THE PISTOL SQUAT PROGRESSION LADDER

EXERCISE BREAKDOWN: PLATFORM PISTOLS

 

HOW TO DO IT
GET A BENCH OR STEP OR STACK OF MATS OR WHATEVER-THE-HELL-ELSE YOU GOT OF
APPROPRIATE HEIGHT — it needs to be as close to the floor as possible, while
still allowing you to actually be able to do the damn thing.

DO YOUR FIRST REP WITH BOTH LEGS — just so that you can get confidence and a
sense of how low you need to go before your bum hits the platform. Without this,
most people mess up the first rep worrying they are going to fall over rather
than concentrating on their Pistol. It’s also a splendid idea to stand so close
to the platform that your calves touch it, that way there’s less chance of
missing it.

THEN START FOR REAL ON ONE LEG — that’s the point of the exercise after all.

NOW, ACTIVELY REACH YOUR ARMS AND ‘SPARE’ LEG OUT IN FRONT— This helps to
counter balance, and makes it easier to feel a stretch in the back of your
working leg sooner, which is what we want.

OH, AND KEEP YOUR FRONT LEG LOCKED — this is the dream, it takes a bit of quad
and hip flexor strength, but also helps to stop you falling over backwards

SHOOT YOUR BUM BACK — as with any squat, push your bum back like you’re about
to sit down.

CONTROL WITH STRENGTH ALL THE WAY TO THE PLATFORM — Now decend smoothly and
with strength until you land silently on your platform. Feel your standing
leg–your quads, but particularly your arse–controlling the move.

ROCK BACK JUST A LITTLE — if you need to. When you’re good at these you can
leave that out.

ROCK FORWARD — to gain just a little momentum. nothing crazy. try to rock
forward smoothly and feel your weight go into your standing heal and your glutes
load (stretch and feel the tension).

STAMP THROUGH YOUR FRONT HEAL — Then we drive back up. Imagine your stamping or
pushing strongly through your front heal.

‘GLUTE LOCK’ AT THE TOP — keep pushing all the way to the top. If it’s a tough
rep, speed up as soon as you are through the sticking point and finish with a
strong glute lock and straight leg. If your’re really good and in perfect
balance, keep your front leg out in front, if you’re not quite there yet, take a
second and touch down before you go again.

——

HOW YOU MESS IT UP (NOT YOU I’M SURE, BUT SOME PEOPLE)…AND HOW TO FIX IT, OF
COURSE
YOU MISS THE STEP – as rare as it is hilarious. Possibly re-read the
instructions a little and don’t do these on a boat in choppy waters.

YOUR HEAL COMES UP – This is a BIG one. It happens if you don’t know how to
squat properly, if you’re not concentrating, if you have physical restrictions
that encourage it, but particularly if you are trying to roll into it but you
don’t have the strength to drive back up. What happens, is that you roll into a
good position, try and drive up through your heal, but quickly your body
realises it doesn’t have the strength to push up (the horror!), so you roll
forwards past the ‘groove’ where we are trying to train and then your heal comes
up as you drive up–unfortunately your whole body falls forward as you do this.
naughty! The fix: sense when this happening, and fight harder to make it without
rocking forward. If you simply don’t have the strength, you have to make the
exercise easier (for now). Either use a higher platform, or use your spare leg
to assist, or try the active stamp cheat discussed below.

YOU CAN’T KEEP YOUR FRONT LEG STRAIGHT – this is very common if you’re not used
to these or L-Sit style moves (your quads feel like they hate you), and also
it’s common if you are working near your maximum strength level. It’s not a
problem short-term, i often use bent leg as a progression. Long term, you simply
have to build your quad and hip-flexor strength and get used to the feeling.

YOU STAY TOO UPRIGHT – The ultimate athlete would be able to stay totally
upright with these. Strength, flexibility, coordination–they got it all. That’s
not me though, and if I dare point out, that ain’t most of you either. So, when
we are learning these, especially if you’re not yet strong enough to do them
without a platform thing, we want to allow our torso to lean right over, we want
tyop look down and we want to encourage a stretch in the bum. That’s where we
need to learn to get power from, and it’s easier (at first) if you allow
yourself to lean into it slightly. So while you’re learning these, do that.

YOU DON’T USE THE ROCK – Stay to static and you don’t get to use the rock to get
a little momentum and a little extra glute stretch. If you don’t have enough
strength without the rock, you better use the rock! Sit. Rock Back. Rock
forwards. Stamp.

YOUR KNEE CAVES IN – classic issue on all squats. I’ve copied in from another
breakdown:

YOU STILL CAN’T DO IT – yea, i understand, These can be hard. Fear not, if
you’re new to strength, new to these, or just struggle with them OR if you want
another way of breaking through a strength plateau, there is another intelligent
way to cheat: do the move the same as normal on the standing leg, BUT with the
leg that usually shoots out forward, leave it down, just on your tip-toe. Then
use that leg to assist just enough that you can do good clean reps with the
standing leg doing the majority of the work. Once you’ve built some strength you
should be able to move onto the next progression in the chain.

THE PROGRESSION CHAIN
There’s a bit of a knack to picking the perfect drill for any individual with
these. Our goal is two fold: firstly, to get the best leg strength stimulus we
can, and secondly build towards perfect pistol squats (for fun). The
progressions below run basically from easiest to hardest, and you’ll want to
find out where you are and progress through them. However, there’s a time and
place to jumping back and forth between the drills. Some people will keep
getting stronger and progressing no matter what. Others may have to work through
all the different progressions every time they lower the platform.

SPARE LEG ASSISTS – it stays grounded and does up to about 20% of the work. We
use this if we aren’t strong enough or we need to break through a depth plateau.

LIFT. STAMP – Lifting the working side foot and actually stamping to initiate
the drive up is the final ‘cheat’ if you just can’t quite get it up at a certain
height.

ROCK. STAMP – This is my standard starting place at any level of step. The
stronger you are, the less rock you need. Ultimately, just don’t rock back. Land
and then push straight back up.

BENT SPARE LEG – keep it off the floor (if you can), but you can bend the spare
leg at this level.

STRAIGHT SPARE LEG – now we’re close to real pistols.

LOWER PLATFORM – until you don’t need one.

WICKED CUES
LOOK DOWN, STAMP DOWN – No heavy weight on your back; no need to worry about
spine angles. Looking down–encourages your glutes to load a bit and you’ll be
stronger. Then focus on stamping down and though the floor to encourage glutes,
hams, quads to work in unison.

HANDS FORWARDS, BUM BACKWARDS – to be athletic, we need to get a stretch in the
posterior chain on the way down, the better you do this, the stronger and
more-athletic you’ll be. So we reach ourt arms ne way, our bum the opposite and
voila, we learn to stretch and control through the butt.

PUSH THE FLOOR AWAY – there’s a lot going on with these–just look at all the
waffle on this page for a start. It’s easy to concentrate so hard that you
forget to actually, you know, push yourself all the way back up. So, if your
mind gets too busy, you can always go back to this cue…push the floor away
with your working leg. As hard as you can.

WHY DO THESE THINGS
MASTER THE PISTOL SQUAT – as below, Pistols are a fun skill to master. You’re
not going to be good at them without great legs. Of course, most people can’t do
them straight away. So, we do a few drills to help you master them. Rolling
Pistols being one, then using a platform that’s cleverly placed at the height
you can just about manage (this drill that is) is another. Strive to master your
current level then edge the platform lower and lower as you get better and
better.

GET GREAT LEGS – it’s compound; it’s strength; it’s a FULL range of motion
squat. Read: if you get really good at these, you will get really great legs.

NO SQUAT RACK, DODGY BACK, NO CONFIDENCE; NO PROBLEM – I have to admit it. I’m
an absolute single-leg squat whore. I use all of them, and I let all of them do
things to me, and cause me pain in all kinds of places and in all kind of ways.
The thing is, it just feels so right. Having suffered for many years with a bit
of a whiplash complaint, I can’t do a traditional barbell back squat wihtout
undue neck pain for days after. As much as I’d love to be a hardcore lifter-boy,
it’s just not worth it. The exercise doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. For many
people, for various reasons, the same is effectively true: They have injuries,
lack of confidence, lack of skill that prevent them from lifting big heavy
weights.

If that’s you, these and skater squats should be your bread and butter. I
routinely fine you can get more good quality woirk, with heavier loads,
stressing the right places than you can with heavy weights unless you’re dealing
with experienced lifters. If you’re an experienced lifter, you’ll want a little
of both two-legged and one-legged strength work. If you’re not, or –like
me–you train a lot of people–new people–every day, then these are a safer
starting point and the best way to build serious leg strength quickly.

EVEN OUT YOUR TWO LEGS – No doubt, once you’ve had a few goes at these, you’ll
feel compelled to tell me that one of your legs is better at it than the other
one. Well, welcome to being human. Different strength levels, coordination
levels, and bio-mechanical quirks means that almost everyone finds this is the
case. Good news is, with practice, you can narrow the gap–and narrowing the gap
gives you a better balanced body with more athleticism and less injury risk.
Note: work to narrow the gap but don’t chase perfection. You are (probably)
human after all.

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