How I Trained For a One Arm Chin Up
One of my first big fitness challenges was one I made with my brother, and the challenge was simple – the first one to complete a one arm chin up wins, and the loser has to complete a 36-hour fast. I love making fitness bets because there isn’t much I hate more than losing, so it acts as the perfect motivator for me. At the time, this seemed like a near-impossible task. It was hard enough to hang one-handed off of a bar, let alone attempt to pull myself up to one with only one hand and one arm. Nevertheless, we agreed on the challenge and both began our journey to complete the rare and difficult one arm chin up. Roughly 10 weeks and a lot of specific training later, I was able to finally complete the challenge.
When I started training for the one arm chin up, the training was simple: practice doing as many chin ups with a reasonable amount of weight hanging off me as possible, and start losing some weight. I was by no means very overweight at 5 foot 8 and 165 pounds, but trimming up would no doubt make the task much easier. When I started the training, I could do somewhere in the range of 15-18 strict pull ups, so I definitely had a good base to work off of. I typically trained on olympic rings as I had a pair hanging up in my garage, and it turned out that training for this on rings made it much easier to do the variety of chin up strategies listed below. I would usually add somewhere between 25-75 pounds to the weight belt and would train in various rep ranges, depending on how I felt that day.
Once I got comfortable doing many sets of weighted chin ups for several weeks, I began incorporating different variations of pull ups on the rings in addition to the weighted ones. The first variation I tried was a standard chin up with one ring higher than the other, approximately 1 foot difference. This allowed me to start putting the emphasis on one arm more than the other, while still having the support I needed to complete the full range of motion.
Once I could comfortably complete multiple sets this way, I began adding in archer pull ups. (See an example here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4mKc0y55to ). Of any of the variations I worked on, these were my favorite. The archer pull ups allow you to put as little/as much emphasis on the target arm as you would like. Not only would I complete regular reps of archer pull ups, but I would also put a big focus on the negative portion of the movement. It allowed me to mimic the eccentric portion of the movement with a little help from my secondary arm in a very slow and controlled manner.
Once comfortable with archer pull ups, I began to incorporate assisted chin ups on the assisted chin up machine at my gym where I would actually complete one arm chin ups with the help of a little extra weight. If you don’t have access to such a machine, banded chin ups would serve a similar purpose, however this is very difficult to achieve on rings so it wasn’t a big part of my training. This got me used to the exact movement I would need to do in order to actually perform a one arm chin up. During this phase of training, I also added in many one arm negatives on the rings. If you are able to slowly lower yourself with a 10 second negative, you are getting close.
When it came to actually testing my progress, I would always do this at my parents house. They had a chin up bar in the garage, and it was simply way too hard on the rings. I would typically start from a dead hang with my right hand gripping the bar and a few fingers from my left hand on the bar. Once I was able to do a one arm pull up with only the assistance of a finger or two, again, I knew I was getting close.
Side note: while training for this bet with my brother, I had a simultaneous “race to a 6 pack” challenge going on with my brother and a friend. I managed to drop roughly 28 pounds from my peak at 175 over a few short months (I began dieting prior to embarking on the one arm chin up journey) and without this, I would not have achieved the goal. I will definitely share my experience on rapid weight loss in the coming weeks, as I feel I have both some do’s and don’ts to share on this topic.
Over the course of about 4 weeks, I would test myself every few days on a bar. Usually, the sticking point was somewhere around the halfway point of the motion. I would typically get stuck in a position where my arm was at 90 degrees and couldn’t battle through it. Finally, after many failed attempts where I was then able to get myself ¾ of the way up to the bar, I completed the coveted one arm chin up. I achieved this at a weight of 148 pounds.
A few things to note after going through this experience myself. I highly encourage anyone who wishes to attempt a one arm chin up to do so, but be realistic about training volumes and potential for injury. Doing chin ups with weight and in many different variations can create a lot of tension on your wrists, elbows, and forearm muscles. I definitely had to battle through some pain in all of these areas, so I advise you to back off if you start to feel unusual pain. Also, it was assumed that by the time I could complete a one arm chin up my biceps would be huge. Although I did get stronger and put on a bit of size in my arms and upper back, by no means did they grow to the size I thought they would need to be to complete this challenge.
Another big factor in completing this challenge was the weight loss. By really leaning out it made it significantly easier to complete more bodyweight chin ups, and also much easier to pull myself up with one arm. Although I was glad to have reached the goal, I will say I didn’t like the way I looked about 10-15 pounds lighter than what I would consider my ideal weight.
Another thing to keep in mind if you are eventually able to complete this challenge is that strength can be a skill. By training in these very specific ranges of motion, I got very strong in that movement pattern. Don’t expect to simply do a bunch of bicep curls and lat pull-downs and all of a sudden have the strength to do this. You really do need specific training if you want to complete this challenge and not just sheer strength.
To summarize, here is the rough training progression I used:
- Be able to complete 15 strict pull-ups/chin-ups
- Get comfortable doing weighted pull-ups and chin-ups (weight ranging from 25-75 pounds)
- Incorporate chin up and pull up variations such as high/low ring chin ups, archer chin ups, negatives/banded negatives
- Practice with assisted chin up machine/bands on chin up bar, working your way to very little extra assistance
- Complete your first one arm chin up!
If anyone has any thoughts, questions, or even training tips of their own, I would love to hear from you. Please share below!