So You Want To Pistol Squat?

November 16, 2021 Performance

The elusive pistol squat. The bane of many a CrossFitter’s existence. One in very few can get them on their first try. Being able to squat on one leg is no easy feat. It requires balance, mobility, stability, coordination, and strength.

But with practice, it’s a fun and impressive movement. There are many benefits to the pistol squat; it’s a fantastic movement for the development of strength and balance through the leg and hips. You don’t need any equipment and you can literally do it anywhere. What more could you ask for?

So, let’s dive in.


So You Want To Pistol Squat?


What is a pistol squat?

This is a pistol squat; basically, a single leg task where you reach your non-stance leg out in front of you for a counterbalance and sit back into a full single-leg squat position on your other leg, and (hopefully) stand back up.


How to do a Pistol Squat (Elements/Regressions/Progressions)

The pistol squat can be a very difficult task, and every one is built differently. With that said, the demands of a pistol squat will be different from person to person. This can be an unnecessary rabbit hole to go down, so below are some of the most common issues that can stand in the way of your first successful pistol squat.


Elements: Ankle Mobility (specifically ankle dorsiflexion)


Try This as a test, to see how far you’re able to get your knee over your foot.



This is a basic ankle dorsiflexion test. One thing to remember is that everyone is built a bit differently, and depending on your anatomy and what your ankle joint has been exposed to in the past will dictate your ability with this movement. 


Elements: Squat Mobility/Coordination


Try This; a goblet squat.



Since we’re working more on depth into your squat and coordination, try moving slowly down (think 3 seconds to the bottom here) to give your brain some time to coordinate this movement.

The weight should be heavy enough to assist in gaining some depth compared to a bodyweight squat, but light enough it doesn’t feel like a heavy strength movement. 


Elements: Single Leg Squat Strength/Coordination


Try This “Lateral Step Down” or This “Single Leg Box Squat”. 


Regression Ideas:

Let your imagination run wild here, there is no perfect way to regress a movement, but one simple way to think about regressing the pistol squat is attacking it from the top down and/or the bottom up.

The top down approach: Go back to the “Single Leg Box Squat” video above, and slowly lower the implement you’re trying to get to. There is no perfect set/rep scheme here as it’s just taking time to practice coordination and skill with this.

The bottom-up approach: Try picking a slightly elevated surface and roll from your back into the bottom of the pistol squat like this. As you improve with this, continue to pick a lower and lower surface until you get to the ground.


Progression Ideas:

Congratulations! The pistol squat has become an easy move for you (I’m a little jealous, but whatever). If you’re looking for ways to progress this movement, two easy elements come to mind; load and tempo.

Start to slowly increase the load. Have fun choosing implements here and be as creative as you’d like. Some ideas that come to mind are would be adding a kettlebell or dumbbell, sandbags, weight plates, or even a pet (mostly kidding with the last one)

If no weight is available; you can always decrease the tempo. Slowly and thoughtfully move through the pistol squat; aiming for anywhere between 2-5 seconds to reach the bottom. When we utilize slower tempo movements, it allows our brain time to really get comfortable with the coordination of the movement. This same principle can be applied when learning any new movement or movement progression. 


Are pistol squats bad for your knees/Should I do pistol squats?

Finally, is it worth going through all of this if pistol squats are bad for your knees? In short, this won’t be kneemageddon. No movement is inherently bad for knee health, just make sure to progress things appropriately and listen to your body. The only inherent issue with tough movements like this, is doing too much too soon. Too many repetitions (volume), too many days in a row (frequency), or too much load added too quickly (intensity). The negative narrative of your knee traveling over your toe is absolutely false, as your knee has to travel over your toe to do daily tasks, and there is ZERO research to support this narrative that it’s inherently bad for your knee. As with anything else, just progress appropriately with your volume, frequency, and intensity, as mentioned above. 


Navigating your fitness & pistol squat journey

If you need some assistance in navigating your fitness or pistol squat journey, we at Tangelo are always here to help in the Seattle and Portland areas.

Click here if you’re interested in booking an appointment.