Pistol Squat: How to Perform, Benefits & Expert Tips 

The pistol squat is a highly underrated exercise that comes with a myriad of benefits when performed correctly, and you would do well by including it in your routine.  

Although, there are also a ton of common mistakes we see people making when doing the pistol squat, so knowing how to perform it correctly is vital. 

In this article, we will take a look at how to perform the pistol squat, the benefits that come from doing the pistol squat, and some expert tips that will let you maximise this exercise’s effectiveness.  

What Is a Pistol Squat? 

The Pistol Squat, also known as the One-Legged Squat, is a bodyweight exercise that involves squatting down on one leg while extending the other leg forward.  

It challenges your strength, balance, and flexibility, making it an excellent addition to your lower body training routine. 

How to Do a Pistol Squat Correctly 

Performing the Pistol Squat correctly requires focus, control, and proper form. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you master this challenging exercise: 

  1. Start by standing tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  1. Lift one foot slightly off the ground, extending it forward in front of you. 
  1. Engage your core and maintain an upright posture throughout the movement. 
  1. Begin to squat down by bending your standing leg at the knee and sitting back into a squat position. Keep your chest lifted and your heel firmly planted on the ground. 
  1. As you lower yourself, extend your other leg forward, keeping it parallel to the ground. 
  1. Descend as low as you comfortably can, ideally until your glutes are just above the ground, and your standing thigh is parallel to the ground. 
  1. Pause briefly at the bottom position, then push through your standing heel to rise back up to the starting position. 
  1. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions on each leg, maintaining control and stability throughout the movement. 

Common Pistol Squat Form Mistakes 

To perform the Pistol Squat effectively and safely, it’s important to avoid common form mistakes. Here are some common pitfalls to watch out for: 

Leaning Forward: Avoid leaning too far forward during the Pistol Squat. Maintain an upright posture to engage your core and ensure proper alignment throughout the movement. 

Lifting the Heel: Keep your heel firmly planted on the ground throughout the exercise. Lifting the heel can compromise your balance and reduce the effectiveness of the movement. 

Loss of Control: Maintain control throughout the entire range of motion. Avoid rushing or bouncing out of the squat position. Focus on smooth, controlled movements to maximize the benefits and reduce the risk of injury. 

How to Add the Pistol Squat to Your Workouts 

Start with Proper Warm-Up: Begin your workout with a dynamic warm-up to prepare your muscles and joints. Focus on movements that target the lower body, such as lunges, leg swings, and hip circles. 

Choose Your Repetition Range: Determine the number of repetitions you want to perform per set based on your fitness level. Beginners may start with 3-5 repetitions per leg, while more advanced individuals can aim for 8-10 repetitions or more. 

Set Up for Success: Find a clear space with enough room for your movement. You may also want to have a support nearby, such as a chair or wall, to assist with balance until you gain more strength and stability. 

Perform Your Sets: Incorporate the Pistol Squat into your leg or full-body workouts. Start with one or two sets initially and gradually increase the volume as you become more comfortable and stronger. 

When to Do the Pistol Squat 

The Pistol Squat can be performed on its own or as part of a leg or full-body training session. Here are a few scenarios where you can include this exercise: 

Strength Training: Include the Pistol Squat as a compound movement in your lower body strength routine. It can serve as an alternative or addition to exercises like squats, lunges, or step-ups. 

Functional Training: Since the Pistol Squat challenges balance and stability, it’s ideal for functional training. Incorporate it into workouts that mimic real-life movements, such as lifting and carrying objects or climbing stairs. 

Cross-Training: If you’re involved in activities like running, cycling, or team sports, the Pistol Squat can complement your training. It strengthens muscles that may not be fully engaged during your primary activity, improving overall performance and reducing the risk of imbalances or injuries. 

The Pistol Squat Progression Plan  

First Progression  

  • Use a support, such as a chair or wall, to assist with balance. 
  • Lower yourself down as far as you can while keeping control. 
  • Push through the supporting leg to stand back up. 

Second Progression  

  • Sit onto a box or bench with one leg extended. 
  • Push through the other leg to stand up. 
  • Control your descent back onto the box. 

Third Progression  

  • Hold a weight in front of you at chest level to counterbalance the movement. 
  • Perform the Pistol Squat with control and maintain proper form. 

Fourth Progression  

  • Lower only as far as you can maintain control and proper form. 
  • Gradually increase your range of motion over time. 

Fifth Progression  

  • Perform the Pistol Squat with the extended leg hovering above the ground. 
  • Lower down until your glutes are close to the ground. 
  • Push through the standing leg to return to the starting position. 

Sixth Progression  

Once you can perform a full Pistol Squat, add resistance by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell. 

Gradually increase the weight as your strength improves. 

5 Pistol Squat Modifications 

1. Master Regular Squats First 

Before attempting the Pistol Squat, it’s essential to master regular squats. Regular squats help develop the foundational strength and mobility required for the Pistol Squat. Focus on squatting with proper form, engaging your core, and maintaining balance throughout the movement. 

2. Pistol Squat to Chair With Support 

This modification helps you develop strength and stability while using a support system. Begin by standing in front of a chair or elevated surface. Use your hands lightly on the chair for balance as you lower yourself into a Pistol Squat position. Push through your standing leg to return to the starting position. 

3. Pistol Squat to Chair 

Once you’re comfortable with the previous modification, remove the support of your hands. Instead, lightly tap the chair with your glutes at the bottom of the squat before rising back up. This modification challenges your control and stability throughout the movement. 

4. Negative Pistol Squat 

Focus on the lowering phase of the Pistol Squat in this modification. Begin in the top position of the Pistol Squat and slowly lower yourself down as far as you can with control. Use your hands or a support if needed to assist in standing back up. This modification helps build eccentric strength and control. 

5. Pistol Squat With Counter Weight 

Hold a weight, such as a dumbbell or kettlebell, in front of your chest to counterbalance your body weight. This modification assists with balance and stability, making the Pistol Squat more accessible. Gradually decrease the weight as you gain strength and improve your form. 

Benefits of the Pistol squat 

Great Movement Quality Assessment 

Hold a weight, such as a dumbbell or kettlebell, in front of your chest to counterbalance your body weight. This modification assists with balance and stability, making the Pistol Squat more accessible. Gradually decrease the weight as you gain strength and improve your form. 

Builds Ankle Strength And Mobility 

Performing Pistol Squats requires substantial ankle strength and mobility. This exercise helps strengthen the muscles around the ankles, improving stability and reducing the risk of ankle sprains. It also enhances ankle mobility, allowing for better range of motion during various activities. 

Improves Balance, Coordination, And Proprioception 

The Pistol Squat challenges your balance and coordination since it’s a unilateral exercise. It enhances your body’s ability to maintain stability and control during single-leg movements. Additionally, it improves proprioception, the sense of your body’s position in space, leading to better overall body awareness. 

Builds Muscle In A Functional Way 

The Pistol Squat targets multiple muscle groups simultaneously, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core. It stimulates muscle growth and strength development in a functional manner, mimicking real-life movements. This translates to improved performance in various sports and activities. 

The Benefits of the Pistol Squat for Runners 

Single-Leg Strength: The Pistol Squat strengthens your legs unilaterally, helping to address muscle imbalances and improve stability. This is particularly beneficial for runners who rely on single-leg movements during their sport. 

Improved Balance and Coordination: The Pistol Squat challenges your balance and coordination as you stabilize your body on one leg. This translates to better stability and control during running, reducing the risk of injuries caused by imbalance or misalignment. 

Greater Leg Power: The Pistol Squat targets your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, which are key muscles for generating power during running. Strengthening these muscles through Pistol Squats can lead to improved speed and propulsion on the track or road. 

Core Engagement: The Pistol Squat requires significant core engagement to maintain balance and stability. This translates to better core strength, which is crucial for maintaining proper running form and preventing lower back pain. 

Muscles Worked by the Pistol Squat 

Quadriceps: The quadriceps, located at the front of your thighs, are heavily engaged during the Pistol Squat. They are responsible for extending the knee joint as you rise from the bottom position. 

Hamstrings: The hamstrings, situated at the back of your thighs, play a crucial role in controlling the descent and providing stability during the Pistol Squat. They work in conjunction with the quadriceps to balance the movement. 

Glutes: The gluteal muscles, including the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus, are highly activated during the Pistol Squat. They contribute to hip extension and help stabilize the pelvis throughout the exercise. 

Calves: The calf muscles, specifically the gastrocnemius and soleus, are involved in maintaining balance and stability during the Pistol Squat. They assist in ankle plantar flexion as you rise up from the bottom position. 

Core: Your core muscles, including the abdominals and spinal erectors, play a supportive role in the Pistol Squat. They help stabilize the spine and maintain an upright posture throughout the movement. 

Tips to Improve your Pistol Squats 

Tip #1: Warm-up Properly 

Before diving into Pistol Squats, it’s essential to warm up your body adequately. Perform dynamic movements that target the lower body, such as leg swings, hip circles, and bodyweight squats. This prepares your muscles, joints, and nervous system for the demands of the exercise. 

Tip #2: Work On Your Ankle Mobility 

Before diving into Pistol Squats, it’s essential to warm up your body adequately. Perform dynamic movements that target the lower body, such as leg swings, hip circles, and bodyweight squats. This prepares your muscles, joints, and nervous system for the demands of the exercise. 

Tip #3: Take Your Time Working On The Regression Exercises 

Progressing gradually is crucial when mastering the Pistol Squat. Start with the regression exercises mentioned earlier, such as Pistol Squats to a chair or assisted Pistol Squats. Focus on building strength, stability, and control at each stage before progressing to more advanced variations. 

Pistol Squat Variations 

Weighted Pistol Squats: Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in your hands or a weight plate against your chest to add resistance and increase the difficulty of the exercise. 

Elevated Pistol Squats: Perform Pistol Squats with your back foot elevated on a step or platform, increasing the range of motion and intensity. 

Plyometric Pistol Squats: Add an explosive element to your Pistol Squats by incorporating a jump at the top of the movement. This helps develop power and athleticism. 

Pistol Squat Alternatives 

Bulgarian Split Squats: This exercise focuses on single-leg strength and stability, similar to the Pistol Squat. It involves placing one foot on a raised surface behind you while performing a deep squat with the other leg. 

Step-ups: Step-ups engage the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, making them a great alternative to the Pistol Squat. Step onto a raised platform with one leg and bring the other leg up to a high-knee position. 

Lunges: Lunges are excellent for targeting the lower body muscles. Step forward or backward with one leg and lower your body until both knees are at 90-degree angles. 

Equipment Needed (If Any) 

Dumbbells or Kettlebells: Holding weights in your hands during Pistol Squats adds resistance and intensifies the exercise. 

Weighted Vest: Wearing a weighted vest can provide additional resistance, making the Pistol Squat more challenging and promoting strength development. 

Resistance Bands: Incorporating resistance bands around your thighs or ankles can help activate the muscles more effectively and add external resistance to the movement. 

Pistol Squat – FAQs 


What Are Pistol Squats Good For? 

Pistol squats are good for building for unilateral leg size and strength as well as improving ankle mobility.  

Can The Average Person Do A Pistol Squat? 

No, the average person cannot do a pistol squat. 

The pistol squat requires a base level of strength to perform even one repetition.  

Why Are Pistol Squats So Hard? 

Pistol squats are so hard because they require more strength and flexibility than most other exercises.  

Is Pistol Squat Advanced? 

Yes, the pistol squat is an advanced movement.

The average person cannot do a pistol squat, and even novice lifters can only do 1-3. 

Is The Pistol Squat A Bad Exercise?  

No, the pistol squat is not a bad exercise.  

Although, it does require a certain level of strength and flexibility to perform, so it might not be a good choice for beginner lifters.  

Who Is The Pistol Squat For?  

The pistol squat is for beginner lifters and above.  

It is great at building unilateral leg size and strength as well as improving ankle flex 

What Should I Do If I Can’t Do A Pistol Squat?  

If you can’t do a pistol squat, you can do traditional squats or sumo squats.  

Is The Pistol Squat Better Than a Back Squat? 

No, the pistol squat is not better than a back squat. 

The back squat is better for overall leg growth, but the pistol squat does win when it comes to ankle flexibility and unilateral development.  

Are Pistol Squats Hard? 

Yes, pistol squats are hard for beginners. 

It can take a while to even be able to perform one pistol squat.  

Are Pistol Squats Bad For Knees? 

When done correctly, pistol squats are not bad for knees. 

However, with improper form, they can contribute to knee issues and pain.  

So, do you think you will include the pistol squat into your routine?  

If so, you might just be making an incredible decision.  

As long as you follow everything we have told you in this article, you are good to go.  

If you would like more content revolving around fitness, be sure to check out MovingForwards

See you next time! 

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