Few exercises are as impressive as the pistol squat. In one move, you can work strength, balance, and flexibility. “Any unilateral move, working one side or one leg at a time, helps you reach your full strength potential,” notes Megan Dahlman, C.S.C.S., owner of Dahlman Elite Training Systems in Aurora, OR, and creator of strong-mommas.com. Pistol squats really challenge the quads, but they also work the glutes, inner and outer thighs, and even the small ankle joint muscles; a strong core helps you put it all together, adds Dahlman.
A full pistol squat—one leg forward and parallel to the floor— is great for advanced exercisers who have mastered the stability and balance elements, says Dahlman. For the rest of us, a modified version done on a bench or plyo box will challenge you while gaining the full benefits. “Single-leg deadlifts are the perfect match for quad-dominant pistol squats since they’ll engage your hamstrings and glutes,” says Dahlman.
1. Stand tall
Stand on a box or step bench that’s about the height of your kneecaps. Allow your non-working leg to hang off one side, with your standing foot flat and your hips neutral.
2. Get your glutes going
Hinge forward from your hips, pushing your glutes behind you. “It’s crucial to get your hips and glutes engaged so your weight shifts back and all the stress isn’t going into your knee,” says Dahlman.
3. Go deep
Bending the working leg, lower hips while bringing arms forward for counterbalance. Your non-working heel should just barely graze the floor and your working thigh will be almost parallel to the floor.
4. Stay on track
Make sure your working knee tracks over the middle of your foot, not to the left or right.
These progressions can help you build both strength and balance to finally master one of the toughest mechanical moves out there.
1. Split Squat
2. Reverse Lunge
3. Forward Lunge
4. Skater Squat (from a lunge position, keep back leg lifted so foot stays off floor)
5. Pistol Squat on box/bench
6. Pistol Squat on floor