As more and more people train at home, utilize “functional” training movements, and incorporate bodyweight exercise into their workout programs, learning how to do a pistol squat has become quite popular. They’re actually a great exercise as they’re not only good at building, but an excellent measure of strength, balance, body control, and flexibility. If you’re looking to improve your performance as a whole, read below to learn how to do a pistol squat.
When learning how to do a pistol squat, be prepared to take your time, as they’re much different than normal freestanding bodyweight squats or any barbell squat variations. Start off by standing on your left foot, elevating your right leg in front of you.
Try to squat straight down, keeping your torso upright. Your knee will come slightly forward out over your toes, and you’ll want to sit straight down on the back of your calf. Flexible ankles are needed, as you’ll have to keep your foot flat on the floor to ensure you don’t fall over. Putting your arms out in front of you or to the side can help you keep your balance.
Once in the bottom position, contract the left quadriceps and glute hard to stand back up. Try to keep your head and torso up, as if you let yourself come forward, you’ll almost surely lose your balance. After you get back to the top, if you need to touch your right foot to the ground momentarily to steady yourself for your next rep, feel free. Continue for the rest of your reps, then repeat with the right leg.
Now that you know how to do a pistol squat, the question becomes about how to put it into your program. It’s by no means an easy exercise and as such, should definitely be performed early in your workout – preferably first. The big issue with this movement is that unlike other squat movements (including single leg variations), there are multiple reasons your performance could drop.
Normally, you do weighted squat variations as hard and heavy as you can until fatigue accumulates. However, balance and flexibility play just as critical a role as strength does with pistol squats. Because of this, you’ll want to alter your approach. Your best bet is to stick to low reps – usually sets of only 3-5. This is because you don’t want at all to be doing it while fatigued – the chance of injury to the heel, achilles, or knee is too great.
By staying with sets of 3-5 reps, you can ensure that you have as much strength as possible for each set, and resting at least 2 minutes between sets will keep your nervous system fresh and recharged, which is going to be crucial. Start off with 3-5 sets.
If you get to the point where 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps is easy with a light weight, you can then incrementally work your way up to sets of 6-8 reps with the same weight over several weeks. Once that becomes “easy” again, increase the weight and drop the reps back down to 3-5.
It’s already been stressed above, but make sure whenever you do pistol squats, that your body is fresh and you’ve had plenty of rest before and between every set. It only takes one slight hiccup in your technique to injure yourself.
Pistol squats are also an exercise you don’t want to push too hard, either. You can strain to grit out those last couple of hard-won reps with a barbell squat or even many single leg squat variations. However, these sort of reps done under duress can lead to breakdowns in form. With pistol squats, this is when you get injured. You’re always better off leaving a rep or two “in the tank” as they say, then come back to do another/extra set if need be.
You also don’t want to rush into trying to do pistol squats too early. Strength is only one of a few critical qualities needed – the others being balance, flexibility, and body control. If you find yourself lacking in any of those, then take time to focus on and improve them, first. It also could behoove you to work on ankle mobility prior to the pistol squat as part of a movement-specific warm up.
This can be a fantastic lower body exercise, but only if you know how to do a pistol squat properly. Technique and form are critical to proper movement execution, while balance, flexibility, and body control are just as important as strength. However, if you have all those in place, you can utilize this unique exercise to bolster your leg workouts.