No gym and want to train legs? No problem! The pistol squat is your answer.
Whether you’re an at home workouts kind of person or someone who simply loves bodyweight training and calisthenics, the pistol squat delivers a lot of benefits and humbles even the best squatters.
To execute the pistol squat well you need the following skills or abilities:
- Adequate mobility and stability of the ankle, knee and hip,
- Above average leg strength in a single leg stance and;
- Excellent trunk stability
Without these elements you will see how the pistol can humble even the strongest person regardless of their back squat numbers. Just like any movement, the pistol squat can be learned by stages and after you’ve completed something like the 10 step self screen you will know if you’re ready to start the journey.
Step 1: Bodyweight squats 2×20 reps. Full range and under tension using a slow tempo. This allows you to really isolate any potential restrictions that you need to address. It also goes without saying that if your squat numbers are respectable, this goes a long way to be able to drive out of the bottom of the pistol squat.
Step 2: Close Feet Squats 2×20. Just like the tempo bodyweight squats before, the close foot position simply adds a stability component for you to get comfortable with before moving to a single leg. You might also find the hip mobility may limit depth which is ok, as shifting to a single leg later in the pistol squat progression will open that mobility and range back up.
Step 3: Bench Pistol Squat 2×10 each side (e/s). Here we start the single leg training, by adding the safety of the bench underneath ourselves this allows us to practise partial range pistol squats. The trick is not to lose tension at the bottom of the movement as the bum simply taps the seat and returns to the top.
Step 4: Skater or Airborne Lunge 2×10 e/s. Picking what works for you, these single leg lunge variations allow you to load the single side to challenge stability in your pistol squat. The movements naturally only allow you to go partial range compared to the pistol but learning stability through the restricted range gets you comfortable with being under tension on a single leg.
Step 5: Counterbalance Pistol Squat 5×5 e/s. Using a light weight that gives enough forward leverage we can start to practise full depth pistol squats. This is where we need to make sure our knees, ankles and hips have the adequate mobility and stability through full range of motion. If your knees seem to be a weaker point, focus on exercises such as the tib raise, calf raise, reverse step ups, nordic hamstrings and reverse nordics to strengthen the muscles around the knee.
Step 6: Elevated Pistol 5×2 e/s. But removing the weight and adding an elevated surface you’re not going to stress your hip flexors as much on the elevated leg. This is usually a limiting factor in getting to depth on the pistol squat, particularly for men. Get the block or surface high enough you can allow the outstretched leg to fall below the line of the driving leg. Get comfortable being in and squeezing out of the bottom of the movement.
Step 7: The Full Pistol Squat. We’ve made it. Traditionally the final two stages before the full postil squat is where most people struggle or give up. If you persist with steps 5 and 6 long enough the full pistol will usually come with a relative amount of ease. Be sure to maintain tension through the entire movement.
Why do I love the pistol squat so much? It’s the perfect expression of stability and strength that can be achieved with minimal to no equipment and has amazing benefits for runners and othger field sport athletes as a beautiful pistol usually equals great mobility and stability of the ankles, knees, hips and trunk stability that transfers to a better performance.
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