Pistol squats provide a great way for street workout and calisthenics athletes to get a good leg workout without the need for adding additional weight.

What is a Pistol Squat?

A pistol squat is a deep, one-legged squat. The athlete balances on one leg and then extends their non weight bearing leg out in front of them. Keeping their balance, they then squat downwards while keeping the non weight bearing leg extended extended the whole time. It is a really good exercise for improving both balance and leg strength without the use of additional weights because one leg carries all of the body weight. One great advantage of this exercise over barbell squats is that there isn’t the stress to the back and spine which using a barbell causes.

Pistol squat guide

Muscles worked: Hips, calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteus maximus and other core muscles.

What is the proper technique?

  • Begin by standing on one leg with your toes pointing slightly outwards and ensuring that your knee points in the same direction as your middle toes.
  • Extend the other leg out in front of you and lean forward slightly keeping your back straight.
  • Put your arms out in front of you slightly to help balance and then slowly squat down on the one leg, keeping your heel pressed into the floor.
  • Continue this squat until you can’t go any further (where your hamstring touches your calf muscle)
  • At this point, keep your core muscles tight and use the strength in your leg to carefully squat back up, ensuring again that your knee remains in line with your toes and your back remains somewhat straight. It is important not to bounce up too quickly until you are sure your technique is very good.
  • Once you have returned to a standing position you can repeat the whole movement for repetitions.

Progressions: The pistol squat is not an easy exercise and requires some building up to for most people. You should begin with deep bodyweight squats and maybe even some weighted squats (e.g. using a kettlebell). It is important to be able to perform these so that you know that you have the required flexibility in your ankles and hips.

Then you can begin training directly for a pistol squat by attempting partial, negative pistol squats; for example, beginning to perform a pistol squat but only going so far as the point where you sit down onto a bench. When negatives become easy you can try squatting back up from a partial pistol squat position (i.e. back up off the bench).

Alternatively, you could try performing a full negative pistol squat while holding on to an object like an upright post or by using a resistance band which has been attached to an object in front of you. This will help you to balance and also take some of the weight too (depending on how hard you hold on to the supporting object). Again, when negatives become straightforward you can attempt a full pistol squat with a support and then finally without any support.