A pistol squat, also known as a one-legged or single leg squat, is an advanced bodyweight exercise where you squat using only one leg. This move requires few steps but can be difficult to achieve at first. If you are struggling with balance or muscle strength, try progressing slowly to the full range of motion by practicing with a box or a bar. If you have mastered the basic pistol squat, you can move on to a more difficult version.
EditDoing a Basic Pistol Squat
- Lift one foot off the floor. Stand with your back straight. Stretch your arms straight out in front of you for balance, and lift one foot off the ground. Your leg should be about 45 degrees away from your body. This is the starting position.
- Always keep the toes of the standing leg straight. Do not turn your toes to the right or left of your body.
- Lower yourself into a squat. With your standing leg, slowly lower yourself into a squat. Go as far as your body will let you. As you do this, straighten your lifted leg in front of you. When you reach the bottom of the squat, the lifted leg should be straight in front of you off the ground. Hold this for a second.
- Make sure that the knee of your supporting leg does not extend past the toes of your supporting leg.
- Raise yourself back to starting position. Lift yourself back up by standing on the working leg. Go slowly so that you can maintain your balance. As you lift yourself, return the raised leg to a 45 degree angle relative to the rest of your body.
- Your heel should never leave the ground as you raise yourself. You should be extending through your leg and pressing through the heel. If your heel does keep lifting off the ground, try placing a weight plate underneath it. This will help you press down through your heels instead of through your toes.
- Repeat. Do two or three sets of five to ten reps of pistol squats. Rest for a minute or two between sets. Do not do too many pistol squats or you may cause injury to your knees.
- You may want to start small with this exercise. You do not want to cause injury by overexerting yourself too soon. Start with two sets of five and work your way up to three sets of ten.
EditDecreasing the Difficulty
- Practice normal squats first. If you have difficulty with two legged squats, you may not be ready to do a full pistol squat. Make sure that you can do at least twenty two-legged squats without a problem before progressing to this move.
- To do a normal squat, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and lower your body as though you are about to sit in a chair.
- Squat onto a chair. Instead of lowering yourself towards the ground, place a chair beneath your body. When you lower yourself, squat down onto the seat and raise yourself again. This will help you build leg strength without hurting yourself.
- You can also use a stool or box if you need to squat higher or lower. Gradually lower the height of the seat until you are comfortable and stable going into a full squat.
- Hold onto a stable object. If you’re having trouble keeping balance while doing a pistol squat, you can hold onto a pole, doorframe, barre, or other fixed object to keep you stable through the exercise. Face the pole or frame. As you lower yourself, hold onto it for balance. Your standing leg should still be doing most of the work.
- Use a counterweight. Use a dumbbell or kettlebell that weighs between ten or fifteen pounds. Hold it in front of you with your arms straight as you lower yourself. Once you are comfortable with the movement, progress gradually to smaller and smaller weights until you do not need a counterweight at all.
- Strengthen your vastus medialis muscles. If you find yourself consistently falling from one side to another, you may need to work out your upper leg muscles around the knee. Some exercises you can do include:
- Step-ups: face a bench while holding a dumbbell in either hand. Step up onto the bench, then step back down.
- Split squats: stagger your stance with one foot forward and one foot back. Raise the back leg, and lower yourself into a squat. Raise yourself up again.
- Leg extensions: at the gym, find a leg extension machine. Place your feet beneath the pads, and grasp the handle bars. Raise your legs but keep the rest of your body still.
- Barefoot pistol squats: practice the pistol squat without wearing shoes or socks. This will help your foot grip the ground and build strength through your leg.
EditIncreasing the Difficulty
- Place your hands behind your back. If you have mastered the pistol squat with your hands in front of you, you should try clasping them behind your back instead.
- Start from the bottom. Using both legs, lower yourself into a traditional squat. Then try lifting one leg and stretching it straight in front of you before you raise yourself on the other leg.
- Jump. Lower yourself into the pistol squat, then push up with your standing leg to jump. Try doing a normal jump at first. Remain in place as you spring up. You can also try jumping sideways onto a box or bench.
- Be very careful with this move. Try to avoid jumping forward or backwards as you are likelier to injure yourself.
- This is a great move to do on leg day. Start with normal squats and progress to pistol squats.
- Always keep your chest straight when doing exercises like squats.
- Remember to breathe during exercise.
- Do not do too many reps or sets of this exercise, as this puts you at increased risk of a knee injury. You may only want to do this exercise every few weeks.
- Lifting your heels and raising yourself on your toes can cause a knee injury. Always keep your heels pressed to the ground.
- If you are feeling any kind of pain from this exercise, stop immediately and contact a doctor.