Category Archives: yogasana

The 1-arm Pushup

Watch the video!

A few months ago, I spoke about Pushups for the Ladies and was serious when I said that it wasn’t only for the ladies. Now, I bring you 1-arm pushups, something that is definitely for the men! And again, this time, if you are a lady, please don’t go away – there’s useful learning in what I have to say that will translate into other activities of daily life that you might do. And, if you were disciplined in following the process I outlined and can do good pushups on the floor, you might enjoy the challenge of doing at least one good quality 1-arm pushup after a few weeks.

Chat flow – I will first tell you what the 1-arm pushup is, the benefits of doing it, how to get around to doing (first) a single repetition of the 1-arm pushup and (then) many repetitions successfully, as well as the potential risks to watch out for. As usual, I will keep unnecessary biology and physics out of this chat and focus on getting practical results safely.

 

What is a 1-arm pushup?
A 1-arm pushup is a pushup with just one arm at a time – the other arm provides no assistance!

 

Why is it good to be able to do a 1-arm pushup?

Strength
As with the pushup, the primary muscles worked are the chest muscles and the triceps. The reason that most of us do not want to try a 1-arm pushup is very simple – it feels very difficult. Indeed, it is difficult, because we typically do not need or require that level of strength for 99% of our daily activities. So, the muscle fibres that would typically be called into action to do that work are lying asleep most of our lives. Whether or not you do strength training at the gym, it is likely that you will enjoy the process and the final outcome of attempting the 1-arm pushup. And, of course, the relevant muscles will become stronger and larger.

Stability
Because of having no support from the ‘missing arm’, your entire body has to work to hold your posture. You will feel the maximum effort in those muscles that provide rotational stabilizing torque around your hips and torso.

Hero with Pushups – Zero with 1-arm Pushups
Here you can watch me doing 66 good quality standard pushups in a split set. But even if you can drop down and give me 50 good quality standard pushups with both arms, it is highly likely that you will not be able to do a single good quality 1-arm pushup. (Test my theory by trying one right now, and respond to this poll. Keep reading, of course…)


And if you can do only 30 (or 40 or 50) regular pushups, my bet is that in progressing to 1-arm pushups you will soon be able to do more than 50 of the regular kind!

Pointless Planks
You’ve probably heard me say that I don’t think much of doing standard or modified planks as part of a regular workout for the reasonably fit. As an isometric and static exercise, its functional usefulness is low. In Pushups for the Ladies I set planks as a prerequisite if you’ve been a couch potato or were doing what I called ‘sissy knee pushups’. The return on time invested in exercise is low with a plank – graduate to pushups if you haven’t already done so and make sure of success with regular pushups by reading my guidance on it.

For me, the beauty of the pushup is that it uses so much of your entire body while requiring no equipment. The 1-arm pushup just takes that beauty 5 notches higher!

 

What does it take to do a 1-arm pushup?

Complete FULL range of motion for the 1-arm Pushup

Complete FULL range of motion for the 1-arm Pushup

Pre-Requisites
I would say that you should be able to do at least 30 good quality pushups on the ground before you progress to attempting the 1-arm pushup. Remember, the 1-arm pushup will make you stronger for the regular pushup so you could merge the progression of both. So, in sessions when you are not doing the 1-arm pushup, you might find that you are now able to do more regular pushups than you could.

Range of Motion
As with the standard pushup, it is important that you go all the way down, to ensure that your nose touches the ground.

Form & Technique
Excellent form and technique are important with any movement or static posture. The tendency to make errors when being pushed to the limits is higher so be extra careful with spine safety when doing the 1-arm pushup! I have highlighted these earlier.

Progression
Similar to my advice for the regular pushups, I can guarantee you success with the 1-arm pushup if you start with the ‘imaginary ground’ at a considerable height and then progressively lower it over many sessions.

Careful progress in load intensity over time

Careful progress in load intensity over many weeks

Remember, you should keep at least 48 hours between sessions and, whenever needed, an even longer gap. In the early days, most of the changes in your body are neuro-muscular as you ‘learn the movement pattern’. The smooth firing of neurons and muscle fibre units will take a few sessions to consolidate as the requirements are different from those of a standard pushup. Remember, there’s no rush – take it easy with progression, focus on the process not the outcome, and you will succeed. And remember, just as you expect to go lower as the weeks go by, within any given session, it’s OK to go higher for a second or third or fourth set.

Feet positions and Centre of Gravity
When doing a standard (symmetrical) pushup your COG (centre of gravity) was in the midline of your body. The base of support there was (roughly) the rectangle formed by your hands and feet. Now, with one arm withdrawn and not providing support, the symmetry has been broken and your COG is now shifted away. Fortunately, the shift of your COG is likely to be towards the opposite arm and leg. The vertical line of gravity is now not necessarily going to pass through the triangular base of support. There will be natural tendency to widen your feet position and that is fine – it’s still a 1-arm pushup!

Feet Positions, Base of Support and Centre/Line of Gravity

Feet Positions, Base of Support and Centre/Line of Gravity

Feet positions and Slipping
You will notice that if the soles of your shoes are even slightly slippery your feet will tend to skid when doing the 1-arm pushup. This can be unnerving but you can also use it to your advantage to find out the most stable body position thanks to that slack variable.

The Working Arm
The further your working hand is away from your head the greater will be the effort by your chest muscles. The closer it is to your head, elbow closer to the side of your body, the greater will be the effort required by your triceps. This was the case with the regular pushup too. Note that a narrow hand (relative to head) position and a narrow feet position will mean a smaller triangular base of support within which your line of gravity must be.

The Other Arm
I typically keep the free arm behind my back, but you have a choice of keeping it in the air in ‘alert position’ if you are nervous. The lowest ‘load contribution’ of that arm is when your hand is around your belly button (or lower back) and will be greatest when the arm is stretched out ahead of your head. You must, of course, develop the ability to do a 1-arm pushup with each of your arms, equally, not only your stronger arm. Whatever you do with the right arm, you must do with the left!

 

Risks of a 1-arm pushup

Joint Risk – Shoulder, Elbow, Wrist
Because the resistance you are pushing is both very high and very concentrated in terms of location you need to keep a careful watch out for your shoulder – a ball-and-socket joint that is highly susceptible to sports injuries. However, that should not stop you from venturing into 1-arm pushups as careful progression towards the ability to do a 1-arm pushup will mean increased strength and stability for that otherwise vulnerable joint. So, the trick is to shock your body safely! The wrist and elbow joints will have to deal with similar shocks so be sensible with progression – be conservative – in this case, it is better to take many weeks to reach your goal than not at all.

Face Smash Risk
The thought of sudden failure with a 1-arm pushup can seem scary because of your fear of smashing your face in the ground. However, what is more likely is that you will roll into the ‘missing arm’ and fall on its upper arm and shoulder – your face is likely to remain beautiful and unhurt! Fear not!

Anatomical Deformities
The ape-like imbalanced appearance of many gym rats can be easily avoided by maintaining symmetry along all dimensions (upper/lower body, left/right limbs, front/back). To balance the 1-arm pushup with its mirror movement, you could do the 1-arm row, either seated or standing (straight on a pulley system, or bent over with a dumbbell when hinging at your hip).

Seated Row to mirror the 1-arm Pushup

Seated Row to mirror the 1-arm Pushup

Standing Row to mirror the 1-arm Pushup

Standing Row to mirror the 1-arm Pushup

How long will it take to do a 1-arm pushup?

Progression is always a function of many things. But, my rough guess is that in as little as 12 sessions, spread over say 8 weeks, you can be doing at least one good form 1-arm pushup with very low injury risk. If you are one-third my age and naturally strong, you could probably achieve the goal in a couple of weeks. However, overriding your eagerness and ambition should be feelings of self-protection, so be conservative in your progression from zero to hero!

1-arm Pushup, then what?

Once you can do a 1-arm pushup with each arm, the obvious natural progression is to do more of them. The functional benefit of doing too many is limited especially compared to the risk to the shoulder joint. Unless you sense that you are genetically gifted I would say that doing up to 10 repetitions on each side is sufficient for developing excellent strength in a safe manner. Once you can do 10 with each arm, there is no shame in pulling back and just sticking to doing 5 with each arm perhaps once a week. For the next 40 years 😉 …heh heh!

Path ahead

I guarantee that if you internalize what I have said, and go through the process until you can do even a single 1-arm pushup, it will definitely change your perspective on life positively, even if just slightly. Go on, do it!

Just push it!

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Pushups for the Ladies

Watch!

I know you are a man, but don’t go away yet!
If you are a man, don’t think this chat isn’t for you. In my days managing part of a quantitative financial trading outfit I was shocked that 2 young men on my team could not do a single pushup. Interestingly enough, one was over 6-feet tall and skinny, the other was noticeably below 6-feet in height and far from skinny! So, although I have called this chat “Pushups for the Ladies”, you too can learn and benefit from it, bro!

Why do pushups anyway?
From a functional perspective, it’s easy to list a few reasons very quickly – closing stiff or heavy drawers, pushing a car when stalled instead of looking helplessly at strangers, pushing an attacker away when against a wall to open up a gap for escaping. If you happen to be a cross country skier or a long distance runner then the pushup and its mirror image exercise are superb relevant performance enhancement drills. Very specifically, the pushup’s major working (agonist) muscles are the triceps and the chest and, given how the pushup requires your entire core to be engaged, it’s a total body muscular strength and/or muscular endurance training exercise that is easy to do anywhere without additional equipment – you don’t even need a yoga mat!

Hiding the science
In order to focus on getting you there, and not losing your attention, I will avoid feeding you with too much science (anatomy, exercise physiology, periodization etc.) and keep this chat at a simple practical level to produce results for you easily.

Those knee pushups won’t get you anywhere

Knee Pushups - Ya whatever!

Knee Pushups – Ya whatever!

Often ladies or newbies at the gym are taught how to do what I call “sissy pushups” – pushups on the knees. These have some purpose and, sure, something is better than nothing. But this easy alternative to the “regular pushup” is limited in what you achieve, and so won’t help you get going much further, as progression from there to the regular pushup isn’t direct. As a result, it will keep you limited, you are then restricted and cannot move onto anything more advanced, explosive or fun. If you’ve been doing those, don’t worry – just forget about them for now and read on…

Anyone can do proper form, quality pushups
Just about anyone can do a regular pushup if they progress to it in a logical manner from super easy to apparently tough. I have taken many ladies from the inability to do a single pushup to being confident about doing many! Here is how you can too, and quite easily. All it requires is that you trust me and remain patient with the process. Even if you don’t believe in your ability to eventually get there, I do believe you can, so stick with the process. I promise, you will get there!

The 2 ends of a pushup

Core engaged plank-like in all positions

Core engaged plank-like in all positions

The start and end of the pushup, along with every point in-between, typically requires that your entire body other than your arms remain in the same position relative to each other. “Stiff, pretty much like a plank of wood” is how I like to put it. We have the lowering phase (going down gently resisting gravity) and the rising phase (pushing up against gravity). With your head, thorax and abdominal area ensuring that you maintain a ‘neutral spine’ position throughout, the idea is to go from the high point (arms straight at the elbow – plank position) to the low point (arms bent at the elbow, nose almost touching the floor) and back up to the high point.

Do not disengage between the start and the finish
Whether going down or back up, it is important to stay mentally focused on keeping your core engaged so that your entire body other than what is meant to move around the shoulder and elbow joints stays sturdy like a tree trunk. With the spine neutral and this rock solid core, one can imagine a long broomstick that ought to maintain contact with the back of the head, top of the upper back and your buttocks throughout the movement. Maintaining a stiff plank, by engaging all the muscles in your core is absolutely essential to good form of movement during the execution of a regular pushup. By ‘core’ we do not mean just the abdominal muscles, but everything other than the head, arms and legs. And remember, lack of good form is typically what leads to injury or pain. Have you heard of people with lower back pain from gym visits? This is what they failed to remember!

The journey of a 1000 pushups begins with a quarter step!

I strongly advise you to not skip any of these stages. Failing to do so might lead to problems at that time, or in the long run. Doing all the stages will ensure 100% success in time.

Stage Minus One – Be hot stuff
Warming up the muscles that will do the work of a pushup is important. If you are in a cold environment you will have to pay extra attention to this. A general warm up like a brisk walk or a light jog will warm up your body but, perhaps not the specific muscles of the pushup. If you have a very weak upper body, then even standing exercise drills that simulate pushups in the air, or against a vertical wall will help you break into a sweat. Do that, a specific warm up first!

Stage Zero – Plank it first

Hold a plank well first

Hold a plank well first

If you have never attempted a pushup before, it is best that you develop strength in your entire core by spending a few days, or even a few weeks, simply extending the time that you can hold the plank position for. And it is best to do the ‘plank’ (palms on the ground, arms almost straight) rather than the ‘modified plank’ (forearms on the ground, what many people incorrectly refer to as the plank). Only once you can hold the plank position for 30 seconds, without your body beginning to tremble, should you consider yourself ready to commence your progression to good quality regular pushups.

Stage Middle – The Most Important For Eventual Success
You’ve heard me speak earlier about how, in general, we can achieve high levels of success in anything we do – the money is in the detail. So, this stage is all about making things easy for yourself so that you do succeed in the end. It is the bridge between “oh, pushups are too tough” to “yaay, I can do 10“! Here is how…

Whether you are trying to correct your form or attempting to do your first pushup properly, it’s best to reduce the load being lifted by starting off with what I call “assisted pushups”. You do not need any special equipment for this. Simply find a horizontal raised surface for your hands e.g. kitchen counter or the trunk of your car! If at the gym, you can use a squat rack and its barbell rod. (Have a look at Mrs Arora in the photos below.) The key point to note here is that if your feet remain on the ground and your hands are placed on a surface above ground level, the resistant force to work against is lower. To understand this clearly, picture yourself standing straight against a wall and pushing against it – almost zero effort, super easy! But we don’t need it that easy. With the hand positioned sufficiently high, it should be possible for you to execute a good quality pushup and feel the effort of doing so. Remember, your nose now needs to go down to the level of an imaginary sloping floor that runs from your toes to your hands.

How high should your hands be placed? If you can manage 12 good form pushups at a certain height that is good. If you find it difficult to perform 12 repetitions, raise the level of your hands to a higher surface. If you find it too easy, lower your hand position.

Progression – is what we always look for

Progressive overload across sessions

Progressive overload across sessions

It is best to keep a minimum 48-hours gap between your pushup sessions. This allows your body to have recovered and adjusted to the load of the previous session by becoming stronger. How you progress shifting your hands lower and lower down the vertical height until they are on the ground will be a function of various factors (age, gender, weight, body fat percentage, to name just a few). Erring on the side of caution so that you are progressing slowly but surely will ensure that you do not develop any injuries. It may take anything between 1-6 sessions before you feel confident that you can “try one level lower”.

Pyramiding down within a session

Pyramiding down within a session

Within any one set of 12 repetitions, you may want to also have a 3-5 second gap, holding the plank position, to allow your muscles to refuel enough to execute 1 (or even 2) additional repetitions. When you pause this way for a few seconds, I call it a “split set” and that’s perfectly OK to do. By pausing and shocking your body safely with an extra repetition will yield benefits.

Pyramiding Down is also useful with pushups as you get fatigued within a session. This would look something like:

Set 1 – 12 repetitions on Level 1 (toughest)
Set 2 – 12 repetitions on Level 2 (tougher)
Set 3 – 12 repetitions on Level 3 (tough)
Set 4 – 12 repetitions on Level 4 (tough enough)

Opposing exercise

Row to mirror your pushups

Row to mirror your pushups

In order to maintain aesthetic beauty, and ensure harmonious development of opposing muscles, the exercise to pair this with is the row. This could be seated or standing (pulley machine). If you are in a playground with parallel bars (ideal for dips), you could also do the mirror action of the pullup there.

Dangers – Avoid Spine problems in the Cervical and Lumbar areas
There are many classic errors I see men commit at the gym. Some can be instantaneously dangerous while others can cause problems in the long run. Be a good lady, set a good example for those men. The most common errors I see men commit include:

  • Moving their heads vigorously, looking here there and everywhere, especially at mirrors or ladies walking by, instead of looking downwards to keep the spine neutral; looking upwards (hyperextension of the cervical area of the spine) can be very dangerous in the short and long run
  • Arching the lower back (usually because of a weak core initially, and then the habit persisting because of neuromuscular learning gravitating the body automatically towards that posture) so that the lumbar area of the spine (around the trouser belt line) is curved more than it normally is – this excess lordosis will often lead to lower back pain

Ah… push it…
I hope you will read this a few times in your journey to a series of good quality pushups. If you ever happen to catch me in person, don’t hesitate to ask me to check your form if you’re willing to drop down and give me 10!

Just push it!

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Skills Based Measures of Fitness are B.S. CRAP!

Balance, Speed, Coordination, Reaction Time, Agility, Power!

Balance, Speed, Coordination, Reaction Time, Agility, Power!

In an earlier article I asked “what is fitness anyway?” and spoke to you about health based measures of fitness. Going beyond those very important dimensions of fitness I would like to tell you about skills based measures of fitness today.  Although they are sometimes considered to be ‘more advanced measures’ of fitness, they need not be considered to be so.

As with the health based measures of fitness, you can think of applying these skills based measures to your mental health. You can also think of them being applicable to other entities e.g. your business staff and processes, your army regiment or even you book reading club. Think about examples from your daily life as you read about these measures that follow:

Balance is your ability to control or stabilize your body when you are standing still or moving.
Speed is your ability to move your body or parts of your body swiftly.
Coordination is your ability to use all your senses together with your body parts during movement.
Reaction Time is your ability to respond quickly to what you hear, see, or feel.
Agility is your ability to change and control the direction and position of your body while maintaining a constant, rapid motion.
Power is your ability to move your body parts swiftly while applying the maximum force of the relevant muscles. So, power is a combination of both your speed and your muscular strength. Of course you can therefore have different levels of power in different parts of your body.

[I picked this order because “B.S. CRAP” is a mnemonic that should be easy for you to remember]

Does very little for my B.S. CRAP!

Does very little for my B.S. CRAP!

How is your B.S. CRAP?
If you remember, earlier, when I spoke about fitness, I had mentioned why gymnasts and martial artists are, in my opinion, the fittest of sports persons. It was because in addition to the health based measures of fitness their skills based measures of fitness are maintained at a high level. Of course, you can clearly see why all active sports players need to focus on the skills based measures of fitness.  In fact, if you are a chess player, you still need to think of these measures of fitness, at least in a mental and emotional sense. And, given the rise in recreational distance running around the globe, it is important that you understand that just being a recreational distance runner might do nothing much for your skills based measures of fitness. Do you have a friend who runs marathons but was injured (even without any collision) during a game of football or squash? Are you taking your yogasanas to a level where they are not just about balance and coordination?

Can afford a Ferrari - prefer to take the train

Can afford a Ferrari – prefer to take the train

Developing B.S. CRAP
We can develop these measures, or prevent them from wasting away, in the simplest ways in our activities of daily living. Think about what happens when you get that promotion at work, the accompanying pay rise, and switch from taking the bus/train to work to, now, getting chauffered to work in a comfortable car. Never mind that you are weakening your butt muscles and ruining your back with all that sitting, you are also giving up the free daily workout you had been getting when waiting for, or standing in, your public transport. Perhaps you are not better off when you get richer without getting wiser!

Agility, balance and coordination taken to a higher level

Agility, balance and coordination taken to a higher level

By now you will have probably figured out that you do not need to do some high intensity sport to develop these measures of fitness. The childish games you played in your playground require all of them – go play them again. And, almost any dance form will involve all of these. That latin dance class you have been pondering for a while… join it!

Be fit! Body and mind! Mind and body! Go physical!  Be mental!

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.