How To Get Your First Pistol Squat
2/12/2021 | Andrew Tracey
The pistol squat is a seriously impressive feat of lower body skill that builds major strength and stability. It offers an advanced progression for bodyweight only trainees and is no stranger in competitive Crossfit environments.
This show-stopping bodyweight trick may look simple, but many trainees struggle for years to even get close to single digit reps.
If this sounds all too familiar, we’ve got four regressions for you to implement in your quest for one legged supremacy.
Make sure you master each move before graduating to the next, and you’ll have those pistols locked and loaded in no time.
The first step we want to take is a literal one, stepping straight into bodyweight lunges to begin becoming comfortable with the instability of single leg work. Begin with forward lunges, taking a moderate step forward with one leg, bending at the knee until your back knee lightly touches the ground, pause here for a second, focussing on maintaining balance and an upright posture before pushing back up explosively. Alternate legs each rep.
Once you’re comfortable with the forward lunge, begin adding in reverse lunges. Not being able to see where your back foot is going will help to increase what’s known as proprioception, or your minds ability to recognise where your body is, in space. Increased proprioception will help with your balance and stability and has huge carryover to dozens of other movements as well as everyday life.
2. SINGLE LEGGED BOX SQUATS
With balance, stability and bodyweight strength built, we’re going to head over to a box or bench to try some true single leg work. Take a seat on something roughly knee height, keeping your torso upright and trunk braced, lift one leg from the ground, straightening it out in front of your body and drive through the floor with your other foot, standing up from the box. Lower yourself under control to the box and repeat for 5-10 reps on the same leg, before switching.
You can progressively overload this movement as you become more comfortable by using a smaller box or bench, allowing you a greater range of motion.
3. SUPPORTED PISTOL SQUATS
Now you’re comfortable with the movement pattern and have worked to a decent depth that tests your mobility, it’s time to lose the box. Position yourself next to a rig, rack or any stable, upright object that you can hold onto. Lift one leg from the ground, straightening it out in front of your body, then maintaining an upright torso and braced core, bend the opposite leg, slowly descending into your squat. Use the upright for balance and to help control your decent. As you reach the bottom of the squat position, pull on the upright to help assist you as you stand back upright. Repeat for 3-5 reps on the same leg before switching.
As you become progressively stronger and more comfortable in this full range of motion, gradually use the upright less and less for support until you’re eventually only relying on it for balance, or for those final few reps.
4. BAND ASSISTED PISTOLS
Supported pistol squats may have given you everything you need to nail the full movement, but it’s common to still struggle out of that bottom position. If this sounds like you, then your next port of call is to use a little bit of band assistance at the bottom of each rep, giving you an extra boost out of the hole, but still allowing you to focus on building balance and stability through the rest of the rep.
Loop a band across the j-pegs of a squat rack or rig at just below knee height. Position yourself with the band directly behind you, raise one leg and drop into your pistol squat. Control your decent until you feel the band gently decelerating you into the bottom of the rep, then assisting you back upwards.
As you build more and more starting strength at the bottom of the rep, gradually lower the band, providing you with less and less assistance, until eventually…
5. THE PISTOL SQUAT
You made it! Single leg mastery is yours, but don’t get sloppy now. Stick to the same tenets that helped you get this far- a controlled decent, an explosive push and an upright, braced trunk.
You can progress the movement further by adding weights; in fact holding a weight plate in front of your body acts as an excellent counterbalance, meaning you can build serious strength without having to worry (quite as much) about tipping over mid set.
You may have unlocked pistols into your movement arsenal, but never be afraid to fall back on any of the regressions you’ve worked through for either high rep sets, or just rebuilding strength after an injury or time away.