What Are Pistol Squats and How To Do Them

What Are Pistol Squats and How To Do Them

While it may appear straightforward at first glance, mastering the pistol squat requires a combination of flexibility, mobility, and raw strength. In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into what the pistol squat is, the muscles it targets, its myriad benefits, and how to execute it properly to reap its full rewards.

What Are Pistol Squats?

The pistol squat, also known as the one-legged squat, is a challenging lower body exercise that involves lowering your body down to a full squat position while balancing on one leg, with the other leg extended straight out in front of you. It requires significant strength in the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core, as well as stability and balance throughout the entire movement.

Muscles Worked

The pistol squat is a compound exercise that engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Here are the primary muscles worked during the pistol squat:

  1. Quadriceps: The muscles on the front of your thighs are heavily involved in extending your knee and powering you out of the squat position.

  2. Hamstrings: These muscles at the back of your thighs are engaged to stabilize your knee and control the descent as you lower into the squat.

  3. Glutes: Your gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus work together to provide stability and power throughout the movement.

  4. Core: Your core muscles, including the abdominals and obliques, play a crucial role in maintaining balance and stability during the pistol squat.

  5. Calves: The calf muscles help stabilize your ankle and foot, particularly during the descent and ascent phases of the exercise.

Benefits of Pistol Squats

Incorporating pistol squats into your workout routine can yield a multitude of benefits:

  1. Strength Development: Pistol squats are an excellent way to build strength in the lower body, particularly in muscles that are often neglected in traditional squat variations.

  2. Improved Balance and Stability: Balancing on one leg requires coordination and proprioception, leading to enhanced balance and stability.

  3. Functional Fitness: Since pistol squats mimic real-life movements like standing up from a seated position or climbing stairs, they help improve overall functional fitness.

  4. Increased Flexibility and Mobility: Performing pistol squats requires a good range of motion in the hips, knees, and ankles, leading to improved flexibility and mobility over time.

  5. Core Strength: The pistol squat demands significant core activation to maintain proper posture and balance, leading to a stronger and more stable core.

How to Do It Properly

Follow these steps to perform the pistol squat with proper form:

  1. Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart and arms extended in front of you for balance.

  2. Shift your weight onto one leg and extend the other leg straight out in front of you.

  3. Initiate the squat by pushing your hips back and bending your knee, lowering your body down as far as you can while keeping your chest upright and your extended leg off the ground.

  4. Keep your heel firmly planted on the ground and your knee tracking over your toes throughout the movement.

  5. Once you reach the bottom of the squat, pause briefly, then drive through your heel to return to the starting position.

  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps, then switch legs and repeat on the opposite side.

Remember to start with regressions or assistance if needed, such as holding onto a stable object for balance or performing partial range of motion squats, and gradually progress to full pistol squats as you build strength and stability.

Tips for Progression

Mastering the pistol squat is a journey that requires patience, dedication, and a strategic approach to progression. Here are some tips to help you advance from beginner to pistol squat pro:

  1. Start with Squat Variations: Before attempting pistol squats, focus on mastering basic squat variations such as bodyweight squats, goblet squats, and single-leg squats to build strength and familiarity with the movement pattern.

  2. Work on Mobility and Flexibility: Flexibility in the ankles, hips, and hamstrings is crucial for proper pistol squat form. Incorporate mobility exercises and stretches into your warm-up routine to improve range of motion in these key areas.

  3. Use Assistance: Begin by performing assisted pistol squats using a sturdy object for support, such as a door frame, TRX straps, or a resistance band anchored to a fixed point. Gradually decrease the amount of assistance as you gain strength and confidence.

  4. Focus on Eccentric Control: Emphasize the lowering (eccentric) phase of the pistol squat to build strength and control. Slowly lower yourself down under control, pausing briefly at the bottom before powering back up to the starting position.

  5. Practice Partial Reps: If you struggle with the full range of motion, practice partial range pistol squats by lowering yourself only halfway down and then returning to the top. As you get stronger, gradually increase the depth of your squats until you can perform full pistol squats with ease.

  6. Train Unilateral Strength: Incorporate unilateral exercises such as lunges, Bulgarian split squats, and step-ups into your training routine to improve strength and stability in each leg individually, which will translate to better pistol squat performance.

  7. Use Progressive Overload: Continuously challenge your muscles by gradually increasing the difficulty of your pistol squat variations. This can be done by adding weight with a dumbbell or kettlebell held at chest level, or by performing pistol squats on an elevated surface to increase the range of motion.

  8. Be Patient and Persistent: Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is mastery of the pistol squat. Progress may be slow and incremental, but with consistent practice and patience, you'll steadily inch closer to your goal of performing flawless pistol squats.

By following these tips and tailoring your progression to your individual abilities and goals, you'll be well on your way to conquering the pistol squat and unlocking the full potential of your lower body strength and athleticism


In conclusion, the pistol squat is a challenging yet rewarding exercise that offers a host of benefits for strength, balance, and overall fitness. By incorporating this dynamic movement into your workout routine and practicing proper form, you can unlock new levels of lower body strength and athleticism. So, lace up your shoes, brace your core, and embark on the journey to mastering the pistol squat—one rep at a time.

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The SBD Powerlifting Knee Sleeves

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