How To Do The Pistol Squat

Pistol squat
(Image credit: Unknown)

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It is testament to the squat’s effectiveness that there are so many widely practised variations of the exercise. Of all those variations, the pistol squat stands out as the toughest unweighted squat exercise, testing your strength, stability and mobility to the max.

If you’re not already an accomplished single-leg or split squatter, then it’s best to start with those exercises rather than go straight into a full pistol squat. Along with building up your leg strength it’s worth working on your hip and ankle mobility before you try the full pistol squat, because no matter how powerful your legs are, you won’t be able to adopt the pistol position without flexibility in those areas.

Sporty types in particular will benefit from adding the pistol squat to their fitness routine, assuming the sport involved requires a lot of running (darts players don’t really need to bother). Working on one leg in this way mimics the movement of running and will both increase your power and help make you more resistant to injuries.

How To Do A Pistol Squat

Stand on one leg with the other held straight out in front of you. Slowly lower into a deep squat, keeping the airborne leg straight. In the bottom position of the exercise the hamstring on your standing leg should be touching your calf, with the other leg extended parallel to the ground. Once you’ve reached the pistol position, pause for a second, and then push back up by driving through your heel. What you do with your arms during the exercise is up to you, but it’s wise to hold them out in front of you to help you balance when you are new to the exercise. Once you become a pistol master you can keep your arms against your chest or even hold a weight of some kind.

Pistol Squat Variations

TRX pistol squat

TRX pistol squat

(Image credit: Unknown)

Using a TRX (or any brand of suspension trainer) adds some assistance, helping you to maintain your balance in particular, so use this variation as a handy stepping stone if you’re struggling with the full movement. Use the short straps and stand holding the handles of the suspension trainer ensuring there’s no slack in the straps. Lower on one leg, lifting the other so it points straight out in front of you. Go as low as you can, using the handles to help you balance, and then push back up to standing, using your arms as little as possible.

Box pistol squat

This is another exercise that works as a stepping stone to a full pistol squat, and you can vary the difficulty by raising or lowering the height of your box – the higher it is, the easier the move. Stand on one leg with the box behind you. Lower into the squat, raising your other leg out in front of you, until you touch the box with your bum, then push back up to standing.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.