Pistol Progression Part 1

The Pistol Squat is a single legged squat completed with one leg projected in front of your body while the grounded leg controls the movement of the body down through a full range of motion squat. This movement can provide a complete snapshot into your ability to squat from a flexibility, stability and strength standpoint.   The progressions provided will help connect the dots to where you may need improvement in your squats. The pistol squat requires full ankle dorsiflexion and full hip and knee flexion. Restrictions in any of these areas will limit your ability to perform a proper pistol.


The Pistol Test – A very common test for this movement is actually performed on two legs. Start with your feet together and lower your body down through hip and ankle flexion until you reach the end of your range. A passing grade for this test is your ability to sit with your butt on your calves with both feet completely grounded and stand back up again.

If you came away from the test with a failed grade the following progressions will help you develop the capability to perform a pistol squat.

Single Leg Support – Breaking down the pistol to its roots, the single leg support will identify any strength and stability issues you may have on either leg. This movement is performed as a lunge, with the goal to move into the next lunge without any support from the trailing leg.   Start down in a lunge position push your torso and front knee forward while keeping your front heel completely grounded until all of your body weight is centered over your front leg. Once you are in this position, drive forward to stand. Ensure that your front knee passes forward inline with your foot and not inside your foot. Continue to develop this movement, If you are unable to complete it without the use of your back leg, or you are unable to keep your front heel on the ground.

Box Single Leg Support – Progressing from the single leg support, using a box to elevate the movement will challenge your strength and stability even greater. The higher the box, the greater the challenge.   The key point of performance on the box single leg support is your ability to push your torso forward to ensure the foot and leg on the box support your center of mass.

Box Pistol – This movement creates a position of high stability during the transition of a pistol. The box is in place so that you can adjust position at the bottom of the movement if you run into balance, strength or mobility roadblocks. This movement will also teach you to use your glutes and hamstrings to get up out of the bottom, therefore keeping your weight closer to your heel. As you descend to the bottom, keep your arms out in front of you to help with balance and hip flexion.

If you find balance issues or restrictions in flexing forward, add a plate to use as a counter balance.

Pistol Swing – The pistol swing is a progression that will take through the proper loading mechanics for a Pistol, by forcibly activating your glutes,  however this movement provides a little bit of a safety net by reducing the required hip flexion by keeping you up on a box.  This movement will also teach control and develop strength and stability on one leg.  If you are unable to complete this progression with just bodyweight, use a plate to counterbalance yourself to create stability at end range.


In part 2 we’ll continue to look at some more challenging progression.





Tips for Kips

Maintaining proper positioning when developing the kip and utilizing it in movements such as a kipping pull-up, toes-to-bar, bar or ring muscle-up is crucial.  The basic positions of a hollow body and arch make up the foundation of the kip.  While attached to the pull-up bar, activating your lats by pushing down on the bar to move into the hollow body position and actively pulling through into the arch position allow you to keep control of your body and generate the greatest amount of force.
In reps 1-3 the swing is completely initiated through the legs, this results in very little control of the body and lacks power.  The hips swing far past and behind the bar, and thus lack a real cadence , making it difficult to progress to a gymnastics movement.
In reps 3-5 the lats are activated by pushing into the bar which results in more control and power, however the hollow body position is lost when the knees bend in the back.
Reps 6-8 are very similar to 3-5, there is strong lat activation and control over the swing however when the legs split in the back portion of the kip it is known as a “force bleed”, where the body will be less powerful and efficient moving through that range of motion
Reps 9-11 provide a snapshot into a controlled and powerful kip.  She moves through the hollow body and arch position, while keeping her legs together and actively pushing down on the bar for the back swing and pulling through the bar to the front.  A great point of reference is her hips.  They remain directly under the pull-up bar, this shows that the shoulders are initiating and controlling the movement.
Developing these positions are part of building a foundation in gymnastics movements.  Showing complete control and awareness in the kip is necessary before progressing to movements such as kipping pull-ups, kipping toes to bar, or kipping bar or ring muscle-ups.