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.
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 squatting provides.
For example I am 175 lbs and I can perform a pistol on either leg holding 100 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.
Check out this incredible Transformation from the program – Steve has amazing leg development:
Building up to the Pistol Squat
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 Pistol Squats
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.