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How to Improve Pistols

How to improve pistols

The Pistol Movement During the 2012 Regionals

Along with Handstand Pushups and muscle-ups, pistols would have to be one of the toughest functional fitness exercises.

For those of you who have never heard of the pistol movement, it is basically a one legged squat. Standing on one leg, you squat down with your other leg stretched out in front of you, parallel to the floor. Your bottom foot should be flat, with your glutes touching, or close to touching, your calf at the bottom before returning to the standing position for a rep.

Pistols are one of the most beneficial exercises for any athlete as it improves strength, endurance, balance, flexibility and coordination. Mastering pistols will help you jump higher, run faster, and most importantly, squat more!

The problem, however, is that pistols are ridiculously hard to do, especially for anyone new to a CrossFit affiliate.

If you know what it feels like to have tried, and failed, numerous times while trying to get that first pistol, here’s a quick guide on how to improve pistols.


No one can just walk into a CrossFit box and start pulling out one handed push ups when they cant event do a two handed one. The reality is, you need to be able to crawl before you can walk. Pistols require a great deal of lower body strength, balance and co-ordination, so it is important to work on those elements first.

First off, you should try mastering the normal two footed squat. Squats follow the same mechanics as a pistol, and will get your body and its muscles used to the movement.

Flexibility is also a key element in mastering pistols. The movement requires a full body extension and therefore you need to make sure your legs are flexible. Balance is also a very important and simple exercises like standing on a wobble board, and skipping will help.


Once your body is used the movement and has a good level of balance and flexibility, then it is time to start working on getting that first pistol. The best way to achieve this is through simple progression.

Using a bench for pistols

Using a bench for pistols

Step 1: Box Step Ups – Using a standard box height, your first step should be stepping up onto the box using one leg at a time. When doing this, make sure you are not pushing off the ground with your other foot. The idea is to rely solely on the strength of one leg to get your body up onto the box.

Step 2: Pistols with Boxes – Now it is time to actually begin the pistol movement. Starting off, you want to use a high box, or bench, to assist you. This should be placed a few inches behind you when standing, so that when you move back in the pistol motion, you end up in the sitting position on top of the box/bench. The idea, however, is not to actually sit on the box/bench, but rather use it as a guide for squat depth, and to help with balance. In this phase, it is important to work on getting your technique correct, even if you are only squatting a third of the way down.

Step 3: Getting Deeper – The more comfortable you feel at each stage, the lower you can make your box or bench you are using. Once you reach a level where you are almost at the ground, it is time to move onto the next level.

Step 4: Assisted Full Range – At this stage, the idea is to work on the full Pistols using a doorway. Image courtesy of Power Athlete Magazinerange of the pistol but with some sort of assistance.

The easiest way to do this is to hold onto a doorway while you pistol down. With hands on either side of the frame, lower your body in the correct pistol movement, and then come back up again. Holding onto a door frame will make balancing a lot easier and will help you get back up if you are still struggling with the movement. Other ways you can do assisted pistols is by using rubber bands to pull yourself up with, or using light dumbbells to hold out in front of you to help you balance out.

Step 5: Rolling Pistols – When you reach the stage where you no longer need assistance for your pistols, you will probably still find yourself falling over a few times when you reach the bottom. To help overcome this, you should try rolling pistols. Rolling pistols is where you start in a back roll position, and then roll into a one legged squat. Try doing these for a few weeks to help perfect your pistols.


Once you have mastered the standard pistol, there are many other ways to make the movement harder. It is important to always try to push yourself and improve wherever possible. Weighted pistols are a great exercise for anyone confident with standard pistols. Holding onto two kettlebells (one in each hand), or wearing a weight vest are other ways to make the skill harder.

Another tough pistol exercise is box jump pistols, where you perform a standard pistol movement and then spring up onto box or bench. It is best to jump sideways if you do attempt this.

For more tips on how to improve pistols, check out the Again Faster video below:

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