Advanced Pistol Squatting

The pistol squat is a challenging exercise, but with consistent practice, it can become relatively easy. Once you can do 10 repetitions on each leg, you should try adding a new challenge.

My two favorite ways to do this are by bringing weights into the picture or adding a balance component. If you want to use weights, I recommend kettlebells, but dumbbells or barbells can also be effective. Start by holding the weight in front of you in the rack position. Once you get that down, you can try holding a weight overhead during a pistol squat.

If you choose to add a balance element to your pistol training, start by standing on a bosu ball or a half foam roller. For an extra challenge, you can try a pistol while standing on a bar.

Once you are ready to try a one legged squat on a bar, you’ll need to practice catching yourself so you can land safely if you lose your balance. For this reason, it is best to begin practicing with a low bar. Knowing how to bail out of a botched attempt without getting hurt is essential before trying a pistol squat on a high bar.

Attempting an exercise like a pistol squat on top of an 8 foot high bar might sound crazy, but with gradual progression it doesn’t have to be risky. Build your confidence little by little and you might find that the ability to overcome your fears on the bars will carry over into the rest of your life. When you find yourself doing things you once thought impossible, remember that our only limits are the ones we impose on ourselves.

Watch the video below for more:

21 thoughts on “Advanced Pistol Squatting

  • By Mattman -

    I’ve been doing weighted squats with my kettlebell recently, but I’ve been holding it by the horns. I shall have to try it in the rack position next time :)
    I’ve done pistols on rails before too, but on the square ones, I will have to try them on rounded ones.
    I commend you good sir 😀

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Matt! There are lots of ways to hold KB’s – it’s good to mix it up. Remember to start on a low bar and practice catching yourself when you lose your balance before you try it up high.

  • By Christine -

    This is awesome.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Christine!

  • By Luca -

    Hey Al, it seems like you are always up for a challenge and here it is: have you ever tried to do a pistol on a kettlebell handle? very challenging…

    cheers

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      I have not tried that yet, Luca – perhaps I will later today!

  • By Ilan Vardi -

    I used to do this exercise, it was great and is probably the single most useful exercise to help in roller skating. However, in 2007 I hurt my back and never fully recovered though core strengthening and posture work has managed to minimize it. Anyway, I did one of these with a 10lb weight and had an “incident” in my lower back (though the weight actually helps your balance). It seems that it is impossible to do this while keeping a neutral spine, I videotaped myself doing it while holding a bar overhead (which forces better posture) and saw that my back straightened up slightly (lost the natural curve). Now, I mostly do overhead squats, since these ensure good back form and work balance and the core.

    I think I lost leg strength from not doing them, but this Fall I started riding Velib (free Paris 50lb. bikes) up steep Paris hills like Montmartre (cobblestones add to the resistance) while keeping seated on the bike, and just as an experiment could do 5 of them easily, whereas I had trouble doing just 1 before.

    Just my own personal experience, you mileage may vary. Thanks again for your inspiring messages!

    -ilan

    I recall other people commenting on pistols for people with sensitive lower backs.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      You’re right – it is virtually impossible to maintain a neutral spine at the bottom of a pistol. However, since you wouldn’t do this exercise with a barbell on your back, I don’t think its anything to worry about. If you want to add weight to a pistol you have to hold it in front (or overhead), which doesn’t load the spine in the same way.

      I’ve been doing pistols for almost a decade and I’ve haven’t had any issues from them, but I wouldn’t recommend this exercise for someone with a sensitive lower back.

      • By Ilan Vardi -

        It’s true that the one leg squat is a great leg exercise, you work the legs unilaterally and put as much stress as regular squats with decent weight (which I would never risk). I learned about them from roller skating by reading this article from speed skating guru Eddy Matzger: http://www.skatecentral.com/custom/citysports/access.to.speed.html Like him, I don’t go down all the way (a** to the gra**) because I don’t see the functionality for my applications (though I agree it is a nice exercise for its own sake), I put a chair or bench as an “out” in case something in my leg is about to fail.

        Like I said, I’m extra careful with my back, check out my form: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfsWaRppeuo

        -ilan

        • By Al Kavadlo -

          Hey Ilan – nice doggie deadlifts. I was expecting to see some pistols though!

          Anyway, you should check out my other pistol squat tutorial in which I explain the proper progression up to the full pistol squat: http://www.alkavadlo.com/2010/06/pistol-squat-tutorial/

          • By Ty -

            Doggy pistols: my mission is clear. I wonder if building up to the required weight using dumbbell goblet squats would be useful.

          • By Al Kavadlo -

            How much does your dog weigh?

          • By Ty -

            Not sure example, probably around 60lbs. I have a 66lb bag of soil so I think I’d work up to that first because she doesn’t stay still for the 2-legged versions.

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  • By Stiliyan -

    I can do a pistol squat easily but i squat on my toes because i have trouble squating on my whole foot. Any ideas why is that and how can i fix it?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      If your heel comes up during a pistol squat it could be due to a lack of flexibility and/or strength in your hamstrings and/or lower back.  Continuing to do them the way that you are may cause pain or injury to your knees and/or ankles.  Check out my basic pistol squat tutorial to see how I teach people to progress to a full pistol squat with proper form:  http://www.alkavadlo.com/2010/06/pistol-squat-tutorial/

  • By Anonymous -

    Exercise is the best way to get fast relief form lower back pain, so if you relief your pain that should some important exercises for lower back pain.

  • By Maryland173 -

    awesome job !!!! Glad you reposted this

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks!  Glad you liked it!

  • By Brian John -

    hey Al, I was wondering if you have any advice on hamstring flexibility, because it is really bothering me that I can’t get that leg fully extended in the bottom position!

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