One-armed push-ups and single-leg squats
This post is a summary of a book called ‘The Naked Warrior" by Pavel Tsatsouline. Tsatsouline is a kettlebell instructor that Tim Ferris holds in high regard. A lot of the principles in the 4-Hour Body have been adapted from Tsatsouline’s approach to fitness and strength development.
‘The Naked Warrior’ is about strength development using nothing but bodyweight exercises.
Pavel reduces the complexity of a full-body routine down to two simple exercises: The single-leg squat and the single-arm pushup.
The claim is that these two exercises are enough to train the entire body sufficiently. You can add exercises to the program but there is little need to. The fewer parts your program has less likely you are to give up. Also, given that you only have so much time, the fewer skills you practice the better you will get at them.
The foundation of Tsatsouline’s approach is that strength is a skill and not a physical adaptation like muscle size or endurance. This means that there is no routine, only practice. You practice each move for no more than 5 repetitions, as many times as you can, six days a week and then you measure your progress at the end of the week.
Never reach failure #
The only rule is to never reach failure. Failure means you have to recover, which leaves you with less opportunity to practice.
“You should always feel stronger after a practice session than when you started. If you feel weaker, you’ve overdone it.” -Steve Just
Practice at least twice a day and no more than once an hour #
You can practice a move no less than 2 times a day and no more than once an hour. You also can’t do the same volume two days in a row. It’s better to do 10 reps today, 30 reps tomorrow, and 20 reps the day after than 20 reps each day. This is called ‘waving’ and the idea behind the approach is to keep your body from getting used to the routine.
Contrary to popular belief doing being able to do 100 pushups will not help you do a single-arm pushup. In order to get good at something, you must practice it specifically. If you want to do a single-arm push us you have to practice the single-arm pushup.
One-armed push-ups #
Since very few people can do a single arm push up you start doing them against a wall rather than doing them against the floor. Progressively work your way down towards the horizontal by reducing your elevation from the floor.
You start feet placed slightly wider than shoulder-width. Place your working hand a couple of inches outside your center line and point your middle finger straight forward. Spread your fingers wide for balance and make a point of placing most of the weight on the heel of your palm, directly below your little finger.
Instead of yielding to your weight on the triceps, push your chest out and actively pull yourself to the ground with your lat ( kind of like an upside-down one-arm row).
If you experience discomfort in the wrists then follow the exercise by locking your elbows out and placing your hand’s palms up with the fingers facing back from a kneeling pushup position. Carefully lean forward and stretch your wrists for about five seconds. Repeat this for a couple of sets.
Once you master the single arm push up you can elevate your feet to make it more challenging and perform the exercise on one leg.
Single-leg squats #
If you can’t perform a single leg squat then start by sitting in a chair and standing up with one leg. From there you can progress to airborne lunges, supported single-leg squats (by doing them in a door frame), and then attempting a halfway single leg squat.
The most important thing to know when practicing a single-leg squat is to keep the emphasis off of your quad. The quad is the large muscle at the front of your leg and it will try and dominate the movement. You can prevent this by focusing your drive through the heel rather than the balls of your feet. When you are standing up activate your flute and engage them in the movement. Just imagine pinching a coin between your cheeks.
If your knee juts in front of your shin on the way down then pull yourself into the hole by activating your hip flexors (these are the muscles oboe your quad and then connect the bottom of your stomach to the front of your leg). The hip flexors have a tendency to overwork when you do single-leg squats so make sure that you stretch them after each session.
Make sure to never let your knee bow in, your ankles cave or your body rotate.
Final notes of improving strength #
Regardless of the movement, you can progress it by gripping the deck with your digits, contracting your core, activating your glute, and twisting through the movement.
Try each of these additions successively and then work towards integrating all of them through each movement. The more integrated and tense your entire body is throughout either exercise the more strength you will be able to exert.
Decreasing the speed of repetition, even holding it at weak points, and pausing at the end of a movement to eliminate momentum all make the exercise more challenging.
Lastly, a simple rule of thumb is that the more you pay for the shoes, the less suitable they are for strength training. Aim for flat soles like converse or do the exercises barefoot.
- The Naked Warrior by Pavel Tsatsouline.