Comparing a Powerlifting Bench Press and One-Arm Push Up

DisplayFeats of Strength of feats of strength is something that I have come to love. Whether in the gym, dance floor, or anywhere really, an impressive feat of strength is that – impressive.

It’s always interesting to ask almost everyone who benches anything relatively heavy whether or not they can do one-arm pushups.

Nine times out of ten these individuals cannot do a one arm push up, yet they can have some incredible displays of strength with respect to a bench press.

Before dissecting what consists of a good push up technique, I have to first dissect what is involved with an amazing bench press:

  • Arch
  • Tension (whether through air, or total body tension)
  • Technique

Arch in the Bench Press

Whether or not you subscribe to powerlifting guidelines or not, an appropriate arch is important towards achieving bigger numbers for your bench press. Imagine the difference between a large arch, and a small arch.

Bench Press - Arching

If you’re benching with no arch, and a flat back against the bench, your bar path will be [x] amount of inches for the barbell to travel down and up. If you bench with a relatively larger arch, your distance will be reduced.

Total Body Tension

There is nothing that deflates me more than seeing someone get very hype for a bench press, and then they grip the barbell with a lack of tension, or don’t respect tension in their legs or lower body.

For those of us fortunate to have a decent bench press, there is an understanding that there will be a greater ability for tension to be created via breathing coupled with lower body tension.


While this article is not meant to go over the purposes of specific technique (Read: Wrapping the Barbell in the Bench Press) I hope you can respect the fact that there is a specific technique that will allow more of your strength to be exhibited.

Technique should involve the following:

  1. Setup
  2. Intra-abdominal pressure
  3. Leg drive
  4. Bar path
  5. Reversing the bar path

With all of these items in mind, it is easy to see that being “good” at the bench press does not naturally correlate to being good with a one-arm push up, since they are, by it’s very nature, completely different exercises.

Components of a One Arm Push Up

There are a few reasons why this someone can bench a lot of weight, but can’t do a one-arm push-up:

  1. Lack of technique.
  2. They never practiced a one-arm push up before.
  3. Improper positioning.
  4. Inability to recruit total body tension (or irradiation for those of us following the science game at home).
  5. Lack of strength – let’s be real.. it takes a lot of strength to do this!

What to Look For in a One Arm Push Up

The Setup

  • Irradiation in your hands.
  • Spreading of your fingers.
  • Total body tension
    • Tension in your feet
    • Tension in lower body (all the way down to feet)
    • Tension in opposite hand

Something that needs some clarification is what I like to think of as “spreading your fingers” into the floor in order to maximize mechanoreceptor input to the hands, shoulders, and eventually the rest of the body.

Human Hand - Pressure on Distal Aspect of Metacarpals

There needs to be pressure on the inside “knuckle” part of the hand. Displayed here on the palmar view of the bones of the hand (highlighted in red), there needs to be pressure on the distal portion of the metacarpals for pressure to be truly maximized.

This doesn’t mean “cup” the floor with only that portion, but think of placing pressure on that part of your hand (before your fingers elongate outwards).

Actual Movement

  • Spreading of the floor with one hand
  • Pull yourself to the floor with one hand
  • And obviously, pushing yourself away from the floor.

Regressions to Improve Upon a One-Arm Push Up

Band-Assisted One Arm Push Up

To reduce the total loading found in the one-arm push-up, check this version out.

Eccentric One-Arm Push Up

The eccentric or negative variation of this push up works on improving the pattern as a whole, while respecting that pushing away from the ground is equally difficult.

One Arm Front Plank Hold

The one arm front plank hold is a different exercise that combines the rotary demands of a one-arm push up, along with respecting that you will need one upper body limb in contact with the ground.

With these in mind, it is easy to see how different the one arm push up and the bench press are.

Despite being upper body focused exercises, they are vastly different with respect to the demands.

My Observations

How often do you hear of someone injuring themselves doing a one arm push up, versus tweaking something in a rep max or even a 1RM bench press? No agenda in that question; it is merely an observation of mine.

On the other end, do you know of anyone that can do a one-arm push up, but have a bench press that is lacking? Similar arguments can be made for those that have the requisite mobility for a one-arm push up, but have not developed the high level technique for a “respectable” bench press.

As always,

Keep it funky.


One Weird Trick: Installment 9 – Wrapping the Barbell in the Bench Press

The bench press is one lift that has been one big struggle bus for me in recent history. Not until I started working out with a crew of people and started actively troubleshooting my errors did I realize my [several] mistakes.

One technical piece of the puzzle that has allowed my bench to skyrocket involves understanding the difference between “wrapping” the barbell and “breaking the bar.” While both of these items are external cues, I believe the input of one imagery guided cue has greater power than the other.

Further, you’ll learn the principles behind what is being taught behind both of these external cues, which will be a key difference in improving how tight you can get and ultimately improve your efficiency in the this classic powerlifting movement.

This or That

When looking to improve your overall numbers in the bench press, there are two easily understood ways to improve: get stronger, or become more efficient. Allow me to clarify.

Farm Boy Strong

When looking to get stronger, you can use a multitude of ways to improve overall strength in order to build a more resilient and physiologically sound individual.

To make this conversation even easier to digest, strength can be loosely defined as, “What can your body qualitatively handle when there is a stress (such as lifting weights) to the body?”

For someone who grew up on a farm (or other likewise physically demanding lifestyle) and is used to the daily rigors of picking stuff up and putting them down hundreds of times throughout the day for months and years on end, the body can handle a lot.


For someone who hasn’t done anything physically demanding, the category of “strength” is one area I’d love to improve from a general perspective.

Now add physics into the equation, and you can add in a specific distance, and total weights used to make it a more complete formula.


Keep in mind that when the body is stressed, the body will adapt accordingly (either good or bad).

Technically Efficient

I make this distinction in order to differentiate between someone who is naturally strong, but has no knack for technique with respect to leverages, barbell placement, tension techniques, along with appropriate arching, this person will still have the ability to display great levels of strength in the traditional barbell movements.

If you give someone without large amounts of “strength” technically sound coaching and guidance, you are improving their ability to be efficient with respect to bar path, grip, tensioning techniques, timing, and coordination.

So if you are lumping yourself under the category of someone who isn’t naturally strong, I’d click the video below to understand what some cues others may give you in your quest for strength.

At the same time, even if you are naturally strong, by applying these principles, you’ll be able to display your strength levels to the next degree, instead of flailing around, losing energy, and perhaps even losing integrity anywhere within your approach to the bench press.

How does this make you more efficient?

Well, I’m so glad you asked. Essentially after pursuing strength techniques and powerlifting more specifically, I’m more able to understand what it means to use this technique.

I’ll describe this one movement in a few steps:

  1. Lay on your back.
  2. Now have both hands at your side.
  3. If you are on your back, hopefully your legs/feet are on the ground.
  4. Now push into the ground with both hands, without moving your head or legs.

If you are sitting down while reading this, sit tall.

  1. Place your hands on your knees.
  2. Push your hands down into your knees.
  3. Push down as if you are pushing your feet through the floor.

What do you feel?

Ideally, you would feel your abdominal area “kick on” to a great degree, maybe even shaking a little bit as you are holding this position.

Well, this is a great PNF technique that involves understanding a specific motoric pattern – if you perform bilateral shoulder extension (what happens when you push down into the ground/knees), you will kick on thoracic flexion.

Photo Credit: PNF in Practice
Photo Credit: PNF in Practice

How does this translate to powerlifting? Well, if you’re looking to do a bench press, you’re very likely to have some sort of an arch – essentially going into a gross extension pattern.

Side note: If you’re into powerlifting, efficiency is the name of the game. Dysfunctional or not, extension helps, especially with respect to arching in the bench press.

In fact, it could be dysfunctional to bench press with a flat spine to the bench, as you are now increasing range of motion, which could lead to other issues up or down the chain from a sport specific point of view.

Read more: Redefining Dysfunctional and Finding Pieces to the Puzzle

Bench Press - Arching

What happens if you perform shoulder extension (the act of “wrapping the barbell with both hands simultaneously”) on top of extending through your posterior chain/lumbar/thoracic spine?

You’ll get a co-contraction – you are asking your body to hold a position in extension (kicking on your extensors) while simultaneously performing shoulder extension (which kicks on the flexion muscles in your body, and flexion motor pattern from your brain).

Extension + Flexion = Co-Contraction of everything

Now, this is a great way to increase total body tension, and is likewise a great example in irradiation.

“Wrapping” Up This Technique

Many of these “one weird tricks” are simply ways to improve strength from a neuromuscular pattern.

I hope you find this one specifically helpful, and if you do, please share, like, and/or comment.

This technique will help you feel tension throughout your whole body but it won’t add 100lbs to your bench press automatically (maybe it can take you from 0lbs to 100lbs, but not from 225 to 325lbs).

Long story short, that process of improved strength takes time, physiological time for your bones, muscles, and hormones to allow for adaptation! But this can definitely improve your ability to feel certain things kick on that you didn’t know could kick on, along with perhaps a 10, 15, or even 20lbs personal record!

As always,

Keep it funky.


My Favorite Exercise Combinations: Installment 4

I like benching, but making sure someone has the requisite mobility before bench pressing is muy importante!

If you or someone you know doesn’t have adequate range of motion, or lacks stability within the shoulder joint, there are a few things that you can do to make sure you hit all the correct movements.

What Happens During a Bench Press

When you bench press properly, you will inevitably have to pin your scaps together and back – it just makes for a more efficient movement, and not to mention a bigger base of support during the movement with which your arms (ie: whole body) can move and produce force.

There are a few things that must occur in your body to appropriately bench press, whether it is a barbell or dumbbells:

  1. Scapulae must be pinned together (if you have a more stable and bigger base of support, the more weight you can hypothetically put up in the bench)
  2. Slight rib flare (anyone who says they bench press 2x bodyweight without a rib flare of any sort is lying… or has an extremely small wingspan).
Photo Credit:


If you’re constantly bench pressing, or if you find yourself having discomfort during the bench press, you may need more mobility in some areas, and stability in others. 

However, this shouldn’t stop you from benching! Keep these points in mind:

  • Perform a bench press variation that allows your humerus to stop after a certain range of motion.
  • For example, a DB Floor Press still allows you to improve and increase strength, despite a smaller range of motion.
  • It also increases proprioception to where your arms are in space, and the movement stops when your triceps hit the ground.

Even if the muscles surrounding your shoulder girdle and scapulae are limiting range of motion, the overarching concept here is… 

…can you dissociate humerus vs scapular (and even thoracic flexion) movement from one another?

If you attempt to bench press massive amounts of weight, and all you do is protract and abduct your scapula off the back of your ribs as you bench, you may not be doing it properly.

So hopefully that should prove a point that you will need to keep your scaps back and down in order to effectively bench press.

Now, in order to create a juxtaposition in terms of how your scapulae move, there have been many suggestions in the past for improving mobility in between sets of upper body movements.

1. You can perform a rowing motion of some sort.

2. You can perform a thoracic rotation movement of some sort.

3. You can perform a scapular dissociation movement of some sort (like a serratus wall slide for example).

At the end of the day, I’m looking for a big bang exercise to improve all of these items at once, and to reinforce variable movement qualities. Essentially, I’m looking for appropriate scapular movement, abdominal recruitment, and even reinforce all of the above with hip mobility and stability.

Crawling and creeping are two awesome ways to improve scapular motion, rib motion, oblique recruitment, and overall make yourself seem like a ninja.

What Occurs When You Creep

Creeping is an exercise that alternates the scapulae as you creep from arm to arm. Not only do you creep, you also move ribs, recruit obliques, and utilize hip external rotators and aim to incorporate holistic movement, as opposed to a singular movement.

So what better way to get strong and get mobile than to combine the two!

Now, per our other combinations, let’s improve what mobility we currently have, and then reinforce and reload that with a weighted exercise, such as the bench press.

You can do it in any manner you want, but this is what I find to be the most effective manner with which to progress for movement variability, a quality that is necessary for up and coming athletes.

A1. Forward Creeping – 3×10 Yards

A2. 1-Arm DB Floor Press – 3×5/side

Perform a creeping motion in order to restore and/or improve range of motion, and then perform the bench press in order to get strong and jacked.

Something to keep in mind for your next workout!

As always,

Keep it funky.