Pistols Progressions

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Pistols Progressions : Struggling with the Pistol?

Is your problem mobility? Is it strength? Or is it stability or balance?
A couple simple tests:


MOBILITY: Are you able to squat below parallel with good position: hips below parallel, feet flat with weight toward your heels and knee tracking with your toes?
NO: Definitely need to get to work on that mobility!
YES: Congratulations, you do in fact possess the requisite mobility to perform a pistol!
STABILITY: While in the bottom position of the squat, shift your weight onto one leg and kick your leg out in front of you. Make sure that your knee is still tracking with your toes and not caving in. Can you balance in this position?
NO: Balance comes with practice. Try doing 5-10 practice attempts per day each side until you can hold yourself steady in this bottom position. If your knee caves in, you may also need to look into some glute activation exercises as well. The first progression listed below will help with this.
YES: Awesome! Practice standing up from the bottom and focus on driving the knee out and staying back in the heel. As a coach, I’ve had some great success teaching this movement bottom up. Practicing the concentric (standing up) component of the movement will help your body understand the pattern for the movement. For most people, the standing part of the pistol is the easiest. Getting down is a game of balance and motor control.
If you, at the very least, passed the Mobility test, you’re ready for these progressions. If you didn’t do so hot on the stability portion, my recommendation would be to continue practicing the balance in the bottom and spend a lot of time on the first progression listed below.
Pistol Progressions for Developing Strength, Stability and Balance
1. Step ups to a box
– Slow it down! Many of you do these already instead of box jumps. But with these, do them with one leg hanging off the side and lock out your support leg before you let the other leg touch the box. Or better yet, don’t let the other leg touch the box at all.
– Do 2 sets of 10 reps each side. To intensify this exercise, you can add dumbbells or kettlebells in each hand.
– Remember, keep the heel down and the knee pointing out. Don’t let the knee cave in!
2. Pistols standing on a box
– Standing on top of a box with the support leg near the edge, slowly lower yourself down until just before your heel comes off the box. Then stand. The goal is to get all the way down, but if you lose your balance or your heel leaves the box, let that be your TEMPORARY bottom position and practice that. As you get better try to increase your range of motion until you can go all the way down.
– You can do this with the unsupported leg pointing forward or backward. Backward is easier. Work up to keeping the leg in front
– 2 sets of 10 reps
– Remember, keep the heel down and the knee pointing out. Don’t let the knee cave in!
3. Pistols to a box
– Here’s your chance to practice the pistol with training wheels. This variation has our feet on the ground with a box behind you to act as a target and a place to sit in case you lose your balance.
– Practice initiating your pistols with your hips going BACK. Drive the knee out and stay in the heel.
– Start with a taller box and reduce the height of the box as you get better.
– 2 sets of 10 reps
4. Full Pistol
– Initiate the pistol squat with your hips going BACK
– Drive the knee out
– Stay in the heel
– Squat below parallel and then drive up pressing through your heel
Special Note: It is ALWAYS a good idea to spend as much leisure time as you can in the bottom of the squat. Being comfortable in the bottom is great for your hips and for maintaining your mobility. From time to time, practice single leg balances as well. The more comfortable you are in the bottom, the better you will be at the squat and the pistol. Enjoy!