Pistol Squats Exercise Guide

A pistol squat is a pretty advanced unilateral lower body exercise and it allows you to perform a single leg squat. It is an exercise that requires a lot of coordination and strength in your quads, glutes,  hamstrings, calves, core, and even hip flexors.

pistol squat

How To Do Pistol Squats

Setting Up

It is important to know your limits when it comes to achieving your fitness goals. You might want to avoid attempting the pistol squat if you have current or even if you have a history of pain and discomfort in your knees, or in your hips, or in your lower back.

Also, if you are someone who has suffered from or is suffering from pain and discomfort in your ankles and feet then you should reconsider attempting this exercise.

You might find that you will be much more comfortable attempting the pistol squat barefoot or even while you are wearing shoes that have an especially thin and flexible sole.

This is ultimately because pistol squats are best performed when you have your foot rooted firmly into the floor - and all your toes should also be pressing down.


  • Stand with your feet together - when you do this you need to firmly press your right foot into the floor. You really need to try and imagine that you are rooted to the ground through your toes, the ball of your foot and also your heel.

  • Balance on your right leg - when you do this you need to lift your left leg and then extend it out so that it is right in front of your - and you should flex your foot when you do this too.

  • Extend your arms and then squeeze your hands into fists - this will ensure that you are actually creating tension from your shoulders to your hands.

  • Now you can descend into your pistol squat - when you reach the lowest point that your body safely allows you to go then you should squeeze your fists tighter. As you do this you need to make sure that you really engage your core and that you use the strength along with the balance of your right leg just to help you return to the standing position.

  • Don’t forget to repeat this exercise - you should make sure to repeat more of these reps or even change sides. This will especially help you with your balance too.


You might find this exercise pretty difficult to master at first - but this exercise can be gradually built up to, and you can do this by utilizing a chair or an actual box just to help you to support your bodyweight until you build up enough strength to master the pistol squat.

Exercise Benefits

  • Improves your balance
  • Improves your coordination.
  • Improves your single-leg strength

Illustrated Guide

Muscles Worked

Primary Muscles

  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps

Secondary Muscles

  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Hip adductors
  • Core

Pistol Squat Variations

The only way to add variation to the already challenging pistol squat is to add weights. This actually makes the squat easier as it counters your weight while you squat, making balance easier. It gives you more of an upper-body workout though, so you can target more muscle groups while doing this squat. 

Start by standing shoulder-width apart with a light dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand (5 to 10 pounds). Maintain a straight back by pulling your shoulders back. Extend your right leg and arms in front of you as far as you can.

Squat down, carefully bringing your hips back and bending your left knee while keeping your heel on the ground. In the squat, get as low as you can without losing your balance. Climb back up slowly. Exhale as you rise. Repeat the process on the other side.

Pistol Squat Alternatives

Split Squats

Split squats work several muscles of your lower body just like a pistol squat does. If you’re performing it correctly, this type of exercise will not only increase your leg strength but also enhance your overall flexibility.

Bulgarian Split Squats

To begin your Bulgarian squat, position yourself in a forward lunge. Your torso should be upright, your core braced, and your hips square with your body. Elevate your back foot on the platform, keeping your front leg about half a meter in front of said platform. 

Lower yourself until the thigh of your front leg is nearly horizontal, keeping your foot in line with your knee. Then rise up through your front heel until you’ve returned to the starting position. Repeat the split squat five to 10 times before swapping to your other leg.

Kevin Harris