Surefire Strength with the Pistol


A Part of Fierce Play's Grounded Gymnastics Series

Also called the one-legged squat, the pistol is an exercise that requires the athlete to lower him/herself down into the squat position while keeping all of his/her body weight on that single leg. Similar to the air squat, the pistol is a great body-weight strengthening exercise but ultimately requires more flexibility, leg strength, and core stability than a normal air squat. Athletes will immediately feel the front and back of the legs get fired up as they complete the pistol. Truth be told, the complexity of the pistol requires many athletes to scale the movement as they gain strength, but over time, seasoned athletes should be able to perform the pistol without scaling or doing a variation of the movement.

Watch the video clip below for a full explanation of technique, tips and tricks for performing the movement with efficiency, as well as precautions for staying safe.



  1. Stay Centered: As you drop down into the pistol, keep your body weight centered over your leg to prevent yourself from falling to one side or the other. This will also prevent knee injury associated with body weight pulling on your joint in one direction or another.
  2. Core Tight: Keep your core tight and your back as tall as possible as you drop down into the squat. Remember that a tight core is your protection for your back and other parts of the body as you complete the movement.
  3. Push through Your Heel: Focus on keeping your body weight in the heel as you push upward and stand fully back upright. This will engage the back and front of the legs fully and prevent you from rolling your ankle.


SCALING: This is one movement scaling may be necessary until you have gained the necessary leg strength, flexibility, and core stability to complete the pistol without scaling. Remember: scaling isn’t a negative thing! It will help you gain strength while staying in a safe position until ultimately you can perform the movement in its entirety. Stay encouraged that as you continue on your fitness journey, you will find that you won’t have to scale as significantly or as often.

  1. Plates to Counteract Gravity: If you’re an athlete who can almost complete a pistol but you fall over as you hit the bottom of the movement, you may need the help of a counterweight keep you upright. Hold a ten pound plate in your hands with your arms stretched out in front of your body. Now, as you lower down into the pistol, move the plate toward the leg you’re using and you will find that this extra weight actually counteracts the gravitational pull on your torso, allowing you to stand back up with ease.
  2. Plates Under Heels: Another common issue for athletes who have the leg strength to complete the pistol but are still struggling to fully perform the movement is that they have a lack of flexibility or range of motion in their ankles. Athletes can stand with their heels on top of a ten pound plate, keeping toes on the floor, as they complete the pistol. This extra lift in the heel reduces the amount of ankle mobility need to complete the full range of motion for the pistol with a safe and stable foot position.
  3. Sit Back on a Box: Perhaps you’re not even to a point where you have the leg strength to drop down fully into the pistol, or one-legged squat position. No problem! You can use a 16” box behind you and instead drop down and touch your butt onto the box with one leg out in front of you. Be sure to just drop back and lightly touch your butt to the box without pausing, aka don’t sit down fully. This variation of the pistol is perfect for improving leg strength and helping you reach your goals if performing a non-scaled pistol.
  4. Step Onto a Box: If you’re not quite able to complete any of the above scaling options, no problem! Take a 20” or 24” box and place one foot on the top of the box, with the other foot on the ground. Step up onto the box and feel the engagement of the front and back of legs. Keep the foot that is on the ground toward the center of the box and directly under your body weight, versus behind the box. The goal isn’t to jump up onto the box, but to instead push through the heel of the foot that is on top of the box to get the maximum strengthening possible from that leg.


QUESTIONS: Ready to get started, or curious to learn more about how Fierce Play can help you meet your health and wellness goals? Contact us for more information. Also feel free to check out more of our videos series to learn how to perform the basics with solid form and efficiency. 


Fierce Play’s Grounded Gymnastics Series focuses on proper technique, as well as tips & tricks, to master some of the foundational movements that will be integrated into many of the workouts you will perform. Start your next workout with the confidence and skills to do the movement safely and effectively.