Best Bodyweight Exercises: Pistol Squat Progression

Up until about six months ago, I had never done a pistol squat in my life.  I thought that because I’m a ‘big guy’, because I’ve had two knee surgeries, and a whole host of other reasons, pistols weren’t for me …

Long story short – I was wrong!  The pistol is a great body weight – only exercise for building strength; it’s not hard on your knees if you do it right, and big guys can and should do pistol squats.

However, performing pistol squats correctly is key to getting the most out of them and staying injury free.  The way I was personally able to work up to doing 8-10 or so consecutive reps on each leg – and the way I’ve since worked clients of mine up to doing pistol squats, too – is with the following progression:

1. Bulgarian split squat

Here’s a single leg exercise that’s harder than a plain old lunge, but not as hard as a pistol.  Start with this one and get good at it, then move to doing the next step in the pistol progression.

Here’s a good demo of how to perform the exercise correctly:

2. Suspension trainer/partner assisted pistol

In this drill, you use the assistance of a partner holding your hands or a suspension trainer like the TRX to do an assisted pistol squat.

This is a really good one because it lets you get the feel of and ‘grove’ of the pistol, while ‘unweighting’ the exercise to varying degrees while you learn it.

Here’s a decent demo of the suspension trainer – assisted pistol squat:

3. Box pistol

The next step in the progession is to perform the pistol on to a box.

First, sit on the box and do a pistol from the ‘bottom up’ – just start from a seated position and stand up.

Then, do a pistol sitting back on to the box, tap the box but don’t accept weight on it, and stand back up.

Start with a high box and gradually work down the height of the box.

Video of the box pistol squat:

4. The standard pistol squat

Video of this one:

For most folks, holding a counter-weight in front of you will make the exercise easier. This is a technique you can use for the box pistol as well as the standard pistol.

In conclusion, the pistol squat can be an intimidating exercise – but it’s really about having the right balance of lower body strength and stability, and practicing your technique.  The benefits are many of incorporating pistol squats into your training program – use the progression outlined in this post and you’ll be well on your way to mastering the pistol.


P.S. P.S. For more great body weight training exercises and workouts like this one, sign up for my weekly newsletter (and grab a free preview of my body weight – based workout system ‘No Gym? No Excuse!’) – just drop your name and email into the box at the upper right of the page to do so now!

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