Have you always wanted to learn how to do a proper push-up? How about a ONE HANDED push-up? Not simply a cool party trick, a one handed push up can be a great tool for shoulder and scapular strengthening and rehab! 

If you’ve always felt like a one-handed push-up may be out of reach for you, we are here to give you some hope! This article will provide a step-by-step guide to moving you closer to your first REAL one-handed push-up and teach you why it should be an integral part of your arm day routine.


Why the Push-Up?

If you are having flashbacks of elementary school fitness testing, fear not! There are varied benefits to the push-up that make it an excellent exercise for shoulders, chest, and core. The two-handed push-up specifically challenges the chest muscles, triceps, and anterior deltoid (front of the shoulders) in a CLOSED CHAIN way, meaning it is an exercise where our hands are fixed to the floor or another surface. This differentiates it from the bench press or shoulder press where our hands are more “free floating” or open chain. Traditionally, closed chain exercises tend to be more challenging as they make us support, stabilize, and move our own body weight during exercise.

Hey you with the shoulder pain, stop right there! If you are dealing with any type of shoulder pain or discomfort, be sure to check out our Shoulder Playlist through YouTube to learn a thing or two about what you can do to address your discomfort.



Alright, let’s get back to it. If you are interested in working toward getting your first two-handed push-up, or improving your current two-handed push-up abilities, check out our article on push-up exercise variations below! 






Why the ONE HANDED push-up?

The one-handed push-up is considered a PROGRESSION on the two handed push-ups, which means one should master good mechanics and building of volume of the two handed push-ups before attempting the one-handed push-up. Building the pre-requisite strength and stability required for this exercise is very important for preventing injury! One study was done on the one handed push up states that shear force on the elbow joint increases FIVE times during the one handed push-up as compared to the two handed push-ups, so let’s be sure to build up the necessary strength first before attempting (1).



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If you’re looking for a way to improve your upper extremity strength and be sure you are ready to take on the one handed push-up look no further than our Shoulder Prehab Program is just what you are looking for. This program is designed to get you feeling strong, so taking on the one handed push-up can be done with confidence and worry of injury. Get started now with free 7-day access! 


The one handed push up is a fantastic exercise to master from a rehab standpoint (pssst if dealing with shoulder pain, check out our Shoulder Rehab Program to get started). Not only are they a great tool for building strength in the shoulder complex, but they also pull in core and spine stabilizer musculature during the exercise. Core and spine strength are essential for us as humans to be able to be functionally independent in our lives for as long as possible. Core and spine strength allow us to be able to get off the floor, stand up from surfaces, serve a role in fall prevention as we age, and participate in hobbies and recreational activities. Additionally, if you are an athlete, one handed push-ups can help you to train with control. This means mastering the ability to focus training on one side of the body at a time to identify and correct any asymmetries between the arms and shoulders in your training. If looking for some more challenging core exercises, dive into the article below! 



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Essentially, we want to be as active as possible for as long as possible, and the upper body, core, and spine strength we can work on through a push-up helps us do just that!


How Do I Get My First One Handed Push-Up?

Here are a couple of general prerequisites in achieving your first real one handed push-up!

  • Building up isometric strength on one hand. What that means is making sure that you can support your body weight firmly and safely on one hand BEFORE attempting any range of motion or bend at the elbow to complete your push-up. You should be able to do this for 30 seconds to a minute without the elbow or shoulder joint collapsing and with both joints in a solid and stable position.
  • Elbow position, shoulder blade position, and core position all matter! The elbow should be in a stable and “locked out” position (fully extended). The shoulder blade should be able to retract and protract (move forward and backward) safely with the hand on the floor. The core and trunk should also be held in a neutral position without any significant rotation or twisting. Hand position should be neutral, meaning the fingertips are pointing straight, and not inward or outward.
  • Leg position also matters. In a one handed push-up, the legs are often set wider than during the traditional push-up. This is done to create a more stable position and prevent the core from twisting or too much strain on the back.


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What exercises will help me move closer to my first one handed push up?

Now that we’ve got you fired up about getting your first REAL one handed push up, let’s dive into some work to get you there! Here we will provide a list of progressive exercises to move you toward your goal:


Decline Push-Up


For this variation on a two handed push-up, you will need an elevated surface to do a two handed push-up on. By elevating the surface that your hands are on, the range of motion for the shoulders and elbows increases, thus preparing the joints for a more challenging load.


Diamond Push-Up

Another more challenging two handed push up variation here is to bias your tricep group and increase the load on the triceps and shoulders. In a diamond push-up, your two hands are placed in a “diamond” shape (close grip) position and the push-up is completed.


Three Point Plank – Arm Raise


Now we are going to start moving toward supporting our body weight on one arm. For this exercise, we start in a plank position. (We suggest bringing your feet wider to simulate how a one handed push up will be performed.) You will shift your weight to the right hand while lifting the left, then switch. This will get the shoulder, elbow, and shoulder blade used to support itself on one arm.


Push – Up – Offset, Med Ball, Alternating

Time to start pushing with one hand! Using the medball helps us to place a majority of the weight on the hand that is planted on the ground while still having a bit of the stability from the hand that is on the med ball making this a great way to further challenge that one-handed strength.


One handed Push Up – Directions and Pointers

When you can perform several reps of all the above exercises with ease, you are ready for the big goal – the ONE HANDED PUSH-UP! Here are some directions and pointers to complete the exercise safely.

  • Position the body in a high plank with one hand behind the back and one hand on the floor. The feet should be wider than the hips.
  • Slowly and with control, bend the elbow and lower the chest to touch the floor.
  • Extend the elbow with power and return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for reps and build that volume!

It is important also to remember that both sides of the body should be trained equally! Whatever reps are done on the left arm should also be done on the right arm. That means that both the right and left arms should be trained equally as you are learning to master the one handed push up. This will create additional symmetry with strength in the upper body as well as ensure that the core and spine musculature get trained equally on both sides of the body. 



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Closing Thoughts

  • The one handed push up is a powerful rehabilitation tool for building upper body strength as well as core and spine strength and stabilization.
  • The one handed push up is a progression on the two handed push up, and the two handed push up should be mastered before training the one handed push up.
  • Proper form and progressing slowly will be very important for injury prevention when training to master the one handed push up.

We hope this article helps you move closer to your first real one handed push up! 



  1. Lou, S. Z., Chou, P. H., Su, F. C., Lin, C. J., & Chou, Y. L. (2002). Changes of Elbow Joint Load from Two-handed to One-handed Push-up Exercise. Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering, 22(1), 19-24. https://www.airitilibrary.com/Article/Detail?DocID=16090985-200203-22-1-19-24-a


About The Author

Taryn Beaumont, PT, DPT, CLT, CF-L1, CNC

[P]rehab Writer & Content Creator

Taryn was born and raised in Maine and still resides there with her fiancé and son. Taryn received her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Husson University in 2010, and also carries a Bachelor’s in Kinesiology and Human Movement Science. She is a Certified Lymphedema Therapist, a Certified Crossfit Level 2 Trainer, and a NASM Certified Nutrition Coach. Taryn has 12+ years of experience in many different realms of PT, from the young athlete to the geriatric patient. Most recently she is employed with a home health PT company and is working toward her Advanced Competency in Home Health. Taryn considers herself a ‘lifelong learner’. She has special interests in oncology care and breast health, dry needling, and CrossFit training. In her free time, Taryn enjoys fitness, spending time with her family, continuing education, writing, and reading, and is very excited to be a part of The [P]rehab team to educate and empower others to take control of their health and wellness.


Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.

About the author : Taryn Beaumont PT, DPT, CLT, CF-L2, CNC

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