The One Legged Squat

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If you could add one exercise to your routine, that could be done anywhere and would improve your sports performance, strength, balance, flexibility and joint mobility the Single leg squat would definitely be a contender. Sometimes referred to as the Pistol the one legged squat works the body in a whole new way as it requires co-ordination and movement that are non-existent in bilateral movements.

During daily life we rely on using one leg at a time for balance, quick shifts in movement and pretty much everything we do.

Why then do we train our legs together all the time? Obviously bilateral movements (Squats, Dead-lifts) are great to build compound strength but unilateral movements are neglected especially when it comes to the lower body. This is a shame as we miss out on all the benefits that come with unilateral training, which are especially important for the legs which rely on being used individually.

So what exactly is a pistol? You basically stand on one leg, with the other leg out and in front of you. Hands are kept out to the side to maintain balance. Next sit back down, as if sitting on a low chair. At this point your hamstring/glute should be resting on your calf. From here stand up again….. Easier said than done, therefore most people will need to progress with this movement even if at an advanced level of fitness. Here is the progression of the Pistol I like to use:

Single Leg Step Up

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRodaaJVCoo

Single leg swiss ball pistol

Progression to full movement

For most people the full pistol is out of reach for the time being and it will take dedication and time to work towards it. This doesn’t mean that the more supported versions are not of use. If you take one thing from this post it should be the importance of working each leg as an individual as well as bilaterally.

Sets of 8-12 reps using the Single leg swiss ball pistol as shown in the seconds video can be demanding for anyone, if you need more resistance you can add some light dumbbells in each hand. Also take note that the Lunge is somewhere between both types of movement.

Give the single leg squat or its variations a try on a consistant basis – try to progress the movement as far as you can or as close as you can to doing a full pistol. It may take some dedication but the pay off will be great as you will see your performance in almost everything you do improve. Also try to throw a few of the variations into your training routine for a dynamic approach to lower body training.

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Comments

  1. says

    Awesome post, and very timely too! I’ve recently been going to physio for various injuries, and been given lots of one-leg exercises.

    I’m going to incorporate these exercises into my routine too!

    As an addition to your post, the physio I saw said that if I could a one-leg squat on a BOSU, I’d never have any problems again. I’m a long way off though…

    Here’s a video example. Looks incredibly hard!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99FItcgNWt0

    @ Colin: Thanks for commenting. I love the idea of your site BTW. 100% agree with your physio and think that if most people could do 1 regular pistol or even a couple reps of swiss ball one-leg squats their knee issues would be gone. Let me know how it goes after you have incorporated a variation of these!

  2. says

    I loved this post!

    I just did pistol squats for the first time in our Kettlebell/TRX class, and I was simultaneously frustrated at my incompetence and kind of excited that I have this new move that I can improve in.

    So this post is very timely for me!

  3. says

    Helpful post. I’ve found single leg movements help with hip mobility and they are self limiting so I’m not overly compressing my spine. My teenage athletes resist the movement because they have a hard time looking good right away.

  4. says

    Yes!! Pistols are the best leg exercise. Gymnasts have been using them for decades to build leg strength that matches weightlifters, while also incorporating insane balance and musco-neuro development. And once you get good at pistols, doing pistol squat jumps will progress your legs to unimaginable levels of power, all the while saving your back and joints from the pointless ravages of overweighted barbells. I’m glad you wrote this article.

    One note: pistols require a lot of flexibility. If you think you’re strong enough for them but can’t seem to get all the way down, look at your ankle flexibility, and do calf stretches before you squat. Holding a light weight in front can also help as a counterbalance.

  5. says

    These are fantastic exercises, but I think we need to be careful to progress these in a way that the form and focus of the exercise will not be compromised. Starting from on top of a box and dropping until your opposite foot touches the ground is another good starting option.

  6. says

    The pistol is tough but a great exercise. It takes time but is well worth the effort put in. If you don’t want the load of a heavy squat on your back this can make for a great leg exercise.

    love your progressions

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