People often ask me, “who are you, are you packing heat, and if so, where?” That’s why I preemptively introduce myself to new people by saying, “I’m Eric and I’m packing heat in my pants.” Honestly, it’s saved me a lot of time. It’s important that the exact location of where I’m packing heat, which is in my pants, is emphasized. This is because the source of the heat (quick reminder: it’s in my pants) is each of my legs. You see, I’ve been known to fire off a round of pistol (single leg) squats at a moment’s notice.
If you wished you could pack heat, especially in your pants, but could never master the pistol squat, read on! There are 3 elements needed. In order, they are mobility, strength, and stability.
There is a certain amount of mobility required to get into the bottom position. If you can do a full range of motion double leg squat, congratulations – you’re there. If you can’t, then you probably lack ankle flexibility (into dorsiflexion). Grab onto something sturdy in front of you, then squat down as far as you can go while holding on. Pull yourself forward while keeping your heels flat on the ground and stretch your ankles. When you can do a full range squat with no assistance and keeping your heels down, you’ve got the mobility you need.
Single leg strength
Surprisingly, some people who work out already have the required strength to do a pistol squat. If you can step up onto a step or box that’s about mid-thigh high and lower back down with control, then you’re there! If you can’t, then first start at a height that you can step up and lower down with good control. Start at this level by stepping forward onto the step and then slowly controlling back down. When you’ve gotten strong at this, then step up sideways onto the box. From here lower your opposite leg down with control, and tap the ground with your foot then come back up. Your goal is to have enough control that you can tap your foot on the ground but not put any weight on it. Once you’re able to do that 5-10 times with control, move onto the next height and continue this progression until you’re able to do reps at the mid-thigh high step.
Single leg stability
Ah, the most elusive part of the pistol squat. If you’re someone who already was able to achieve a deep squat and could do the mid-thigh high step-up/down, then you might be wondering why you can’t just do a pistol squat. Hip stability is the final link – and the most common weak point. The first level is to be able to balance on 1 foot for 10 seconds. From here you can progress to the single leg Romanian deadlift. This is where you stand on 1 leg, and then bend forward at the hips until you trunk is parallel to the ground. Then return back up. The goal is to be able to do 5 slowly, with control, without touching down with your other foot. The final level that will graduate you onto pistol squats is the hip airplane. Start by doing a single leg Romanian deadlift but stop halfway down. From this position, rotate to drop your opposite hip down towards the ground, then rotate to lift your opposite hip towards the ceiling. That is 1 rep. Your goal is to do 5 in a row in this position. If you just tried this exercise and found it incredibly difficult, yes – you’re doing it right. If you’re revisiting this post after having worked on the hip airplane for several weeks and you are wondering when it becomes easy – it doesn’t. But if you can do 5 reps of the hip airplane, you will have all the stability you need – not just for pistol squats, for anything. Don’t have the credit score to get the loan you need? Bust out a few reps of the hip airplane and get ready to sign your name.
You’ve stretched to get the required mobility to get into the bottom position, you’ve churned out step-ups/downs until you can do them at mid-thigh height, and you’ve blasted your hips until you can do 5 reps of the hip airplane. Now, all that’s left is to fire a squat off. As congratulations, here’s a pro tip: don’t tell people you do 2 sets of 5 reps of pistol squats. You do 2 clips of 5 rounds. And there is no resting between clips – only reloading. Now – fire!