How to build muscle with single leg 'pistol' squats, according to a personal trainer
- If you're bored of standard squats, single leg "pistol"
squatscan progress your muscle gains. Pistol squatsare challenging but working on them can improve balance and fix weaknesses.
If you've mastered the bodyweight squat, consider taking your muscle gains to the next level with the single-leg variation — the pistol squat.
For intermediate to advanced athletes, pistol squats are an efficient way to build muscle and improve balance, stability, and coordination.
To work up to pistol squats, practice assisted variations using equipment like a box or stability ball, experts recommend. Developing hip and ankle mobility as well as a strong core will also help with the challenging movement.
Benefits of single-leg work include balance and muscle-building
Pistol squats are impressive to look at, but they aren't just for show. Single-leg exercises build muscle and correct imbalances in your body, according to Andre Adams, master trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
"It helps improve symmetry in your strength and aesthetics. We're forcing the leg to work a little harder to stabilize," he told Insider.
Unilateral, or single-side work, also helps you get more bang for your buck while working out, especially when combined with compound exercises like traditional squats, deadlifts, and presses.
"By switching to single leg
How to do a pistol squat
Pistol squats demand strength, stability, and mobility, so be sure you're comfortable with basic squats first. When in doubt, it's always best to consult a qualified coach. It takes healthy joints to do challenging single-leg exercises, so avoid pistol squats if you have existing knee pain or injuries, Adams said. To do a pistol squat:
- Start in a standing position with feet hip-width apart.
- Shift your weight onto one leg, extending the other out in front of you.
- Bring your arms out in front of you for balance.
- Keep your core tight and your torso as upright as possible.
- By bending your knee, lower your hips to below parallel at least, aiming to get your butt close to your heel (without sitting on the ground).
- Finish the movement by pressing up through the heel to standing.
Work up to a full pistol squat with modifications like TRX, a stability ball, or a box
Starting with lunge exercises can help you master stability for single leg work. You can also adjust or "scale" pistol squats to make them more accessible using many of the same techniques found in a standard squat.
Stability ball: Stand with a stability ball pressed between your back and the wall for support, sliding down the ball as you lower into a pistol squat and back up.
TRX: Holding on to TRX bands for leverage can help you maintain balance and control your descent, and assist as you press up to standing.
Box variation 1: Stand on one leg on a slightly elevated surface like a short box and extend the other leg slightly to the side and toward the floor. Bend your standing knee into a pistol squat until your extended leg just taps the floor; press back up.
Box variation 2: With a tall box or sturdy chair behind you, bend into a pistol squat until your butt touches the box, then press back up.
Counterbalance: As you get closer to doing an unassisted pistol squat, holding a light weight out in front of your body can help you stabilize.
As you progress, work up to larger sets of exercise by combining scaled exercises with full pistol squats.
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