Pistol squats are the type of exercise I love doing because they’re challenging — but for that same reason, they aren’t always my cup of tea. They’re all about lower-body strength and balance, which I do have, don’t get me wrong, though I could improve on both. If you’re like me and want to get better at pistol squats despite the fact that you don’t love them all the time (or maybe you do!), you’re in luck. Nike trainer and Muay Thai athlete Nesrine Dally has some helpful tips for getting them down (and back up again).
Dally describes the pistol squat as a “phenomenal bodyweight exercise” that requires “a lot of relative strength, mobility, and good motor control.” She shared drills (seen in the Instagram slideshow above) that will help you perfect different aspects of the movement before attempting to do the entire exercise.
Pistol Squat Drills From Nesrine Dally
Gentle rocks: Dally wrote that these “gentle rocks” act as a good move for ankle mobility and will “help encourage a greater range of dorsiflexion of the ankle,” which means the ability of the foot to raise upward. Perform these before practicing your pistol squat.
Step-downs: Dally said these fine-tune the single-leg squat mechanics, build strength and balance, “and eccentrically loads the quads and glutes.” (Eccentric movements are when your muscles lengthen and are under tension during an exercise.) Step-downs, she noted, can be done at any height, and she suggested doing eight to 10 reps of these on a step at home three times through.
Banded single-leg squat holds: If you think the descent of a pistol squat (aka, when you lower yourself down) is challenging, “and in particular find it difficult to hold the foot, using the band and pausing at the bottom can help to cement the movement pattern and allow you to build confidence in the tricky areas of the movement,” Dally wrote. Do three sets of eight of these. (Note: to make the actual pistol squat easier later on, you can forgo holding your front foot.)
Straight-leg foot taps: “This drill is great if you are someone who often experiences cramping in the non-squatting leg,” Dally wrote. Doing these will help you improve strength and endurance in that nonstanding leg. Position yourself at the bottom of the pistol squat with one leg out, and find a small object to place next to your ankle (you’ll be moving your foot back and forth over the object). “Keep the quad tense and leg lengthened, and lift up and over the object,” she instructed. “This will build endurance and strength in the rectus femoris (one of the muscles in your quadricep), which can fatigue and cramp easily.”
If pistol squats still aren’t your thing, check out these other single-leg exercises that will work your glutes and stability.