This will be quite a niche post…although you don’t have to have a gymnastics fetish or calisthenics obsession to know about, and be wowed by, the rare feat that is the one arm chin up…..or pull up!
So maybe it won’t be so niche after all?
I once heard a statistic claiming only 1 in 100,000 people can do a full one arm pull/chin up. I’m not sure how accurate it is but you can’t imagine it being too far out, can you?
Maybe with the rise in popularity of calisthenics that number is a little more but safe to say, you could set up a bar in a busy city centre, kind of like they do with those
rigged hang challenges, and ask every guy or girl to try one…
You would probably be there a while until you saw a clean rep, that’s for sure. And by ‘clean’ we mean from a one arm dead hang to the chin going over the bar. No kip. No goose-necking. Just clean, honest form.
You could also guarantee you would shatter a fair few guy’s hearts by telling them the wrist grab style doesn’t count, either. Sorry.
Recently I’ve been balls-deep in my one arm chin up journey. Funnily enough, I only ever did a clean one arm pull up ONCE before in my life; when I was flying high on the beaches of LA. I was lean, strong and feeding off my environment. I hadn’t trained for it but I fancied it, tried it…and managed to get it!
Annoyingly, I didn’t film it. Then I tried to do it again and couldn’t get that chin far enough over the bar to officially label it! #heartborken.
That was 2019. Since then I’ve not seriously trained for it and kind of maintained Ok strength in the one arm pull – I could do multiple archer chin ups on bar or rings and on a good day had a controlled one arm negative on both arms.
But the full thing alluded me – mostly due to not focusing specifically on it and the personal weak points of mine stopping me getting it.
I’ve restarted the journey with lots more focus this time. For those who may not know, I was asked by some of my viewers on YouTube to review a program by FitnessFAQs aka Daniel Vadnal. So I figured why not give one of his flagships a go, Pull Up Pro – a program all about getting the one arm pull/chin up.
At the time of writing/publishing I’m 2 phases through out of the 3 in total. And if you watched the video above you’d know I still don’t yet have a full one arm chin up again, BUT, you’d have also seen I’m much closer.
How do I know I’m closer?
This is where today’s experiment comes in: stacking subjective training methods for one arm chin/pull ups against their objective counterparts.
Before we dive right in, let’s outline what we mean by objective and subjective in this context. (Don’t worry, I know you know what sub/objective means in general :D).
Basically, subjective methods are any methods where you can’t quantify the amount of assistance being used. And objective methods are where you can quantify the amount of assistance being used.
- Archer chin/pull us
- Finger assist method
- Off set hands/rings method (hands at different heights)
- Pulley/counterweight assist
- Band assist (*to an extent)
- Climbing harness assist (similar to the pulley but without the friction)
The first three can’t be perfectly measured as some days you will put more force through the assisting hand/arm than others. Whereas the last 3 have assistance/resistance figures attached to them, giving you something to work with.
The band method has a little star next to it because, as you know, no resistance band offers an exact resistance figure. Rather, they have ranges assigned to them. And another factor at play here is the wear and tear on the band; an older more used and abused band will no longer provide as much resistance as it did in its heyday.
The Counterweight method
…is the method I played around with in the mid parts of the aforementioned Pull Up Pro Program. There are loads of ways to make one of these but the way I found easiest was using a ring strap and looping a plate(s) through it, then throwing it over the ring of the non-working hand.
To keep it super strict you need to ensure the plate, kettlebell or whatever weighted object you’re using, doesn’t move – or moves as little as possible. If it does, it means you’re using more force than the weight itself.
Maybe in a seemingly counterintuitive fashion, using less weight here means you’re stronger/getting stronger. And in a magical perfect world you would chip away and work your way down from a moderate weight (say 10 kg) to a tiny weight (say 2.5 kg).
Theoretically that’s all you need and has no doubt worked well for some…but for me I found for the volume and frequency I was using it, I stalled pretty quickly. And yep, I know it’s every bit possible I was using too heavy a weight, not recovering in time between sessions, trying to push the weight/progression too fast, or all three.
Rather than throw the strap in the bin in a huffy hissy-fit, I sought out a solution. I was trying to do 4 sets of 5 reps per arm with 10kg on the counter strap. Most days I’d manage 4 sets of 3 with the occasional 4 rep set but never the magic 5.
Just go up in assistance weight then, durrrr?!
That was my initial thought too but upon further research I found a few sources saying anything above 12-15kg of assistance is too much, and a sign you need to regress back to the more subjective methods and build up the volume.
While I can’t validate this theory, it made sense to me and felt right. So I rolled with it and my digging led me to the ‘finger method’.
Sondre Berg of Berg Movement‘s philosophy is using this method and working up to what would be considered high volume (for a movement like a one arm chin/pull up), will almost indirectly get you a one arm chin/pull up. But except in this case it will be INJURY FREE, which definitely can’t be said for the more ‘traditional’ training methods usually involving tons of eccentric/negatives, destroying your elbows in the process.
So I gave it a shot!
Over the course of a good 6-8 weeks I used the one finger & two finger assist methods. I built up to 6-7 reps per arm with one finger assist, multiple 5 rep sets on the 2 finger assist with a strict 2 second top pause (kiss-the-ring) and in the latter part of this stint, this went on to be 2 second top pauses with just one finger assisting for sets of 5.
Once this phase drew to a close, I had a question on my mind…
What has this done to my counterweighted/OB-jective strength?
Before the grand reveal of my test results it’s worth taking stock of some previous personal bests here. While I’d never trained the counterweight method before this adventure with Pull Up Pro, I had tried and mucked around with testing my counterweight strength before.
In the summer of 2021 I was able to get a 3.75kg assist rep on each arm, JUST, but with a fair bit to be desired in the form department…
- My chin only got above my hand by extending my neck – no smooch with the top of the ring
- The counterweight travelled further than I did when I completed my 3 Peaks Challenge last summer
This time in my testing I sailed through 10kg & 5kg to then try 2.5 kg and just miss it, as you can see below. Close but no cigar. Dammit.
So I went back to 3.75 kg and managed to get them this time with a nice peck of the top of the ring and without the counterweight doing more mileage than a North American road train.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably concerned for my mental state as you’re wondering how I can tolerate such pathetic progress, right? Well, when you’re used to the distortion that is social media, it’s easy to be hypnotised into thinking anything other than putting 5-10kg on a lift each week isn’t progress.
But as I’ve said many times before, the real world and the social media world are like comparing real sex with extreme porn; poles apart. Injuries aren’t taken into account, personal weaknesses aren’t considered and we never know someone’s hormonal status (using steroids or not). People never like me saying that as they think I’m just shitting on the successful but believe me, there are more people using them than you would ever like to believe or accept.
The take-home here is subjective methods ARE worth using and DO carry to the objective methods and ultimately, the one arm chin up itself.
Of course it’s never quite as black and white or cut and dry; you still have to put some intelligent thought into what you’re doing. I made a continual conscious effort to use the finger(s) less, along with adding pauses to parts of the range where I knew I was personally weak.
The nice thing about this is it can get you off the number slave train – where you’re constantly battling the numbers and getting disheartened if you can’t keep an arbitrary pace of progression. This will allow for the human variation that’s entirely normal over a span of multiple weeks.
In terms of what the future holds with the one arm chin up journey/regain mission, I will continue to progress with the finger method and have half an eye on working towards the pinky finger assist for reps instead of the index or third finger. And I’ll check in on my strength every so often with the counterweighted method.
If you’ve seen my Pull Up Pro review series on YouTube thus far, you’ll know phase 3 (the final phase) lies in wait. In this phase we look at eccentrics/negatives, which are serious business. Hard on the joints, tough on the nervous system but deadly effective when used properly.
Only this time I plan to not force progression in a linear fashion as these tend to vary wildly from session to session. The other thing people get tripped up by is thinking they have to do negatives unassisted, where in reality assisted negatives are actually a really good way to feel out, and spend time in, any weak zones you have.
2 years ago I would have rather have done another no-fap experiment than do assisted negatives but this time I’m wiser, older and uglier and more than happy to ease my way into these, safe in the knowledge that in the weeks to come the unassisted negatives will not only feel better, but progress faster.
You’re laying the groundwork, basically.
I hope this post helps you in journey to the one arm chin up, or other goals you may have by reinforcing the fact there’s always more than only one way to do something.
If you have other experiments you’d like me to trial, let me know in the comments. Also, if you’ve already got your one arm chin up, what methods did you use? I’d love to know.
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