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How to do your First Pistol Squat

42783751 - man doing one leg squat at the gym

The pistol squat is the ultimate blend of single leg strength, stability, and athleticism.

Here’s how to do for first one in as little as six weeks.

This is why you need to do pistol squats — even if the idea seems crazy at first.

When most lifters see pistol squats, they cross their arms across their chest and cringe.

And I don’t blame them.

Freakshow YouTube videos of 140lb dudes squatting on Bosu-balls don’t help. They hide the real story: Pistols are a bad-ass exercise.

Anyone who can stand on one foot and without support, drop into a full squat has a blend of mobility, stability, relative strength, and athleticism that puts them in the top 10% of lifters.

And despite the awesome benefits, pistol squats won’t build massive legs unless you’re doing 20-30 of them at a shot– and maybe 1/1000 people can do that.

And, no, you won’t build a massive deadlift or back squat from crushing pistols. The movement patterns are too different as far the levels of tension created.

But mastering pistol squats improve relative strength display awesome mobility and athleticism. And they’ll make you hot. Even better, they’ll activate dormant muscle fibers and allow you to see which muscles and joints need to improve for pain-free performance.

That means the information you get, whether your knee dives in or you fall forward, is important for reducing injury risk. 

I’ll show you how, as well as giving a step by step guide to learning your first pistol in the next six weeks.

Why Pistols are Important:

There are huge demands placed on hip, knee, and ankle mobility, while demanding those same joints remain stable during the lift.  Since the pistol is purely a unilateral leg exercise (only one place of support, unlike lunges or squats), any gap in movement quality is highlighted, giving you a road-map of your weak points.

By mastering the pistol and training your weak points you’ll be on the road to safer, stronger, and better deadlifting, squatting, cleaning,and sprinting. It all translates into improved overall performance.

It’s all About the Dorsiflexion

The biggest benefit of learning the pistol squat is improving ankle mobility, namely dorsiflexion, the movement when you pull your toe towards your knee.
Better dorsiflexion allows the tibia (shin bone)  and thus the knee to track forward over the toe without the heel rising off the ground.

how to do your first pistol squat

That means safer performance and less knee stress on lifts like lunges, high bar squats, front squats, and Olympic lifts. In sprinting, dorsiflexion helps the foot strike under the hips for more power, shortening the lever of the lower leg to help you run faster than a cheetah. Ok, that’s a stretch, but it’s still important.

For physique, a narrow stance with lunges, squats, and leg presses more effectively targets your quads to build serious leg mass.

And most importantly, a lack of ankle mobility cascades up the kinetic chain, culmulating in poor hip mobility and knee stability that leads to injuries.

For example, a squatter with poor ankle mobility must keep a vertical shin on squats to lift safely and effectively. This is fine for wide stance squatting with externally rotated feet but causes two big issues for more narrow stances.

  1. The squat turns into a good morning and/or the lifter loses neutral spine position, predisposing them to back injuries and shitty performance.
  2. Or the difference in ankle mobility leads to rotation on the bottom the squat, effectively loading each side of your body with a different weight. Obviously, this is bad for both safety and performance. 

By now, you get the point: active range of motion dorsiflexion is important to dominate your training and stay healthy.  Few exercises develop dorsiflexion ability like the pistol squat.

Overload the Eccentric Pattern:  

While the stress on pistol squats isn’t as high as a heavy negative on a squat, attacking each limb overloads the eccentric to fire up stabilizers and build strength.

Plus, eccentric control gained via pistol squats is vital for tendon strength and helping you hold optimal position on the bottom of your lifts.
And the final whammy, eccentrics provide mechanical tension to stimulate muscle growth. Now, you won’t get yoked out of your gourd doing pistols, but they attack areas, stabilizers, and joint positions missing from your program to unlock new progress.  

2:1 accentuated eccentric pistols to a box are one of the best exercises for this. You’ll groove eccentric control on the negative, meaning you’ll strengthen through the range of motion to train safely, while you learn the movement. 

Increase motor unit recruitment:

Improving MU recruitment teaches more muscle units to fire together faster and more frequently, which improves performance and helping you get more athletic.    

The pistol squat stabilizers neglected in squats, deadlifts, and lunges, more or less covering the gaps left by bilateral exercises.  In essence, underused muscles will now help stabilize and transfer force to make you potentially stronger on you big movements.

Unilateral lifts like the pistol improve muscle unit recruitment and turn on stabilizing muscles that weren’t firing before, preventing compensation patterns that hurt performance and lead to injuries. 

Progression:

To learn the pistol squat, I recommend picking the most difficult variation you can safely complete. Train the pistol 2-3 times per week after your main lifts for 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps per leg.

¼ Medicine Ball Paused Pistols:

How to: Standing on one foot, extend the non-working leg as you drop into a ¼ squat while extending the arms holding a medicine ball. This grooves stability and balance through a limited range of motion while the med-ball works as a counterbalance.


Pistol Squat 2:1 Accentuated Eccentrics: 

How to: Standing on one foot, extend the non-working leg as you drop into a single leg squat to a box. Take three to four seconds down. Then, stand up using two feet. This one-down two-up technique lets you eccentrically overload the pistol squat, building strength to perform a full pistol, safely. 

Pistol Squat to Box:

How to: Standing on one foot, extend the non-working leg as you descend into a squat to the box. Touch the box, and return to a standing position. Start with a high box and decrease the height until you’re going 90 degrees, or into a full squat.

Kettlebell Pistol Squat to Box:

How to: Standing on one foot, extend the non-working leg and hold a kettlebell at chest height. Break at the hips, descending to a box. The kettlebell provides overload to boost single leg strength and control.

Pistol Squat

How to: Standing on one foot, extend the non-working leg and descend into a full pistol. Squeeze the non-working leg against the squatting leg, pushing your heel into the ground and returning to a full standing position.

If the heel rises off the ground, that’s a sign that you need to improve active ROM through the ankle, and decrease the depth of your pistol.

If you’re folding forward at the torso, use a light medicine ball as a counter-balance for your squat.

Goblet Pistol Squat:

How to: These are an advanced method to loading the pistol squat. Only once you’ve mastered a bodyweight pistol should you attempt these. Perform a pistol while holding a kettlebell by the horns.

Considerations:

It’s common thought that just because an exercise is bodyweight based, it isn’t stressful on the joints. This isn’t the case.

Pistol squats need a high degree of mobility and stability and if done wrong, are stressful on the knee. If you can’t execute the lift, change your depth as your technique and ability allows.

At all times say within your capabilities and use the pistol squat to attack bilateral differences holding back your high-performance training.

Common Technique Issues:

Trunk Flexion

If you’re bending too far forward, use a medicine ball, light weight, or move the arms in front of your body to act as a counterweight.

Knee Valgus

The knee diving is a motion that if allowed to groove into movements, sets the table for both poor performance and increased knee injury risk. Think of pushing the knee out while keeping the foot flat, and add in lateral band walks for 2 sets of eight reps before training  to improve glute medius activation.

Rising Up onto the Toe

If you lack dorsiflexion you’ll shift weight forward onto toes. This gives a smaller base of support, hindering balance and putting excess shear stress on the knee.

In this case, think of sitting back into the squat a bit more and use ankle-wall mobility to increase active range of motion in the ankle. Two sets of eight reps per ankle before pistols makes a huge difference.

The pistol squat is a great exercise for building relative strength, mobility, and stability through the hip, knee, and ankle.

They won’t get you huge, but they’ll give you the feedback to improve your lower body performance, reduce injuries, and build serious single leg strength.

Now It’s Your Turn

So how about it, are you going to give the pistol progression a shot? Drop me a “hell yes” and keep me updated on your progress.

 

12 Ways Bodyweight Training You Into A Ninja

bodyweight training, Expert Tips to Build Muscle

Since my middle school days I’ve been addicted to the iron. Pushing heavy weight, moving fast, and going hard in the gym, gets me goin’!

That said, some aspects have changed.

I’ve pushed too hard. Ignored too many nagging issues for too long, and paid the price.

For a bit, I saw my athleticism crumble and got worked on the field after only chasing strength to improve performance. After having it drilled into my head a million times, it finally clicked:  Tweet: There is no absolute, perfect way to train. bit.ly/1KGTjIW @Eric_Bach #fitness #bodyweighttraining #muscleThere is no absolute, perfect way to train. 

 

There is no “best” method, no inherently terrible method, and no perfect tool. Instead, there are only methods, and sound execution of the method.

From there, the precision in which you master the method drives results. Either you’re a high-performance beast in control of your body, or you’re r not.

If you’re like me, barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells make up the majority of your training.

Still, these are all a means to an end, rather than the end all be all.  At the end of the day, what’s important is…

How well you perform in your sport and pown your opponents.

How much lean, athletic muscle you’re building. Or whether that aching shoulder, stiff back, or cranky knee pain is subsiding. Recently, I made a major change— adding bodyweight training.

A lot more if it. The result?

I’m stronger, shredded, and more athletic than I have been in the last year and a half. Even better, I’m healthier with less joint stress and overuse injuries. My clients too. This just touches the surface on the benefits of bodyweight training.

In this post, I’ll show you 12 reasons bodyweight training will get you stronger, shredded, and more athletic. You’ll probably even look better naked, and develop some wicked ninja skills, sans the throwing stars. Enough chit-chat. Let’s get down to business.

1. More Variety for Advanced Trainees

The more advanced your training age, the slower adaptation is. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. If basic linear overload worked 100% of the time, we would all be squatting 1000lbs after two years under the bar. Instead of sticking with the same basic squat, bench, deadlift, and power clean workout you did in high school, make changes. Start adding in single leg progressions, chin ups, or advanced push-up exercises, like the med-ball pop-up push-up below:

 

2.Bodyweight training Increases athleticism

 

Who the hell wants to get crossed over at the YMCA by some pimply faced teenager? We ain’t got time for that! In most sports, the speed and efficiency in which you move is what determines your success. This includes:

  • Juking and sprinting from an opponent in football.
  • Jumping off one foot in basketball.
  • Driving through your hips, rotating, and delivering a punch to your opponent.

These days, powerlifting and building max strength are the flavor of the month. While absolute strength is important, the most important factors for most athletes remain moving effectively with enough relative strength to move faster than the competition.

Bodyweight training is ideal to build relative strength because each exercise is limited by your ability to move, control, and stabilize your body through space. Maximum strength is still vital, but incorporating bodyweight movements like sprinting, jumping, skipping, and basic squats and push-ups is vital for athletic performance. Hurdle Hops are one of my go-to bodyweight jump variations:

Rather than fixing you into the same exact movement for the umpteenth time, you’ll reinforce timing, coordination, speed, stability, and mobility while moving your body.  

3. Lower Joint Stress

 

  Compound barbell exercises might be the backbone of most good training programs, but too much of a good thing is exactly that: too much. Specifically, excessive loading in the same movement patterns over years is a sure-fire way to wear out your joints, especially if there are technical flaws.

Bodyweight training provides a different mechanical overload while reducing joint stress. I’m not saying drop the big boy lifts, far from. Instead, incorporate more bodyweight movements like pistol squats instead of squats once or twice per week.  

4. Improved Mobility and Stability in Your Big Lifts

 

Most bodyweight exercises need stability and mobility that is neglected through more popular training methods, like barbells. Bodyweight exercises recruit often-neglected smaller muscles to fire and stabilize the body the way it was meant to work. Incorporate bodyweight work for a while and watch your big lifts explode once you’re back under the bar with greater kinesthetic awareness and support.  

 

5. Build More Real World Strength  

 

I’ve had clients come in with 400lb+ bench presses, yet they couldn’t perform a push-up properly. You must be able to control your own body safely and efficiently to be a high-performance beast. The body is great at compensating for underlying weaknesses, especially with the same redundant movement patterns.

Instead of blitzing the barbell again, overload bodyweight exercises. Bodyweight exercises provide simultaneous challenges mobility and stability with the prime movers and stabilizers concurrently firing. The end result is a body that is capable of moving in the real work, not just the platform.  

 

6. Higher Training Volume for muscle growth  

 

When helping clients add muscle mass the first training change I make is adding volume. Rather than hammering extra isolation work, I opt for bodyweight circuits for clients to hit at home before work or school.

This allows a significant increase in training volume without making more trips to the gym. Beyond eating more (which I covered below), add bodyweight circuits once in the morning before heading off out for the day. Don’t half-ass these—make the bodyweight variations tough enough to cause stress and overload.

Related: Nutrition for Hardgainers  To quantify the volume lets say you do 45 push-ups during each workout.In 30 days, that’s an additional 1,350 push-ups in a month. DAYUM. If you did an additional 1,350 push-ups next month, would you be bigger and stronger? Yes. No struggle, no growth.  

 

7. Bodyweight Training Tests Help You Stay Lean While Bulking  

 

We’ve all been there. In the middle of a muscle gaining phase and all a sudden it hits: You feel fat, out of shape, and un-athletic. You’re not alone. Most lifters get so obsessed with adding weight to the scale and blow up with tons of unnecessary fat gain.

The result?

Decreased relative strength.

While getting bigger might appeal to you aesthetically, you’ll ruin your performance if relative strength decreases and you can’t generate force as rapidly and efficiently. To test the issue, my clients test their broad jump, push-up, and chin-up numbers every few weeks when gaining weight. Push-ups, chin-ups, and explosive jump decreasing?

Then your relative strength is dropping and you’re unable generate force as fast. Push-ups, chin-ups, and explosive jumps staying the same? Bingo! You’re adding lean mass and getting progressively stronger to keep up with your bodyweight.    

 

8. Control Cheat Days  

Listen: We all have cheat days. Beer, pizza, ribs, fries, fruity vodka drinks with cute umbrellas, chocolate covered bacon….the list goes on for these tasty little morsels.

IMG_1888
Delicious meatyness at Russell’s Smokehouse in Denver

  Eating has social implications—holidays, and social events where  “unhealthy foods” helps you relax and enjoy the company of others are part of our culture. That said, they’re still cheat days and must be limited for getting jacked and athletic. “Great, so where do bodyweight exercises fit in?”

I’m glad you asked. Due to their convenience, bodyweight exercises are the perfect weapon to increase pre-cheat insulin sensitivity.

Basically, by dropping and crushing 30 push ups, band pull-aparts, and squats you’re activating your muscles to be receptive to the calorie bombs.

The key? Glute 4, a transporter that handles transporting glucose into skeletal muscle from the blood stream, is stimulated by muscular contractions.

That means:  yes, it’s possible to limit your fat gain while drinking beer and eating pizza with your buddies. Just keep it in moderation and use mini-workouts 15-30 minutes before and after cheat meals to stay leaner and use the extra calories for building muscle. P.S. Props to Tim Ferriss for turning me onto the idea, after further research and self-experimentation, this really does help you survive cheat day.

 

9. Your Body Knows Tension, Not Weight

 

  “Wait, what?” Most of my athletes obsess over measurables like weight on the bar or the distance of a sprint. While these metrics are important, your body doesn’t care what’s on the bar or how far you need to run.

Your mitochondria don’t know the distance you’re sprinting; rather, it knows the intensity and time of the exercise and makes changes based on those demands.  

Similarly, your body doesn’t know 400lbs is on the bar for a squat. Instead, it knows it must recruit as many muscle fibers as possible and fire in a synchronized pattern to complete a muscle action against a heavy load.

Instead of the same old lifts, overload advanced bodyweight variations. Try pistol squats, chain push-ups, ring chin-ups, handstand push-ups, and L-sits to maximize muscular tension and build strength beyond the barbell.  

10. Bodyweight Training is Fun

 

It’s easy to lose sight of the primary reasons most of us train—It’s fun and a source of stress relief. Unfortunately, the same methods of training get stale over time and workout quality suffers. Missed workouts, poor focus, and a lack of determination are signs that you need to change up your training.

For starters, go with bodyweight training as a substitute for a major movement pattern. Instead of overloading your bench press for the 104th straight week, take a few months and progress towards a one-arm push-up. Your months of hard work won’t just disappear; rather, you’ll experience a fresh determination and super compensation from changing your routine.  

 

11. Bodyweight Training is Key for Injury Prevention  

 

Mobility and stability are important parts of any training program. Problem is, most lifters only focus on improving mobility and are a slave to countless drills and soft-tissue devices. While these all have their place, mobility without stability is like building a house without a sound foundation.

Everything looks okay at first, yet a greater range of motion without stability is no better than a limited range of motion. Instead of simply attacking mobility drills and soft tissue work, back them up with a stabilization movement right after.

For example, perform a mobility drill followed up by a 10-15 second isometric contraction to reinforce the new mobility.

Mobility: Thoracic Mobility Drill 

Stability: 90 degree Isometric Push-Up Hold

Instead of building a foundation and leaving it alone, build a foundation and reinforce it with concrete stability to maximal injury prevention.  

12. Bodyweight Training is More Convenient  

 

The biggest issue most people run into is missing training sessions and inconsistencies. Bodyweight training eliminates the issue and allows you to train anywhere without equipment.

A few pieces of equipment that make bodyweight training convenient at home are the ab wheel, and a door way chin-up. I’ve had dozens of weeks with only one or two lifting days in the gym, yet made progress hitting chin-ups (all angles), ab wheel rollouts, single leg squats, and push-ups.

Your body knows overload, every piece of equipment is just a tool. Add micro-workouts to your week—you don’t even need to go to the gym.  

At the end of the day…  

Bodyweight training keeps you athletic, lean, healthy, and creative in my training. Even when you love crushing big weights as your primary mode of training you’ll benefit from replacing some barbell and dumbbell lifts with bodyweight training. The benefits go beyond reduced joint stress.

You’ll improve your mobility, attack weak points, and stimulate stagnant growth from muscle fibers you’ve been neglecting.

You need to to stay healthy and move your body well through space– bodyweight training helps you do just that.

Train Smarter, Train Harder, Perform Better

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In it you’ll discover the best training, diet, and lifestyle strategies– personalized for you to build your ultimate high-performance body. Expert Tips to Build Muscle Click here to download the special report, for free.

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