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Progressing to Pistols

edited March 2014 in Foot/Ankle
Assuming all else is equal, I wonder if it's a better idea to slightly elevate the heels and work on holding the foot-together-squat archetype for longer periods of time, or keeping the heels on the ground and using another technique to work on it.

I ask because I'm forever frustrated by my inability to get down to that position. I'm wondering how to scale and then progress. I can hit it easily barefoot when I just roll up a towel underneath my heels. But of course that's cheating and compensating for ankle mobility, which I should be (and am) working on. But would this tactic still help? Or is there a better way?


  • The pistol's lowest position may not be achievable by everyone.  If your femurs run up against your pelvis as you get to the lowest position when your legs are together, then depending on the dimensions/mechanics of your legs, your back may begin to arch in a big way and it can mean that you cannot get your weight balanced forward enough before you fall back.

    When you deep squat normally, do you have to keep you feet slightly wider than shoulder width? That would be the first clue.  

    But if this is not the case, then there probably is some mobility issue that will have to be addressed. 

    Gymnasticswod has some great content on pistol progressions. Study those and see if they help:

    These discuss one legged pistols, but they are relevant to the pistol squat as well.

  • Kaitlin: I can't speak much about my hip function. It's not ideal, but I think I'm lacking more ext. rot. than I am flexion. I know for sure that I'm severely lacking good-arch ankle mobility.

    David: this is curious, and I feel like it may be applicable to me, though I would hope it could be addressed! My best squats are definitely slightly outside of shoulder width. In my head, this is so I can get around my lack of external ankle rotation capacity ("knees out") and still avoid impinging on my hips. Again, though, I would assume this could be fixed.
  • of course keep at it - trying to diagnose from a forum post is hard. keep working the ankles, the posterior part of the lower leg - calves, heel cord.  you can also practice the end range position by using a support like a band tied up high, or a pole or door jam.  you can also hold a KB out in front of your to help counterbalance you but i would only descend to where you can maintain good back position.
  • Yep, saw those too, and I've bookmarked them to program in for occasional work. I guess my real question is, how do I best practice these in the meantime? It better to stick to solid form and not go to depth, or slightly elevate heels (oly shoes) and go full range? It's kind of awesome being able to hang out in the bottom position when I throw oly shoes on, but also kind of not awesome ;)
  • Hey Conor,

    I think training the pistol with a slightly elevated heel at this point will be fine. Just don't let the scaling of the exercise make you complacent. Keep that drive to improve your ankle mobility and earn your true pistol! I think the more you improve that range of motion, the more you'll just start to use it in the heel-elevated version anyway, and you can slowly decrease the heel raise over time. This will also help you gain some strength in the pistol, at least from a hip and knee perspective, so you can use it as a means of loading a dorsiflexed ankle, which I think will ultimately help you drive your position gains along.
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