I've wanted to do a pistol squat for a long time. But wanting and doing are two different things. I've only been working at my pistol squat -- and it's still not perfect -- for a couple months now. I'm happy at the progress I've made and am encouraging a few of my clients to likewise take on the challenge.
The pistol squat is hard to do. It is advanced. Many fitness professionals and gym rats alike can't do a single one -- mostly just because it's something you really have to work at. You have to want it. And you should want it, because it's badass and you'll impress your friends.
Before trying to master it, it helps to know what you need to be able to do to be able do it, if you following my drift.
Obviously, you need pretty good lower body strength. Be sure you can do a bunch of ass-to-grass bodyweight squats, first.
You also need good balance, flexibility, hip mobility and dorsiflexion. Shortcomings in any of these departments will greatly complicate the task. You may have to work on each of these aspects individually before piecing it all together in a graceful pistol squat.
What follows is the progression I followed to get my pistol squat to where it its today. Many of my clients are following the same.
1. One-legged squat.
One of the biggest challenge of pistols is balance. Many will find themselves toppling backwards when trying to hold one leg straight out and squatting with the other.
Doing a single leg squat with the non-working leg bent and tucked under you gives you the opportunity to work on your single leg balance and strength without the extra challenge of the straight leg jutting out. When doing these, work on keeping the torso mostly upright and focus on bringing the non-working leg's knee as close to the floor as you can. Start with bodyweight only.
2. Bench get ups.
These are best practised with an adjustable step you can make lower as you get better. Start with a chair-like height or something where your knees are bent at a 90 degree angle when seated. Stick one leg out straight, the other foot firmly planted on the ground and stand. The trick is shifting your weight forward over the planted foot. As it gets easier, start from a lower position. Aim to do 10 clean moves each leg before progressing.
3. Assisted pistol squat.
Now we're going to attempt the whole movement with a bit of assistance. One way is to use at TRX for support. Try the whole move, only pulling on the trx during sticky spots, which will likely be from the lower position. Now, be sure not to sit back too much, like you would in a normal squat. You'll never be able to pistol squat without your knee shooting out way past your toes. Think about getting your butt as close and low to your heels as possible. Another way to practice an assisted pistol squat is in a doorway or by a post of some kind.
4. Elevated pistol squat.
For me the hardest part of the pistol is being able to hold my straight leg out at 90 degrees. As you begin to practise you'll probably find the straight legs hits the floor before you've squatted deep enough. Practicing on a step will give you a bit of leeway with that straight leg and give you a chance to work on other aspects of the movement.
5. From the bottom up pistol squat.
It's all too easy to collapse from half way down to the bottom of a pistol squat. Be warned, you can seriously hurt your knee and ankle if you can't control the decent.
Instead, spend some time the bottom position, squatted over one leg with the other straight out. If it still feels very uncomfortable you may still lack the dorsiflexion flexibility of the foot and ankle but spending some time like this will help. Gently push to decrease the angle between the top of your foot and your shin. Try to stand up. Slowly test it out if you can descend with control.
6. Rolling pistol squats.
Ok, by this stage you're getting pretty close but you still have some issues managing your balance and having enough power to stand up from the bent position. Enter the rolling pistol squat. These are fun to do. The rolling aspect gives you some momentum to get up and give you the opportunity to really get the sense of what a pistol squat feels like. From rolling, the trick will be in placing the working leg's foot near enough to your but and transferring your weight upon it.
7. Counterbalance pistol squat.
If balancing is still an issue, try these counterbalance pistols. I'm hold a 10 pound dumbell in front.
Still not perfect, a few wobbles, but a pistol squat no less which is only going to get better and better.