Pistol Squat Progression?



I’ve always puzzled about this sort of thing because I can’t do a single leg squat to save my life but I still manage to have a fairly decent FTP (4.2W/Kg).

I do have a sprint limit of about 1000W though so would this be helped with a concerted effort to gain some serious leg strength do you think?


Yes, it would help with your sprint. Look at how track cyclists, the sprinters, train. A lot of their time and energy goes into squats and deadlifts. The bodyweight equivalence of squats and deadlifts is single leg squat and glute bridge/hip thrust.
With low resistance (8 reps +), it’s important to go to failure to build muscle mass. With heavy weights, failure is not as important. Effort wise it’s easier to build muscle with heavy weights than with light weights (failure beyond 20 reps is a horrible feeling).


If your knees go in front of your toes in a pistol you’re doing them wrong and are asking for injury. Knees going past the toes is usually the result of poor flexibility in the ankle and/or tight hamstrings or hip flexors. Knees in front of the toes is usually seen with the heals coming off the floor as well, which is undesired. A pistol starts by sitting back (not down), as if you were sitting down on a chair behind you. Heels stay planted on the ground and you drive through your heels on the way back up. You squat back and down so the knee remains in line or slightly behind the toes.

This not only applies to pistols but all types of squatting. However, the poor form is just exaggerated in a pistol because it is generally more demanding.


I firmly believe you’re wrong. Look at any weight or power lifter.


I think it’s very difficult to do a pistol squat without knee going in front of toes. I can’t do it, and most people I’ve seen try one can’t either.

If you have a technique that limits how far forward your knee goes (or if you don’t find or worry about your knee being stressed), then sure, by all means do the pistol squat. But there are other kinds of squat you can do where the lower leg stays much more vertical, that put a lot less stress on the knee.


I appreciate that you or anyone you know can’t do it, however that doesn’t take away from what proper pistol squat form is. I’ve done literally hundreds of pistol squats without my knee passing my toes. The pic you showed has several form issues regarding a proper pistol squat (possibly knee too far forward though tough to tell from that angle, exaggerated rounded back, off leg should be straight, off foot shouldn’t touch the ground).

A pistol squat is an advanced technique that must be learned and progressed to. I would say that most can not perform a pistol squat let alone a proper one. It took me some time to perfect it and that was already coming from a significant squatting background and Olympic lifting (squat snatch and squat clean and jerk). Stress on the knee comes from improper form regardless of the squat type. However, it is much easier to have form issues doing pistols.


How do you stay in balance if your center of gravity is so far back? It’s just not possible? Is your spine extremely flexible? Your head incredibly heavy? Your arms incredibly long? I dont’ get it.
I’ve always considered the “no knees ahead of toes” as a personal trainer invented myth, nothing else. It’s not even desirable.


The risk to your knees isn’t worth it.


I agree. It is a very difficult movement to master and quite honestly, I am really struggling with it.

What does help me maintaining a correct form is the use of a thicker rubber band. That way, I have enough support to do multiple reps and build the strength.



Yep. I’ve not spent the time to get the form right for a pistol squat. So I just avoid them and do other types.


From what I’m reading here, the ppl who can’t do them don’t believe they’re worth it, and vice versa. I do them and I think they’re important and help me become a better triathlete. You don’t cycle two legged nor run two legged. Single isolation work is critical and in particular, pistol squats have actually strengthened and stabilised my knees.


Haha! This is true!

Are there any coaches on here that can give some advice that is not just tied to their own abilitiies?



What’s the difference between a pistol squat and a single leg squat? In the pistol one, you go lower and have to bend your spine. Nothing else. When cycling, you never bend your knees as much as you have to do when pistol squatting with full depth, so what’s the point?

A pistol squat doesn’t resemble cycling efforts more than a single leg squat with a straight back and the resting leg beneath/behind you. Pistol simply requires ankle and spine mobility, while the greater depth increases the range of motion and difficulty of each repetition.

When squatting with a barbell, you must never bend your spine like in a pistol squat, so if you want to squat with full depth most people need lifting shoes with an elevated heel because of ankle constraints. If you don’t use lifting shoes, you either need to bend your spine in the bottom (“butt wink”) or stop before full depth is reached.
Low bar squats are different. Since the bar is lower on your back, torso more bent, hip constraints become an issue before ankle constraints, so these can be done without lifting shoes.

To me, this discussion seems to be a case of people not trying the movements themselves or they can’t picture the center of gravity in the movements. If center of gravity shifts back, you’re falling on your butt, hence the head, arms, knees over the toes - to stay in balance.

Look at the picture of Chad. He’s balanced, his spine is bent, his ankle is bent - center of gravity is in the middle.