The Missing Link to the One-Arm Push Up

by Todd Cambio on February 18, 2014

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Al Kavadlo One Arm Push Ups

I love body weight exercises.  I think they should be the basis of any training program.  Body weight movements can be used for warming up, for cooling down, for flexibility and mobility.  Then, once you learn these movement patterns, they can be progressed to truly test one’s individual strength.  Things like pistol squats, pull-ups, handstand push-ups and one-arm push-ups are incredible exercises, which is one of the reasons I gravitated towards Convict Conditioning.   This book has been instrumental in bringing my skill set to the next level.  I use it to train myself as well as my clients.  It has helped me clearly structure a periodized workout plan for my clients with clear goals and progressions.

When I design my training programs, I train opposing muscles groups or movement patterns.  For every action – there is an equal and opposite reaction.  For example, we all know that the push up is a fantastic upper body strength exercise – but when overused, it can cause some issues.  The big muscle groups like the upper pectorals; shoulder and the internal rotators of the arm and shoulder can become shorter and tighter than the external rotators and scapula retractors.  This tightness can possibly cause a forward rounding posture and possible neck and shoulder injuries.  So to make sure I don’t cause these possible issues, I always have an opposite movement paired with the exercise, in this case, the body row.  This is my push/pull relationship method of training.

The body row is the sister exercise to the push up, however, it is much less utilized.  It also incorporates almost all the same muscle groups as the push up.  The exception is that the prime movers are the back of the body (posterior chain) as opposed to the front (anterior chain) of the body.  Most of the attention goes to the Pull Up as the ultimate body weight back exercise, which is of course an awesome exercise, but until my clients are strong enough to do them correctly, the Body Row rules the roost!

So, what is that missing link you may ask?  It’s the Body Row.  Actually, since we are talking about the One-Arm Push Up, it’s the One-Arm Body Row!

In fact, as I progress up the ten steps in Convict Conditioning Push Up Series, I progress up my own steps to a one-arm body row.

In Convict Conditioning, the horizontal pull is what I call a body row.  I use the Lebert Equalizers for my horizontal pulls because I can add some great variety to the pulls as well as bring them with me to where ever I want to train, inside or outside.  Always having a place to do a pull up is sometimes an issue.  So, if I am outside and want to add in some pulls, I can.

The Body Row is similar to Convict Conditioning’s Pull Up Series Step Two, but with a different tool.  Here is the point where I branch off from the Pull Up Series and add a few alternative steps with the Equalizers that translate to a better one-arm push up.

I will not go into great detail about each body row movement because I am sure if you are following Convict Conditioning, you get the main points on proper form.  I will point out the basics though, which are pretty straightforward.  When you get into your starting position with the Equalizers (EQ), dig your heels into the ground and fire your glutes to keep your hips locked and aligned.  Grab the black grips with a firm hold to fire the forearms.  Keep a neutral spine as you pull yourself off the ground.   When you progress to the single arm body rows, it is much like a single arm kettle bell swing in that your body will want to rotate on you.  Do your best to keep your shoulders parallel to the floor.  Your core will get quite a workout here too!

Convict Conditioning Push Up Steps with correlating Body Row Movements:

Step 4Half Body Row – Mirrors the Half Push Up (the ball under the glutes is to help cue you to keep your hips up)

Todd Cambio Half Body Row Todd Cambio Half Body Row

Step 5Full Body Row – Mirrors Full Push Up

Todd Cambio Half Body Row Todd Cambio Half Body Row

Step 6Single EQ Chin up – Mirrors Close Push Ups

Todd Cambio Half Body Row Todd Cambio Half Body Row

Step 7Single Leg EQ Body Row – Mirrors the Uneven Push Up

Todd Cambio Half Body Row Todd Cambio Half Body Row

Step 8One Arm Half EQ Body Row – Mirrors the One Arm Half Push Up

Todd Cambio Half Body Row Todd Cambio Half Body Row

Step 9 – One Arm EQ Body Row – Mirrors the One Arm Push Up

Todd Cambio Half Body Row Todd Cambio Half Body Row

So there you have it, a push/pull relationship that not only enhances your one-arm push up but also increase your overall body weight strength.

Todd M. Cambio, CSCS, HKC is the owner of Precision Fitness in Westerly, RI. He is a strength and conditioning coach that specializes in sports performance and obstacle course race training. Todd is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a Spartan Group X Obstacle Course Coach, a published author and Master Body Weight Trainer & Presenter for Lebert Fitness. See what Todd is up to by visiting www.ToddCambio.com.

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  • I like these progressions for bodyweight rows. As far as one arm pushups go, I have found that one arm kettlebell chest presses transfer over very well. I know it’s not “bodyweight”, but you get all the motor learning benefits, you learn how to use your lats, and you learn how to apply torque through the shoulder. There’s also an anti-rotation effect through the core.

    • Todd M. Cambio

      I do the same Nck! I love bells too! I promise you will feel some serious anti-rotational forces through the core by trying the one-arm body row…especially with the Equalizers!

  • Matt Schifferle

    Great post Todd, For some reason this version of the row is something that i get into for a bit and then forget about it. Thanks for the reminder that this is a really great exercise and deserves it’s attention.

    I also find it’s a great way to invovle the hips and hamstrings in the pulling movements. Way better than a seated row on a cable machine.

    • Todd M. Cambio

      I concur Matt! I also set up a barbell in a squat rack and do a body row that way! It just me some more variations…

  • BodyweightReallyIsBetter

    Interesting and informative article. I recently picked up the Ultimate Body Press when now allows me to do body rows (and dips) at home, supplementing my chin-up bar. I definitely think body rows are very much underrated.
    One thing which I would not like to do (just my preference) is pushpull routines. Maybe it’s all those years in a gym doing gym weights (which I’m glad to be done with as I now realize that bodyweight training leads to better results in both strength and mass for me), but I just think it’s best to do pull exercises one day and push exercises the other.
    Perhaps what also makes me resistant to changing anything is that I’m liking the results I’m seeing.
    All that being said, I certainly do understand how a pushpull routine would lessen the chances of injuring certain body parts from overuse in a given session. I don’t feel worried about that happening though because I do keep my exercises to a minimum.

    • Todd M. Cambio

      I agree with what your saying! I also do all pulls one day the all pushes the next during different phases of my training. When doing that, we are still doing a push/pull relationship, just not the same day! So same destination, just a different road that leads us there.

      • BodyweightReallyIsBetter

        Understood. Thanks again for the article Todd!
        – Anthony

  • Amber Lee

    This is all really good stuff Todd! Thanks for writting this out in a straightforward manner. I have some Equalizers and I’ll definitely be utilizing some of these movements with my clients. Hope to see you around the New England area!

    • Todd M. Cambio

      Thanks Amber! Hope to see you soon as well! Convict Conditioning is what lead me to come up with this! Great book combined with a great piece of equipment!

  • soumesh roy

    good stuff for hand and shoulder and gluts strength thank u

    • Todd M. Cambio

      Yes…Thanks!

  • Todd–you are a legend, brother!

    I love this post, coz it’s what PCC is REALLY all about. Smart, progressive bodyweight training. Excellent, excellent work, hope we hear more from ya!

    • Todd M. Cambio

      LOL…Thanks Paul! Love your stuff man!

  • Great post! Hope to see more.

  • κάλλος+σθένος

    Do you guys think that a perfect one arm row is possible? I mean like the “prison” one arm pushup(feet together hand under the sternum), that would be almost like a bodyweight curl, since the one arm pushup will make you really freakin strong I guess its corrispondent could do the same for horizontal pulling, well.. that’s surely something I wanna work up to!

  • Mattias

    I like this post a lot and I am thinking about how to add this to my routine. So please don’t misunderstand my million questions below.

    The CC program gives a lot of structure concerning reps, range of motion and motivation of posture details for each of its progression. And I couldn’t help to notice that some of that is left out now that I am considering them.

    a. Do you have some idea what a good rep range you should achieve until trying the next level? Or did I misunderstand? Do you perhaps recommend that one takes on the step X of rows when you make step X of pushups?

    b. What would you say is the full range of motion? Until the chest touches/is in level with the bar?

    c. Concerning posture: why to you have your legs angled in 90 degrees? According to my own experience (with CC/horizontal pulls) that such approach makes a slightly more manageable exercise. Having the heels on the ground with straight legs is only possible if there is enough friction so the heels don’t slip as you pull yourself towards the bar. But having the knees angled makes it slightly less heavy. An alternative to overcome lack of friction is to have your knees bent enough to have your soles of your feet on the ground.

    d. Another posture question why is step 7 “Single Leg EQ Body Row” about lifting on of your leg? Does that create an imbalance that makes the load on the arms uneven? Intuitively if I go along my understanding of your thinking I would have the step 7 as pulling yourself towards the bar with one arm outside shoulder and the other stretched out (like the “archer pullup” you can find described in Al’s book “Raising the bar”).

    Once again thanks for a great post!

    • Todd M. Cambio

      Hey Mattias! Great questions man! I’ll do my best to address them!

      a. I matched up the rows and push ups rep for rep and step X for step x to the progressions with CC so there woul be no confusion. Basically if you push, you do the exact same for the pull.

      b. Full range is pulling chest to bar height.

      c. The bent knees is for gripping the ground as well as sneaking in glute activation. It also allows me to see if i need to work on my client’s hip flexibility. If they cannot align the knee, hip and shoulders…they get assigned hip flexor work and glute work.

      d. Lifting a leg makes you fire your core and glute a heck of a lot more. Since you are alternating with both legs, the training protocal is even, it will actually tell you if your body has imbalances. I actualy do not have it going back and forth from side to side like the “Archer Pull Up” with this post, but I do that on my own. I call it a EQ Climber Body Row.

  • mike

    Great article, do you think this would work just as well on gym rings? Bodyweight rows are probably one of my favorite exercises, just love that scapulae retraction at the top of the movement! Also one arm rows are fantastic for core strength, after trying a few reps my abs and especially obliques were sore the next day. Love all the blogs on here and would like to thank everyone who posts for inspiring me to control my body and defy the laws of physics….. Gravity ain’t holding me down!

    • Todd M. Cambio

      I hear ya on the abs being sore after doing the one arm stuff! I have experimanted on various suspension trainers like rings, TRX and the Jungle gym. They are all a great choice!

  • Joshua Rood

    Where do I obtain those dip bars from??

    • Thorverine

      Search “Frank Medrano Equalizer”

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