Do You Even Pistol Squat, Bro? You Will Now

by Allen Gil March 06, 2015

Do You Even Pistol Squat, Bro? You Will Now

Pis·tol squat /pis-tl skwät/ n. 1 A single-leg squat performed as part of a balanced strength routine. Today I’m working on mobility by practicing my pistol squats. 2 Something you know you should work on but never. f*cking. do. Pistol squats are difficult so I’m going to do weighted calf raises instead.

There is nothing to be ashamed of if you can’t do a pistol squat. You should, however, slam your head into the nearest wall if you don’t think you need to master them. Because you do, and I’ll tell you why.

Ass to Grass or Nothing


You can’t beat a pistol for functionality, balance and total leg strength. They are one of the single most effective exercises for developing powerful glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps, not to mention the balance and mobility sought by any self-respecting lifter. They can be performed anywhere, with or without additional weight.

And if those reasons aren’t enough, how about the following fun fact:

Pistols help you develop the deep squatting strength you need to hit a PR on leg day.

Consider this a public service announcement, because if I see one more bro eke out a rep that is clearly four inches above parallel my f*cking head is going to explode: There are few gym faux pas quite as obnoxious as the shallow squat. If you’re going to bother loading that bar, why aren’t you making the most of it and squatting into it? Proper form will protect your knees; ass to the grass or nothing, buddy. Otherwise, take a few 45s off and work the full range of motion, please.

Yes, I have selfish reasons for pushing this point, as I’ve made it my personal mission to free the planet from the scourge of shallow squats, but the pistol squat is undeniably one of the best supplemental movements to help victims of Shallow Squat Syndrome overcome their issue.

Practice pistols so you can squat heavier weight with proper form and increase core strength, a crucial facet of every lift.

Now that you’re certain you need to integrate pistols into your normal lifting routine, obey these three rules to maximize your efforts:

1. Rely on your glutes—not your quads—when you’re stuck at the bottom.


As you start the pistol squat your weight should be fully shifted onto one leg, with the other off of the ground, preferably the non-working leg straight and in front of you. As you sink down into the squatting movement, the biggest mistake you can make is to rely on your quads or knees to get you back up.

Think into your heel—press it straight into the ground—and only think about squeezing your glutes to stand up. They are a big and powerful muscle group for a reason. With your weight in your heel, you will have the proper balance to prevent yourself from falling or straining your knee. Male or female, working your glutes never hurt anybody. Vanity aside, a strong ass game is going to ensure you’ve pretty much got any lower-body movement handled.

2. Never bounce off of your knees to get back up.

It’s tempting but so is cocaine, and I’m pretty sure at this point everyone knows that drugs are bad, mmkay?

As mentioned previously, push with your glutes, draw in your lower abs to activate your core and just ride it out. Especially on your first few tries, this squat can be ugly and tiring. You might get stuck halfway up but you will develop this strength over time. You’re definitely going to be sore tomorrow and you may never want to do them again but the last thing you need to do is strain the ligaments and tendons in one of our most complex joints just because you’re too lazy to use your muscles. Strive to get parallel or below but don’t hurt yourself trying to accomplish that as a novice pistol squatsman. As you feel out the movement and get stronger performing it, err on the side of shallow, and for f*ck’s sake just don’t bounce off of your knees.

3. Strengthen your hip flexors for a more effective pistol.


It may seem like the easiest part of the movement, but for some people lifting the non-working leg high enough not to interfere with the squat is more difficult than anything else.

Men typically do not have strong hip flexors (my condolences, sirs,) which can make the pistol squat a challenge. Couple that with the widespread threat of Shallow Squat Syndrome and the majority of the male population simply isn’t getting what they should out of leg day. It’s an easily correctable issue, but it requires identifying the problem and modifying behavior to change it.

Simple ab exercises like leg lifts—even performed on a declined bench—can help improve hip flexor strength, which equates to more effective pistol squats and serious leg day gains.

A Word on Shallow Squat Syndrome

This made-up disorder doesn’t have to be clinically diagnosed for it to be real. We all know someone who has been touched by the blight of shallow squats and the underdeveloped man-boy legs that come with it. While it’s more common in men, women, too, have similar problems dropping it low enough to reap any of the benefits of squatting, and are even more prone to shallow lunging.

If you notice a loved one failing to get their ass below parallel on leg day, don’t stand by while their gains plateau. Friends don’t let friends shallow squat.

Allen Gil
Allen Gil


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