The pistol squat is an advanced single leg movement that takes a great deal of mobility, flexibility, stability, strength and balance to perform.
When people see the pistol squat for the first time, their immediate reaction is “ouch”. They may be right, but they may also be holding themselves back from becoming an awesome ninja. A ninja who isn’t in pain anymore because they did something about their imbalances.
Using proper progressions this can decrease your knee, hip and ankle ‘general weirdness’ pain.
A performance goal like a bodyweight pistol squat, forces you to get stronger. You must strengthen your weaknesses and improve your balance and range of motion.
Before we get into my progressions for a pistol squat, here are some basics requirements.
- Be able to do a bodyweight squat with full range of motion with a close/narrow stance.
- Know how to control your body and keep a neutral spine when you are squatting so you don’t look like a floppy noodle.
Now that we got the boring stuff out of the way, lets move on to the fun stuff.
Step 1: 5 Second Eccentric to box
Slowing down the lowering phase of the lift is underrated for building some serious strength. The first phase involves performing a 5 second eccentric (lowering) to a box. Lower yourself to the box under control and keeping a neutral spine. Once you touch the box, put your other foot down to stand back up OR if you are strong enough you can stand up on one leg (like shown in the video).
The idea is to stand using one leg and get used to reversing the movement from the bottom. **Choose a box height that allows you to perform the movement under control the entire time. If you drop at the end and ‘plop’ on the box, it is to low. Add a few inches until you can completely control this movement all the way to the box** Once you can do 4 sets of 5 reps of 5 second eccentrics move onto step 2
Step 2: ‘Bottoms Up’ Pistol Squat FROM a box
The ‘bottoms up’ position is great for building strength out of the bottom of the squat. It will teach you how to reverse the movement without getting thrown off balance. Start sitting on a box with 1 leg…stand up.
Damn, you’re good. Once you can do 4 sets of 8-10 reps move onto step 3
Step 3: Pistol squat TO a box ‘Touch and Go’
This is when you get good at practicing the movement where the last 2 steps were more about building enough strength to perform the movement. Perform the movement with the thought that the box is not even there. When your butt touches the box reverse the movement under control and stand back up.
That’s it. **Remember to use a box where you do not plop. As you get stronger use a shorter box to get stronger in the bottom part of the movement (which is the hardest).
Once you can do 4 sets of 6-8 reps move onto step 4
Step 4: Rollover into Pistol
Now we are getting to the fun stuff. The rollover into pistol will test your mobility and balance to the fullest. Just like in ‘Step 2’ we are starting at the bottom (without a box) and throwing in a little bit of extra force with the rollover.
This will help you prepare for the forces at the knee that you get when doing a full pistol squat. Once you can do 4 sets of 3-5 reps move onto step 5
Step 5: Bodyweight Pistol
Just crush it. You already know what to do by now and have built the strength, balance, and flexibility to do it. Lower yourself under control. Keep your whole body tight at the bottom. Reverse the movement nice and strong.
*Wink at the hot girl/guy watching you from the corner of the room* Once you can do 4 sets of 5 reps move onto step 6
Step 6: Goblet Pistol
Now you’re strong enough to perform bodyweight pistol squats. It’s time to load the movement and build even more strength. Sure you can keep getting stronger by doing more reps and adding more sets but I like weights. So we are going to use them. Hold the weight in the goblet position (shown in the video) and do the same exact thing.
It is important to stay extra tight when adding weight. The extra resistance will keep you honest and fold you over like a shrimp if you are slacking. Make sure to keep great posture throughout the movement. No sets and reps here — move onto the double front rack when you feel comfortable.
Step 7: Double Front Rack Pistol
Boom — finally the fun stuff. The same rules apply for the Goblet Pistol except you have to keep your mid and upper back even tighter. Once again, think of pulling yourself down into the squat rather than just falling down into it.
Learning how to pistol squat can be a game changer for you. It is an advanced single leg movement which requires a great deal of mobility, flexibility, stability, strength and balance to perform. Just because you aren’t able to perform a pistol squat right now it does not mean you should give up.
With the proper progressions working towards a full pistol squat can decrease knee, hip and ankle pain. It forces you to get stronger, strengthen your weaknesses, improve your balance and increase range of motion.
This process can take days, weeks, months or even years for some depending on your current fitness level. Have fun and enjoy the process!
Don’t forget to grab your free copy of The Badass Body handbook.
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