Annie Thorisdottir’s Five Favorite Tips for Mastering Pistol Squats

These tips will help you tackle CrossFit Open Workout 20.4!

When CrossFit Open Workout 20.4 was announced last week, people were surprised to see pistol squats earning a debut in this year’s Open. 

Pistol squats, or single-leg squats are a body-weight unilateral squatting movement. CrossFit Open Workout 20.4 calls for 90 total pistol squats. CrossFit Games veteran and two-time winner of the Reebok CrossFit Games, Annie Thorisdottir has been consistently sharing videos of her doing the Open workouts and offering tips.

Along with posting a video of her crushing 20.4 (she finished in an impressive time of 12:54!), she also shared a video over the weekend on ways to improve pistol squats. Now, before we get into Thorisdottir’s best tips for improving pistol squats, here’s a quick reminder of what Open Workout 20.4 is. 

CrossFit Open Workout 20.4

  • 30 box jumps 
  • 15 clean & jerks (65/95lb)
  • 30 box jumps 
  • 15 clean & jerks (85/135lb)
  • 30 box jumps 
  • 10 clean & jerks (115/185lb)
  • 30 single-leg squats
  • 10 clean & jerks (145/225lb)
  • 30 single-leg squats
  • 5 clean & jerks (175/275lb)
  • 30 single-leg squats 
  • 5 clean & jerk (205/315lb)

Time cap: 20 minutes

Box jump height: (20/24)

Thorisdottir’s Best Tips For Improving Pistol Squats 

1. Warm-Up

Thorisdottir recommends warming-up thoroughly with air squats. She suggests starting with a normal air squat and then gradually bringing the feet closer and closer together. Eventually progress into having both feet together, and then practice tilting one toe down and going through the squat. This will warm you up properly for the single-leg movement.

2. Find A Box  

Find a box to practice step-ups. Start on the side of the box to make sure you are stepping up/pressing up straight. You are going to want to stand up using the leg on the box as much as possible and then eventually progress onto a higher box.

3. Rolling Pistol 

This movement is exactly how it sounds. A rolling pistol calls for rolling to your back and using the legs and hips to get yourself up to a standing position. Thorisdottir starts this movement off using both legs and then moves to a rolling pistol onto one leg. 

4. Band Assist 

Before moving to a true single-leg squat, Thorisdottir suggests using some bands to help with assistance. Set up the bands and sit down onto them focusing on pushing the hips back. The band will help with standing up. Practice going through the full movement nice and controlled.

5. Counter-weight 

One last tip that can help with improving pistol squats is to use a little bit of weight to counterbalance the movement. By adding some weight and holding it in the front, it can actually help/ease up the movement. 

Before closing out the video, Thorisdottir offered a couple more pro tips for mastering the pistol. She mentioned how important it is to figure out the time for when you’re going to breathe. For her, it’s when she’s on the top and transitioning to the next leg. Another pro tip is focusing on having the whole foot on the ground.

“Since you don’t have two feet on the ground during this movement, make sure that the one that is on the ground is fully on.” 

Thorisdottir has been cruising through the 2020 Open so far, so if you’re struggling to get through 20.4, or even get started with a pistol squat, these tips will surely give you a leg up!

Feature image from Annie Thorisdottir YouTube Channel.

Celia Balf

Celia Balf

Celia is a Staff News Writer at BarBend. At the BarBend office, you can find Celia writing news stories covering the largest strength sport competitions in the world, in-depth features with world record-holders, big lifts, and everything in-between. Celia also orchestrates and helps create content for the BarBend social media pages. She is a former Division 1 soccer player turned content producer and sports journalist.

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