Finally Tackle the Pistol Squat With These 5 Leg Exercises

Practicing your pistol squats is a great way to build balance.
Image Credit: D-1 Vision/iStock/GettyImages

Like pull-ups, pistol squats are something of a milestone exercise. Getting your first successful rep feels like summiting a mountain, and it's just as much hard work and dedication to get there..

While there's no magic trick to finally nailing the pistol squat, California-based physical therapist Jereme Schumacher, DPT, recommends you add these leg exercises to your weekly workout routine to help you build up to the single-leg squat variation.

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1. Ankle Deficit Bench Stretch

1. Ankle Deficit Bench Stretch
Image Credit: Jereme Schumacher/LIVESTRONG.com
Skill Level All Levels
Type Flexibility
Activity Mobility Workout
  1. Begin by facing a bench or chair, standing about a foot away, feet hip-width apart.
  2. Bring your right foot up onto the bench.
  3. Keeping your left foot planted, slowly lean forward toward your right knee.
  4. Allowing your right knee to go beyond the toes as is comfortable, bring your palms down to frame the raised foot.
  5. Pause here for a few moments and repeat on the opposite side.

Tip

"Drive your knee as far forward as you can while maintaining whole foot contact on the bench," Schumacher says. Stretching will help loosen up the joints and tendons and help give you the ankle mobility and flexibility you need to sit at the bottom of a pistol squat.

2. Elevated Lateral Heel Touch-Down

2. Elevated Lateral Heel Touch-Down
Image Credit: Jereme Schumacher/LIVESTRONG.com
Skill Level Intermediate
Type Strength
Activity Dumbbell Workout
  1. Begin standing on an elevated surface like a step or bench.
  2. Root your right foot into the bench.
  3. Keeping your left leg as straight as possible, raise it off the elevated surface, hovering in the air.
  4. Slowly bend your right knee and lower the left heel to tap the ground, bringing your hands out in front of you.
  5. Pause here for a moment, then reverse the motion to return to standing.

Tip

Keep your rooted knee balanced and in line with your second toe, Schumacher says. "Make sure to tap your heel down and not your toes." This will promote greater depth and glute activation, he says, which is needed to get back up from the bottom of a pistol squat.

3. Slider Pistol Squat

3. Slider Pistol Squat
Image Credit: Jereme Schumacher/LIVESTRONG.com
Skill Level Intermediate
Type Strength
Activity Body-Weight Workout
  1. Begin standing with feet at hip-width distance, a slider under your right foot.
  2. Bring your right toes up toward the sky, keeping the heel planted.
  3. Slowly begin to slide your right foot forward along the ground.
  4. Simultaneously, bring your arms out in front of you and lower into a squat on your left leg.
  5. Come down as low as you can comfortably get back up.

Tip

This exercise will give you an idea of what it's like to do a pistol squat with both of your feet supporting your weight.

4. Eccentric Box Pistol

4. Eccentric Box Pistol
Image Credit: Jereme Schumacher/LIVESTRONG.com
Skill Level Intermediate
Type Strength
Activity Body-Weight Workout
  1. Begin standing about a foot in front of a box or bench, facing away.
  2. Keeping your left heel rooted, raise your right leg off the ground, keeping the knee as straight as possible.
  3. With your weight in the left heel, squat down toward the box, keeping your right leg off the ground, extended straight in front of you.
  4. Tap the box with your butt and reverse the motion to return to standing.

Tip

"The goal of this exercise is to really demonstrate control while you lower down into a pistol squat," Schumacher says. "As you gain confidence and strength, try to lower the seat behind you until you reach your desired depth for a pistol squat."

5. Elevated Counterbalance Pistol

5. Elevated Counterbalance Pistol
Image Credit: Jereme Schumacher/LIVESTRONG.com
Skill Level Intermediate
Type Strength
Activity Dumbbell Workout
  1. Begin standing on an elevated surface like a step or bench, holding a single dumbbell with each end in one hand.
  2. Root your right foot into the bench.
  3. Keeping your left leg as straight as possible, raise it off the elevated surface, hovering in the air.
  4. Slowly squat down on your right leg, pushing your hips back.
  5. As you get lower to the ground, press the weight straight out in front of you for counterbalance.
  6. Lower until you can tap your left heel down on the ground.
  7. Reverse the motion slowly and return to standing.

Tip

When you feel comfortable with this exercise, try it with no dumbbell in your hands. This will challenge your balance even more.

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