The pistol is an advanced exercise that requires great leg strength, midline stability, and balance. It will improve those three things as well, but differently than regular squats, it will do so with each leg individually. Typically we have a dominate side which creates asymmetry, breaking the squat down to single legs will help with balancing this out.
Our very own Katie Phillips got her first pistol in Speed and Agility a couple of weeks ago. Not only did Katie get one, but she repped out pistols like it was her J-O-B! Super proud of you Katie!
To be performed properly…
- Start standing on one leg (this will be your base leg)
- Lower body down into a full squat (hips below knee) with opposite leg straight out in front. (note: opposite leg DOES NOT touch ground at any point)
- Stand back out of squat by pressing through base foot until full hip extension occurs (note: it is helpful to keep chest as tall as possible, press through heel and think of keeping big toe on ground).
Sounds easy right?!? It’s not!! The amount of control, balance and strength needed to perform a pistol properly is insane. There are several progressions to make this happen. First, you must master the back squat. After proper back squat form is consistent and comfortable, work on single leg strength with step ups. From here move onto working the actual pistol with limited range of motion by squatting to a tall box for a “fanny target”. As your strength and balance improve, work at lowering the target until eventually a controlled, full range of motion pistol is achievable. If you don’t have access to a box or need extra balance support with the box, using a door frame or a secured pole for support will help tremendously to guide you down in the squat with more control.
Not only are leg strength, midline stability, and balance crucial to be able to perform this skill, but also flexibility. Without good hamstring flexibility, it will be near to impossible to do a proper pistol as your opposite leg will be extremely difficult to hold up off the ground. Also hip and calf flexibility are critical in order to perform a full depth squat.
If you are interested to go further in depth with this movement, check out this article by T-Nation.