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Achieving the One Arm Pullup

August 30, 2002 04:05 PM

I finally did a one-arm pullup on the evening of July 11, 2002. I haven't been able to repeat the feat yet, and I only was able to do it with my right hand, but I have had the OAP as a goal for over two years, and it's hard to believe I actually did one.
John Allstadt wrote a great article on pullups, but when I began training with Pavel's techniques, I started from scratch. I was 5'11" and all of 145 lbs. I was able to do about five or six pullups (maybe seven on a good day). If you're not as physically gifted as good old Com. Johnnypullups, you may benefit from my experience.

Get a belt.

Not the kind that Pavel discourages, I mean a belt to hold weighs for your pullups. I recommend the Ironmind Supersquats belt. I know it's expensive, but it's well worth the money.
First of all, it cinches TIGHT around your waist, so you never have to worry about the weight slipping. Second, you can put the weight on either the front or the back of the belt, allowing you to adjust your balance to make the exercise harder or easier.
That being said, any belt would probably do okay, even though you'd probably be happiest with the Rolls Royce of weight belts. Oh, and get a good, sturdy pullup bar too. If you're pulling a lot of weight, you don't want your suction cup mounted doorframe bar to come crashing down, breaking various and sundry body parts. (That's the lawyer in me talking)

Hit the Kettlebells

For several reasons. If you're not starting out a beanpole as I did, you will move much closer to any goal with a bodyweight exercise by losing weight. KB's, I'm told, have that effect on people.
In John McCallum's article on grip specialization in the June, 1998 issue of MILO, he talks about the importance of doing "basic growing exercises" to get even to square one in grip strength. By this he means squats, bent rows, etc. We, being Party Members, use the kettlebell exercises as our "basic growing moves." They'll help build the overall strength you need to achieve many strength goals including the OAP.

Use a Bear Theme

Upper body muscles are small. You can't gain upper body strength past a certain point without increasing their size. Do your pullups in a Bear cycle from time to time. ['The Bear ' is a low rep/high set muscle building program from Power to the People! ?P.T.]

Do Heavy Presses

They'll strengthen the whole shoulder girdle, just what you need for this exercise.

Use Stretch Bands, Chains, etc.

I have found few ways of magnifying strength better than with stretch bands and chains. Read Craig Culver's article on "Accommodating Resistance" for full details. Also check out Dave Tate's article which Culver references.
For pullups, you anchor one end of the band to the ground, and loop the other end around your neck (use a towel to pad your neck, as the band can make it real itchy). Do you pullups. You can use the bands alone or in combination with weighs hanging on your shiny new Supersquats belt. I would suggest having several bands of different strengths to vary your workout.

Work your Abs

Any party member should already know the importance of this, so I won't pile on. However, I will suggest two really EVIL Janda variations that my sick mind cooked up. First is the flex band situp. Just like a regular Janda situp, but have your wife or training partner stand on one end of a mini stretch band (that'll be plenty) right behind your head when you lie down. Now hold your end of the stretch band overhead and sit up. Please do not sue me for intentional infliction of emotional distress if you try this variation, I'm only trying to help. Oh, and don't try this until you're REALLY good at the Jandas, not only do they hurt, but sometimes it's hard not to get some hip flexor involvement.
The second variation is the two down one up Janda. In the chapter of RKC which deals with '101 ways to cook the press', Pavel explains the two down one up method. I won't repeat him here, I'll just suggest applying it to Jandas. You won't like them, but you'll probably thank me next time you hit the beach.

Work your Grip

I read John Brookfield's "Mastery of Grip Strength" not long ago. I made myself some of the equipment he suggests such as a Weaver Stick, a Baseball lift, a Softball Lift, a Pinch Grip Block, and a wrist roller. I also have the T, #1, and #2 Captains of Crush grippers. Very helpful. Once again, I won't repeat Pavel here about the importance of grip strength. Read PTP, and then just work your grip.


When you get closer to the OAP, it's time to start doing assisted OAP's. Basically, you do an OAP with your non-working hand on your upper arm. Personally, I wouldn't start on the assisted OAP's until you can do them on the upper arm. Weighted pullups would do you better at until then.
Assisted OAP's are VERY important. You see, the OAP is both a matter of balance and a matter of strength. Even if you're strong enough, you may be unable to do the OAP due to balance issues. Training with the assisted OAP will help you resolve those balance issues.
Lastly, rings are VERY important for any form of OAP because if you do them from a stationary bar, the torque from your body will murder your elbow. I remember in a post from long ago, Pavel mentioned that he got the "mother of all tendonitis" from doing OAP's when he was in the service.
I built my own rings and hung them on the tree in my back yard. Here's how. I got two one-foot lengths of 250-lb. test chain, and two twelve-foot lengths. I also got two six-inch lengths of plumbing pipe about an inch in diameter or so. I threaded the one-foot length of chain through the pipe and connected the ends to one another and to the twelve footer with a screw-close link. I threw the other end of the twelve-foot chain over the tree branch and linked it to itself. All in all, the whole outfit cost me less than thirty bucks.
Now, I never do weighted pull-ups on these rings, as I don't trust them with that much weight. Instead, I just do assisted OAP's.

Vary your Loads

I rarely do formal cycles with the pull-ups, but as I get more proficient at the OAP, I'm going to go back to the cycles. Nonetheless, it's important to vary your loads. Pavel says that if you keep lifting the same weight all the time you'll be good at lifting that weight. If you vary your weighs, you'll become a good weight lifter. Works for me!

The Home Stretch

Pavel suggested an excellent routine on our forum in response to a OAP question from Com. Jklove. Here is the outline:

On Monday do 5 comfortably heavy singles on two rings keeping most of your weight on one ring. Then 5 more comfortably heavy singles with your other hand on the wrist-forearm-upper arm, wherever is appropriate.

On Tuesday do many sets of low reps of weighted chins, e.g. 35lbsx3-5x10 sets.

On Thursday do 5-10, sets of 4(2+2) pulling harder with one arm (you are on two rings), then the other. Squeeze a pair of shoes between your knees.

On Friday do two steps forward/one step back (see RKC) chins on rings.

After three weeks reduce the volume by half for a week.

My two cents are as follows: get good at the basics before you do this routine. In other words?hit the weighted chins HARD for a couple of months. When you're able to hang from the bar with one hand with your arm bent at a 90-degree angle, give this program a go.


Have patience. The OAP is a big goal. It took me two years. It may take you longer or shorter, just stick with it. If you have a good weight to strength ratio, you're bound to get it soon.
Good luck with your pullups and I look forward to writing future articles on my goals as I achieve them?the #2 Captains of Crush Gripper and 200 Consecutive one pood snatches and bending a 60 penny nail.