What Do Pistol Squats Work?

Do you want to become a faster runner or be better at cardio? Then you may already be focusing your training on your lower body to make your legs more powerful.

However, if you're ready to take your leg strength to the next level, doing the same lunges and squats over and over can become tedious. So switch it up a bit, you should try out the pistol squat.

This type of squat works out several different muscles in your lower half. And because it is a unilateral move, you can use it to identify any weakness that may cause you injury in the future.

Despite being a bodyweight exercise, the pistol squat is a sophisticated strength-training technique that can be difficult to perfect. Before you start increasing the number of reps in your next workout, you have to be sure you know how to properly do a pistol squat.

Here is everything you should know about the pistol squat

What Do Pistol Squats Work

What Muscles Does The Pistol Squat Target?

Pistol squats target several muscles in your lower half including your hamstrings, glutes, calves, hip adductors, and quadriceps. They are also able to give you a good core workout. Targeting these muscles strengthens your legs, which is why this workout is very popular;r with professional runners.

What Are The Benefits Of Pistol Squats?

Pistol squats improve lower-body and core strength throughout a wide range of motion, which is good for runners (also known as functional training). This workout strengthens the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip adductors, calves, and core muscles.

The stability and strength the pistol squat provide help us become stronger, faster runners because running is a unilateral workout in which only one leg is used at a time.

While there are other unilateral activities that runners may undertake, such as lunges, the pistol squat requires distinct movement patterns than other single-leg exercises, which is athletes do them (or a variant of them) two or three times a week in their workouts and warmup drills.

You'll gain single-leg and lower back strength, as well as hip flexor and hamstring flexibility, as you move to a full pistol squat.

Pistol squats can be added to your workout as often as your goals require. One to three times per week, incorporate pistol squats (or a simpler variation) into your workout plan to improve your general fitness.

How To Do A Pistol Squat

Pistol squats are not to be taken lightly, and often require you to master other skills or squat types before you are finally able to do this type of squat. Pistol squats require you to have excellent balance while also being able to perform a squat perfectly.

Often, people start by mastering the traditional squat, then work on their balance. Once you think you are ready, try doing an assisted pistol squat, using TRX straps to keep you balanced. This will get you used to the feeling of squatting on one leg while giving you support to make sure you do not fall over.

After this, you will want to move on to the chair pistol/master box squat. This will get you used to lowering yourself on one leg without support but will prove your safety in case you fall over. Finally, once this is mastered, you can attempt the pistol squat.

Starting from a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart is a nice place to begin the pistol squat. Bring your shoulders back and engage your core while maintaining a high chest and forward-looking eyes. One leg and one arm should be extended in front of you.

Then, by bending one leg, hingeing at the hips, and bending the knee, sink into a squat. Keep your back straight and your torso as erect as possible while lowering your body as much as feasible.

The goal is to get your butt as close as possible to your heel. Cinch your glutes and force your heel into the ground to get back up. Repeat the exercise with the other leg.

Common Mistakes Of The Pistol Squat

The pistol squat is very difficult to do, so it’s no surprise that people often make mistakes while doing them. Keep in mind that a pistol squat almost doubles the load of a two-leg squat, which is why it can be difficult.

Improper pistol squat form can strain your knees, make you feel shaky, and make the exercise ineffective. Here are some frequent pistol squat mistakes:

  • Trying it too soon - this is the biggest mistake people can make, and possibly the most dangerous as doing a pistol squat when you are not ready can lead to injury. This is not a squat that a beginner can do, and you need to work up to it to make sure you have the right levels of strength and balance to complete it
  • Stopping before hips are parallel to knees - this makes the squat less effective as it does not fully engage your core muscles
  • Leaning too far forward and relying on your back - for this squat to be effective, your legs should be doing all of the heavy lifting. If you rely too much on your back you may strain yourself and cause injury
  • Overcompensating with other body parts - this is kind of the same as relying too much on your back. Your legs should be the focus of this workout


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.


The pistol squat is not for the faint of heart or beginner to the workout world. It takes a lot of time, effort, and practice to get this squat right. But if you are looking to improve your leg strength, are a runner, or want to get better at cardio in general, then this is the perfect squat for you.

Kevin Harris