Pistol Squats for Strong, Lean and Functional Legs

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The Pistol Squat – Better than the Back Squat

The Pistol or One Legged Squat is the king of lower-body exercises! The traditional barbell back squat just doesn’t hold a thread to the pistol.

The pistol is a very challenging exercise and those that can perform the exercise with ease have incredible leg strength as well as balance and flexibility.

Pistol vs. Back Squat

One of the main problems with the back squat is that the legs contain the biggest and strongest muscles in the human body. This means in order to work them sufficiently, heavier and heavier weights need to be used overtime. When you squat with weights, this big heavy bar has to be placed on the upper back.

Placing this heavy weight on the upper back vertically loads the spine with significant force. This in turn compresses the vertebrae, the discs in the spine, which can cause problems ranging from lumbago and muscle strains to sciatica and bulging or fully herniated discs.

Benefits of the Pistol Squat

The benefits of mastering the pistol squat are enormous! First off the pistol squat requires great balance, leg strength, flexibility and coordination. Chances are you will never see anyone get this movement on their first attempt due to the difficulty of the exercise.

In addition those that are able to perform a one legged squat have the leg strength to perform a barbell back squat with the equivalent of their body weight. If you work diligently on pistols you can build up to performing them while holding a heavy weight in your hand. This is extreme leg strength without the chance of injury that back squating provides.

For example I am 175 lbs and I can perform a pistol on either leg holding 90 lbs worth of weights. This requires the same leg strength as  back squatting (all the way down – ass to grass) 355 lbs. Over double my body-weight. This goes to show you that the pistol squat can build incredible leg strength and power. In addition you can perform this exercise virtually anywhere without the need of bulky equipment.

The pistol squat is one of the main lower-body exercises that I include in my Warrior Shredding Program.

*Your results may vary. Testimonials and examples used are exceptional results and are not intended to guarantee, promise, represent and/or assure that anyone will achieve the same or similar results.

Building up to the Pistol

When you’re working on building up to your first pistol I recommend training it 2 days per week. With at-least 2 days of rest in-between. The most effective exercise for building up to the pistol is to perform the pistol while assisting yourself by holding on to an object. Perform 3-4 sets of 3 reps. Over-time you will require less and less assistance from your upper-body and eventually you will be able to bang these out with perfect form.

Once you can perform the Pistol I recommend practicing them 2x per week until you can perform 10 good reps. This will provide you with the base to transition into weighted pistols. The ultimate leg exercise!

Weighted Pistols

Weighted Pistols are the king of leg exercises. When you can build up to performing a pistol while holding 50% of your body-weight you will have the equivalent leg strength to back squat 2x your bodyweight.

Example – 200 lbs man can perform a pistol while holding a 100 lbs weight. That man has the leg strength to barbell back squat 2x his body weight which is 400 lbs. This is because being able to do a bodyweight pistol requires the same strength as back squatting your body-weight. Plus whatever weight you can hold while performing a pistol is added to your back squat total. Therefore his bodyweight (200 lbs) + 100 lbs left leg + 100 lbs right leg = 400 lbs squat.

For those that are unaware a 2x body weight squat is incredible leg strength!

2x per week perform weighted pistols for 3 sets of 1-3 reps.

Why low reps?

Pistols are probably the only pure leg exercise I do. I stick to intervals and sprints to promote athletic and lean legs. However I include pistols 1-2x per week to ensure my leg strength is up to par. My goal is for my legs to be strong and powerful without being bulky. The low reps encourage strength gains without causing hypertrophy (muscle growth). Low reps do have the power to trigger muscle growth if the sets are kept high (5+ sets). As a result I am performing low reps and low sets to ensure low volume. Low reps and low sets = strength gain without muscle gain.

Additional Tip – I recommend stopping 1-2 reps before muscle failure with pistols. Training your muscle to maximum fatigue is what promotes muscle growth. By steering clear of failure you are able to gain strength without muscle growth.

What if you want to increase muscle mass in the legs?

Pistols can definitely be used to build leg size. For those with skinny legs I recommend putting on a little bit of muscle in the lowerbody to balance out your physique. Proportion is key. Here is how you can use pistols to encourage muscle growth in the legs:

Weighted Pistols: 4 sets x 8-12 reps

Body weight Pistols: 1 set x max reps

Notes – Perform 2x per week. Add weight each workout for the weighted pistols. Aim to perform more reps for the body weight pistols.

Want to master the pistol squat while also developing an overall chiseled physique? Then my Warrior Shredding Program is for you!

 

Your Kino Question For The Day: How has the article helped you with perfecting the pistol squatLet me know in the comments below.

About the Author

Greg

I'm Greg O'Gallagher the founder of Kinobody.com

35 responses to “Pistol Squats for Strong, Lean and Functional Legs

  1. Hey Greg. Me and my friend recently decided to do something about our physiques. So we started on your Greek God guide. Now as we havent been lifting that much before we are both kind of weak everywhere. And thats why we wonder about the Hang Cleans. We’ve been trying to do them, but its a really hard move tbh. So we were thinking to replace it with actual squats 3×10, and trying to gain some strength in our legs as we can barely do 1 rep of 1xbodyweight. And also add some shrugs to develop the traps. you say in your video hang cleans really helped developing your traps.

  2. Hey Greg,

    I’m very curious about how you came to a conclusion that the strength required to perform a body weight pistol squat is equivalent to barbell squatting one’s own body weight. Could you please direct me to your sources?

    1. No sources needed. If you can do a true pistol squat it means that you can lift your own bodyweight on one leg. So that equates to a two legged back squat. One leg to squat your bodyweight and the other leg to squat the bar that weighs the same as your bodyweight.

  3. Hey Greg, just wondering if you could give me some help. I am trying to get my first pistol squat but everytime I come close to the bottom of the squat, I just collapse even while holding onto objects. I am very good at all two leg squat variations but one leg feels like a real struggle for my legs. Thanks in advance for any feedback

  4. So I was in a serious motorcycle wreck 18 months ago and I have pretty much regained all strength if not more than since then. I can parallel weighted squats without much issue, however I at times have a slight bit of soreness in my knee the next day. Torn ACL, torn meniscus tibial plateau fracture on both knees fractured hip. (just giving the lower body injuries. However I never went lower than parallel for fear of my knees holding up over time. Do you suggest the pistol is a safer alternative to do this? And, will i notice a decrease in mass before I regain it back after I build enough strength to go lower than parallel.

    THANKS AMIGO!

    1. I have no clue if pistol squats are a safe movement for you given your conditions. I would start with a safer single leg movement. Reverse lunges, step ups or bulgarian split squats would be great. Work on these variations for a couple months before even thinking about pistols. You need to build single leg stability.

  5. Pistols are an amazing exercise, build up to 5 reps with 10 additional kg’s so far.
    but last week, i made a bad rep, and i have had pain in my back since.. i’m doing a lot of bridging which helps, but i think the problem is i’m rounding my back to much when doing the pistols, and i guess its either my ankles or hamstrings that are to tight/not flexible enough, can you recommend any stretches/exercises to increase the flexibility on those two areas ?
    Thanks in advance, cheers man!

    1. You can do hamstring stretches. You’ll need to stretch your calves and groin out pretty well too. And don’t push yourself too hard on pistols. Otherwise you might sacrifice form. I focus on powering up and don’t go to failure on pistols.

  6. Hey Greg.
    I love the pistol squat, it’s an amazing leg exercise!
    i can do it with 10kg / 22 lbs for 5 reps. How would it be best to progress from here, i really like RPT, but i don’t see how that can work, without more weight..
    Thanks in advance!

  7. Hey Greg!
    I’m getting newsletters from rusty as well as your’s, and he just mentioned an exercise, “The Soccer Split Squat”, and saw your name there !
    Im doing pistols, and was just wondering, will this soccer split squat exercise build more of the lower thigh than the pistol squats?

    Cheers man!

    1. I like to do both movements. For pistol squats I just do sets of 1 rep. Weighted. Builds strength and power with essentially no muscle size. The pistol will build the entire thigh region. The soccer split will just focus on the muscle close to the knee. This one is better for higher reps to stimulate growth.

      1. Thanks for the input, will keep that in mind, but i think i will stick to pistols for a while more!
        Doing them weighted for sets, RPT style, since my legs could use a bit more size and definition (:

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