What's Getting in the Way of Your Pistol Squat?

How to achieve a pistol squat

What's Getting in the Way of Your Pistol Squat?

The pistol squat, also known as the single-leg squat, is an impressive and powerful test of balance, strength, and mobility. It's a challenging movement that requires the harmonious function of various muscle groups and joints. If you’re struggling to achieve a perfect pistol squat, several factors might be hindering your progress. Let’s explore the main culprits and how to address them.


1. Ankle Mobility

Ankle mobility is crucial for a successful pistol squat. If your ankles are tight, you’ll struggle to maintain balance and achieve the necessary depth in your squat. Limited dorsiflexion (the ability to flex your foot upwards) can cause your heel to lift off the ground, making it nearly impossible to perform the squat correctly.


Solution: Incorporate ankle mobility exercises into your routine. Calf stretches, ankle circles, and using a resistance band to stretch your ankles can help. Foam rolling your calves and Achilles tendon can also improve flexibility.


2. Weak VMO and Abductors

Find your knees cave in do far when try to perform the pistol squat? The vastus medialis oblique (VMO) and your abductors play a critical role in stabilising your knee and ensuring proper tracking during the squat.


Solution: Strengthen these muscles with targeted exercises. For the VMO, target it with knee over toe exercises and having your heels raised such as on a slant board or simply doing lunges on your toes. For the abductors, include side-lying leg raises, clamshells, and lateral band walks in your workouts.


3. Lack of Stability

Stability is a key component in performing a pistol squat. You need strong and stable joints to control the movement, especially when balancing on one leg. If you lack stability, you may find it hard to control the descent and ascent phases of the squat.


Solution: Work on balance and proprioception exercises. Single-leg stands, balance board exercises, and dynamic movements like single-leg hops can enhance your stability. Yoga and Pilates can also improve overall balance and body control. Build up the balance in the pistol squat by performing one whilst holding onto support such as a TRX or a wall next to you. 


4. Your Glute Strength

Strong glutes are essential for the power and stability required in a pistol squat. Weak glutes can lead to poor hip control, causing your knee to wobble and making it difficult to maintain proper form.


Solution: Incorporate glute-strengthening exercises such as glute bridges, hip thrusts, and single-leg deadlifts. Focus on engaging your glutes during these movements to build the necessary strength for a pistol squat.


5. Your Quad Muscles

While the VMO is part of the quadriceps group, overall quad strength is vital for the pistol squat. The quadriceps are heavily involved in both the lowering and lifting phases of the movement.


Solution: Strengthen your quads with exercises like squats, lunges, and leg presses. Focus on single-leg variations to simulate the unilateral nature of the pistol squat. Bulgarian split squats and step-ups are particularly effective.


6. Practice, practice, practice

The accessory exercises mentioned above will help the individual muscles used in the pistol squat to get stronger. This is especially important if one is so weak that the body compensates during the movement and the pistol squat is performed incorrectly. By trying a regression of a pistol squat such as holding onto a trx, pushing off raised support with your hands when you get to the bottom, or squatting to a bench and pushing off from there, you will gradually and collectively build all the muscles necessary to perform the squat without the support. 


So how to achieve the pistol squat? 

Mastering the pistol squat requires a combination of mobility, strength, and stability. By addressing these key areas—ankle mobility, VMO and abductor strength, overall stability, glute strength and quadriceps strength—you can overcome the common barriers to this challenging exercise. Incorporate targeted exercises into your routine and try some regressions. Soon, with patience and persistence, you’ll be on your way to performing a perfect pistol squat.

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