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How To Do a Pistol Squat?

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What Is a Pistol Squat?

The pistol squat is one of the most impressive and challenging fitness movements, as it requires you to use your body’s strength, balance, and flexibility in order to perform the squat using a single leg. The pistol squat belongs to the group of unilateral exercises, which means that it works one side more at a time, which helps you reach your full strength potential by using just one leg to perform the move.

Which Muscles Are Used for Pistol Squat?

Pistol squat really puts a lot of pressure on your quads, but it also requires your glutes, inner and outer thighs to put in some serious work as well. In order to perform the single leg squat on one leg correctly and with the correct form, you need to have a strong core that is going to help you put it all together and pull this fantastic move.

What are the Benefits of Pistol Squat?

Several benefits come with performing this great exercise. Some of the main benefits of a pistol squat include:

  • builds strength
  • increase balance
  • improve any strength imbalances between legs, in case one leg is stronger than the other leg
  • improves ankle joint mobility

How To Do a Pistol Squat?

Doing a pistol squat does not require any equipment, but pistol squats do require good form and good technique. Here is how to perform the pistol squat:

  1. Start by standing on one leg. Lift the opposite leg and hold it out straight in front of you. Keep your arms at your side or out in front of you if you to help with balance.
  2. Start to push your hips back as you lower into a squat position while keeping your core engaged and your torso up the whole time.
  3. Once you are low on the ground, squeeze your glutes and push yourself up through your foot. Try to keep the opposite leg up between reps without letting it touch the ground.
  4. Once you finish a set using the same leg, repeat for the other leg.

Variations of Pistol Squats

Getting the pistol squat right on the first try is almost impossible for many. This is a very challenging exercise, thanks to the fact that you are using a single leg while your opposite leg is not active and taking half of the load. Pistol squat requires lower body strength and balance that many beginners simply do not have.  
Many experts advise that you should progress your way up to doing the pistol squat, which is why pistol squat progressions are for.
Pistol squat progression allows you to progress your way up to doing your first ever pistol squats by following the steps:

Master the Standard Squat

Before moving on to complicated movements, you should master the traditional two-legged squat, which will help you build the leg muscles necessary for pistol squats.

Progress to a Split Squat

Split squat will provide improved balance and motor control which will help with performing the full pistol squat. Try different variations of split squats to help you get the best results and to prepare your body for the next step.

Move on to the Assisted Pistol Squats

Perform the assisted pistol squats while holding the TRX straps in your hands for added assistance. The assistance will take the pressure off your knees and it will allow you to get the full range of motion in your hips. You can keep one knee bent, but you can also have one leg in front of you. Make sure to get in the deep squat position while still keeping the proper form, with your feet shoulder width apart. The straps will help you maintain balance, improve range of motion, single leg strength, neuromuscular control, and unilateral strength.

Pay attention to your hand placement.  Performing the assisted pistol squat will help get familiar with the move and help you perform your first pistol squat.

Master Box/Chair Pistol Squat

Box or Chair Pistol Squat is similar to the real pistol squat, apart from the fact that your end position is sitting down on a box or a chair. After mastering that variation and being able to perform more then 10 reps comfortably you are ready for pistol squats, and the perfect pistol squat is waiting on you! Start with doing pistol squats but not in full range of motion, rather try and lower your body to the point where you feel secure then raise yourself up. Continue to gradually increase the range of motion with every workout for a safe way to master the pistol squat.

Alternatives for Pistol Squat

Pistol squats are a very difficult kind of squat, and they really do require extreme control of your body, as well as some admirable balance. If you are a beginner, or if you have any issues that stop you from performing this movement, going with other (and simpler) squat variations might be beneficial for you. Some of them include standard squats, jump squats, sumo squats, split squat, assisted pistol squat, plié squat, and many others.

Mistakes/Safety Tips

The pistol squat is an intermediate to advanced move, and it is a pretty tricky and challenging move to get right. The best (and the recommended) way to get to this move is by mastering the double leg squat first. Once you have your form completely perfected on both legs, you can move on to the more challenging variations. 

If you are not confident in performing the move, it is in your best interest to have someone who is a professional personal trainer observe your form for the first few times. They can give you advice about the adjustments needed. Avoid doing pistol squats if you are injured in any way. If you try to do the movement and you end up feeling a lot of pain, it is best to regress to simpler squat variations until you are stronger and more confident.

Common Pistol Squat Questions

What does a pistol squat work?

Pistol squat strengthens the quads, hamstrings, glutes, hip adductors, calves, and core muscles. It also improves one’s strength, balance, and stability.

Why is it called a pistol squat?

The pistol squat is called the pistol squat because the person performing it tends to hold their hand out forward while holding their foot in front of them, which makes the shape that looks like a pistol.

Are pistol squats bad for your back?

The truth is that pistol squats are not your back’s best friend, especially if you are already prone to having some lower-back issues and pain. Pistol squats can often cause low back pain since they cause the overuse of the hip flexors due to the vertical position of one leg. In addition, holding the free leg parallel to the floor can cause significant low back stress, leading to lower back pain, especially for those with longer legs.

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