One Arm Pull-ups and One Arm Chin-ups

Several years ago, a client of mine asked me if I’d ever seen anyone do a one arm pull-up. I stood for a moment in silent contemplation, then lifted one hand, wrapped it around my opposite wrist and said, “ya mean like this?”

“No,” he said, “without the other hand assisting at all.”

I told him I hadn’t, adding that I didn’t think such a thing was even possible – boy was I wrong!

I’ll never forget the first time I saw someone do a one arm pull-up. It was a game-changer and now I’m a believer!

Pull-up or Chin-up
If you want to get technical about it, a pull-up is done with a pronated (overhand) grip, while a chin-up implies a supinated (underhand) grip. A lot of people find that the pull-up is a more difficult exercise – this tends to be especially true for beginners.

When you do a one arm pull-up, however, there’s a certain amount of unavoidable rotation. This is why many of the people who can perform this feat on a bar will wind up pulling towards their opposite shoulder. When a one arm pull-up is performed on gymnastic rings, the ring will simply rotate to account for this.

For me, the disparity between overhand and underhand grips seems negligible, though I’ve done so many reps of different kinds of pull-ups over years that I may have just evened it out. Besides, when someone is strong enough to pull their chin over the bar with just one arm, they’ve earned my respect; belly-aching over their hand position seems pointless.

Training for a One Arm Pull-up
Only once you can perform at least 15 consecutive dead hang pull-ups should you even consider training for this feat. Tendinitis is a bitch, so back off if you start to get pain in or around your elbows.

The following methods have helped me on my quest for the one arm pull-up, but keep in mind that these are not the only ways to train towards this feat. There are many paths that lead to the same destination–feel free to be creative!

One Arm Flex Hangs
Just like learning to do a standard pull-up, performing a flex hang (holding your body at the top of a pull-up position) with one arm is the first step towards doing a one arm pull-up. Pull yourself up using both arms, then try to stay up while you take one hand away. Squeeze your whole body tight while keeping your legs tucked in close when you’re starting out. With practice, eventually you be able to try it with your legs extended.

One Arm Negatives
The idea here is to keep your body tight and controlled while slowly lowering yourself down from a one arm flex hang. Be prepared that the first time you try to do a one arm negative you will drop very quickly. When starting out, don’t even think of it as a negative, think of it as just trying to keep yourself up. Gravity takes care of the rest. Eventually, try working up to the point where you can make a one arm negative last for ten seconds or longer.

Archer Pull-ups
Archer pull-ups are a great exercise regardless of if you want to work towards a one arm pull-up or not. When performing the archer pull-up as practice for the one arm pull-up, try to do as much of the work as possible with the arm closer to you. Think of your extended arm simply as a means of giving your pulling arm assistance, so use it as little as possible – eventually you won’t need it at all. (You can also spot yourself with your secondary arm by draping a towel over the bar and holding it or grabbing the pull-up bar frame.)

The One Arm Australian Pull-up
This is a nice precursor to the OAP for the same reason that Australian pull-ups can be a gateway to pull-ups – your feet are on the ground! When attempting a one arm Australian pull-up, concentrate on engaging your abs and your back muscles–don’t just focus on using your bicep strength. Remember that when you do a one arm Australian, it’s natural for your body to roll a little bit in the direction of your pulling arm.

Hard Core
Just like a one arm push-up or a pistol squat, core strength plays a huge role in one arm pull-ups and chin-ups. Think about keeping your entire body tight and controlled during your one arm pull-up training. If your core is weak, you may need to do some remedial ab exercises.

Pull-up or Shut up
Talk is cheap. The one arm pull-up is an elusive move that demands patience, consistency, and dedication. You’re never gonna get one without lots of practice. The question you need to ask yourself is this: How bad do you want it?


For more information about one arm pull-ups, check out my book, Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics.

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  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks, Dmitry!  Your book has already shipped and should arrive next week.  Keep training hard!

  • Peter

    Lage,
    I’m back with some progress. I got 6 reps with 7.5 kg  I did 3 with 5kg managed to do 3 but not that good at form and today after school I tried to do a one arm chin up not from deadhang because my bar is not that high more likely from 170 degrees (if deadhang is 180 degrees) and for my surprise I was able to go up to approximately 140 degrees. I still need a lot of training to get it, but I’m dedicated to that feat and I will do it someday soon.

  • http://dmitry.baranovskiy.com/ Dmitry

    I surely will.
    May be I just want to much: one year ago I could barely do 10 pull-ups. Takes time… :)

  • Lage

    Peter, great work!  I’ve been focusing on weighted ring dips lately and have put the one arm pullup work on the second priority (since I’m stronger then I’ve ever been in that department now).  I can do a one arm pullup with each arm now (most days), as well as a lock off at the top and a slow negative (after the one arm rep)!  My weak point is still up top (the last 45 to 90 degrees) so I still have work to do before I master this!  I’ve decided to strengthen my lats in other ways now (like weighted RING dips which I never did before two weeks ago — I’m up to BW+60# for 10 reps!) and greasing the groove with heavy deadlifts (1 to 3 sets per day with at least 60%-1RM / 300# x 5 reps).  I have to say, that workin’ those weighted ring dips certainly helps in strengthening those lats from another angle and the stability needed on those rings makes parallel bar dips look like cotton candy.  Since I put deadlifts on the backburner for the last several months (while I was achieving the one arm chins I stopped deadlifting altogether), I am bringing them back now but in a grease the groove fashion.  With the ring dips, I definitely feel it in my lats (similar to after OAC work), so I’m going to continue these and the deadlifts as well and then go back to the OAC work later to see if it improves it some.  Keep training hard bro!

  • Peter

    Lage,
    Dude I finally got it. Today I was feeling really pumped up and had a desire to do that at school but there weren’t any bars, so when I got home I tried and failed, then I did one rep with my assisting hand on my shoulder. And like 5 minutes ago I tried again and did it. Not from deadhang but still I’m very happy.

  • Lage

    Peter, that’s great news!  I must say though, it’s got to be from a deadhang to be a true rep!  To be honest, my very first “rep” wasn’t a deadhang, but my second attempt was and it was quite a bit harder (despite being only an extra 10 degrees of motion or so).  Keep up the good work though and let me know when you get that baby (from the deadhang)!  Stay strong brotha’ !

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Congrats, Peter!  For the record, I still can’t do it from a full dead hang.

  • http://disqus.com Ty


    If you want to get technical about it, a pull-up is done with a pronated (overhand) grip, while a chin-up implies a supinated (underhand) grip”

    I agree that chinning implies supine/underhand grip since that’s the easiest way of doing it, since our shoulders can adduct/extend better with the supine grip and people usually can pull better with the stronger biceps and all that. Plus, and this is a guess, but I feel like I can flex the elbow to a greater degree without the radius in the way of the ulna and all that.

    They’re really all pull-ups though. Controversy over whether to say “neutral grip chinup” or “neutral grip pullup” proves that. Plus when we use lat pulldowns, we don’t call it “lat chindowns”, we just say the grip instead, so we should just do that for chins/pulls do.

    The use of “chin” can specify the height we pull to, much like “neck-up” or “sternum-up” to mean more difficult and pulling higher, or “mouth-up”, “nose-up”, “eyes-up”, or “brow-up” to be those easier partial reps.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    I see your nomenclature is evolving.  :)

  • Peter

    Hey, Al
    Its me again – Peter. I got the one arm chin up 5 months ago and my one arm pull up 2 months ago. But now I dedicated my strenght towards the OAP and I cannot do the OAC again.
    The OAP, I can do from a deadhang but not always. Sometimes I start the OAP from deadhang but i can’t get my chin over the bar for just a half inch. Do you know which is the reason somedays the OAP seems to be impossible ?
    Also I would like to know how you trained for multiple reps ?
    And one last question – If someone is able to do a weighted pull up with 100% bodyweight does that automatically means that the person is able to do one arm pull ups with each hand ? (I’m still stuck on pull ups with 60% bodyweight, though.)

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  • http://www.therapynewsletter.com/ physical therapy business

    one pull up arm by utilizing chin workout very difficult and tough because practice makes a perfect,so for this stamina count to do more taken the positive results for this purpose.

  • James Candell

    Hey Al, I can do 10 dead hang shoulder – width pull ups and chin ups consecutively and under 30 seonds, I can do 12 on a good day and the record is 14 clean ones (with the chin well over the bar), I’m gunna try weighted pull ups on a weighted belt for training for the one armed ones, how much weight should I use for my first try and how many reps should I do, should I do it in sets or just try it once and do it again the next time I train?

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Start off relatively light – maybe around 20% of your bodyweight. Eventually you can work towards a larger percentage. Take your time and experiment with different set and rep schemes. I don’t know you enough to be much more specific than that.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Peter – The OAP is a very elusive move. I still struggle with it too sometimes. I trained for multiple reps by practicing consistently.

    And no, just because someone can chin their bodyweight x 2 does not mean they can automatically do the OAP.

  • Mads

    Hey Al – First of all, thank you for all your tutorials, and motivational impact.
    A few months ago i saw a man in a wheelchair do a one arm pull up. Even though i have wanted to get this skill down for quite some time, i was totally amazed to see this in “real life”, opposed to youtube videos. As you said yourself: It was a gamechanger.

    He explained the importance of negatives to me. 2 months ago i wasn’t able to do a controlled negative at all. Now i can do about 10 seconds. Almost equally strong on both arms. I am about 168 cm, 65 kg, 21 years old, and have been bboying/breakdancing for most of my life – so bodyweight training isn’t new to me. I can do somewhere between 20-25 regular pull ups without my arms falling off, and have a quite solid foundation. A week ago i did 1.5 pull up with 45kg attached in a dipping belt, so it seems like I’m on my way, in terms of muscular strenght, BUT!

    I am starting to experience pain in my left elbow. It’s quite painful when doing one arm negatives (so i avoid them for some time). Not very bad when just holding a static hold with chin above the bar. When using both arms, even when doing heavy weightened pull ups, the pain is not as bad. But as soon i start doing 1 arm exercises it gets worse. I also experience pain in my elbows SOMETIMES whenever i train biceps, also with heavy weight.

    It seems my strenght in my tendons, doesn’t follow my muscular strenght, and i am a little worried. So, straight to the point: How to go about tendonitis? TOTAL breaks, just avoid one arm exercises, keep training as long as the pain is not unbearable?

    It is quite frustrating knowing that i really progress in this skill somewhat, and yet some parts of my body just doesn’t seem ready yet.
    Just want to know about your experience with tendonitis, how to overcome it, and in the future; Avoid it.

    Foods, exercises, training schedules and such. Everything is welcomed, and i would be deepy thankful for any inputs.

    All the best
    Mads

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks for the kind words, Mads! As for your issue, tendons and other connective tissue take longer to adapt than muscle. This is why tendinitis is common when people begin training feats like the OAP, human flag, etc. Lower your training volume and be patient.

  • James Candell

    Hey Al, sorry I took so long to reply back, I should have been more specific in my post, I’m 67 Kg’s (around 148 lb’s) so using Google’s calculator, 20% of 67 is around 13 .4 (which is about 30 Ib’s), I tried doing it the other day with 15 Kg’s and I could do 3 clean consecutive reps at a comfortable pace, I am doing the right thing? and in what way should I progress onto adding more weights, BTW Al, sorry if I sounded ”short” or ”quick” in my first comment, I just didn’t want to write too much!, Keep up the good work Al!, your website is really interesting and its gives me so much motivation and inspiration! If you want to know more information about me, don’t be afraid to request it!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    No need for an apology, James! I love hearing from my fans!

    Unfortunately, I don’t have time to give everyone a detailed reply. It sounds like you’re on the right track though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robby-Taylor/44409147 Robby Taylor

    Mads, I would like to add one thing to Al’s suggestions. Personally, I think it is a great idea to train the supinated (chin up) grip back lever before you seriously train for several other high level moves, including the one arm chin up. The significance here is that the supinated grip back lever really reinforces the elbows, and also hits the biceps pretty hard; in fact, the stress that it does to the bicep tendon is highly beneficial toward training the planche. Having this kind of baseline conditioning will only help to ensure you can progress toward the one arm chin up more safely.

  • James Candell

    OK Al, Thank You!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robby-Taylor/44409147 Robby Taylor

    James, I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “what way” you should add more weight…you said you’re using a weight belt so I presume you mean you mean how will you know when it is time to add more weight. Well, firstly, just as with bodyweight pull ups, you can do different variations with weight. Chin ups will allow you to use the most weight, while pull ups should also be done to hit all of the muscle groups most effectively. As for when you are ready to add more weight, I would say once you can do 8~10 reps at a given weight, then it is a good idea to add enough extra weight so that you can only do 3~5 clean reps, then build your reps back up.

    Keep in mind that using negatives and one arm assisted variations, as well as supinated grip (chin up grip) back lever training will all be helpful in training for the one arm chin up, and it is wise to mix up your training, at least when your progress begins to stall out with one specific exercise.

  • James Candell

    OK Robby, Thank You, I should have been more specific, what I meant was when I can do 8-10 reps in 3 sets with lets say 15 Kg’s, next time I do my training, should I try it with 25 Kg’s or 30Kg’s?

  • RobbyTaylor

    30 seems like a pretty big jump from 15 to me, personally, but as long as you can pull off (or pull up, rather) clean form for reasonable reps without any undue pain then yeah; whatever you’re comfortable with. Personally I would probably go from 15 to 20 or 25. But, this could be another cue for when to switch grips. You could be doing 8-10 pull ups + 15 kg then go to 3-5 + 30 kg chin ups. Personally, I try to think of each time I add weight as a refresh to a beginner. Instead of thinking “I’m 67 kg and I’m doing pull ups with an additional 15 kg”, think “It’s like I’m 82 kg and I can barely do pull ups because of all this dead weight”. This is exactly what it’s like for someone carrying around dead weight. To me, it makes my potential strength limit seem farther away.

  • James Candell

    Yeah, I see what you mean Robby, I can do 3 clean reps with 15KG (Pullups, I haven’t tried it with chin ups yet), I tried 25 KG and then 20KG, again Pullups and I admit that I could only do 1 rep of each!

  • James Candell

    Hey Al, sorry if I’m bothering you again, I know your busy working out on all those exercises!!! but I discovered in the college Gym that I now go to that they have an assisted pull/chin up machine, its primary function I guess would be for helping people who arn’t strong enough train towards the standard 2 hand chin/pull ups where you can select the amount of help you want on the machine depending on how strong you are, because I’ve seen people using it for that purpose.
    I tried it out today with a one armed pull up and found the assistance helped me get my chin over the bar, do you think this would be another good way to work towards a one armed pull/chin up? Also Al, is your book ”Raising the Bar” only available online?

  • RobbyTaylor

    Your primary training should still consist of one arm negatives/isometrics, weighted chins, and assisted one arm variations. Throw in one arm rows and supinated grip back lever (strengthens the elbows and biceps) training and you’ve got a pretty diverse set of exercises right there. The machine you describe can be helpful for gauging your progress, however it takes out pretty much all of the core work and stability training that is given to you with every other exercise I listed. That is the main reason why it should not be considered as a primary training method for the one arm pull up. But that’s ok, because you can definitely get there with the exercises I listed! There are no quick answers or easy shortcuts to one arm pull ups; keep your chin up (pun totally intended), James, and train HARD!

  • James Candell

    Yeah Robby! That’s the right attitude! Train REALLY HARD! Thanks for the reply!

  • James Candell

    Acutally I have one more question!, whats a one arm row?

  • RobbyTaylor

    A one arm row is aka a one arm Australian pull up ;) . Forgot to mention frenchies are a nice variation too (check the one arm pull up tutorial at beastskills.com).

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    As usual, Robby is on the money! As for Raising The Bar – yes it is available in paperback: http://www.dragondoor.com/b63/?apid=4e8cb1ea167b0

  • http://twitter.com/DmitryBaranovsk Dmitry Baranovskiy

    Just wanted to let you know that I did it: one arm pull-up. :) Thank you for inspiration.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Congratulations, Dmitry! Keep training hard!