The pistol squat is an advanced squat variation that requires a great deal of mobility, stability, strength, balance, coordination, and control. To start, lets talk about some of the mobility demands required for a perfect pistol squat.
Pistol Squat Mobility
Starting at the top, the pistol squat requires more hip internal rotation than a double leg squat due to the position of the leg being directly under the body vs hip/shoulder width. Moving down the chain, one must be able to fully flex their knee to achieve full depth. Lastly, and most commonly an issue, is the mobility requirement of the ankle. One must have great ankle dorsiflexion in order to achieve a perfect, full depth air squat. When someone lacks ankle mobility, it will limit their ability to drive their knee over their toes and cause them to compensate with medial knee/foot collapse and/or their heel lifting up.
Pistol Squat Scales and Progressions
If you are still working on achieving the mobility, stability, and strength requirements, then below are some good scales and progressions you can utilize until you're ready for that first pistol squat!
1. Weight Forward Reverse Lunges
These will allow you to start to get comfortable squatting and loading through 1 leg. You want to try and put as much of your weight forward onto the front leg as you would with an actual pistol squat. As you get better with these, attempt to use the BACK leg less and less.
2. Box Pistol Squats
The box pistol squat is a good progression from the reverse lunges above. You want to make sure you continue to promote a forward weight shift of you body weight and trunk to mimic the pistol squat. As these get easier, lower the height of the the box/seat you are using and attempt to NOT sit all the way down.
3. Band Assisted Pistol Squat
3. Heel Elevated Pistol Squats
This is a great progression that will allow you to practice the pistol squat while still having some ankle mobility restrictions. It closely mimics the actual pistol squat as you can see but reduces the dorsiflexion required to achieve full depth. This is not a progression you want to stop at; keep working on that ankle mobility so you can get rid of the heel elevation!
4. Counterbalance Pistol Squat
The counter balance of the weight will help neutralize some of the mobility and stability demands of the pistol squat and, like the heel elevated pistol squats, allows you to practice a very close sister variation of the actual pistol squat. You can even perform this version in combination of the heel elevated pistol squat if needed.
5. Just do the damn thing! ;)
Written by: Marissa Oxenford, PT, DPT, CMFA-cert, CF-L1 Trainer, CPT