The elusive full pistol squat. What is it? How do I do it? Why can I squat twice my bodyweight, but not get a single squat with one leg? What is the secret? If you’ve been trying relentlessly to achieve a pistol squat and still falling over backward, this post is for you.
Why can I squat twice my bodyweight, but not get a single squat with one leg? What is the secret?
STEP 1: Achieve Superior Mobility
The pistol is a special sort of beast because you need not only strength, but also incredible mobility, stability, and balance. In my experience, the mobility component is the most challenging part for my athletes to overcome, and it more often than not, it comes from the ankles.
If you compare the photos below, you’ll notice that in one photo, my knee is far over my toe, and in the other, I’ve blocked my ankle mobility with some tape. The effect on my pistol is clear. Despite having the requisite strength, stability, and balance, I can’t get into my pistol when I block my ankle mobility.
The pistol is a special sort of beast because you need not only strength, but also incredible mobility, stability, and balance.
So how do I know if I have the mobility for a pistol?
The first screen I like to use is simply a feet-together, heels down squat.
If this is no problem, you can also try it on a box and then drop one foot off. If you haven’t fallen backward yet, your mobility if at least adequate for the pistol.
If you own a pair of weightlifting shoes, test both of these movements while wearing them and see if it makes a difference.
I can’t get there, what do I do?
Attack your mobility deficits with exercises that target deep flexion of the hip, knee, and ankle at the same time. My favorite one is a kettlebell assisted ankle mobilization shown in the video below. Make sure you LOAD THE NEW RANGE as soon as you are done mobilizing with something like a goblet squat or cossack squat so that your temporary mobility gains become permanent.
STEP 2: Achieve Adequate Strength and Stability
So congratulations, your mobility is enough! You just can’t control your descent into the pistol or come out of the bottom once you’re there. The order I like to proceed in from here goes as follows:
- Single leg Bulgarian split squats
- Single leg backward knee taps
- Single leg box squat
- Single leg Box Pistols
- Single leg forward sliders
- Pistols with counter balance
Start with the first exercise and add in three sets of ten reps for three days per week, focusing on control (5 second reps) rather than speed and power (for now). Once the first exercise is no longer challenging, move to the second and progress your depth as it gets easier!
As always, I hope this helps! If you have any questions or would like to read about certain topics, send us an email at TeamSP@SportsPerformancePT.com.
-Dr. Marissa Rescott, PT, DPT, CF-L1
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