The Single-Arm Push-Up is frequently cited as a prime example of bodyweight strength and prowess. But if you’ve begun the road to mastering this skill you know that it is a lot more than just strength: it requires an amazing amount of coordination and stability. And when done properly, it is the result of dedication and a very strategic line of progressive exercises.
Right below you’ll find the complete set of SAPU video tutorials taken directly from our BODYWEIGHT ATHLETE PROGRAM. Each video is part of a progressive strategy that takes you all the way from a super regressed Two-Arm Push-Up variation to the always impressive Single-Arm Push-UP (SAPU). But before you jump into the tutorials, you may want to read on and gather some info on why these progressions actually work, including how some of the classic bodyweight training techniques found in the video make the seemingly impossible, absolutely obtainable.
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These 4 sample videos are taken directly from the Horizontal Push (Single Arm Push Up Pinnacle Line) section of the Bodyweight Athlete program. The first video provides some introductory information on setting up of the exercises. The second video includes the progression for the Regular (Two-Arm) Push-Up, while the third video includes the progressions for the Single-Arm Push-Up. And the last video includes some loaded training exercises that you can practice to enhance your Single-Arm Push-Up training. (These videos provide the instructions for performing each variation correctly. Note that the full BWA program incorporates detailed instructions for how to integrate these into an overall training program.)
Select the video you want to watch and click Full Screen mode for a better viewing experience.
You Are an Adaptation Machine
All exercise programs, no matter what the type, are based 100% around your body’s ability to adapt. For example, if you lift heavy things, you get stronger and your ability to lift heavy things gets better. If you do cardiovascular activities, your body becomes better at utilizing oxygen, allowing you to do cardio longer. This process of adaptation is an innate function that’s designed to help us sustain life. In other words, your body is an adaptation machine and in an effort to conserve valuable energy, it learns how to better handle new stimulus by changing its physiology to meet the demand.
There are, however, a few caveats to adaptation. The stimulus has to be specific to the desired outcome, and it has to be gradual over time. These are two of the most basic concepts of exercise science: specificity and progressive overload
In physical rehabilitation and sports training, the Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID) principle asserts that the human body adapts specifically to imposed demands. When the body is placed under some form of stress, whether biomechanical or neurological, it starts to make adaptations that will allow the body to get better at withstanding that specific form of stress in the future.
How do you apply this? It’s simple. If you want to get better at doing a specific thing, you have to do THAT thing. If your goal is to do a Pistol Squat, you wouldn’t typically go about it by training Pull Ups. Not to say that doing Pull Ups might not have some carryover into Pistol squats, but in order to eventually be able to reach a specific movement goal, you need to spend time working that specific movement pattern. If your goal is to achieve the Single Arm Push-Up, then you’d better be practicing the Single-Arm Push-Up progressions.
2. Progressive Overload
The gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training is called progressive overload. This requires just the right amount of stimulus:
- If the stimulus is too great, and/or brought on too quickly, then our tissue may not have the opportunity to adapt. This is often the cause of compensation, and can easily lead to injury.
- On the other hand, if the stimulus is not enough or not often enough, then the body has no reason to adapt. Remember, your body is designed to be as efficient as possible, and it’s not going to do the work to adapt if it doesn’t have to.
Therefore, we’re always looking for the sweet spot of adaptation. Not too much, not too little, but just right.
Training within Your Skill Level
Training specifically and using a progressive overload strategy is the key to achieving high skill bodyweight exercise. It’s incredibly common for someone who wants to perform a difficult movement to just jump directly into trying that movement, without any lead up progressions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone trying to learn a Muscle-Up by spastically swinging and squirming their way over the rings only to find themselves in a dangerously precarious position.
Still, some people skip over the progressions, and over a long enough time line and with enough persistence, may eventually learn to mimic the movement (we are after all adaptation machines). But do they really “own” the movement? Can they do it with absolutely perfect structural integrity, void of any compensations? Are they able to breathe through all phases? Most importantly, are they able to perform it at a super slow tempo without breaking form? If you’ve trained properly, your body will have adapted so that you can answer Yes to all those questions. Now you’re beginning to own that movement, or at least have proven that you’ve earned the right to train there.
In the BWA program we use an assessment approach, focusing on making sure you are training at the correct variation to allow your body to adapt. We call this finding your “threshold.” The assessment process looks like this:
- Start at the Beginning: No matter what your previous experience, everyone begins at the most regressed variation of each exercise pattern (or “Pinnacle Line” as we call them). You’ll go through each variation one at a time, until you find the one where you can’t perform the required number of reps at the correct tempo. In the Single Arm Push-Up tutorial provided above, the most regressed variation begins in Part 1 (Two-Arm Push-Up) with the basic Hands Elevated Push-Up.
- Reps: The goal is to perform 5 perfect repetitions, with perfect form. If you can perform the 5, move on to the next variation.
- Tempo: Reps should be performed at a slow 3/1/3/1 tempo. That is three seconds in each direction, with a one second pause on either end.
- Progressing: If you can perform the 5 perfect reps at the correct tempo, rest two minutes before moving on to the next exercise.
- Threshold: Once you find the variation that you can hit at least one perfect rep, but not 5, that’s considered your threshold exercise. This is where you need to focus your practice and training attention.
- Focus on Success: Training at your current abilities ensures that you’re developing successful movement patterns. There is no benefit to training above your ability, because that prevents your body from experiencing the necessary positive adaptations. You may later have to unlearn a faulty pattern, or worse, suffer from an injury.
Of course, if you are following the BWA program, we go into more detail, providing specific instructions for sets and reps. But you can still keep in mind this overall assessment and threshold strategy when watching the tutorials above.
Recap so far: Your training has to be specific, it has to be progressive and you have to be successful before moving on from one progression to the next.
PROGRESSIVE BWT STRATEGIES
How do we use the concepts of progressive overload and specificity to force your body to adapt, and thus progress, in high-skill bodyweight training? We can manipulate or change several variables, using gravity and leverage in different ways. The exercise techniques and body positions utilized in the different Pinnacle Lines of the BWA program are designed to evoke specific biomechanical and neuromuscular results. Everything from the starting body position through each regressions and progressions is based upon scientific principles.
Let’s look at specific strategies that are used in the included Push Up tutorials:
Manipulate the Body in Space
In BWT, we can’t just add on more weights to increase the difficulty of an exercise. If you weigh 180 pounds, there’s nothing that we can do in one workout to change that 180lbs (aside from cutting off a limb). We can, however, position your body differently in space to where you are working with a higher or lower percentage of that 180lbs in a specific pattern.
Think about it this way: a Push-Up is considered a horizontal pushing pattern. If both your hands and feet are on the ground so that you are fully horizontal, you’re working against a very high percentage of your “body load”. But if we began to incrementally elevate the hands, you’d be slowly decreasing the percentage at each stage. Eventually, you’d be standing upright on your feet, so that now you’re working against almost zero percentage of your overall body load in the horizontal pushing pattern. So much so that if you push, you’d push yourself right over.
In the video progressions above, we start with the Hands Elevated Push-Up, which has the hands elevated pretty high so you are taking a very low percentage of your body load. The next progression brings your hands to the ground, but changes the leverage, which is our next strategy.
Change the Leverage
Similar to manipulating the body in space to decrease your overall percentage of body load, you could also change the length of the body in relation to your shoulders (axis), thereby decreasing the resistance arm. The most common example of this is a bent knee push up. By eliminating the lower shank of the leg, you’re now using only the body load from the head to the knees.
Studies have shown that muscles can tolerate up to 1.75 percent more weight in an eccentric, or negative, phase than in the positive. We can use this to our advantage by focusing on “training the negative,” to make up for the strength deficit in the positive. Plus, by working that phase that you are successful in, you’re experiencing the specificity that is so important to adaptation. In the included tutorial, you’ll see this strategy used in the Full Body Negative, Bent-Knee Positive. In that progression, you’re pushing up with bent knees, and then at the top extending the knees, taking the higher percentage of body load for the negative phase.
Assistance and the Mechanical Disadvantage
It’s common to see someone use a band for added assistance in everything from Pull Ups to Pistol Squats. While this isn’t a bad strategy, it does mean that you’re relying on an external source to help you along. I like using the actual body itself to help out when needed. An example of this would be using the legs to assist in a Pull Up or using one limb (leg or arm) to assist the opposite limb in an exercise.
We can use this idea of a “mechanical disadvantage” as a strategy. For example, in the SAPU video tutorial you’ll find two variations of an Archer Push Up. In an Archer, you’re keeping the non pushing arm completely straight and extended out to the side. By eliminating the elbow extensors of the extended arm, you’re putting it at a mechanical disadvantage. The arm can still assist, but since it’s at a disadvantage, the assistance is extremely limited.
GIVE IT A TRY
The techniques described above are just a few examples of how your progressive experience can be incrementally successful. Think about how these concepts are working as you try out the progressions included in the tutorials above. As you watch the tutorials, you’ll see that we’ve broken the Push-Up progressions into two “pinnacle lines:” The first one is focused on the two arm Push Up, while the second section is all about the Single Arm Push Up. Also included are two additional videos, with the first one giving you an introduction with some basics on setting up the form, and the last showing you how to use a specific loaded exercise to improve your SAPU training. The complete list of exercises includes:
- Introduction to Horizontal Push (How to set up)
Video Two: The Push-Up Pinnacle Line
- Baseline: Hands Elevated Push-Up
- Progression 1: Bent Knee Push-Up
- Progression 2: Bent Knee Positive, Full Negative
- Pinnacle: The Push-Up
Video Three: The Single Arm Push-Up Pinnacle Series
- Baseline: Bent Knee Archer
- Progression 1: Full Archer Push-Up
- Progression 2: Sky Diver Negative
- Progression 3: Full Sky Diver Push-up
- Progression 4: Single Arm Negative, Double Arm Positive
- Progression 5: Single Arm Negative, Partially Assisted Positive
- Pinnacle: The Single Arm Push-Up
Video Four: Loaded Training for Horizontal Push
While not the focus of this article, the BWA program incorporates loaded training for increased resistance. The loaded training for Horizontal Push includes:
- The Single Arm Floor Press
I recommend that you go back and assess yourself from the beginning of the first one, no matter how confident you are in your Push-Up abilities. Keep in mind that the passing formula is 5 perfect reps at a 3-1-3-1 tempo with 2 minutes rest between each progression. If you can reach the first Pinnacle which is the two arm Push Up, continue on into the Single Arm variations. Remember, once you find the progression that you can hit one perfect rep, but not the full 5, that is your threshold or practice exercise.
The SAPU pinnacle line is one of 9 pinnacle lines we include in the BWA program. The whole program includes more than 140 exercise variations. We also integrate sections on mobility, movement, breathwork, self-myofascial release, and core training. You can read more details about the program or purchase it on the main sales page here: BODYWEIGHT ATHLETE PROGRAM.
Keep training hard and regenerating smart!