What is a pistol squat? And why should you be doing them? Getting into shape and looking good takes a lot of work. If you want to work on your glutes, there are specific exercises that target this area of the body. Pistol squats are ideal for building and toning the glute muscles. They also help to correct muscular imbalances and improve your coordination. Pistol squats, also known as unilateral squats, are considered one of the most challenging bodyweight exercises. To do them correctly you need to have adequate balance, flexibility, and upper body strength. You’ll need to be completely aware of your body as you use your leg strength and hip mobility to squat on one leg with the other extending out in front of you.1
Doing a full pistol squat takes time to master. You’ll need to practice and work through the proper progression, moving though the steps – from doing simple squats to a complete pistol squat.
In this article you’ll learn how to do a pistol squat correctly without risking injury to your knees or back. You’ll also find out what the benefits are when you include this exercise in your workout routine.
Pistol Squat Progression
The pistol squat is an extreme and advanced exercise. Before you move right into doing these squats, you need to be sure that your body is ready, otherwise you risk overloading your knee joints. To avoid injury and to build up strength so you’re doing pistol squats correctly, it’s highly recommended that you break the squat down into these progressions:
1. Bodyweight squat – Before even attempting a pistol squat, you should be able to do at least 30 bodyweight squats. Begin with your stance at shoulder-width, working towards standing with your hips over your feet.
2. Bodyweight squat with feet together– Once you’re able to do bodyweight squats with a narrow stance, work on doing 30 bodyweight squats with your feet together.
3. Assisted pistol squat– While holding on to a chair, bench, or the wall, squat down and stick out one leg. Hold the position for a few minutes. Then switch legs. Do up to 15 repetitions for each side. This progression helps you work on gaining a full range of motion. You may still not have the balance or the strength to do the movement of a full squat, but the assisted pistol squat is your tool for getting there.
4. Elevated pistol squat– Doing elevated pistol squats helps you build up strength in your legs. You’ll need this strength so that you can move from the lower position of the squat and push yourself back to standing. To do an elevated pistol squat, stand on a box with one leg hanging off the side. Keep the other leg flat on the box. Keeping full control of your movement, and with your weight supported by the leg you have on the box, slowly move the other leg up. This movement will improve your balance and increase your strength.
5. Full pistol squat – Once you feel you’ve mastered the previous four progressions, you’re ready for a full pistol squat. Make sure to use your arms for balance. Lower down as much as you can while still keeping your balance and body in alignment, almost as if you’re going to sit down in a chair. Push back up through your heel. Do pistol squats slowly and with control.
There are two variations on the pistol squat.
Weighted pistol squats are another way to build strength and balance. These pistols using a weight are easier than bodyweight pistols. This is because when you’re holding the weight you have something to counter-balance your own body weight. You’ll be able to sit back sooner and move the weight towards the heel. As well, with a weighted pistol squat, your knee won’t have to move forward as much because you’ll be able to sit back a bit more.
Another variation of the pistol squat is the TRX pistol squat. TRX is all about suspension weight training using a suspension trainer for support. This method of training is particularly beneficial for older adults. Using the trainer to do pistol squats makes the exercise easier to perform. Holding onto the handles provides you with the balance you need to lift one leg off the ground and bend down to the squat.3
Pistol Squat Benefits
As well as getting your body into shape and helping you look good, doing pistol squats comes with some other benefits. When you’re doing intensive exercises such as pistol squats, it’s easier for your body to build strength when it’s producing enough testosterone. Supporting testosterone production is easier with natural supplements like HF Delta Prime. It’s also important that you eat right and provide your body with all the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.2
Here are the five main benefits of doing pistol squats:
1. Moving equal loads with both legs – The pistol squat focuses on one limb movement, so it’s considered to be a unilateral exercise. You need to move your weight to one side of your body, which results in isolation of the muscles. Each leg is worked out individually, so you build up an equal amount of balance, strength, and equilibrium through both legs.
2. Improve balance and body awareness – Not only do pistol squats strengthen and shape your glutes, they help improve your balance so that you become more aware of your body. You need to focus the center weight of your body as your weight shifts down into the squat. It may seem like a small thing, but balance helps your core stabilization as well as your coordination in your daily activities, reducing your risk of injuries.4
3. Strengthen core and abs – Even though pistol squats are heavily focused on your legs, they also help to strengthen your core and abs. This is because in order to do a pistol squat, you need to use your core support and keep your posture in a straight alignment, so you can keep your balance. When you have a strong core, you’ll be able to perform better throughout your workout routine.
4. Condition the muscles – Another benefit of doing pistol squats is that it conditions numerous muscles in the body. Many top athletes use these squats to condition their body and get ready for competition. The squat helps to develop the coordination and flexibility of your leg muscles. It also helps to build up endurance. Not only do pistol squats provide a good workout for your legs, they also help work out your calves, hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps. Lastly, the pistol squat uses other muscles, such as your lower and upper abs, and your biceps.
5. Correct imbalances in the muscles – Squats help you improve muscular imbalances. They can be particularly helpful if you work in an office and are sitting down at your desk all day. Sitting for long periods of time can be hard on your hip muscles. Pistol squats build up the muscles in external hip rotators. Another cause of muscle imbalance is repetitive strain injuries. When you do squats regularly your balance improves, your lower body is strengthened, and your hip rotators become more flexible.
- 1DeForest, BA. & Cantrell, GS. (2014). Muscle Activity in Single- vs. Double-Leg Squats. Int J Exerc Sci. 7(4): 302-310. Retrieved on December 13, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4831851/
- 2Tsujimura, A. (2013). The Relationship between Testosterone Deficiency and Men’s Health. World J Mens Health. 31(2): 126.135. Retrieved on December 13, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3770847/
- 3Gaedtke, A. & Morat, T. (2015). TRX Suspension Training: A New Functional Training Approach for Older Adults. Int J Exerc Sci. 8(3): 224-233. Retrieved on December 13, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27182415
- 4Bruno, P. (2014). The use of “stabilization exercises” to affect neuromuscular control in the lumbopelvic region: a narrative review. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 58(2): 119-130. Retrieved on December 13, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4025082/