Pistol Squat Tutorial


The pistol squat is one of my favorite bodyweight exercises. Pistols are challenging on many levels, requiring core strength, leg strength, balance and flexibility. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with two-legged squats, you’re ready to learn the pistol. I like to break it down into three phases.

Pistol Squat – Phase One

Begin by sitting on a bench with one foot flat on the ground and the other extended out in front of you. Reach your arms forward and simultaneously press your foot into the ground while tightening your abs. Don’t let your heel come off the ground. If you’re strong enough, you should be able to lift yourself off the bench. Once you get to a standing position, try to lower yourself slowly and repeat. You will likely lose control during the lowering phase and wind up plopping down onto the bench at the bottom. That’s fine for now. In time your control will improve to the point where you no longer need to sit on the bench.

Take a seat during Phase One.

Pistol Squat – Phase Two
Stand on a bench with one foot hanging off the edge, then squat down so that the opposite leg drops below the level of the bench. You’ll be aiming for a larger range of motion than you did during Phase One, so make sure you lower all the way to the bottom. Sit back from your hips, reach your arms in front and lean forward from your waist in order to maintain your balance.

If you’re having a hard time with the balance, you can hold onto something to guide yourself at first. A broom handle works well if you are doing these at home. If you have a training partner, you can have them assist you by either holding your hand or standing near you so you can grab them if you lose your balance. Take it slowly with one and be patient.

Work your way up - Phase Two.

Pistol Squat – Phase Three
Get down into a deep squat with both feet flat on the ground. Try to reach one leg out in front of you while balancing on the other. You’re now at the bottom position of a pistol squat. Get comfortable with your balance here; it will come easier to some than to others. Once you can balance in the bottom position, try to stand up. It’s okay to use assistance until you can perform the move independently. With practice, you will build the necessary strength and stability to perform the pistol with confidence – then you can move onto advanced pistol squats!

Watch the video below for more:


55 thoughts on “Pistol Squat Tutorial

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  • By Michellenicole775 -

    I've been doing a lot of these with my left leg since I tore my right ACL. I can say that this exercise works, my left leg looks amazing! 😉

  • By Al Kavadlo -

    Sorry to hear of your injury, but good for you on the pistols! Sometimes life closes a door and opens a window.

  • By Raphael -

    I've squatted almost 300 pounds before but I cannot do one of these. 🙁

  • By Al Kavadlo -

    Pistols are about more than raw strength – they take balance and flexibility as well. Keep practicing and you'll get it soon enough. 🙂

  • By Aaron -

    This is my new challenge. Phase one I can do easily controlled. This is a great exercise to impress friends…lol. I can't believe how hard it is!

  • By Al Kavadlo -

    It's impressive because it's hard, but if you keep practicing you can get a full pistol squat before the summer is over – you just gotta be willing to work for it!

  • By Leo -

    This exercise it's really good! I'm Brazilian guy and training a lot pistol squast!
    Sometimes i do this exercise holding 44 pounds in my hand!

    Great tutorial!

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  • By Al Kavadlo -

    Thanks, Leo – sounds like you've got strong legs!

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  • By Jeff -


    How long does it take to go from Phase 1 to 3? Is this all in one session or over a few weeks? Thanks.

    Jeff (a/k/a Abu Reena)

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Hey Jeff – The amount of time that it takes to progress depends on the individual. A very fit person might be able to go from phase 1 to phase 3 in a few sessions, but for most people it will be several weeks or even months. It also has a lot to do with how diligently you practice, so keep training hard.

      • By Jeff -

        I’ve got real balance issues generally (screwed up ear makes me quite unbalanced). I’ve been doing these with some cheats using my Lebert Equalizers for balance. It’s a good workout (butt and quads were killing me the next day). Am I missing anything other than the balance component by “cheating” like this?

        • By Al Kavadlo -

          Using the equalizer sounds like a good way to do modified pistols. In addition to helping with balance, it probably makes the exercise a bit easier overall, but there’s nothing wrong with that. If you keep practicing, you’ll probably get a full (unassisted) pistol eventually.

  • By Ilan Vardi -

    Incredibly good form, but you make it look too easy :).


    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Ilan! I’ve been working on pistols for almost ten years – my form wasn’t always so good!

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  • By Daledykes -

    Al –

    For the trainee who has yet to master the pistol, but wants to lose weight and increase work-capacity as well, would you advise prioritizing the pistol (working it like a strength-skill) and then finishing with doable bodyweight circuits, something like that ?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Hey Dale – That sounds like a good plan, though depending on how much weight said trainee needs to lose, I might not even have them work on pistols at all til they’re ready.

  • By Rob -

    Hey Al, amazing site, lots of good info.

    After a few months progressing through Mask Sissons primal workouts, I can now do a few pistol squats, but my heel raises at least 2 inches off the floor, is there anything I can do to stop this happening?? Thanks

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  • By Ty -

    I understand steps 1 and 2, seeing step 3 as a precursor is a bit confusing though, wouldn’t starting at the bottom without a stretch reflex or stored tendon elastic energy actually be more difficult than doing the full movement starting from top?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      I think you misunderstood me.  Step 3 is simply an isometric hold at the bottom with your leg straight in front of you.  Once you can do that and the other steps, you should be able to get a pistol.

  • By Keith Lai -

    Good stuff man. Doing a pistol squat is one of my goals for 2012.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Right on, Keith!  Keep training hard!

  • By Joshchapron -

    Hey i think your great by the way, i used to look for videos of people doing advanced  calisthenics to keep me motivated and your the only one i found that  has good control and form. Ive been doing convict conditioning since September. I’m 6’3 and 170lbs. I just got to the one leg/pistol squat and my legs aren’t as big and strong as I’d want. In the book this is the hardest leg exercise but i wanna go further. Can you recommend some harder body weight exercises for a tall guy like me? 😀 

  • By Craig -

    Hey Al, I too am working on my Pistol form, but always wondered, the bottom position is seemingly so wrong to me (rounded back, compromised lower spine etc), if this position were adopted with a weighted bar it would kill ya! How is it then that this is ok for bodyweight and potentially kettlebell weighted Pistols?
    Just throwing it in there for fun :O)

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Like you said, the spine isn’t loaded during a pistol, so the lumbar curve shouldn’t be an issue. A lot of people are overly paranoid about their lower back, but as far as I can tell the spine is designed to flex and extend.

  • By trent c -

    hey al when you get a chance can you tell me what areas i can use improvements in please http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qk6BXQMPFXU&feature=plcp

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Looks good, Trent!  I think you’re ready to start practicing without the counterweight. 

  • By Anonymous -

    awesome.  i’ve been stuck for months on transitioning to the one-legged squat in cc.  this looks like the solution path.  thanks!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Right on!  Give it a try but be patient – the pistol is very hard exercise!

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  • By Rushil Xev -

    Good day, Al 🙂

    I followed some of your tutorials, including this one, and I noticed great improvements. I am proud to say that I managed my first pistols after 4-and-a-half months. So it’s all thanks to you.

    I just have one question. I read in Convict Conditioning that before moving on to pistols, one has to do 1/2 one leg squats. Is that absolutely necessary? I found that to be harder than pistols for some reason, so I don’t know if I should master that first before mastering pistols, or just stick with pistols.

    Your input will be greatly appreciated.

    • By Robby Taylor -

      No; all of the progressions in Convict Conditioning, or any other training manual, for that matter, are simply suggested for anyone who needs either an intermediary progression or additional preparatory conditioning for the final progression. If you are comfortable doing full pistol squats, then there is no reason to do a simpler variation. But, if you want, you can stop at the point where your thigh is parallel to the ground and hold this position for time. For many people this is the most difficult part of the movement, and turning it into an isometric hold rather than simply blasting through it should help you get stronger with the movement. I personally tried this for a few days but stopped simply because it took more time to get my reps in and it was harder to maintain form for the same number of reps. However, this approach should help build muscular strength as well as joint strength in the knee. To that end, doing this excessively may begin to bother the knee, so use your best judgement.

  • By MISH -

    Hey Al,
    You do possibly the best pistol squats I have ever seen. I have been trying this for over 3 weeks now ( not very consistently). I am pretty comfortable on my right leg now but the problem is with my left leg. I can do left leg pistols only when I am holding a light weight plate in front or taking very warm shower………….BAHAHAHAHA…. weird I know but its true. By the way I am a swimmer and I have insane plantar flexion on my ankles ( Left ankle better than right ankle). My dorsiflexion is pretty poor (Right ankle better than left). Is poor dorsiflexion on my left ankle the reason why I fall down in the bottom position of the pistol ? or is it something else ? It seems like I have some “NICE” imbalance between my legs. I Must equal my Legs strength to help my swimming. I need your help man. What should I do to get as comfortable on my left leg?????

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Mish! It didn’t happen that way by accident though – I’ve been practicing pistols for over 10 years!

      As for your issue, dorsi flexion is likely part of the problem. Check out my more recent pistol squat tutorial for more: https://alkavadlo.com.gridhosted.co.uk/2011/07/pistol-squats/

      Also, my next book, which will be out spring 2012, will contain a large section on training the pistol.

      • By MISH -

        AL, THANXXXXXX A LOT FOR YOUR REPLY MAN….. Can’t thank you enough………. By the way I have discovered that I can keep on sitting pretty comfortably on my right leg in the bottom position of my pistol but I can’t do the same with my left foot at all(SOmetimes I can but only when My body is veryyyy much warmed up but not with really good posture though, my back gets completely rounded and my chest Touches my left knee). what could be the reason behind it??

    • By RobbyTaylor -

      Something I think could be helpful not mentioned here is, on one leg, try to squat down to where your thigh is parallel to the ground, or as close as possible, and hold this position for time. This, in conjunction with holding the bottom position, as Al suggests, should be pretty helpful. What I usually do is grab the nonworking foot with the opposite hand, you can also just grab the ankle. This makes it far easier to maintain composure throughout the movement.

      • By MISH -

        THanx for your suggestions robby. I will try it the next time I Do the pistols……………..

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