THE PISTOL SQUAT PROGRESSION LADDER

THE PISTOL SQUAT PROGRESSION LADDER

 

On this ladder we work through a series of progressions that take you towards a full pistol squat. Good Pistol Squatting is the mark of strong and mobile legs, and are one of the very best things to do if you want to develop strong, lean and sexy legs. If you have healthy knees and want to see both your leg shape and performance boost over the next few years, dedicate to taking yourself to the top of this ladder slowly and carefully and I’m sure you’ll be delighted with the results. It starts with an easy two-leg rolling Pistol Sqaut, bonus tip if you struggle getting started, get a thick gymmat or a few towels to make it easier in the short term.

PROGRESSION 1: TWO LEG ROLLING SQUAT
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–> Heals must stay grounded throughout the squat (not so much on the roll, that would be silly).
–> That’s it.

Notes:

Why did I even include this as a progression I hear you ask? It’s really just a drill I use in classes for warm up and to get the rolling bit in your head. Never mind, it’s done now.

You may have a few mobility issues that need attention, work on those if you struggle to squat down low, but 95% of people can do this strength wise.

PROGRESSION 2: ROLLING PISTOL. STATIC. WITH HANDS.

 

CRITERIA:
–> Working heal must stay grounded
–> Bottom position must be held for one second
–> Spare leg must be held straight

Notes:

Sometimes people struggle with the mobility to hold these, sometimes knees aren’t ready for deep Pistols (see a physio if need be), and sometimes these shock the system a little the first time you do them, but once you get into a good position, it shouldn’t be too tough to hold these first time.

PROGRESSION 3: ROLLING PISTOL. STATIC. NO HANDS.

 

Criteria:

–> Working heal must stay down
–> Position must be held dead still for 1 second
–> Spare leg must be locked

Notes:

Here we simply roll into the bottom of the Pistol Squat and hold still. Finally, there’s actually a little bit of real strength needed here. There’s a bit of balance and skill required too, just to annoy the less controlled of you. The more mobility and control you have, the easier these will be strength-wise.

PROGRESSION 4: ROLLING PISTOL. ONE LEG DOWN. TWO LEGS UP.
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Criteria:

–> Your working heal must stay grounded on the way down
–> You must land gently
–> Your front leg must remain locked all the way down
–> Both heals must be down as you squat back up

Notes:

The next step towards doing actual Pistol Squats is to actually start going up and down on one leg — we had to get there some time right?! Here we start with a proper eccentric Pistol Squat, proving you have the strength to lower yourself down to the mat, on one leg, under control. For now we simply use both legs to come back up. As long as you can lower all the way down on one leg under control, you earn your stripes for this level.

PROGRESSION 5: ROLLING PISTOL. ONE LEG DOWN. ONE LEG UP — BUT WITH ALL THE CHEATS.
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CRITERIA

–> Your working heal must stay grounded all the way down, and then (even more importantly) all the way up
–> You must land gently
–> Your front leg must be locked all the way down
–> Your working leg must dominate on the way up

Notes:

The next level: we start to come up back up on one leg (but on this progression you’re allowed to cheat your arse off). It has to be clear that one leg is dominating, but the hands and the spare leg can help you ‘cheat’. You’ll be surprised how many people need this at first. If you’re not used to Pistols, you’re probably not used to squatting below parallel…and it takes some getting used to I’m telling you, and it takes some real strength. Don’t get greedy with these, if you start missing reps and getting ahead of yourself, you may lose a kneecap or two — don’t say I didn’t warn you. Start cautious, only move on once you’re ready.

PROGRESSION 6: ROLLING PISTOL. ONE LEG DOWN. ONE LEG UP — BUT WITH HAND-ASSIST.

CRITERIA:

–> Working heal must stay grounded all the way down then, and particularly all the way up
–> Must land gently
–> Front leg must be locked all the way down, but we allow some sloppiness on the way up
–> ‘Spare foot’ must not hit the deck

Notes:

From now on, only one foot is allowed to touch the floor, you got that?!

At this level, you can still cheat by tapping the floor with your hands, but your non-working leg is no longer permitted to help you. Use your arms to help all you like at this level (they can only do so much), but the more you use them, the harder you’ll find the transition to the next level!….

PROGRESSION 7: ROLLING PISTOL. FAST.
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Criteria:

–> Working heal must stay grounded all the way down then, and particularly, all the way up
–> Bum must land gently
–> Front leg must be locked all the way down, but we allow some sloppiness on the way up
–> ‘Spare foot’ must not hit the deck
–> Hands must not hit the deck
–> Both legs must be able to do this to pass the rung

Notes:

To me, there are two main points of pure joy as you climb this progression ladder, two fundamental moments, two times you ‘cross the Rubicon’. The first being right here. The second when you finish the ladder.

This step is the first time where you drive all the way up from the bottom of a Pistol Squat to the top with just your woking leg. Sure you’re using the momentum from the roll so it’s not a real Pistol, but it’s still an impressive move that only pretty strong folk can do! Once you’ve got this down, you know it’s just a matter of time and practice until you no longer need the momentum.

PROGRESSION 8: ROLLING PISTOL. MEDIUM SPEED.
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–> Speed of roll must be ‘medium’ (judge rules final)
–> Working heal must stay grounded all the way down then, and particularly all the way up
–> Bum must land gently
–> Front leg must be locked all the way down, but we allow some sloppiness on the way up
–> ‘Spare foot’ must not hit the deck
–> Hands must not hit the deck
–> Both legs must be able to do this to pass the rung

Notes:

Slower roll, easier to control, but more brute strength required. Accept it. Battle through it. The lower you can do it, the closer you are to real Pistol Squats.

PROGRESSION 9: ROLLING PISTOL. SLOW.
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Criteria:

–> Speed of roll must be so slow that it looks a bit silly, like it’a not helping you at all (but we know it is).
–> Working heal must stay grounded all the way down then, and particularly all the way up
–> Bum must land gently
–> Front leg must be locked all the way down, but we allow some sloppiness on the way up
–> ‘Spare foot’ must not hit the deck
–> Hands must not hit the deck
–> Both legs must be able to do this to pass the rung

Notes:

Get it as slow as you can, you need to be ready to lose the roll on the next progression. I know it’s a bit subjective this, but to pass this stage of the ladder, you must be able to demonstrate 3 clearly different speeds of Rolling Pistol Squats.

PROGRESSION 10: ROLLING PISTOL. WITH DEAD STOPS.
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Criteria:

–> You must stop dead for a freeze-frame on the way back up.
–> Working heal must stay grounded all the way down then, and particularly all the way up
–> Bum must land gently
–> Front leg must be locked all the way down, but we allow some sloppiness on the way up
–> ‘Spare foot’ must not hit the deck
–> Hands must not hit the deck
–> Both legs must be able to do this to pass the rung

Notes:

On this progression, you still roll back but you pause on the way up so that you don’t use any momentum. This takes another level of strength again, the dead-start strength to drive ‘out of the hole’ (as they say) and squat all the way back up.

Once you can do this, there’s only two final elements you need for a real Pistol Squat. Mobility and balance (oh, and a straight front leg! — 3 more elements then). Some will have this already, and the rest will be a mere formality, others though, will have to practice long ad hard to develop the mobility and control to do the real thing repeatedly.

PROGRESSION 11: ACTUAL PISTOL SQUATS.
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CRITERIA:

–> Must stop dead at the bottom for a freeze-frame moment
–> Front leg must remain straight throughout
–> Must not fall on arse
–> Full range of motion must be used

NOTES:

Here we are then, the final stage and the final rung of this ladder (for now at least), this is the much coveted Pistol Squat. Here you have to have the strength and control to squat all the way down (arse to calf), pause, and then power back up.

Once you can do that…congrats! You got a full Pistol. Be the person who can do a lot of reps of this, and there’s not doubt about it, you’ll have great legs. Unless they’re fat — then switch your focus to your food!

If you get stuck at this level then make sure you have a good L-Sit so that you can keep your spare leg straight, then work hard on your ankle and hip mobility to stop you from falling over backwards! This stuff matters.

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