Pistol Squats – A Beginner’s Guide

pistol squats

There’s a reason that the pistol squat is often described as ‘king of all exercises’. This single exercise targets the nervous system, lower-body muscles and your core all at once.

It is also highly effective at improving balance and stability – vital components of functional fitness.

So, what is a pistol squat and how do you do it?

What is a Pistol Squat?

A pistol squat is a one legged squat, whereby the lifted leg is straightened in front of the body.

There are a number of variations to the standard squat. 2 of our recent blog articles discuss the benefits of the hindu squat and the Asian squat – both great for over 50’s.

The single-leg squat is similar to the pistol squat– but shouldn’t be confused with the pistol squat. Both do involve a squat on one leg, but the latter requires a lower position whereby your hamstring rests on your calf and your other leg is straight out in front of you (for the single-leg squat, it does not matter what your front leg is doing).

Both the pistol squat and other single leg squat variations are great exercises and worth including in your exercise routine. For this article, our focus is on the pistol squat and helping you get started with this highly acclaimed exercise!

How To Do a Pistol Squat

Pistol squats are quite an advanced movement, so it’s likely it will take a bit of practice. We’ve outlined 4 key steps to follow below:

Step 1: Lift One Leg Off the Ground

Stand straight, with your arms out in front of you and lift one foot off the ground around 45 degrees from your body.

Step 2. Lower Body and Straighten Raised Leg

Slowly lower your body into a squat (go as far as your body will let you). Whilst doing this, straighten your lifted leg out in front of you. The lifted leg should be straight as you reach the bottom of the squat. Hold the position for a second.

Step 3. Raise Back Up

Slowly raise yourself back into the starting position so that your raised leg returns to a 45 degree angle from your body. Make sure your heel never leaves the ground whilst doing this.

Step 4. Repeat on Other Leg

Repeat with the other leg. The number of repetitions is really down to you understanding your body. Two or three sets of five with a break in between each set may be a good starting point but make sure you start small so as not to over exert yourself and cause injury.

Pistol Squats Progression

Given the level of challenge a pistol squat places on many aspects of your body, it may well be worth building up certain areas before you dive straight in or consider using supporting items initially.

Examples include; a pole or stable object (to hold onto for balance), box (to squat onto) or an assist band around your waist (to lesson the intensity of your body weight).

Suspension trainers (e.g. TRX trainers) are also a really good way to ease progression. By holding onto the suspension trainers, you can also use your upper body to help balance and lift yourself up. This can help initially when you are just getting started with the movement.

The video below also highlights some exercises that will help get you ready for pistol squats.

3 Benefits of Pistol Squats

Muscular Balance

Sitting at a desk job for long periods of time, bad posture and repetitive strain injuries can create significant muscular imbalances. What’s more, some exercises such as a regular squat may unintentionally emphasise an imbalance as they allow your dominant side to compensate for your weaker side. With the pistol squat you are practising a unilateral movement whereby each leg is worked individually so that you develop a symmetry of strength and balance through both legs and sides of your body.

Strengthened Leg and Core Muscles

Of course, the pistol squat develops leg strength but in order to maintain your balance you are also building up tremendous core strength and good posture alignment. Core strength can have huge benefits for daily activities, such as putting your shoes on as well as other exercises or sports. You may even find yourself developing rock hard abs!

Neurological Connectivity

Due to the intensity of a pistol squat, it is very difficult for your mind to wonder elsewhere (if it does, you may well lose your balance!). As a result, you are likely to improve your sense of body awareness and the neurological connectivity between your mind and muscles can grow stronger.

Getting Started with Pistol Squats

Pistol squats are challenging but they are highly effective for improving functional movement, balance and lower body mobility.

This makes them the perfect exercise for improving fitness over 50 and creating strength that enables better movement in all aspects of life.

Related articles:

Prehab Exercises and Workouts

Calisthenics Equipment Kit List

Frog Squats – How to do, Benefits and Muscles Worked