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.