Progressions to the Perfect Pistol Squat

September 03, 2018

Photocredit: Michael Brian Photography

Pistols squats, huh? I don’t do them that often but I feel like I should after watching this year’s Regional events. Obviously, it gets it “name” because your leg juts out like a pistol -
phew, phew and this movement can cause some pain due to the fact you are balancing on one leg.

I hear a few gym members say, “I can’t do them, I’m too tall” and that just grinds my gears because it’s like me saying, “I’m too short to do wall balls”. Your height has nothing with not being able to do them. Mind over matter! Everyone knows if you want to achieve a movement or hit a PR - what do you do?

practice, practice, practice.  

So where do you start?? (I’m going to state the obvious) Most of us who are reading this go to a gym and can do them there but two factors get in the way of that actually happening:

  1. The gym isn’t always going to program pistols as a skill work every other day (that would defeat the purpose to constantly varied 😉 )

  2. You have a life - most of us need to get in and out of the gym because of work, family, all the important stuff.

I’m going to show you the simple progressions through Carl Paoli’s free+style connection because the videos go through more than just a few variations from bending straight down into a pistol or holding on to something to perform the movement.

You are moving with a purpose. So being able to understand what joints and muscles are working together to make this happen will make this progression easier to learn.

What is a pistol?

A one-legged squat! Kind of but not quite, there are different variations of a one-legged squat - from placing your ankle on top of your knee and squatting down or standing on a box and pushing your leg laterally to the side without letting it touch the ground then there are others where you prop your foot up or you stand on top of box.

The pistol is balancing your leg in front of you, parallel to the floor and not letting it touch while performing a squat in the bottom position at the same time.

Pistol Progressions for beginners

This is a 6 video playlist that has been put together on his YouTube for someone who has never tried or ever done a pistol - start here!

If you feel like you are very close but somehow can’t balance correctly or maybe you just can’t rep them out as quickly as you would like then start here!

Most of you guys might know of free+style connection aka Carl Paoli but if you don’t he is one of the most well known Gymnastic Coaches around today from training and competing for over 15 years. He holds seminars all over the world to open your mind to a different, simple and more approachable way of moving.

I got the chance to ask Carl, Why are pistols so important? 

“They are important for locomotion which we are wired for. They are the exaggerated reality of developing our lower body in a "contralateral" (rotation) in relation to our upper body. They are also one of the highest levels of expression for squatting and act of developing said locomotion from a strength perspective. In addition, as the squat, they are a great way of practicing getting off the ground and getting back down. A basic life skill which now is backed by science as an expression of longevity and freedom.”

With a response like that, how can you not want to learn how to perfect the pistol squat?? You can read more about this and more in his book: Free+Style: Maximize Sport and Life Performance with Four Basic Movements. 

This is a guest post from Linda Hong, CF-L1 Certified, Eleiko Strength Coach and WOD Nation Team Leader. You can always expect to hear back from Linda about any inquiries on WOD Nation gear. Linda is currently coaching at Crossfit Chiang Mai or traveling around the globe so catch her if you can! For more Linda, you can follow her on Instagram or email