Q&A: Transitioning to One-Arm Chinup

by Justin Skycak on


How did you get started doing one-arm chinups (OACs)? Did you ever do weighted pull-ups, or just slowly shift your weight to one arm over time?

And do you think some of the other exercises you did helped with the OAC? Back lever seems like it’s probably a good complement.


I did do weighted chinups for a while with an 80 lb aqua bag, and long before that I had done regular pullups with most weight shifted over to one arm. While I think those exercises helped build sufficient foundational strength for OACs, I wasn’t able to go directly from those to OACs.

When I started seriously attempting OACs (recently, in July) I actually couldn’t do a single one. My point of failure (by far) was the biceps, and in particular whatever stabilizer muscles were getting used around the biceps. In the weighted chinups and even the “weight-shifted” pullups, the back can a lot of load off the biceps, and the stabilizers barely get used.

What ended up getting me over the hump was doing one-arm hangs at the highest (elbow at ~30-degree angle) and lowest (elbow at ~90-degree angle) positions of a half-OAC. After I built up a bit of endurance on those, I was able to do a half-OAC with my non-working arm holding onto the forearm of my working arm. And once I got to several reps of those, I could do a proper half-OACs.

Just a word of caution that the holds can be brutal on the biceps when you’re first starting out. When I started, I felt like I might tear a bicep if I pushed myself too hard. There’s a lot of extra stress on your bicep at the moment that you exit the hold (after the bicep is already fatigued), even if you grasp the bar with your other hand and transfer the weight there (as opposed to doing a negative). So it’s probably safest not to go to complete failure on those holds.