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What is the Pistol Movement and can I do it?

Pistols are one of those difficult exercises that often intimidate even the more experienced gym member.

The pistol is a single-leg squat and is an advanced exercise. Proper completion of the pistol requires strength, flexibility and coordination of movement. Many people cannot complete the pistol unaided but the options below will provide excellent scaling alternatives.

You can use the options below as part of a process to work up to being able to complete a full pistol, unaided, or just on their own as good substitutes for the full pistol.

Here are three scaling options to start with:

  1. Use an assisting device like a TRX or a pole. In the picture series above (#1 and #2) you can see that YWCA Personal Trainer Fred Smith is using our cable machine in the weight room as an assist for the pistol. By using the assist, some people will be able to perform the pistol through the full range of motion.
  2. Perform the pistol from a raised seated position. By using a bench to rise from, most people should be able to perform the pistol movement. The challenge for the individual is to find the proper height that successfully challenges the person but not so much that the movement cannot be performed. Vary the height of the bench to find the right level for yourself. In the picture series (#3 and #4) you can see Fred Smith performing the pistol using the Plyo Box.
  3. Single Leg Deadlifts. The single leg deadlift will help train the muscles involved in the pistol and can be performed by many people. Variations for the single leg deadlift include starting at body weight and then progressing to add a kettle bell to increase the challenge of the movement.

Further reading and study:

Strongfirst.com is an excellent web site for information about kettle bell movements and other strength and power building exercises such as the pistol. For more information about the pistol exercise, visit their web site here: