One of my absolute favourite movements is the pistol squat – it combines strength, balance, mobility and coordination so is a real all rounder.
As a pre requisite for pistols, I would definitely make sure you are happy and comfortable with a normal air squat (i.e. showing full range of motion, not overbalancing or straining during the movement). Once you’ve got that here are some of the progressions I would use:
- Pistol squat to seated using a raised platform (use a box or a step, or even a sofa!) – stand in front of the platform, slowly lower until you reach a seated position then return to standing. It’s important to try and control the lowering to build up your strength, stability and muscle memory. Remain tight in your core throughout the movement and reach your arms forward as you lower, to counter the movement.
- Pistol squat standing on a raised platform, allow your straight leg to hang over the side of the platform so you can get used to the movement without having to keep your leg above parallel.
- Band assisted pistol squats, attach a band to an anchor point (rig, bar, door) and hold whilst performing a full pistol squat. Being able to pull against the band will help you to stand, gradually though you should use the band less and less.
There is a huge element of practice and patience required in a pistol squat, but it is definitely worth it.
Another great exercise is to start in the bottom position of the pistol squat and practice changing legs, without standing – it is great to build mobility and strength by removing the momentum you get from dropping down and up. To start, you can do this using a platform (e.g. a step or plate) and work up to doing it on the flat.
During a pistol it is super important to breath, exhaling on the way back up as well as keeping the core locked tight and the back straight (mobility weaknesses will definitely lead to a rounded back here).
You can increase the challenge by adding a weight (holding similar to a goblet squat, or with a KB on the shoulder), adding a plyo element, or even combining movements (hello lunge>pistol OR handstand>pistol without your foot touching the floor..YES PLEASE).
I like to do a 1 minute challenge to see how many alternating pistols I can manage, I’m currently stuck at 32… 34 I’m coming for you though.
Plus, not only are pistols a complex movement challenge, they also make for a serious photo opportunity….