Pistol Squats - We’ve all seen someone performing this one-legged circus, with the same initial thought. How the hell does one do that!? So in light of this grandiose desire to be able to “Pistol," we’ve taken it upon ourselves to show you from start to finish, how to gain the strength, perfect the technique, and to ultimately get to your eminent goal and desire, to PISTOL. Your welcome! Now first, let's talk about the benefits.
BENEFITS OF BILATERAL & UNILATERAL EXERCISE
Bilateral squat and Olympic-style lift variations offer a high level of utility for all athletic populations. Single leg squats, or unilateral exercises, are typically used for movement screening purposes. However, it is an effective supplementary leg strength exercise as it involves an increased balance demand. For maximal strength training, as well as athletic conditioning, we advocate and advise that both bilateral (two leg [squat & deadlift variations]) and unilateral (single leg) movements are used in conjunction.
Single leg squats and pistol squats are very effective for general strength training of developing athletes (as the load stress is a suitable stimulus), as well as a supplementary exercise to develop single-leg balance and overall athletic ability. Single leg squats can be very beneficial to athletes who do not have access to a weight room, have limited equipment, or for athletes that have extensive travel demands. Progressions and regressions are recommended for both bilateral and unilateral movements to advance in complexity and weight load.
TYPE OF EXERCISE
Lower-body strength and single-leg balance exercise.
Gluteal, quadriceps, rectus femoris, and gastrocnemius.
Now that you know the benefits of pistol squats, let's learn how to pistol with this 5-step progression.
UNILATERAL SINGLE-LEG PISTOL SQUAT
- Strong Bottom – unweight one leg and balance on the other. Make sure the standing leg has solid contact with the ground below. Build as much stability as possible and center your breathing while looking straight ahead at a stationary object
- Minimalize wobbly-ness and put all of your body weight into your standing leg like a tree trunk. Chest up, controlled tempo, neutral spine, and lower your body to below parallel. You might fall over the first time, and hey, it’s OK! Just don’t let anyone see. Because you could be on their next Snap Chat Story!
- Now return to an upright standing position. Maintaining good posture, raise your chest, shoulders, and spine in an upwards motion as if you were being pulled to the sky like a string puppet. Sounds silly – but try to envision it as best you can.
Okay, so that was really hard! If you think you're never going to be able to do them, you're wrong! You can and you will with time. If your exercise area has resistance bands, TRX suspension trainers, squat rack, street light pole, a friend – heck, just grab onto something solid – and use this to stabilize yourself and try the same steps again.
PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!
Step 1: MODIFIED SINGLE-LEG SQUAT – Best for Beginners
The modified single-leg squat is great for athletes with little to no experience with unilateral lower-body strength training and/or limited mobility. It is also effective for athletes who lack the concentric/eccentric strength to get into a deeper than parallel position.
- Hold onto a ring, suspension system, strap, or something stable around you. Set it at about chest height, with either 1 or 2 hands, hold onto the support.
- Step back so that the support is at ~45˚ and have the outstretched arm(s) slightly bent.
- Raise one leg and slowly lower yourself into a full squat position. Only rely slightly on the arms for stability, not for strength. Yes, there is a difference.
- Pause at the bottom and return to the starting position
Step 2: BOX SINGLE-LEG SQUAT – Intermediate Athlete
This is an effective progression for athletes who feel comfortable with the Modified Single-Leg Squat and can do more than 10+ reps on each leg without depending on the support. This is also good for athletes who may lack eccentric strength and control, or athletes who need to develop concentric strength without a reliance on shortening the entire motion. Object height can vary depending on competency.
- Place a box/bench/object behind the athlete either at or slightly below parallel, with the supporting heel approximately 4-6” from the edge of the box.
- Raise one leg and slowly lower yourself onto the object while maintaining complete control.
- Pause on the object and explosively return to the standing position. Repeat.
Step 3: SINGLE-LEG SQUAT OFF A BOX – Advanced Athlete
Appropriate movement for athletes who have sufficient strength and control throughout the entire range of a single-leg squat movement.
- Place supporting leg on the side of a raised box and perform a single-leg squat.
- Being on a raised surface, the athlete is able to perform the single-leg squat movement through a full range of motion which enables the athlete to increase functionality, and lower-body strength and stability throughout the entire range.
- General balance development is supported by being able to support your body throughout the entire movement.
Step 5: PLATE-LOADED SINGLE-LEG SQUAT – Expert Athlete
This is an effective movement for athletes who can perform more than 10 repetitions of the single-leg squat off of a box. You can hold the weighted object (plate, kettlebell, etc.) in front of your body or over your head. This movement leads to strength and a further challenge of the athlete’s stability and control throughout the movement. Having the weighted object overhead requires the athlete to demonstrate a high level of thoracic mobility and scapula stability and control while moving through triple flexion and extension of the hip, knee, and ankle.
Yes – the single-leg squat movement in any variance is a challenging exercise, which may be a reason why it is underused in training prescriptions for athletes of all sorts. Single-Leg Squats should be used in conjunction with major bilateral lifts such as squat and deadlift variations so that improvements in athletic performance and overall lower-body strength may be achieved.
Once you have developed the necessary strength and movement pattern to perform the basic version of a single-leg squat, there are PLENTY of progressions and fun challenges to attain further improvements and unilateral lower-body strength.
OPTIMIZE YOUR BILATERAL SQUAT TECHNIQUE
If you're unfamiliar with a specific movement, it is always important to perfect your technique before actually attempting to load your exercise (ESPECIALLY SQUATS). Trust us, you're going to look a lot less cool when you've racked three bumper plates on each side of your bar, and you extend down about two inches, with your knees about to buckle, because you loaded your back with twice your body weight. Don't be a fucking moron! Perfect your technique with air squats first. Then from no weight, progressively increase and make sure to hit your full range of motion.
- Unrack the bar and take a few steps back. Place feet shoulder-width apart (may be thinner or wider for some athletes due to mobility)
- Angle feet to ~45˚ outwards
- Parallel squat, heels are flat, if you’re tipped up onto toes there’s going to be a much greater stress on the knee. The danger of trying to limit the knees over the toes puts greater stress on the lower back. Even if the knees are a little over the toes the main concern is that the feet remain flat.
- Squat depth is definitely an issue - greater contribution from the glutes and greater stress on the knee is presented when you go below parallel.
If you can perfect each stage of progression from Bilateral Squats to Single-Leg Squats and Loaded Single Leg Squats, then you'll absolutely find the strength, and proper technique to finally do a Pistol Squat! Good Luck!
Want To Get Your Legs Stronger So You Can Crush Your Pistol Squats?
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