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One Arm Push Up – Pressing Perfection

We all remember the Rocky training montages, the inspiring music, Rocky pushing himself while Mickey or Apollo stand over him shouting and encouraging. By the end of the clip Rocky is the Man, we the viewers are pumped and itching for the finale where he will undoubtedly become victorious.

One of the most iconic moment is the one arm push up sequence. Put your hands up if you didn’t try to do a one arm push up immediately after watching it. I know I did.

It’s an exercise I didn’t really pursue until many years later when due to injury I was  unable to perform any weight training. I had two consecutive back injuries and was pretty much sidelined, my entire training program consisted of the One Arm Push Up, Pull Ups and a shed load of rehab. Fast forward to now and it has become a regular feature of not just my own training but many of my martial artists.


The reasons for the one arm push up are as follows:

  1. It’s cool. No really, it is.

  2. It requires a strong core

  3. It promotes a stable shoulder

  4. It requires concentration

  5. It doesn’t require any kit

It really is functional.

Hang on, did i just say that? I hate the term Functional when it comes to training. But lets just hold on a moment and look at why I feel this drill deserves the title. The above list is already fairly conclusive, all the points listed are valid. But one thing extra should be said, the one arm push up utilises a force vector that closely matches that of a punch/throw/palm off in sports & martial arts. The force travels from the loaded arm, through the core to the opposite hip and leg, just it does in most sporting actions.

Yes, the iron heads in the audience will talk about load and how maximum strength is better developed with a barbell. But I feel the carry over to your sport is greater with a one arm push up. How often do you really exhibit maximum strength when throwing a punch? Never, unless your punch is actually a push! And even then, if you’re on your feet you’re limited by the angle of the body and contact with the ground, you’re never anchored into a bench. (don’t read that wrong, I still think benching is a valuable exercise in the right circumstances)

A good one arm push up requires you to eliminate the weaknesses through the torso. If you don’t you’ll end up either face-planting or totally twisted. Your hips and shoulders should stay as close to parallel to the floor as possible, this is only possible if the musculature around your torso is firing properly, including the rotator cuffs and Lats (shoulder stability).

To begin we go though progressions:

  1. Kneeling – both knees on the floor

  2. Half kneeling – take the opposite leg out to the side, as you gain strength move it further and further behind.

  3. Negative only – Lower under control as slowly as possible, have the spare hand ready to catch you and help you back up.

  4. The One Arm Push Up

  5. Feet elevated One Arm Push Up

  6. Alternating hands, changing at the top

  7. Alternating hands, changing at the bottom

  8. Plyo, changing hands in while airborne (jumping)

Here’s a video showing the basic progressions:

Take as long as needed at each stage, perform multiple sets with low reps. Only once technique is mastered should you move to the next stage or increase the reps. A simple program to use is the Ladder Protocol. This is exactly the way I increased the volume.

Perform 1 rep each arm, then two, then three and so on until you can no longer complete a rep perfectly. At this point return to a single rep. Start with three rounds up to three reps (1,2,3)(1,2,3)(1,2,3) Add a round each week until you can complete 5 rounds. Then start adding reps (1,2,3,4) (1,2,3,4)……. Eventually you will hit 5 rounds each going up to 5 reps, this is now a good time to increase the difficulty.

If athletic efficiency is your training focus, if you covet the ability to put your entire bodyweight through your arm into your opponent, I highly recommend this drill.



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