Workouts & Exercises

One Arm Pull Up Progression Explained in Small Details

It's been over 10 years since I first laid eyes on the one arm pull up, and let me tell you, it was a sight to behold. I remember watching in disbelief as a guy with 10 pack abs at the gym effortlessly hoisted himself up with one arm, while the other held his wrist steady.

At that moment, I was struck by two thoughts: "Wow, that's incredible," and "There's no way I could ever do that."

For years, I brushed off the idea of attempting this seemingly impossible feat. But deep down, I couldn't shake the feeling that I wanted to try. It wasn't until seeing someone else achieve it right before my eyes that I truly felt inspired to begin my own journey towards mastering the one arm pull up.

And so began my decade-long venture into the world of one arm pull ups - a journey full of ups and downs, trials and triumphs. But through it all, one thing has remained constant: my determination to push myself beyond what I once thought was possible.

Contrary to what I thought about this exercise, it's actually doable, and a bit of training can get anyone to do it. Well, a bit more, to be perfectly honest…

I’ll try to explain everything in this post, how to do it, how to train for it, and when you can actually push to get yourself up. Apart from doing it myself a few times, I've also trained some of my friends at my backyard gym.

I've managed to get a few conclusions, and figure out what works and what doesn't… After all, trial and error is the best way to develop the best technique.

All in all, enough with the chit-chat, let’s get to work and help you perform this impressive exercise. But then, when I say the journey and the one arm pull up progression

How to do one arm pull ups

Start doing one arm pull ups with assisted variations and gradually decrease assistance until you can perform them on your own

If you’ve bothered about the one arm pull up progression before, you’ve probably noticed that there are more ways to do it. The way you do the negative pull up or assisted one is the same. What changes is usually the position of the other hand.

Before I explain a few positions, let me take you through the steps:

  • Grab the bar with one arm. Some people do it on rings, rather than bars. A hanging ring is more flexible and will rotate according to the natural position of your arm.
  • When using a bar, it is recommended to avoid doing negative pull-ups, or you'll risk injuring your elbow. Hand should be facing you, whether you keep it in front of you or on the side.
  • Most people try to perform this exercise with the hand in front of them. Doing it on a side from a handle is easier and will get you there faster.
  • Slowly lift yourself with one arm. Chin must be pulled directly above the pulling arm.
  • As you go up, slowly twist the elbow towards the body.
  • Go back in a reverse movement.

The key here is progression. This involves gradually decreasing the amount of assistance you use while performing assisted variations of the exercise, such as using a resistance band or an assisted pull-up machine.

As you become stronger, you can also work on increasing your grip strength and core stability to prepare for performing the full one arm pull up with proper form.

I started one arm pull up by holding the pulling wrist with the other hand, as it’s easier. As I got better, I dropped it to the elbow and so on until I could wrap it around my waist. That’s the ultimate form. Some do it with the other arm straight in the air, parallel to the ground. It’s a better balance I assume.

One arm pull up benefits

One arm pull ups are a great way to build upper body strength, improve grip strength, and challenge yourself both physically and mentally.

Why would you go for the one arm pull up progression? I’ll tell you why most of us do it.

We want to challenge ourselves, show everyone else that we can do it, and show our bodies that we can progress. But this bodyweight exercise also has a bunch of physical benefits and not just the moral one.

Here are the major ones:

Extra strength

Performing one arm pull ups can lead to increased overall strength and muscular endurance

Extra strength is by far the most important one. When we engage in exercises like shoulder press or lateral raise, we do it to look good, but also to gain upper body strength.

More upper body strength, harder exercises, better results. Pulling your body with one arm requires lots of strength.

Exquisite grip strength

The intense grip required for one arm pull ups can improve your grip strength significantly over time

The exercise will give you exquisite grip strength. A great grip will help with other exercises too, such as sumo deadlift or maybe alternating dumbbell press.

Finally, the one arm pull up will help you get better for other sports too. If you like rock climbing or weightlifting training… Pointless to mention the effects on the grip and strength.

One arm pull up muscles worked

One arm pull ups primarily work your back muscles, biceps, forearms, and core muscles.

If you’ve done or at least attempted to do pull ups, you know already they usually work on your back. The movement remains consistent, even if you limit yourself to using only the pulling machine at the back.

This exercise is not only great for building upper body strength and toning your biceps and triceps at the same day, but they also work wonders on your core muscles.

All in all, here’s everything a single one arm pull up exercise will work on:

  • Whole core due to engaging every muscle
  • Dorsal muscles
  • Biceps
  • Triceps

Mistakes to avoid when doing one arm pull ups

Here are some common mistakes to avoid when doing one arm pull ups

We’ve all been there. As you struggle, it’s normal to make mistakes. I think the best way to prevent mistakes is to focus on the form and track your fitness.

Even if you can’t complete a single one arm pull up, it’s better to do half of it the right way than a few reps the wrong way. Besides, mistakes can cause serious injuries.

Not using a full range of motion

Not using a full range of motion is the main mistake. Even if you finish the rep with a slight bend in the elbow is bad, as you’ll work on the arm, rather than the back. The back is your main focus here.

Letting your elbow flare out

Don’t let your elbow flare either. Keep it under the bar and get the chest up for a high quality pull.

Forgetting to control the shoulder blade

With the focus on the arm, you’ll most likely forget to control the shoulder blade. This was my most common issue. Each rep must start with a proper depression of the shoulder, as well as a retraction.

Staying straight like a stick

Finally, avoid staying straight like a stick. It’s one of the main problems in newbies. The shoulder must be a bit retracted, so your back will arch a little... And if it feels easier, you can bend your knees.

One arm pull up world record

The current world record for most consecutive one-arm pull ups is held by Cheang Wai Hun
Cheang Wai Hun doing one arm pull up

You know the drill… If you want to be the largest man in the gym, you’ll learn from Mr. Olympia winners. Want the best butt? You follow and learn from Jessie Delgado or Brittany Perille Yobe.

When it comes to the one arm pull up progression, Cheang Wai Hun from China established a new world record in the fall of 2022. He did 21 one arm pull ups in one minute and mainly because of the challenge.

He finds the exercise quite challenging, but also cool, so he thought of giving it a try. Voila, he smashed it!

One arm pull ups alternatives

If you're not quite ready for one arm pull ups yet, here are some good alternatives

The one arm pull up is one of the coolest exercises you can do. And it’s not just about looking good to others, but also about working on your muscles and challenging yourself.

But then, you can’t focus your workout on one exercise only, so here are a few alternatives to try out. Just like the pull up, each of them has more varieties, of course.

Assisted pull up

An assisted Pull-Up is a variation of the one arm pull-Up exercise

The assisted pull up is the best alternative, especially if you’re new to the one arm pull up progression. I believe we’re all starting with this exercise, as it provides a bit of support, pushing us up a little. Unless you can actually do a pretty good job trying the single arm pull up, this is the optimal way to begin your progression.

Inverted row

Inverted Row is a alternative exercise of one arm pull up that targets the back muscles as well as the biceps

The inverted row uses pretty much the same muscles. You can do it with a bar, railings, or even a table. I find it a bit easier than a single arm pull up, but the best part is you can adjust the angle and body position to make it more or less difficult.

Lat pull down

Lat Pulldown is another alternative exercise that focuses on strengthening the latissimus dorsi muscle in the back

The lat pull down is normally made with two arms, but you can also do it with one. Simply grab the bar in the middle, close to where it hooks up. Try to be as central as possible or one side will go down, while the other will go up. What I’m trying to say is you’ll lose efficiency.

Bent over rows

Bent over rows are an effective alternative exercise of one arm pull up that primarily target your back muscles.

Bent over rows work on the same note. You can do two arms simultaneously to save time, but you can also do one arm at a time. You’ll lose balance though, so you’ll need the other arm to hold on to something.


Still got questions about the one arm pull up progression?

How many pull ups for one arm pull up?

More is better, of course, but let me stress on the importance of form one more time. Beginners will do less than a pull up. With training, you can become intermediate and go up to five pull ups. Experienced and elite fitness enthusiasts will do more than 10. Anything over 15 is considered excellent.

How strong do you have to be to do a one arm pullup?

We’ll all try to do the one arm pull up with no prior training, just to see where we are and how far we need to go. Let me put it out for you then. If you can do a 20 rep set of pull ups, you are probably ready to try and succeed with a single one arm pull up. Otherwise, it’s not going to happen.

How long does it take to learn one arm pull up?

It’s not necessarily about learning, but about gaining the strength to do it. To me, personally, it took about four weeks of progression. Start by helping one arm with the other, then slowly moving down, to the wrist and then the elbow. It takes weeks, but progress is incredibly motivational.

Is doing a one arm pull up impressive?

To be honest with you, I think this core exercise is more impressive than useful. I believe smashing your back and arms with two arm pull ups is better, not to mention other similar exercises to implement in your workouts. But then, one arm pull ups are great to challenge and motivate yourself too.

Final words

I believe the one arm pull up progression is an achievable goal. If you like a good challenge, go for it. It’s a tough exercise and will take time and training, but it’s worth the challenge.

Even if you’re doing well in the gym and you feel strong, I believe the challenge associated with this progression will still give you some headache.

Even after you make it, be it a month, two months or a year, there will be days and days. Some days you’ll be able to do a few reps with no problems at all. Other days, you’ll barely be able to do a single rep.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, that’s the fact that patience is a must. You need to be consistent and give yourself time, as it won’t happen overnight.

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