Friday, July 12, 2013

The first one-arm chin

Aris' article--originally written March 2012

Now that I can do full OACs with either arm, I think I'm allowed to write on this topic....

I wanted to do OACs basically since I started training, so I guess I trained directly or indirectly for about 3 years, give or take. When I started I could do about 5 full chins, it took me a little over a year to get to 20-straight strict pullups.

A while after that I began doing weighted chins, after some time working with sets of 5 I was able to do a single with +80lb. After that, working with triples (mostly 3x3 with a weight, when I could do all 3 triples with a minute 30 in between I'd increase the weight). This led to PRs of +70x4 and +105x1 (underhand chinups) at a bodyweight of 145.

After quite a long time off from focusing on chinning (~8 months) I started up again with high frequency, low volume sets of 8-12. I worked on this for about 4 months, working up to +45x10 chins and +35x10 pullups with a very wide grip, at a bodyweight of 140. Finally, I spent about 4 months doing 1 or 2 sets of 1 to 4 reps, 2 or 3 days per week.

At this point I was comfortable using +80 or so with very good control and an overhand grip and began thinking of going for a full one arm chinup. I'd spent some time training for the OAC with the 'towel' method over a year earlier, holding onto a towel with my 'non working' arm and gradually moving down the towel to provide less assistance, but that ended badly--only able to do 15 consecutive chins at the time, I simply was not ready. That was the first and only time I got bad elbow tendonitis.

The final 3 months leading up to the OAC were when I began doing specific exercises.

At first, I felt weakest at the top of the movement, so I started pausing my weighted chins at the top to take away all momentum and get comfortable at holding myself there. I also ended my sessions with a two-armed bodyweight-only hang either at the halfway point, or with my chin over the bar for 1 or 2 sets of 30 to 45 seconds. Both of these additions helped a great deal and soon I was able to 'lock off' with one arm, chin over the bar, for 5 seconds or so without trouble. However, the bottom of the movement had now become my main weakness.

To solve this new problem, I began doing my weighted chins with an extra hang at the bottom between rests, pausing for a full second or two and relaxing my shoulders. I had to work into this one slowly to avoid shoulder pain/injury but it did pay off with increased lat/rear delt power off the bottom and increased chest (serratus/pec) recruitment. The other technique I used in the final month or so before the OAC was a one-arm isometric, pulling up from the bottom of an OAC as hard as I could with my lat/bicep and bending my arm as much as possible. I also did a lot of dead-start partials, either 1/2 or 2/3 range of motion on the OAC, for about 6 weeks before the OAC to maintain my specific strength in the upper range of the movement.

In the middle of February I learned that there would be a bodyweight training event on the 25th of March to commemorate Jasper Benincasa's passing. I decided to try and get the OAC with each arm by then; at the time I was able to do 2/3 reps with each arm and had chinned +90x2 (normal style, no extra pauses). This final month, as aforementioned I did a lot of weighted chins paused at the top and bottom (working up to +90x3 this way), partial OACs (standing on stacked barbell plates beneath the chin bar), isometrics, and finger-assisted full range OACs.

I got my first OAC with my right arm on the 12th, and continued normal training until the 3rd week of March, at this point I took a few days off and then did the following sets:

Which at the time was probably the best personal record I'd attained in all my training.

-be able to do at least 20 consecutive strict pullups from a dead hang (many different methods of achieving this will be outlined in future blog posts)
-add weighted chins, cycle between 3s and sets of 8-10, alternating between a top set and 2-3 sets when progress stalls
-When you can chin about +2/3 bodyweight with full range and good control, begin working on specific stuff
-Partial OACs, slowly adding ROM were my biggest specific helper.
-Pausing weighted chins at the top, and bodyweight chinup holds at the top helped strengthen my 'finishing' portion of the chin.
-Isometrics and 'relaxed' hangs between reps of weighted chins strengthened my 'starting' portion.
-Lots of reverse curls reinforced my brachialis. I did not get tendonitis though my elbows still do hurt for a day or so after a hard OAC session.

That's about it. Hope this helps all you guys who also want to do OACs.

Alex's article--from May 2013
Everyone already knows all there is to know about the OAC.
Except maybe how to beat it when you're just... so...very.. close.

There are many great resources about training one handed chins, one that is by Aris here and it's awesome. Look at that first to get a feeling for what actual strength goal you should have and how to lay out the training program. I was not strong enough when starting to train with a focus on one hand, so you should learn from my mistake and build a base first.

I've posted about training weakpoints before and this comes up now again. My weakpoint was not endurance, it was not strength, it was neither biceps nor triceps. It was tension.

Perhaps you are great already at building the right tension through your entire body and can generate good force through one arm with it. In that case, I have nothing to contribute. Keep training! If you're stuck with good strength but still can't just understand how to get the right groove, read on.

I used loads of uneven chins, pullups, negatives and weighted chins but nothing got me better at building tension than static holds. I call it lockoffs, like climbers do. This means no movement at all, just very high tension holds. Instead of working only more uneven chins and other two hand movements, try this:

- learn the top lockoff, chin over bar and arm tucked in tight. Curl your legs up if it feels easier, like and L-sit.
- Work this as your primary chinning movement and work up to 15 second holds

- work in 90 degree holds when you can master the top lock. Work up to 15 s holds as well
- add 120 deg holds if you feel up to it.

- you can add weight to the top lockoff, I got to +10 kg for 6-8 second holds before completing a OAC.

1,2 or 3 times a week depending on your other goals. 3-5 holds at top, and 2 holds at 90 and 120 deg is what I did.

I'm now working singles of OAC and using lockoffs for one arm pullups on a sharp edge, I enjoy the thought of being able to bust out a OAP anywhere so I train for it.

My final goal is the one finger OAC and you can bet that I'll train for it using different locks!

Train good.


  1. You have to be a dwarf, don't you, and skinny. I'm 178cm and only 10.5st with disproportionately huge upper arms of 15", but that 5ft 10" length means my arms are far too long to even initiate a one-armed pull up! There's no way most people could ever do one, it definitely depends on your muscle attachment sites/physiology. If you're long you'll probably never be able to do one, even if you were anorexic.
    5' 6" and 7st, with perfect muscle/tendon attachment locations and you should be ok. I don't think many fully-grown humans can do a one-armed pull up, unless they're roided to the gills.
    I'm doing 4x6 rep pull ups now instead of curls (full hang to chin over bar), started with reps of 3s and 2s about 3 months ago. It's great for bicep width increase. But, last session (when going for 4x6 for first time) I felt that tendon or ligament that sits just above that knobbly (inside/ulna?) elbow bone start tearing! Had it before doing curls and a doctor said it was from gripping hard with the little fingers and to just use the middle and index fingers (not sure if that's true, but that worked for curls, tougher doing pull ups on 2 fingers though).
    Got to do lats/hammer grip pull ups tomorrow - almost doing 4x6 there too - and I foresee my tendon getting ripped clean off the bone. It's my strong right arm too, so I guess it has a spastic tendon attachment because my runt left arm is fine. :(

    1. Apologies for not replying sooner, I haven't blogged in a while and in fact only saw this as I was about to share this article with some friends.

      Dwarf, skinny--neither. Being lighter helps, of course. I'm 145lb and about 5'9'' ish (175cm) with very long arms--my deadlift lockout is below mid-thigh.

      The two people who I've helped a lot with training and who eventually achieved the OAC--one had a rather athletic build long muscle bellies, medium height, 170lb. The other was much shorter, short muscle bellies but bigger joints, 130ish lb. A lot of rock climbers of all heights and builds can do one, check out how magnus midtboe and jan hojer can both do them with ease despite being built totally differently. Hojer in particular has monkey arms.

      Finally check out this guy, very capable of OAC despite weighing over 200lb and being pretty tallish with long arms:

      Unlike some other more advanced gymnastic skills, for the OAC you just have to be strong enough... get stronger. Take it easy and make sure your joints are healthy before ramping things up. Sounds like you could have some problems going on if you don't back off for a bit... band prehab work, some higher rep stuff and working the pronators and rotator cuffs should help keep you safe.

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