How to Improve the Pistol Squat – Issues and Resolution Everybody wants to do a pistol squat but the trouble is it’s one of the most difficult exercises to execute properly. Executing the pistol squat properly requires a neutral spine, great balance, and strength through excessive dorsiflexion. This article will help you to progress in simple steps to improve your pistol squat. Primary issues Before we look at any type of progressions the first thing we need to address is the primary issues that you may be facing. Our everyday live forces us to sit in chairs for long durations of time creating tight hips, poor posture and immobile feet. If you ever tried to do a pistol squat chances are you probably fell back onto your butt. This leads us into our Primary issues. Lack of dorsiflexion: This is your ability to drive the knee past the toe without lifting the heel from the ground. Kyphosis: Arching overtop of your foot in order to balance – this can lead to poor posture and lack of force production. Balance or proprioceptive issues: This comes with practice and correct head position. Resolution Fixing the three primary issues will lead to success in the pistol squat. Once we can properly squat down on one leg we can then move into overloading to stimulate hypertrophy in order to increase muscle tissue mass and strength. Improving Dorsiflexion Increasing the dorsiflexion will come with soft tissue therapy of calves and quadriceps group. Do your best to warm up the muscles before you do any type of soft tissue therapy or stretching. You may find that strengthening the tibialis anterior will also help in improving stability and control in the bottom range of movement. If you find that your knee is moving medially or laterally you may want to try an exercise called the Peterson step up – this exercise will help to stabilize the knee especially in excessive dorsiflexion. Promoting proper alignment Perfect posture and maintaining a neutral spine can be done through corrective exercising. Perhaps the best exercise you can do to increase strength in the upper back while in dorsiflexion is the cyclist squat or sometimes referred to as the quadriceps squat. Improving Balance Improving your balance and proprioception will come down to your head position. There is a reflex in our bodies called the arthrokinetic reflex that helps to maintain balance and can promote strength when used properly. Heres how to use the arthrokinetic reflex. Tuck your chin slightly, only using your eyes simply look slightly down on descent and slightly up on ascent. Want to test if this works – try looking down but moving your head up… difficult right. Now, look up and move your head up. You should find that you can lift your head with ease – this is the same principle we are after to improve balance and promote your pistol squat progressions. Following your corrective exercises and strengthening its time to start utilizing some simple pistol squat progression exercises.
- Single legged band assisted Squat This is perhaps the easiest way to actively train the entire range of motion with balance assistance. Be sure to squat down over the toe, limiting the amount that your hips fall backwards.
- Negatives onto Box The most difficult component of getting stronger with a pistol squat is that you can’t quite overload the tissue. Using only the negative component (lowering) we can strengthen the muscle without lack of coordination. To progress, use a box that is shorter and shorter until no box is needed. If dorsiflexion is an issue, use a heel riser or platform shoes.
- Single Leg squat using a counterbalance Using a dumbbell or small plate, hold your arms relatively straight out in front of you. This will alter your centre of gravity and enable you to squat deeper without falling backwards. To progress use lighter weights until you do not need any weight in order to stay balanced.
- Elevated Pistol Squat Perhaps the most difficult aspect of a pistol squat is holding your opposite leg at a 90-degree angle from the hips – so that it doesn’t hit the ground. Stand on a box tall enough so that your free leg can remain vertical. Progress to Using a box will enable you to “cheat” a little until you get stronger and can maintain a high leg angle. Imitate the same form as the above progressions, lowing the box and raising the leg as you get stronger.
- Heel Elevated Pistol Squat The final progressions enables us to create strength through the entire ROM. Using a 1-2inch lift, maintain a neutral spine, squat down, pause for 1 second and then press your weight through the heel, standing up. As you get stronger you can use a smaller heel lift, or remove it all together.