Pistol Squat Progressions and Modifications

Pistol Squat Progressions Demonstration:



The pistol squat is a single leg squat and it requires a tremendous amount of leg strength, balance, and flexibility. When performing a pistol squat you are supporting your entire body weight through a full squat. It works your hips, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. In addition to working the legs, pistol squats challenge the core. It is an advanced movement so it may take some time to build up the strength to be able to perform one. Here are some progressions and modifications for the pistol squat:

  • Reverse lunge descent with support: Slide your non-squatting leg backwards into a reverse lunge. Keep your toes in contact with the ground for support.
  • Reverse lunge descent without support: Similar to the previous progression, but on this drill, keep your non-squatting leg off of the ground so that you are controlling the descent during the entire movement.
  • Bottom-up box/bench pistol: Air squat down to a bench or a box. Once you have sat down to the box, lift one leg off of the ground and stand up on one leg. Make sure you stand up to full extension with the shoulders over the hips before you bring your other foot down
  • Top-down box/bench pistol: From a standing position, lift one leg up and sit down to a box or bench. Keep your heel of your non-squatting leg off of the ground. Push off of the heel of your squatting leg and stand to full extension. The box or bench height should be at or slightly above or below parallel.
  • Assisted pistol using an upright: Use an upright post from a rack or a rig to assist you in the descent and ascent of the pistol. Start in a standing position, and lift one foot off of the ground. As you descend, scale the upright with your hands so that your arms are directly out in front of your body. Scale your hands back up the upright as you ascend to the starting position. Make sure you stand to full extension before your non-squatting foot comes back to the ground. Only use as much assistance as needed. As you develop strength, rely more on your legs rather than your arms holding you up.
  • Box/bench standing pistol: This will allow you to perform a single leg squat from an elevated position, which allows your foot to reach below the surface you are standing on. Stand on a box or a bench and let your leg hang down 45-degrees. While you are going through a full range of motion on the squatting leg, you do not need to worry about keeping the non-squatting foot off of the ground
  • Counter-balance pistol: Use a lightweight plate, dumbbell, or kettle bell to counter balance the pistol during the squat. Extend the weight straight out with the arms as you descend. In the bottom position, pull the plate in and put your second foot down for support before standing up. As you get stronger practice leaving the arms extended, and then practice standing up just on one leg (unassisted)
  • Band assisted pistol: Hook up a band to an elevated horizontal bar where you can wear the band like a harness or backpack (underneath the armpits). Make sure you have the proper tension on the band. Too much tension will pull you around, and too little tension may not allow you to get out of the bottom position.

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A pistol squat is a very challenging movement but it has benefits that can translate into strength and performance. It helps to improve balance and coordination, as well as joint mobility and stability. In sports that involve bounding, jumping, and cutting (quick change of direction) this unilateral movement can make you more explosive. Although it is an advanced movement there are progressions that you can use to build up to learning how to perform a pistol squat without assistance. These modifications allow you to work at your own pace and mimic the movement at your skill level.

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