Pistol Squat vs Barbell Squat

In this article we will compare the pistol squat vs the barbell squat, both known to increase leg strength, stability, and performance in popular competitive sports such as Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and functional fitness. Each movement is briefly discussed with a supplemental exercise video tutorial, along with a full breakdown of four training goals/outcomes to determine which exercise best fits the sports performance goal(s).


The Barbell Squat

The barbell squat (front or back) is widely accepted as one of the foundational movements for overall strength, hypertrophy, and sports performance. The barbell squat has been a primary focus for athletes and training of most sports and goals. Below is a video demonstration on how to perform the barbell squat (back).

The Pistol Squat

In an earlier article we discussed the pistol squat, a unilateral movement that can increase unilateral strength, movement, and help to increase injury resilience. Below is a quick video demonstration on how to properly perform a pistol squat.

Pistol Squat vs Barbell Squat

Below are four aspects of fitness and sport that we can look at to determine which movement (the pistol squat vs the barbell squat) is the better option for enhancing one’s ability to attain a goal/level of mastery.

Maximal Strength

Without a doubt, the barbell squat is the winner in terms of developing maximal strength in the legs and total body. The amount of loading and the ensuing systems stress of the neurological systems (due to heavy loading) is paramount in the acquisition of strength. The pistol squat, while can help one move better and address asymmetries and poor movement mechanics does have limited abilities to load with maximal weights due to the complexity, instability, and unilateral features of the movement. If you are looking to get the strongest you can for strength and power sports, barbell squatting is key (however, do not lose sight of the importance of unilateral training and other exercises to fosters better movement).

Muscle Hypertrophy

The pistol squat and the barbell squat can both be used to develop muscle growth, as they each have their benefits. The barbell squat has the ability to load the body with higher amounts of weight, and often can be done to muscular failure more than the pistol squat (as the pistol squat may be limited more by loss of balance, coordination, etc). That said, the pistol squat can be a great unilateral movement to increase isometric and concentric strength, increase time under tension, and offer lifters all the benefits of unilateral training.

Application to Strength and Power Sports

Strength and power athletes (powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, strongman, etc) are all required to move great amounts of weight. The pistol squat, as discussed above, can help lifters increase coordination and control of one’s movements, however the inclusion of the barbell squat in the programming is vital to attaining the greatest amounts of strength and foundational muscle for prolonged results in such sports.

Functional Fitness and Movement Application

Both the barbell squat and the pistol squat are necessary to develop a well-rounded, fit, and healthy individual. For all the reasons above, the barbell squat should be used to increase a lifter’s natural abilities to promote force, increase strength and hypertrophy, and build a more solid foundation for movement. The pistol squat can be used to integrate body control, balance, unilateral strength and stability; all of which can deeply impact human movement and minimize the risk of injury.


More Versus Articles!

Take a look at some of the more popular articles comparing the popular movements and other effective exercise for developing strength, power, and fitness.

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