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The pistol squat is one of those moves that makes people go, “how in the world do you do that?!”
As fancy as it looks, it’s really all about balance and strength! It’s definitely a worthy goal to work towards, as it not only increases leg strength in leaps and bounds, but also helps to iron out an imbalances between sides. So if you notice that one leg is physically stronger than another, isolating each side with a move like the pistol squat is a great way to create that muscular symmetry.
Now, when we say that the pistol squat is a worthy goal to work towards, we mean exactly that – you have to work towards it! If you had never run before in your life, you wouldn’t exactly tackle a marathon, would you? This is the same concept. Pistol squats require a lot of leg strength, so build up to it and enjoy the journey! Trying to start off with a full-form pistol squat can cause injury if not done correctly. That being said, here’s how to drop it like a pistol squat!
1. Use a bench
Start off by using a bench to help facilitate the movement. Take a seat and bring your heels close to the bench. Lift one leg up off the ground, straightening it in front of your body. Pressing into the opposite heel, stand on up! Master about 5-10 of the bench pistol squats on each leg before moving on to the next step.
2. Get an assistant
After you’ve mastered the bench progression, move on to the next stop. Position yourself in front of a pole, or something you can grab to help yourself stand up. From a standing position, place your hands lightly on the pole and raise one foot off the ground, extending the straight leg. Lower down on your supporting foot, pressing through the heel and keeping your hands on the pole to guide you down. Gently pull on the pole to bring yourself back up to standing. Master about 5-10 of the assisted pistol squats on each leg before moving to the next progression.
3. Get higher
Once you’ve got the assisted pistol squat down, it’s time to step it up. Literally. Using a bench or platform, stand with one foot on the bench and let the other leg hang off the side, keeping it nice and straight. Keeping good balance, lower down on your standing leg, letting the other leg hang down further and remain vertical. Press back up on the supporting leg. Master about 5-10 of the elevated pistol squats on each leg before moving to the next progression.
4. Add weight
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Add weight to a move that you can’t even do yet? Ironically, yes. Adding weight to a pistol squat helps to counterbalance the movement, meaning that it’s more even on both sides, rather than having all of your body weight above your heel and nothing in front of you. Grab a 10-15 lb plate and, as you lower down into a pistol squat on one leg, keeping the other extending in front of you. Extend your arms out in front so that the weight is at chest level as you reach the bottom of the movement. Press back up through the heel. Master about 5-10 of the counterweight pistol squat on each leg before moving to the next progression.
5. Heels up
We’re getting closer! After getting the counterweight pistol squat mastered, the next step is to elevate the heel of the supporting foot. Use a 25 lb plate, rolled up towel, yoga block or whatever you have on hand! Step your supporting heel on to the plate and straighten your other leg on an angle in front of you. This helps to alleviate some of the ankle flexibility needed for the full pistol squat, which means you can get down and up a little bit easier. Still pressing through the heel, lower your body down by bending at the knee and stand back up. Master about 5-10 of the elevated heel pistol squat on each leg before moving to the next progression.
6. Ready, aim, fire!
Let’s shoot off some pistol squats! After you’ve completed all of the progressions and feel comfortable in your understanding of the movement, let’s go for it! Remember to maintain proper form and be aware of your body. These movements require some serious leg strength, so great job on building up to it! Now get yourself dressed and take those skills to the gym!