The pistol (aka one-legged) squat is one of the more advanced movements available to use at the gym, or anywhere really (that's actually one of the reasons we love it). But if the thought of doing one sounds a little on the iffy-side, we're sharing plenty of ways to practice them safely—but not before explaining why they're worth it.
You May Also Like: A Strong Core = A Solid Body: How Often Should You Work Out Your Middle?
5 Reasons Why We Love Pistol Squats
1) They're excellent for building up core and leg strength.
The move's inherent asymmetry challenges all those small stabilizing muscles in a way that a regular squat just can't. Plus, one leg is doing the work of two.
Standing on one leg requires a great deal of balance, especially when attempting to move through a great range of motion such as a full depth squat.
We need great mobility in our hips and ankles in order to squat safely, but most of us are lacking in range of motion at one or both of these areas. Pistols and their progressions are excellent for addressing these movement restrictions.
4) Challenge your central nervous system.
Aside from challenging your balance, pistols also challenge your coordination (the ability to use multiple body parts efficiently and smoothly) and proprioception (the ability to sense joint movement and position), both of which are essential components to a healthy neuromuscular system.
5) Do them anywhere, anytime.
We love challenging, equipment-free, bodyweight movements like pistol squats because, as mentioned, they can be done either at home or at the gym...or at the park...or in a hotel room....This gives you the opportunity to workout even when getting to the gym isn't feasible for your day's schedule.
How to Do a Pistol Squat (Plus Some Great Ideas for Progressions)
Here's a basic run down on how to do a full pistol:
- Start in a standing position.
- Shift your weight completely onto your right leg while holding your left leg out in front of you (the goal is to keep your left foot off the ground the entire time).
- Reach your arms forward as a counterbalance, then bend your right knee and sink your hips down and back. Be sure to keep your right heel down on the floor and your knee directly over your foot (don't let it cave in).
- Go until the crease of your hip passes your knee (breaks the parallel plane), then stand back up.
If strength, mobility, or even a past injury is preventing you from doing a full pistol squat just yet, try working through the following projections instead (this link offers a few helpful visuals). Just be sure to find the one that's the right mix of challenging and safe for you, given your current ability level.
- Squat to a target, like a chair or bench, and progressively make the target shorter
- Hold onto a sturdy post and "walk" your hands down and up as you squat
- Stand on a step or box (this allows you to hold your lifted leg a little lower)
- Put a small lift (such as a change plate or folded up yoga mat) under your right heel
- Hold a light dumbbell or kettlebell in front of you with straight arms as a helpful counterweight
So, lace up your sneakers and give this single-leg squat a go, and be sure to share in the comments with information about how it went!