Tip: How to Stop Sucking At Pistol Squats

From basic to advanced progressions, here's how to finally nail this move without falling down.

Although you don't need to be able to squat a house to hit a solid pistol squat, you do have to have a solid combination of mobility, strength, and balance. If you're looking to add a new tool to your utility belt, use the following strategies to get this move right.

Let's check to see if you have the prerequisite mobility to take on this task. First, are you able to comfortably hold a deep squat?

Deep Squat Hold

If you're not able to hold the deep squat, you probably shouldn't be trying a pistol squat yet. Address mobility first. If you're able to get the deep squat, move on to the next checkpoint.

Can you remove one leg while in the deep squat and maintain balance?

Single Leg Deep Squat Hold

If you can extend your leg out in front of you and hold your balance, you're ready to move on to the advanced pistol squat progressions. If you can't hold this position, use the strategies below to increase your mobility and start with the basic pistol squat progressions.

Just like with any squat, the biggest limitations to your depth is ankle mobility followed by hip mobility.

You need to be able to shift your weight backwards and ground your heel firmly to hit this movement. Think "hips back, knees out." Your ankle needs a ton of dorsiflexion so you don't tear your patellar tendon. Trying to force this movement without the prerequisite ankle or hip mobility is a great way to give yourself a steaming hot case of patellar tendonitis.

In order to increase your ankle and hip mobility, do some soft tissue work, stretching, and movement reintegration. Check out The Strong Lifter's Guide to Healthy Knees.

Okay, on to the fun stuff! Start with the basic pistol squat progressions. When hitting your pistol on both the basic and advanced progressions, make sure you're using these cues:

  1. Focus on a spot on the floor and extend one leg in front of you.
  2. Sit back in your heel as you push your hips back and drive your knee out.
  3. Focus on pushing through the heel, big toe, and pinky toe as you extend your knee and hips.

Pistol Squat with Suspension Straps

Progress by using the straps as little as possible.

Pistol Squat to Box

Progress by using a lower box.

Pistol Squat Hold with Leg Exchange

Pistol Squat From the Bottom Up

Full Pistol Squat

Although it's always fun to increase your one rep max and get stronger in various lifts, trying to achieve a new skill keeps things fresh and shows you that there's always something new to learn.

TJ Kuster is a certified athletic trainer (ATC) and certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), specializing in mobility and injury prevention. He coaches at Method Sports Performance in Bloomington, IL.