How to be a Pistol Squat master?

Learn everything there is to know about the king of the squats and how to conquer it!

May 20, 2019
How to be a Pistol Squat master?

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Having an impressive muscular upper body is always going to be the ultimate fitness goal, especially if you are a calisthenic athlete and your best bet of making progress is building those shoulders, arms, chest, and back muscles. 

However, the legs are the foundation on top of which you can build the ultimate warrior body. Unlike upper body bodyweight exercises that have many variations of their own, lower body exercises that are a worthy substitute for their higher intensity weighted counterparts, like the barbell back squat or front squat, are scarce and far between. Enter, pistol squats.

The pistol squat is a unilateral (single leg) exercise that activates glute, quadriceps, hamstring, and pelvic muscles. It is a high-intensity functional movement, meaning it requires the whole body and all muscle groups to cooperate together during the movement. This is one of the greatest strengths of the pistol squat, as it is often recommended to choose this type of exercises for muscle building and fat burning routines.

The pistol squat offers a lot of benefits but demands a lot in return. Your hips, ankles, and muscles around them have to be mobile and strong enough for you to be able to do the movement safely and effectively.

Not just for show?

The reasons for including pistol squats in your workout are plentiful. It is not just a cool looking movement to impress people, although it is quite effective in that department. 

Being a unilateral exercise, it is a great way of adding extra weight on the active muscle without the need of putting a barbell on top of your back. Although the back squat is a great exercise, it goes without saying that it will put more pressure on your spine, especially if you are using very heavy weights. 

Fellow bloggers explain how unilateral exercises are considered to be a great way of building core strength, stability, and correcting muscle imbalances

If building strength and using the pistol squat for mentioned preventive reasons isn't enough to convince you what a gem amongst lower bodyweight exercises the pistol squat is, here are a few more. For instance, research suggests using unilateral rather than bilateral squats for people with low back pain and people enrolled in rehabilitation after an ACL ligament rupture. This is because unilateral squats are performed with smaller loads but can achieve similar levels of muscle activity in the lower body and core muscles.

The pistol squat has various progression exercises that simplify the full technique and lower the intensity for safe progress. This makes the learning process safe and completely effective on its own while progressing towards the full technique. You can check out what these progression exercises are in the Pistol squat guide. Continue reading to find out how to get the Pistol squat guide for free.

The Madbarz workout creator includes a growing library of more than 400 exercises, including single leg and pistol squat variations that you can use when creating your lower body workouts.  

As you can see, the pistol squat indeed has a lot to offer. However with it comes a word of warning, or two.

Don't go looking for trouble

Similarly like most challenging bodyweight exercises, the pistol squat can be performed in a wrong way, and it can be performed in a safe and effective way. 

One of the biggest issues is having a certain level of ankle joint mobility. Dorsiflexion, lifting the upper part of the foot close to the shin (front part of the lower leg) is often a problem for a lot of people. In a standard squat, there is more hip flexion because the hip gets more externally rotated so you can compensate for lack of ankle mobility, but not in a pistol squat.

Also, one of the most debated issues that occur during a pistol squat is the so-called butt wink. While it's important to keep the lower back from flexing in a back squat, during the pistol squat it becomes acceptable, so it is a kind of a double standard in squatting exercises

Core strength plays a big role in keeping the lower back safe and strong during the butt wink. Check out Madbarz premium for various core focused plans designed to increase your midsection strength and endurance.

Research has shown that the position of the upper body in the pistol squat plays a role in the repeating of injury and overall knee strains. Authors concluded that the slight forward upper body lean is more appropriate for patients with ACL ligament rupture then the decreased forward lean in the pistol squat. 

Even if you got all of the problems mentioned above tackled, it is important to remember one thing about the pistol squat. It is not meant to be a conditioning exercise. Once you’ve built up the strength, don't use the pistol to do a high repetition workout. There is a high chance of injury and joint overstraining. 

So don’t go looking for trouble, make sure that you are ready to take on the pistol, strong and injury free. Keep your core tight and activated, work on your ankle mobility and avoid doing pistol squats if your knees are not at 100%.

The road to success 

Here are a couple of suggestions on how to improve your chance of hitting your first pistol squat and in time becoming a pistol squat master.

  1. First off do a short test. A regular deep squat position with the heels firmly on the floor is a good way to see if you have the necessary ankle mobility. Even better try a close stance squat where the feet are very close together or even touching. It takes more ankle mobility than a squat with a wider stance. 

  1. Work on your hip extensor flexibility. More flexible your hamstrings are the easier is for your hips to go further back. This is also a good way to minimize the flexion of the lower back(butt wink).

  1. Work on strengthening your shin muscles (front part of the lower leg) and hip flexors (quadriceps and iliopsoas muscles). These are often neglected, muscle groups and you will benefit significantly by including them in your workouts.

  1. Use a system of progression exercises. These exercises imitate the full technique of a pistol squat by making it easier and safer for your fitness level at a given point of time. 

Start with simpler ones and work your way up towards more demanding ones.


Put your time and energy into building a stronger and mobile lower body and the pistol squat will be within your reach. There are many progression exercises that you can use to work on your strength, stability, and mobility at the same time. The best way to get to the pistol squat fast, effective, and safe is to combine the Pistol squat guide with Madbarz plans and workouts.

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