How to Pistol Squat: Hard Yoga Poses Made Easy

One of my favorite movements to take in the legs because it’s so challenging and requires so much focus.

In the ‘Hard Yoga Poses Made Easy’ series, we focus on a particular yoga pose or skill that seems (or is) very difficult and we make it a lot easier by breaking it down into actionable, realistic, and sequential steps.

In this tutorial, we focus on working toward the full range of motion called a “pistol squat”, which is essentially a one-legged squat that lowers the butt almost to the ground and presses back up to a standing position.

There’s really no other way to put it, this movement is really challenging.

For starters, there’s a lot of leg strength required to use one leg to lower and lift the body in control. So, the first step is designed to build up your leg strength so you can start to prepare to move to one-legged strength.

The movement also requires significant control in one-leg balancing, especially with a bent knee on the standing leg. Shifting from the two-leg focus in step 1, we move to step two which builds single leg strength and balance.

Next, we add movement. As mentioned, we have to be able to control two directions of movement: down and up. To start, with step 3, we work the “negative” or the lower, resisting gravity as we lower to the ground or a block. I highly recommend starting with a block for this one. You’ll notice the movement also requires a lot of range of motion in the hips and legs overall, so starting with a block will help you focus on controlling the movement as you start to develop that functional range in the legs/hips.

Next, step 4, is the same thing, but we start in the lower position and focus only on pressing up to standing. The complementary movement to step 3 is a little tougher, especially when you don’t cheat and use momentum, which is why it’s the final step before taking the full movement. Blocks are also recommended here so you don’t have to worry so much about range of motion and you can focus on taking the movement with strength and without momentum.

Finally, step 5, you’ve earned it, the full movement.

Here are the steps laid out with a little more detail showing how they build on one another:

  1. Chair: Two-leg strength
  2. One Leg Chair: One-leg strength and balance
  3. Lower: One-leg strength, balance, range of motion, and lowering movement control
  4. Lift: One-leg strength, balance, range of motion, and lifting movement control
  5. Pistol: One-leg strength, balance, range of motion, and full movement control

The pistol squat is an under-utilized movement in yoga because it takes awhile to build up the physical skills needed to to the full movement. Do your best to resist the urge to try the full movement on day 1. Respect the process and your body by progressing through each step gradually over time.

Difficult things have to be earned, otherwise they wouldn’t be difficult.

Start using yoga to live athletically:

Yoga for Athletes - The Ultimate Guide

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About the Author:

Joe is the Founder of Icewater Yoga. Fascinated by the intersection of yoga and sport, his goal is to help athletes develop a consistent yoga practice. He lives in Claremont, CA with his wife, Jill.