5 Steps To Rock A One-Legged Squat

Written by Krista Stryker, NSCA-CPT
Krista Stryker, NSCA-CPT is the founder of 12 Minute Athlete and a leading expert on high intensity interval training (HIIT) and bodyweight fitness, living in Venice, California. She has her bachelor’s in international affairs and communication from Lewis and Clark College and is a certified personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

One-legged squats (or pistol squats) are one of the best exercises you can do to build powerful, strong legs without any equipment at all. Though a lot of people think of pistol squats as something only people with super-human strength can do, I'd like to debunk that myth. Just like anything else, they definitely take time and practice — but they're certainly not impossible.

Here are the five steps to achieving your first one-legged squat:

1. One-Legged Bench Squats

Bench squats will help you build up the strength and balance necessary to do a full pistol squat.

To do them, straighten one leg out in front of you and sit back onto an object (a bench, chair, or even a couch works great) that will leave you with a 90-degree angle at your bent knee. Don’t worry if you fall down the first few times; just keep working at it and you'll gain control with practice. Squeeze your abs and butt while you pull your shoulders back as you try to lift yourself back up.

If you need assistance from this position, tap the toes of your opposite foot to the ground and lightly use them to balance you as you stand up.

2. Negative Pistol Squats

Negatives help you get used to the movement of pistols and increase your strength while you’re at it.

Hold your arms out in front of you, then stand on one leg with your free leg held straight out in front. Push your hips back and slowly lower down so that your butt is almost touching the ground. Set your other leg down, then stand up with two legs.

3. Assisted Pistol Squats

Once you know you have the flexibility to get into the pistol position, you can start doing assisted squats. Find a chair or bench, or stand in front of a doorway and grab the door frame and lower yourself down to the bottom position of the pistol. Relying as little as possible on your arm strength, push your hips back and raise yourself up.

4. Elevated Pistol Squats

One of the hardest parts about a pistol is that along with needing extreme strength to lower yourself down on one leg, you need to keep the other leg straight, which also requires an amazing amount of strength, balance, and flexibility.

To work up to this, find an elevated surface such as a bench and practice doing pistols on that. Try to keep your leg straight as much as possible, but it's ok if it lowers below the bench for now.

If you need to, you can start out by holding something close to you such as a bench or even putting your hand on a wall to assist you. Eventually you’ll want to work up to doing these without holding on to anything.

5. Full Pistol Squats

Ready to try the full thing? You’re awesome, even just for trying it.

To do one, start by holding your arms out in front of you, then stand on one leg with your free leg held straight out in front. Push your hips back and sit down as far as you can so that your butt is almost touching the ground (it’s fine if you need to lean forward slightly to get there). Once you hit the bottom position, raise yourself back to standing.

If these moves look a bit too advanced for you, I have some other awesome workouts you can try:

Want to push your personal limits and get better at pistol squats? Join me for a free 30-day pistol squat challenge and prove to yourself just how strong you really are.

Photo courtesy of the author

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