Single limb exercises are a great way to add a challenge to your calisthenics regimen. Along with the pistol squat and the one arm pull-up, the one arm push-up rounds out the trifecta of isolateral bodyweight exercises.
While a certain amount of asymmetry might be unavoidable (a right handed person is almost always going to be right dominant), training movements like the one arm push-up can go a long way towards building a strong, balanced body.
It’s important to note that the form of a one arm push-up is a bit different than the standard two arm variation. Your legs will likely need to be a bit wider than a regular push-up position and your hand should be directly under your body, rather than off to the side. The three points of contact with the ground (foot, foot, hand) will make a triangular formation. Very strong individuals may be able to keep their feet a bit closer together. The ultimate one arm push-up is performed with the feet touching.
Incline One Arm Push-up
Like any other difficult bodyweight exercise, a great way to work towards a full one arm push-up is to practice using a position where you will have better leverage, thus making the movement a bit easier. The best way to do this with the one arm push-up is by practicing on an inclined surface, such as a rail or bench.
Self-Assisted One Arm Push-up
Using your secondary arm to spot your primary pushing arm is another tried and true method for perfecting the one arm push-up. This can be done by resting your opposite arm on a brick, medicine ball or other nearby, slightly elevated object.
L7 Diamond Push-up
Another type of self-assisted one arm push-up is what I call the “L7” push-up. This variation is similar to a diamond push-up, except one arm will rest on the back of the hand instead of the palm (when done with the right hand turned over, your fingers will look like the letter “L” and the number “7”). Since having a lot of weight on the backs of the hands can be uncomfortable, this variation forces you to push more with the opposite side.
Negative One Arm Push-up
Slow, controlled negatives are another excellent technique for building to a full one arm push-up. With your feet spread apart, perform a diamond push-up, then take one hand off the floor and lower your chest to the ground as slowly as possible. Bring the second hand back in when you reach the bottom, perform another diamond push-up, then do a negative on the other side.
Pistol Position One Arm Push-up
This move isn’t much easier than a standard one arm push-up, but if you’re real close it could help put you over the top. Get into the bottom position of a pistol squat, then place the hand opposite your squatting leg flat on the ground. Lean over towards that hand, bringing your nose right to the floor and then press yourself back up. For a full body workout, try doing a pistol squat in between each push-up.
For more information, check out my book, Pushing The Limits! – Total Body Strength With No Equipment.