How To Do A Pistol Squat

The squat is a staple of any well-rounded lifting program, but like most fundamental lifts there are a ton of variations on the traditional barbell squat. The pistol squat is a progression of the bodyweight squat, and involves lowering your body weight on a single leg and bringing yourself back up. It’s one of the toughest bodyweight leg exercises out there, and it takes a lot of strength, balance and coordination to pull it off. Here we’ll show you how to do a pistol squat and give you some tips on how to work your way up to the full movement.


Pistol Squat Benefits

There are plenty of benefits to the pistol squat. You don’t need any equipment, so they’re free and can be done pretty much anywhere. They help build leg strength and joint flexibility as well as improving balance and core strength, and even the joints of the hip, knee and ankle are strengthened. They’re also pretty useful for evening up any strength imbalances in your legs, which can help improve your other leg lifts.

Like any exercise, there are some limitations. Previous injuries or your body proportions may make it difficult for you to complete the movement. Also, once you’ve mastered the movement and started adding reps it’s pretty tough to add weight outside of weighted vests – using dumbbells or a bar is pretty risky for a movement that is so reliant on balance.

How to Do a Pistol Squat

  1. To begin, place both arms straight out in front of your chest
  2. Straighten your leg out in front of you and try to get it fairly parallel to your arms
  3. Slowly push your hips back and bend the knee until your butt is as close to the floor as you can manage
  4. Pause in this bottom position to ensure you’re balanced and your back is straight
  5. Quickly push your weight back up using your standing leg until you’re back in the starting position


Other factors to consider:

  • Your standing foot should remain flat on the ground throughout the movement
  • Try to make sure your standing leg knee doesn’t go too far past your toes

The best instructional video we’ve found is from – everything should become clear after watching this

Pistol Squat Progressions

Single leg squats are a tough exercise even for fairly experienced lifters. Some people have the strength and flexibility to make them look infuriatingly easy, while it takes others a while to build them up. There are a few ways to gradually work towards a full pistol squat:

Barbell Squats – Help to build the required leg strength and improve your range of motion

Gradually increase your range of motion – Put a bench or a box behind you as you lower into the single-leg squat. When your butt touches the box, push back up. Gradually use lower objects to increase your range of motion, and over time you’ll be able to work up to the full movement.

Assisted Full Pistol Squat – Use resistance bands or hold on to a door frame while performing the full pistol squat movement. This will help you to keep your balance and allow you to increase your leg strength. Once you’ve increased your leg strength, look to progress to the full exercise.

The pistol squat is a tough move to master, but it’s an incredibly effective way of increasing leg and core strength. If you manage to get the basic movement down you could try moving on to the insanity that is jumping single-leg squats, but for most people just getting the basic exercise right will provide a pretty tough leg workout.

Check out these other awesome resources to learn more about the pistol squat:

Beast Skills –

T-Nation –

Gold Medal Bodies –

Al Kavadlo –


  • Updated May 26, 2020
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