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How To Master Single-Leg Squats (Pistols) - Part 2

Updated on May 13, 2014

<< Part 1 - Box Pistols <<

Do you still need some help with your pistols?

I know that it can be frustrating when you can't "master" an exercise like this when it seems so simple.

I probably should have told you that, along with doing box pistols for my first week, I also used an isometric hold to help my progression in the pistol movement.

Let me teach you the isometric hold now...

Isometric Pistol

With an isometric movement, you contract and flex your muscles, but you don't move; you stay stationary. This can help you gain strength in your muscles in certain positions in the exercise movement.

For the isometric pistol, you're going to do the "hold" in the lowest position of the pistol. This is very helpful because that seems to be the hardest part.

Recommended Reading

Like I said before, I had a hard time squatting down low enough and then pushing up and standing back up. Isometrics like this can really help you with strength for the lower portion of your pistols.

  • All you have to do is squat down, like you see the guy doing in the picture to the right. You don't have to do an actual pistol to get into the position. Just squat down normally with two legs and then slide one leg out in front of you.
  • You can actually just rest the heel of your extended leg on the ground in front of you.
  • Make sure that the heel of your supporting leg stays flat on the ground; don't come up onto your toes.
  • Try to "sit" right down as low as you comfortably can without your butt touching the ground.
  • Extend your arms in front of you for balance and hold that position for a certain amount of time. Although the guy pictured seems to have his arms out to the sides, I keep my arms out in front of me. Hold them however you feel more balanced, it doesn't matter that much.

As Pavel says, you'll want to look for weak spots and try to plug them up with tension as you hold your position. Tense your whole body, especially your legs as if you're trying to push up and stand, but don't move. This will really test your balance and strength.

I find it handy to do these in the middle of a doorway, but far enough back so that your outstretched hands just reach the doorway. If you're about to fall over, you can quickly put your hand on the doorway and steady yourself. Just don't hold the doorway the whole time; this will lessen the effects of this workout and you won't improve your balance as much.

If exercises like the pistol interest you, you really should check out The Naked Warrior. Pavel Tsatsouline really goes in depth with these techniques. If you follow the guideline he sets out for you, you'll be a lot stronger and more in control without having to go to a gym. But, you can also use all the tension and breathing techniques on exercises you already do. Powerlifters seem to use a lot of these same techniques.

Let's move on to how to incorporate them into your weekly workout.

This Is What You're Working Toward

The Workout

As with all exercises, you'll want to warm up beforehand. Grab a timer of some kind; wearing a wristwatch or looking at a non-digital clock on the wall seems to work best.

Get down into the pistol position and start your timer, you just want to hold this position for the amount of time you decide on. You may be a bit off balance but try to hold it and keep tight. Make sure you do each leg equally.

You can do these for any length of time and amount of sets that you feel that you can handle. I started out with 4 sets of 20 seconds for each leg. Twenty seconds doesn't seem like much, but you'll find out how hard it is to hold it really quick.

I started out doing box pistols 4 times a week and then one day a week I'd do these isometric pistols. So I was working on my pistols 5 days a week. It's handy to keep using these isometric holds at least once a week no matter what pistol movement you're doing on the other days.

For the first month I did 20 second holds on each leg, and then progressively held it longer. The second month I did 35 seconds, 3rd month 50 seconds and then the 4th month I wanted to do 30 second holds while holding onto a kettlebell.

These really do help! I did these once and the box pistols on the 4 other days of my first week and the next week my normal pistols had improved. I'm sure after a while you'll notice some improvement yourself.

So have fun with these, and go build some strong legs!

>> Continue Reading Part 3 - Airborne Lunges >>

Did This Isometric Hold Help YOU Master Pistols?

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