The one arm chin up. Unique bodyweight exercises difficulty rating – 10 out of 10
Average time taken to master 6 months to several years.
The one armed chin-up is one of only a handful of bodyweight exercises that get a 10 for difficulty rating by unique bodyweight exercises. It is without doubt a daunting challenge and can take many months or several years to master but at the same time, it is also one of the most impressive physical feats you can achieve and if you do nail it, you can take comfort in the fact that you will be part of an elite group as only one person in every one hundred thousand can manage it.
Method of progression
The first stage of progression for the one arm chin up is to build up your regular two arm chin ups until you can do at least 20 solid ones. The time taken to achieve this depends on many factors such as your current upper body strength, how much you weigh and how dedicated to the task you are, but most people can get to 20 reps with a couple of months of hard training.
Once you can do the 20 reps with two hands it is time to start the long road to progressing to the one arm chin up and the next stage is to tie a towel, thick rope or belt over the bar which you grip with one hand whilst the other arm grabs the bar in the normal way.
The purpose of this technique is that it begins to give you the feel of doing a one arm chin as the arm that is pulling up using the bar in the normal way now has to work a lot harder.
From now on you want to keep the number of sets and reps low as there is a high risk of injury with the progressions of the one arm chin if you over train and remember your goal is to build strength rather than muscular endurance so I would not do more that 5 reps for each set and no more than two sets for each arm.
To make this progression harder you simply grab the rope or what ever you have used lower down from the bar as the further down you go the more difficult it becomes.
You can then make the exercise even more difficult by using just your thumb and index finger to pinch the towel, belt or rope as the reduction in gripping power makes your other arm work even harder.
Note, a thick strong belt simply looped over the bar and through the buckle is what I used. If you use a thick rope tie knots in it every six inches to act as markers for your progression, if you use a belt simply draw a line with felt tip every six inches to achieve the same goal.
When you can comfortably do five reps using your thumb and index finger it is time to begin the next phase which is negative one arm chins. To start test you strength by holding on to the bar with one arm.
If your grip is not strong enough to hold your weight you will soon drop back down to the floor so it is a good idea to use a bar that you can reach on your tip toes as this is a lot safer than dropping 2 or 3 feet and it also conserves your energy as you do not have to jump up to reach it.
When using one arm you will also find that your body starts to turn away from the bar so to combat this you need to grip the bar as hard as you can and at the same time twist your hand towards you which helps to bring your body back in. As well as focusing on your grip you should also have your free arm tight against your body.
If you can comfortably hang with one arm, use both arms to pull your self up until your arms are at 90 degrees and then take one hand of the bar and see if you can hold this position, if this is not a problem try pulling yourself up until your chin is past the bar and again holding the position.
If you have managed to hold the 3 positions mentioned you should now try to do your fist complete negative one arm chin up which is just a case of pulling yourself up with two arms until your chin is past the bar and then taking one hand away as you very slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position. Once you can do a full negative rep you are on the verge of doing your first proper one arm chin up.
Note, the reason I recommend you hold the position at the three points before you start negative reps is because if you do not have the strength to hold these positions, you will almost certainly free fall when doing a negative which usually results in injury.
If you find that you can not hold the 3 positions mentioned there is nothing to do but keep working the rope assisted chin ups until you are strong enough.
Note, when hanging from the bar at the bottom of the movement, makes sure you stay an inch away from full extension and keep your shoulder contracted at all times as free hanging at the bottom without doing this is likely to injure your shoulder joint.
The next stage of progression is to try your first one arm chin up to see how you are doing but I would wait until you can do 5 full negative reps before you attempt this.
Most people find that the beginning of the rep is the easy part and it gets more difficult the further up you get. If you find this to be the case, just work the beginning of the rep this way and go back to doing even slower negative reps for the top of the movement until your strength increases in this position enabling you to do the real deal.
Like many things in life patience is the key to mastering the one arm chin up. It can take months or years to achieve so do not rush through the different progressions and do not train for it more than 2 or a maximum of three times a week as rushing the progressions or over training almost always results in injury.
When doing negative reps you need to lower yourself down under control and very slowly. Take at least 5 seconds from start to finish and pause at different places on the way down if possible.
The more muscles you can tense, particularly your abs and butt cheeks the easier it will be.
The natural inclination of your body is to turn away from the bar so use your free arm and shoulder to turn in to it (imagine your body is a human cork screw and you will get the idea)