises mentioned above are very tough strength-builders. Train them! And train them hard! What I will attempt here is to give you some tips on getting the most out of these exercises and how show you how to fit one-arm exercises into a routine.

One-arm exercises and their benefits

One-arm handstand hold

Some month ago I trained very hard to achieve a single full range handstand pushup, but the more I trained the more I failed. At that time I was able to get around 12 reps of regular HSPU on the floor, but never achieved a singe full range of motion handstand pushup. After being really disappointed, I stopped performing them. I don?t know why, but some weeks ago I was doing my workout without much motivation ? I trained the Clean and Press at that time - and decided to finish my routine with some handstand holds, two armed. On the first try I got around 1,5 minutes. Not bad, I thought, but let?s try a one armer. So I kicked up, the feet barely touching the wall and balancend on one arm. I felt well for some seconds, but an instant later I was kissing the floor. That was my first experience with the one arm handstand hold. But "kissing the floor" was the critical moment. I was very angry, a little bit of blood was rushing out of my nose, but I discovered a new passion. So the one arm hold became the spine of my routine.

You may think: nice Story, but what results did you get? I will tell you: after being able to hold a one arm handstand with 20kg attached in the other hand, I was able to knock off 3 sets of 3 reps of the "full rangers". And, I did not go to failure! That was a big surprise because I trained no handstand pushups while I was performing the holds. Some days ago I did my personal best: a one-arm handstand while holding 32,5kg in the free hand. I got 25 seconds. I will post a message on the dragondoor.com forum when I reach my goal of 47,5kg (half of my bodyweight) for one minute!

Here is what you can do. First work up to one minute in the normal handstand hold. John Hurley aka Ultimate Warrior wrote a very good article about this. After being able to balance yourself on your hands for around one minute, start with the one armer. But don?t try it at a free wall, I would recommend a corner. You can concentrate on your working arm and don't have to worry about your balance. Start with 3 sets of 30 seconds. Example: kick up and hold for 17 seconds. Slowly come down, rest for 20 seconds and kick up again. Hold for 10 seconds. Come down and call it a day for the first set. You get 27 seconds, but if you want, kick up another time and get the missing 3 seconds. Rest one minute and do your second set. Try to cut down your sets to get the 30 seconds. When you are able to hold for one minute it is time to make things more difficult. Take a 5kg plate or dumbell, place it near your non-balancing hand and kick yourself up into a handstand. Get the balance and pull the weight to your hips. Then, of course, hold. Stop immediately when fatigue is coming. The muscles will stop their work faster than a blink of an eye. Trust me, I know what I?m talking about! Don?t kiss the floor! Drop the weight, place your free hand on the floor and come down slowly.

Recommended progression: every time you get more than 45 seconds in a set increase the weight. 2,5 ? 5 kg are enough. Do 3 to 5 sets of holds and alternate with chins/ pullups. If you train the holds hard you won?t be able to do other pressing movements. If you don?t believe me, try it. You will be surprised.

You also can do time ladders: one-arm handstand 5 seconds, 5 seconds rest, 10 seconds hold, 10 seconds rest, 15 seconds hold, 15 seconds rest and so on. Can you imagine how easy a normal handstand will be if you can a one arm handstand with 150% of your bodyweight?

One-arm dead hang

Getting more reps in the pullups is a common goal. How do you accomplish it? Of course the answer is ladders and 'Grease the Groove'. I did hundreds and thousands of chins in the ladder and GTG-style. I reached my goal of 25 chinups in a row using ladders and GTG (I don?t know my personal best now, because most of the time I do 10 sets of 10 reps strernum chins or ladders and GTG with one-arm chins). But it does not mean you should not add some other twists to your pullup training. Give one-arm holds a try. They will strengthen your fingers, wrist, biceps, and shoulders and next time you train normal chins you will laugh at how easy they are.

Go to your pullup bar, grab it, and squeeze as hard as you can. Now move slowly into the one arm dead hang, the free hand behind your back. Progression will be the same as described above. Try to get 3 sets of 30 seconds, but I think there will be a fat "zero" the first time you will train them. Don?t throw in the towel, take your time! This exercise is also great for grip development. Don?t believe me? -Try it with a thick bar!

I usually do 3 sets with 20 kg attached, holding each set for 30 seconds. But please don?t relax while hanging! Apply as much tension as you can manage! This will reduce the risk of a shoulder injury.

One-arm pushup with elevated feet

Almost everybody knows how to perform one-arm pushups, but have you ever tried one-arm pushups with your feet up? No? Ok, then try it right here, right now! Get into the pushup position, put your feet up onto a table or chair, and do one-arm pushups. Use the thumb and the index finger of your free hand for balance. In my opinion it?s a perfect exercise for the BEAR-program by Pavel.

This is my exercise of choice to prepare my shoulders to do a one-arm handstand pushup. I know, this will be hard but that is one of my future goals. I recommend 5-10 sets, each arm 5 reps or ladders. But, be careful, one-arm exercises are demanding.

Other exercises and valuable points

Bottom position handstand pushup

Place your head onto a cushion and kick up into a headstand. Keep your hands next to your head. Rest for one second and press up. Lower yourself slowly. Get balanced and spread your arms away. It should look like a reverse iron cross position. Or you can touch your hips, clap, or anything else, just to get your arms relaxed.

After one second, replace your hands in a normal handstand pushup position and press back. The main point is: rest and relax your arms between reps! The exercise will get much harder than just up and down! If you go down and press back you have a lot of tension in your muscles that will help you to press back. If you relax in the bottom position you will have to build up tension again and again and this will build strength. It is similar to the bottom position bench press in a power rack.


You need some books of the same height. Place your hand onto the books, lower body to floor and immediately push body up as fast as possible. Catch your body between the books, hands in very close together (diamond pushup). Lower your body and press back, clap your hands and land onto the books. Repeat. This exercise is very helpful to develop power.

But the most important point is?

To reach your big goals you have to think big! Never believe, that you can fail. Never think at that. If your goal is 30 reps of pullups, than believe in that! Even if you can do just 3 now, believe in your goal. The most powerful "muscle" in your body is your brain and your thoughts! Before coming to the dragondoor.com board, I never believed in performing a one-arm chin. But after reading about John Alstadt aka Johnny Pullups, I knew that it was possible. So I trained and trained and reached my goal. Powerful thoughts can make the impossible possible!

Some routines of mine
Day one:
Power cleans: 4 warmup sets with an increasing weight
3 sets of 5 with the heaviest weight you can handle
Sternum chins: 10 sets of 10 with different grips
One-arm handstand holds: 4 sets with a decreasing weight
Hanging leg raises: 2 sets of 10
Reverse curls with a thick bar: 5 sets of 5
Day two:
One-arm chins: Ladders 1,2,3,1,2,3,1,2,1
One-arm lock offs: 3 sets of 20 seconds
Handstand pushups: 3 sets of 3
Step and clap pushup: 5 sets of 5
Wall chair: 10 sets of 1 minute
Day three:
One-arm pushup: Ladders 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,1,2,3,4,5,1,2,3,1,2,1
Towel sternum chin: 5 set of 5
Bridging: 3 minutes
Dumbell snatches: 5 sets of 5

These routines are done when I have enough time, if not I do a lot of side presses and deadlifts like shown in Power to the People!

One interesting thing I should mention is that when I tried the one arm side press with a barbell for the first time, I got 5 reps with 40 kg very easily. I don?t know for sure, but perhaps the one arm handstands are the reason.

Personally I train every day, every other day, but never less than three times a week. Try to do the same, but vary your intensity. Wave your reps. Try to change your volume every other week. Aaron "Aaron5000" Antcliff wrote a very good article about that. I highly recommend high volume and as little failure as possible. It worked very well for me. I hope it will the do the same for you.

Greetings from Bavaria, Germany,

Alexander Lechner

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