In this article you’ll learn how to do a one legged squat (AKA a pistol squat), along with why it’s such a phenomenal bodyweight exercise.
5 Reasons Why The One Legged Squat Is An Awesome Exercise
Here are 5 reasons why I believe everyone should do one legged squats/pistol squats:
- It trains both legs equally.
- It’s functional (aka it translates to real-world movements).
- It strengthens your stabilizer muscles.
- It’s convenient (you can do it anywhere).
- It’s that rare thing: a bodyweight exercise for your legs that is actually *challenging* enough to build strength & muscle!
How To Do A One Legged Squat
When doing a one legged squat, there are two main things being challenged in your body:
- Physical strength in your quads
- Balance (stabilizer muscles)
Challenge #1 is the main reason why you do the exercise (to strengthen those leg muscles). But challenge #2 is liable to be your limiting factor when you’re first getting started with this exercise.
So to get started with pistol squats, I recommend doing them in front of a doorway. Position yourself so that your leg goes through the doorway and you can easily grab the wall in front of you. This is the best way to practice, because anytime you start to lose balance, you can easily grab the wall and steady yourself. This allows you to complete the entire movement enough times to get comfortable with it.
(Watch the video above at about 4:15 to see a demonstration of what I mean.)
Another tip that can help you progress to performing a one legged squat is to squat down onto a seat/bench. You can even squat down with both legs until your butt hits the seat, then squat up with one leg.
One Legged Squat Progressions & Variations
One you learn how to do a one legged squat to the point where you are comfortable with the movement, there are a handful of variations and modifications you can use to make the exercise more challenging.
My favorite is adding a jump at the top of the movement, making sure to initiate the jump when you’re at the BOTTOM of the squat (so explode from the bottom into a jump).
This is a FANTASTIC leg exercise.
(See the video at around 6 minutes for a demonstration of that.)
One Cool Thing About One Legged Squats
In this article on T Nation, they explain 2 additional benefits of pistol squats:
- Less load on your back/spine. Because you don’t need to place a big heavy barbell on your shoulders, pistol squats place a lot less stress on your back and spine.
- More load on your legs. They also explain something called “the bilateral deficit.” This means that when you do a normal two-legged squat, the force you produce is MORE than double the force you can produce by each leg on its own. In other words, doing a one legged squat placed MORE than twice the load on your leg than a normal two-legged squat.