Pistol squats are staple movements of functional fitness and bodyweight training programs, but they can be tricky to nail down. They require great single-leg stability and strength, as well as ankle range of motion. 


You can test range of motion using the following drill:


  1. Stand with both feet together and raise your arms straight out in front of you. 
  2. Try to squat all the way down and rest your hamstrings on your calves.


If you fall backward or can't reach the bottom position, pistol squats may be difficult for you. You can work on other regressions while you stretch to improve your range of motion. If you feel you have the strength, you can even elevate your heel in order to overcome the mobility issue.


Once you have improved your ankle range of motion, try these five pistol scaling options:


  1. A pistol squat while holding on to gymnastics rings. Squat down as far as you can and pull on the rings to help yourself back up.
  2. A pistol squat while holding a band. This is slightly harder than with the rings.
  3. A partial pistol squat on a bench or box. To protect your knees, keep your feet together and pointed straight. In a true pistol squat you wouldn't bounce around, so do your best to maintain balance.
  4. A negative pistol squat. Control yourself as you lower slowly into the bottom position, then sit down on the ground. This is good for confidence if you are worried about coming back up. You will still be going through the full range of motion of the pistol.
  5. A pistol squat while carrying a weight in front. The weight doesn't have to be heavy. It merely provides counterbalance to keep you from falling backward. Although it may seem counterintuitive to load the movement, this added benefit can outweigh, well, the weight.


These five ways to scale the pistol allow you to build up balance, mobility, and confidence to tackle the real thing. Test them out and soon you'll be able to rep out pistols with poise and grace.


Check out these related articles: