Eager pupil: “Can you teach me a pistol?”
Coach: “Can you back squat your bodyweight for five reps? Can you do Bulgarian split squats at 50 percent of your bodyweight? How’s your hamstring flexibility? Ankle flexibility? What about your balance?”
The thing is, we can’t just “teach you a pistol.” It requires putting in the time to build your strength, balance and flexibility, and then boom, all of a sudden you’ll try a pistol and will just be able to do it! There is a caveat for a select few people, no matter how strong or flexible their muscles may be. If you have extremely long legs (coupled with a short torso) and lack some ankle mobility, it may be nearly impossible to work up to a pistol without an excessive heel lift. Down below the 'Skater Squat' is a great alternative movement and can almost be harder!
Specifically, a pistol requires a good amount of single-leg strength and balance. So we’ve compiled a list of great movements, and some accessory work, to get you on the path to achieving the strength and balance to get you pistoling to your heart’s content. It's also a great party trick to perform a single leg squat!
Bulgarian Split Squat
Check out this video for a demo of a Bulgarian split squat: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2C-uNgKwPLE)
Some of the major keys to this movement to pay close attention to include:
- Make sure your front leg’s shin stays perpendicular to the ground (don’t let the knee come in front of the toe).
- Think about dropping your hips straight down, and slightly back. It's OK if your torso hinges forward slightly, that's just the natural way to find your balance.
- Keep your chest proud!
If you’re doing these right, you should feel your glute working overtime!
Start out by doing these without any weight, and as you get better and are able to squat deeper with good posture, you can add weight and turn it into a farmer carry DB Bulgarian split squats.
Better yet, add a tempo. Try them with a three-second descend and then pause for three seconds at the bottom. If you can do 5 Bulgarian split squats per leg at a @3311 tempo with 50 percent of your bodyweight, chances are you’re more than strong enough to do a pistol!
Reverse lunges are a another great tool for building glute strength on a single leg. Front rack barbell reverse lunges add the additional core stabilization component and will go a long way in getting everything firing that will eventually lead to an easy, peazy pistol.
Check out this video of front rack barbell reverse lunges: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fjBgItdUAg)
Single Leg RDLs
This simple stiff-legged single leg hinging movement is a perfect tool for developing not just glute and hamstring strength, but also balance. Keep them slow and controlled and make sure you can do a perfect single leg RDL with a neutral spine without any weight before you think about adding a DB, Kettlebell or barbell. Check out the video for more: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZF7uryLExw).
When done correctly, skater squats can be just as hard as pistols. You’ll likely be able to do them when you’re strong enough for a pistol, but are possibly still missing one component, such as hamstring or ankle flexibility.
What we’re looking for on a skater squat is for your back knee to touch the ground and not the toe. However, a great way to progress this one is to lightly use your toe as assistance to ensure you can control the movement up and down, but the eventual goal is for your knee only to touch the ground. Once you get good at that, try a goblet skater squat. Check out this video for more: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1TuasYdM2M)
Additional accessory work to build strength and balance:
Though it sounds simple, warm-up with a 60-second single leg stand. Literally stand up tall with good posture and lift one leg off the ground a few inches. Try to stay as stable as possible, squeeze your butt cheeks hard and build as much tension in your body as you can.
60 seconds per leg and you should feel some solid glute activation. If you master that, try it with your eyes close: You’d be surprised how hard it can be not to wobble around or even topple over.
*BONUS: Stand on one leg and then move one hand around to the side like a snow angel and keep your eyes locked on your hand. It is so much harder than you think!*
Single-leg glute bridges
If you’re not feeling a whole of value when you do glute bridges, I promise you you will when your turn them into single leg ones. Start off by doing them with your feet flat on the ground and then advance to elevated single leg bridges, like this: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juyqMVIzDkQ)
Single-leg hip thrusts
A hip thrust, and in this case a single leg hip thrust, is a super safe movement to be able to load up and build posterior chain strength. That being said, when you move to the single leg, start off by doing them without any weight, like this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=om7q9aCVvR0).
Put in the time, do the work, and the “sexier” movements like pistols will just start to happen for you…
- Coach Terrence