6 Steps To Perfecting Your Pistol Squat


The single leg pistol squat is a difficult movement for many people to perform. It requires a good amount of ankle/hip mobility, a ton of body coordination and excellence balance. Often athletes work tirelessly on perfecting this movement and still struggle with it. No matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to perform a full pistol correctly.

I want to share with you today a simple 6-step progression to perfecting this movement. The process is simple. It starts by breaking down the full pistol into small pieces. Piece-by-piece we can use this process to craft the full pistol.

Step 1

The first thing you need to learn how to do is hinge from the hips. The box touch down is a great way to learn this movement. Start by standing on a small box or weighted plate (usually 2-4 inches in height). Before you begin the squat, drive your hip backwards and bring your chest forward. This movement engages the powerhouse to your body (the posterior chain). Your bodyweight should feel completely balanced over the middle of your foot.

Once the hip hinge is complete, begin to squat until the heel of your free leg taps the ground. After you have made contact, return to the start position. Make sure your knee stays in direct alignment with your toes during the entire movement. It should not rotate or collapse inwards whatsoever.

Touchdown Step 1.PNG

During a small short distance touch down, your shin should remain fairly vertical. When performing a full pistol, the shin will eventually angle forward. Even though the distance for a touch down is small, you can still feel the glutes and quads engaging quite a bit.

Step 2-3

As the movement becomes easier to perform, increase the difficulty by making the height of the box progressively higher. As the box height grows the movement will become more difficult to complete with good technique.

Touchdown steps 2-3.PNG

Make sure the knee does not start to move forward until the bottom of the squat. The longer you can wait to keep the knee from moving toward your toes, the better.

Step 4

Eventually you will reach a touch down height of 12-14 inches. If you are able to achieve a touchdown of this depth, you are actually close to a full pistol! Doing a 12-14 inch touchdown will allow you to explore the deep depths of a single leg squat. For many of you, this stage will take the most time to master. This part takes practice. Lots of practice.

Step 4 Touch Down Progression

Step 5

Step 5 is practicing the pistol squat on a box. Your free leg is allowed to dip below the stance foot. When in the bottom of the squat, work on raising the free leg as high as possible.

Step 5 Touch Down Progression

Step 6

You finally made it. This is the last step of the pistol squat progression. You’re ready to try the pistol on the ground (with no box or plates).

In order to perform a full depth pistol, the knee must eventually drive forward. For many people, the knee will even pass the toes. This is why adequate ankle mobility is needed for this movement. While the knee does move forward, make sure to ALWAYS start your descent by moving the hips backwards.

Full PIstol

Some people will have an issue with their free leg cramping while trying to hold it elevated. If this is you, bend your knee on the beginning portion of the squat. Doing so takes the pressure off the quadriceps and limits cramping. As you descend into the squat, straighten your leg until you reach the bottom position with the desired full pistol.

Final Thoughts

Too often coaches and medical experts over complicate pistol squat progressions. Learning a movement does not need to be extremely difficult. All you have to do is break down the full movement into its most basic elements. Each step is an essential ingredient to mastering the full pistol.

Unfortunately, some people will never be able to achieve a full pistol due to bony abnormalities or joint mal-alignment. With that said you can still work on single leg squats by performing the touch downs on a high box (8-12 inches).

I hope this simple step-by-step guide helped you achieve your first pistol squat.

Until next time,

Dr. Aaron Horschig, PT, DPT, CSCS, USAW


Kevin Photo
Dr. Kevin Sonthana, PT, DPT, CSCS

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13 thoughts on “6 Steps To Perfecting Your Pistol Squat

  1. Hey Dr. Aaron,
    I really like you provide me as well the readers such a concise, step-by-step article on how to Perfecting Pistol Squat.
    By the way, I have used it as the reference to complete writing this post about Pistol Squat Exercise on my blog.
    Thank you for this informative article!

  2. Hi Aaron,
    I’m wondering if you could give me a rough idea about how long it could take me to do a full pistol squat if I do the progression exercises? I am 50 years old, pretty fit, not overweight, playing tennis regularly but I can’t do a single pistol squat at the moment.

  3. Hey SquatU,
    Your blogs have helped me immensely in structuring my own mobility and form correction routines.
    Could provide an article to speed-up hamstring and quadriceps recovery after an intense Squat and Deadlift session?

    Thank you,
    Sri Krishna J

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  5. This article is a treasure trove for anyone struggling with pistol squats! 🏋️‍♀️ The 6-step progression is so well-explained that it makes the daunting task of mastering this complex movement seem achievable. I appreciate the focus on hip hinging and the importance of ankle mobility, which are often overlooked. 🦵

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