In the world of bodyweight strength training, the one arm chinup is the end-game for raw (unweighted) pulling power.
To be blunt – the one arm chinup is not easy, nor a common achievement.
The beauty of this movement lies in the hard work leading up to its completion. Once attained, the satisfaction of being able to pull yourself up with a single arm (on command) is immense.
If you’re starting out with your training, we would recommend that you work towards building up your pulling strength before you begin training for a one arm chinup.
Related: The 35 Best Pullup Exercises
But, if you feel you’ve put in enough work to begin your “single arm” journey, this tutorial will be beneficial for you.
Learning your first one arm chinup
From existing tutorials we’ve seen online, the notion of objectivity is often brushed aside. It’s common to read or watch one arm chinup guides, attempt the prescribed workouts, and hit a wall after some time.
“I’ve followed these exercises! Why am I not making progress?”
The answer to this question, like many other fitness-related questions, is “it depends”.
However, we’re going to first address one reason why you might be stalling on your lofty pulling goals.
You’re approaching one arm chinup training subjectively
Introducing subjectivity into your training is like venturing down an isolated street with a dead end. Your improvement, at some point, will cease to continue, leading to further frustration with yourself.
This is no different with your one arm chinup training progressions.
Without a specific number to work towards, you’re training your one arm chinup based on how you feel. This is evident with typical assistance exercises, such as “archer chinups”, or “whole hand” assisted chinups.
Ask yourself the following:
When tracking your workouts over time, how will you know how you “felt” two or three weeks ago? How will you know if you’ve improved since then? Do you remember how much assistance you gave yourself?
It will be difficult, and you will struggle to remember!
Introducing objectivity into your one arm chinup training
We solve the subjectivity problem by using a pulley system, involving either a ring strap, band, or weight belt with added weight. This approach is beneficial because it provides visual, tactile feedback with the amount of assistance provided by your other arm. For the examples below, we’ll use the added weight approach.
Before we describe the specifics of the pulley, familiarize yourself with the below progression example for your one arm chinup training:
Take note of how the weights decrease after each week, and how the sets/reps scheme changes.
This approach is objective. It’s black and white. Based on adherence to these numbers after each week, you’re either getting closer to your one arm chinup, or you’re not.
Make sure you remain honest with yourself. Don’t expect to get stronger by working with the same numbers week after week… keep challenging yourself.
Setting up your weighted pulley system
The most important part of setting up your weighted pulley is choosing a weight that’s right for you. When it comes to added weight, the following rules apply:
More weight on the pulley provides more assistance, and makes the exercise easier.
Less weight on the pulley provides less assistance, and makes the exercise harder.
This will allow you to alter the amount of weight/assistance used from week to week, gradually reducing it as you become more proficient.
Start by adding the “sample” amount (15kg) to your pulley, and using it as assistance for your one arm chinup.
If the weight doesn’t move, it’s OK. If the weight moves up as you pull up, it’s too light.
Here’s an example of a pulley that’s too light (weight coming up too high when pulling up):
Here’s an example of a pulley that’s just right (weight remaining in place when pulling up):
The end game – what’s possible
Put simply, the weight you use is dependent on how strong you are. If you need a lot of assistance from your other arm, more weight is ideal. If you’ve built up strength over time with your single arm pulling, you’ll need less assistance from your other arm. In this case, less weight should be used.
Your final goal will involve using the least possible resistance (added weight) for the most amount of repetitions. Based on our experience, performing 5-6 repetitions with a very low amount of assistance is actually more difficult than the one arm chinup itself.
After the first 7 week period, make sure to test your pulling strength without any assistance. You may fare better than you think!
Remember, it’s OK if you haven’t been able to perform your first clean repetition after the first 7 weeks. It’s a skill that takes time, and like with everything strength-related, abilities will vary. But, what’s most important is that you’re better now than you were when you started. If that’s true, then you’re progressing well, and you should be pleased with your results.
If you would like to see what’s possible, watch Daniel achieve 50 one arm pullups in under 17 minutes.
Good luck achieving one of the most coveted skills of bodyweight strength training! If you’ve recently achieved your first one arm chinup, we’d like to hear from you in the comments below.
For more information, watch Daniel’s original video from December 2014.