How Women Can Master One-Arm Push-Ups

By Karen Smith

pushup-karen-bluepants-450x301I can’t tell you how often I hear women say they can’t do push-ups. What’s more, I continue to see trainers instructing female clients to perform “girl push-ups” with their knees on the floor.

“Girl push-ups.” This term gets me heated. For many, this modification, actually limits or delays progress and strength gains—and to call this modification “girl” is just downright condescending.

Women can and should be doing push-ups in our training programs, just as we can and should be doing pull-ups. There are many excellent progressions that will help you build push-up strength, but a knee push-up is not one of them. (I have previously outlined basic progressions to help you achieve a strong, solid push-up in this article.)

What if you’re not new to push-ups and already include them in your training program, and you’re looking for ways to continue progressing it and building your push-up strength? Perhaps you might be ready to start working your way toward one-arm push-ups.

Yes, you read that correctly. Not only can women do push-ups, we also have the ability to do them with one arm.

One-Arm Push-Up Progressions

In this article, I’m sharing three important progressions that will help you advance to the one-arm push-up. Bonus—even if you’re not quite ready for one-arm push-ups, each of these progressions will also help you build strength to achieve your first standard two-arm push-up, or attain a new push-up PR!

Progression #1

Mindset is huge. Believing that you can is the first battle you need to overcome. You can achieve this through the mindful practice of visualization. Visualize yourself performing one-arm push-ups, then imagine all the other exercises and life skills that will become easier once you have obtained this level of strength. In the video below I will walk you through visualization of your push-up from the setup through the completion of one rep. This progression should be performed each night before bed, lay still and slow your breathing, then walk yourself through the steps of the one-arm push-up. This process will help you believe and see thousands of successful repetitions.

Progression #2

In the next progression you will begin moving. Paying close attention to technique is very important in order to eventually advance to a one-arm push-up. Whether you have been doing standard push-ups on the floor for years or not, I want you to take this progression seriously. It is a vital step in building a solid foundation, and sets a baseline for your other progressions to come.

Begin the movement practice with the wall push-up, which is “simple, but not easy.” The wall push-up requires you to have mobile wrists, so this next video will begin with wrist mobility and proceed to the set-up for the wall push-up. The set-up is very important in this progression, as it is easy to get into the wrong groove from the beginning and not only set in bad habits, but also delay your strength progress.

Note: It is very important to watch the instructions, as they are different than what you would do on the ground.

Once you have watched the set-up video above, proceed with these important cues:

  1. From the straight-arm plank position, pull yourself (row) to the bottom (active negative as referred to in the video).
  2. While rowing yourself toward the bottom, visualize inhaling air up your arm into your belly.
  3. Pause for a moment at the bottom position.
  4. Visualize exhaling air back out from your belly through your hands as you push up and away.

Progression #3

This progression will help you find and fix any sticking points. The plank is a great skill for building stabilizing strength. Most people perform either elbow planks or straight arm planks, but I want to teach you to think of planks a little bit differently. I want you to plank (hold for time) at various positions of your push-up. While holding at each position, make sure you adjust any errors (sticking points)
Watch this final video for examples of plank holds at sticking points and cues for finding any errors or weak links.

How to Program These Progressions Into Your Training

While one-arm push-ups are simple, they are far from easy! They require practice and patience, but I promise you they are worth the work. The carryover from one-arm push-up practice will make most other exercises or life skills easier with your newfound strength. Like I mentioned above, these progressions can be used to achieve a regular push-up as well.

Begin by working toward three sets of 10 reps per side at the wall, and then progress to a lower elevation such as a counter top, then a desk or box, then proceed to the floor.

Remember that technique is the key to your success and to making strength gains without injury. Be patient, practice grooving solid technique for five sets of five before advancing to a lower elevation.

These three progressions are just a small part of much more in-depth curriculum I teach in the StrongFirst SFB Bodyweight user course and certification. I encourage you to attend one or seek out a qualified coach, if you are specifically interested in diving deeper into bodyweight strength training and skills like the one-arm push-up.

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About the author:  Karen Smith

Karen Smith is a highly-respected trainer and coach specializing in kettlebell and bodyweight strength training. She is a StrongFirst SFG Master Instructor and Chief Bodyweight Instructor. Karen travels the world instructing and certifying individuals through StrongFirst, and works with clients online and in person.

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