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How To Master Single-Leg Squats (Pistols) - Part 1

Updated on February 25, 2014

Have you ever tried doing a pistol? It's a single-leg squat and it's a great body weight exercise for strength.

If you look at the picture to the right, he's in the lower position of a pistol. They can be difficult to do if you've never done them before; it's an odd movement and you may not be strong enough at first. Flexibility and balance can also be an issue when you're attempting a pistol.

I know when I first tried them I had a hard time getting down far enough into the movement. I had an even harder time standing back up, in factI couldn't do it.

Let me give you a few helpful tips on how to perform perfect pistols. These are the exact things I did to help me master this exercise.

Recommended Reading

Pistol Basics

It's best to wear a flat-soled shoe when doing pistols; old school Converse shoes work great for this. It'll be a little harder to perform these in cross trainers, but it's still possible.

  • To do a pistol you want to lift one leg off the ground and hold it in front of you, raising it as you get lower to the ground so that your heel doesn't touch.
  • You can hold both arms out in front of you as you go down to counterbalance your weight. You can also hold a light weight in front of you; sometimes this makes it easier.
  • You want to go all the way down until your calf is pressed up against your thigh. Make sure that you keep the heel of your supporting foot flat on the ground, don't go up onto your toes.

It's pretty hard to do, isn't it?

Try it again, but this time tense your abs and flex the leg you're holding out in front of you. And, although it might seem odd, try to almost grip the floor with your toes of your supporting foot. If you keep your body tense, you're going to find that pistols are a bit easier to do.

When you try to stand up, push your foot hard into the floor, mostly pushing from your heel.

These tips might help you complete a rep or two on each leg. There are so many techniques and other exercises you can do to gain enough strength to do a complete pistol. I learned a lot from reading The Naked Warrior by Pavel Tsatsouline. Check out the book if you like, you can learn a lot of tension and breathing techniques that will not only help you with pistols but in all your lifts.

I can show you one of the exercises I learned that helped me be able to do full pistols on each leg.

Box Pistols

Before you do these, you'll probably want to warm up in some way.

All you're going to need is a chair or a box to do this exercise. You want to start out with something so that, when you're sitting down on it and your feet are flat on the floor, your thighs are parallel to the ground.

Now stand in front of the chair or box and get into the "pistol form" as if you were going to do a normal pistol. Squat down and let yourself sit right down onto your chair or box. If you need to, you can rock back and then forward to help yourself stand back up on your one leg.

You can practice these all the time to help "grease the groove" for that movement by just standing up with one leg when you get up from your chair anytime you're sitting.

As you get progressively stronger you can try sitting on a lower box until you're able to do a pistol all the way down to the floor.

If you want to see how box pistols are done, watch the video on the right. The girl does box pistols first and then some variations.

These really do help, because after a week straight of box pistols I was able to complete a single pistol for each leg without the use of a box! I was doing box pistols 4 times a week (5 sets of 3 for each leg).

So go try these out. I hope that you'll be doing full pistols and feeling a lot stronger in your legs soon.

>> Continue Reading Part 2 - Isometric Pistols >>

Did Box Pistols Help You Work Your Way Up To A Full Pistol?

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    • Bendo13 profile image

      Ben Guinter 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado

      I'm surprised you could do them righ away, Zack! They're really tough; congrats! Now go enjoy that burn haha.

    • profile image

      Zack 6 years ago

      I skipped box pistols and went straight to normal right away. Burns like heck after a few minutes!

    • Bendo13 profile image

      Ben Guinter 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado

      Yes, it's a tough one GmaGoldie! But with the right form your knees should be fine... baby step your way up to it for sure!

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Wow! This is a great exercise. I have great balance but this one is very challenging. I will try the low box first exercise movement first. Will keep you posted - if my knees allow. The spirit is willing - the knees sometimes say no.