5 Benefits of Pistol Squats

In this article we will discuss one of the most challenging unilateral leg exercises out there. Regardless of sport or goal, the ability to perform pistol squats with control and integrity can lead to increased unilateral leg development, bilateral lower body improvements, balance, coordination, and even increase sport specific goals.

The Pistol Squat

The pistol squat is a challenging bodyweight movement that requires the highest degree of ankle, knee, and hip mobility, unilateral leg strength and movement integrity, and complete body awareness. Unlike lunges and other unilateral leg exercises, the pistol squat requires a lifter to hold their base of support across a small area (the foot). Mastering the pistol squat takes proper progression, mobility, strength, and practice, which is addressed below.

Exercise Demo

Below is a thorough exercise demo on the pistol squat, as well as a supplementary video documenting a sound warmup and mobility routine targeted to address knee, ankle, and hip mobility necessary for the pistol squat.

Benefits of the Pistol Squat

Below are five benefits one can expect from performing the pistol squat as either an advanced bodyweight exercise, weighted unilateral movement, or within a functional fitness WOD.

Unilateral Strength and Performance

The pistol squat by nature is a single-legged movement and therefore a unilateral exercise.The benefits of unilateral training have been thoroughly discussed in previous pieces. What makes the pistol squat unique, however, is that it requires little amounts of equipment yet can have a very high demand and load placed upon the body, as you can imagine. The need for increased control, mobility, stability, and strength all can increase unilateral movement integrity and help to increase bilateral movement patterns like running, jumping, and even squatting.

Muscular Activation

Increased muscular activation can often be expected from pistol squats only when they are done in a controlled and tempo like manner (as opposed to fast-paced pistol squats that heavily rely on passive tissues and joint structures for movement support, which can lead to a plethora of issues if not progressed to correctly). Increasing the time under tension, joint and muscular control, tempo, and loading can all increase the muscle activation of the leg muscles.

Joint Mobility

The ability to pistol squat requires a lifter to have sufficient ankle, knee, and hip mobility and joint control (hopefully). The amount of joint flexion in the ankles, knees, and hips at the bottom of the pistol squat are very similar to the deep squat (bilateral, aka with both legs), and then some. Increasing one’s ability to promote force and establish a deep sense of control and confident in one’s movement throughout the full anthropometric range of motion is the key to sustaining proper mobility over time.

Balance and Body Control

The pistol squat requires a great amount of balance and body control, as the lifter must support oneself on one foot throughout a complete range of motion. Joint stability and control is needed to ensure proper joint tracking, body balance, and overall safety of the movement, making this one of the few bodyweight movements that require such high degrees of mobility, stability, balance, and body control.

Sports-Specific Skill

Functional fitness athletes are required to express many of the attributes above at any point within a training session or competition. CrossFit athletes must master this movement for WODs and competitive event, where as runners, fighters, and other locomotive athletes can find benefit in performing pistol squats as they can enhance body control, awareness, and unilateral leg strength and function.

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Featured Image: @limamike17 on Instagram

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.