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Complete guide to the pistol squat

Technique, methodology and benefits

Pistol squat or pistol squats are a very difficult one-sided bodyweight movement that most athletes could benefit from.

In this article, we’ll take a look at this one-sided leg exercise which is one of the most difficult. No matter your sport or your goal, practicing and mastering the pistol squat can promote leg development, balance, coordination… In short, this calisthenic exercise can increase your athletic performance.

Mobility and warming up

Many people may lack good ankle, knee, and/or hip mobility to perform a pistol squat.

It is therefore essential to work on your mobility and flexibility to perform a pistol squat in the rules of the art. We will see later that poor execution due to a lack of technique or flexibility can be dangerous (as with many exercises).

If you’ve never done a squat pistol, here are several steps/variations of the squat to master before you jump into performing a single leg squat.

Full Squat

The ability to perform a full, deep leg curl is required before proceeding to any of the following unilateral steps.

Performing a full squat with good ankle, knee, and hip flexion is the essential first step in learning, as it strengthens leg muscles and eases the transition to maintaining body weight on a single leg.

Box pistol squat with momentum

This is the first unilateral step in this series of exercises to progress to the pistol squats. It is of course possible to adjust the height of the bench, the box, or any other stable equipment.

The greater the depth (the lower the bench), the more difficult the exercise, because you have to master a greater flexion of the knee and the hip.

The advantage of this variation is that you can “swing” back and forth to help you get up. This little cheat will help you at the beginning to decrease the intensity of the exercise while allowing you to increase your proprioception and your strength.

Strict pistol squat box

pistol squat
pistol squat

For this 3rd learning step, you will have to do the box pistol squat but this time in a strict way, that is to say without swing or swing.

To get the most out of profile from this exercise, perform slow eccentric flexes, in order to gain even more strength and always improve your proprioception.

Raised pistol squat

Perform this variation of the squat pistol when you have enough strength to perform a full one-leg curl from a standing position.

The heightening will allow you to acquire more strength and control for the lower part of the movement.

The interest of this exercise is to work with greater amplitudes of movement, always to increase your strength, your balance, and your coordination.

Assisted pistol squat

This pistol squat performed with suspension straps allows you to use the strength acquired during the previous steps in order to perform flexions on one leg in full amplitude.

The suspension straps will be of great help both to not fall backward at the bottom of the movement, but also to help you do a few more reps.

Assisted pistol squat with isometry

Isometry is a great way to gain strength in the squat (on two legs), but also in the squat pistol.

This step is identical to the previous one with the suspension straps, except that it will be necessary to add small isometric breaks around the complete flexion of the movement. The goal is as always to grab more strength to ultimately perform the movement without assistance.

Pistol squats

That’s it, you’ve finally mastered the squat pistol! At this point, you will just require to practice to increase the number of reps you can do on one leg.

Remember that warming up is very essential before each workout.

Pistol squat benefits

Here are the advantages that can be gained by performing the “pistol squats” in your special leg weight training program or as part of a functional CrossFit WOD.

Increase in strength

The pistol squat is by definition a unilateral movement performed leg by leg. What makes this exercise unique is that it does not require any equipment to be performed.

Of course, if your bodyweight alone isn’t enough, you can always do it with a barbell or weights as you can imagine. If you need to maintain or increase your strength, mobility, balance for sports like running, jumping, soccer, etc. the pistol squat is excellent.

Better muscle activation

Greater muscle activation can be obtained with the pistol squat, only if performed in a controlled manner.

Increasing tempo, time under tension, and load can further help increase muscle activation in the leg muscles.

Greater joint mobility

The ability to do a pistol squat requires that you have sufficient ankle, knee, hip, and joint mobility (obviously). The degree of joint flexion in the ankles, knees, and hips at the bottom of the flexion is similar to the full amplitude leg curl (Aka full squat)

Increasing your ability to build strength over a large amplitude is the key to maintaining good mobility over time.

Better balance and control of the body

The pistol squat needs a lot of balance and body control, as you have to stand on one foot throughout the movement.

This movement needs and develops so much mobility, stability, balance, and control of the body.

Are pistol squats bad for the knees?

pistol squat
pistol squat

In a nutshell, NO, the pistol squat is not bad for the knees, just like the classic squat is not bad for the knees. Rather, it’s a bad pistol squat that’s bad for the knees… and here’s what not to do!

Crash at the bottom of the movement

We’ve all seen it at least once, a person doing a downward leg curl (s) like a bully, with no motion control. Whether it’s on one or two legs, it’s never a good idea unless you have a lot of experience and use a “bounce” to perform a plyometric movement for example.

By using a “bounce” with the pistol squat, you place all the load on the tendons, ligaments, and small joints of the ankle and knee.

If you have acquired sufficient strength and coordination and have already practiced the “jump” with integrity, you can use it sparingly, understanding that it puts great pressure on the connective tissues and the bones of the foot, ankle, knee, and hip.

Lift the heel off the ground (and end up on the tip of the foot)

Doing a toe squat is rarely a good idea, whether on one or two legs.

9 times out of 10, when the heels move up to the bottom of the movement, it is due to a lack of joint mobility in the knee, ankle, or hip.

Lack of mobility can lead to compensation and excessive strain on other joints, ligaments, and tissues. If you can’t keep your heel planted on the ground during a pistol squat, reduce the range of motion and work on your mobility.

Abuse of wedges under the heels

If you have difficulty keeping your heel planted during your squat, you may be advised to use a weightlifting shoe, a pad under the heel, etc.

Although this is an effective “aid” for the lack of mobility of the ankle, knee, or hip, it can lead to problems similar to the point discussed above if the underlying lack of mobility and control is not corrected.

If you must use a heel aid, make sure you never use excessive aid (anything over 2 inches) and do not perform high volume pistol squats until you have developed enough. mobility that allows you to do pistol squats without assistance.

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