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Some of my coworkers and I are trying out a 30 second per hour workout routine. We're having a hard time finding bodyweight exercises for the legs that really tax the system. I'd like it if we could start doing pistol squats, but some of the participants aren't able to perform them yet.

Is there a simple progression for pistol squats that can give my coworkers some efficacy for this advanced movement (and hopefully get them performing them before too long)?

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I prefer assisted pistol squats using both ends of a doorknob (facing the door end-on) or rings. I've also used cubicle walls (again, facing them end-on), for what it's worth. Lean on the rings or backwards away from the doorknob for support, and gradually try to use less assistance.

Heeled shoes make pistols a lot easier for most people, due to ankle dorsiflexion incapability.

Another possibility for those with troublesome anterior hip mobility is to "remove the floor" and do pistols standing on a box, letting the non-squatting leg swing.

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I teach my students using a mixture of wall pistol squats and partner assisted pistol squats. With wall pistols, simply squat down onto a low object such as a wall, once you can do 5x5, go a little lower. Partner assisted you simply hold your partners hand, and then use them to assist pulling yourself up, try to use as little assistance as you require.

On top of that, make sure you're keeping good form. Your knee should track along the line of your toes and not fall inwards and your body should remain upright, not leaning to one side.

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Pistol a.k.a One leg squat is a great exercise and I suggest the next progression:

  1. In the beginning you can assist with your hand from the opposite side, that helps with balance and also getting up when you haven't enough strength yet.
  2. The next step is doing one leg squat, while the second leg is softly touching the floor - the less you assist with it - the closer you get to pistol.
  3. Pistol squat - when previous exercise become easy, you should be able to do a full pistol squat. Lift one leg in front of you and then slowly get down, wait 1 second at the bottom and then get up.
  4. Weighted pistol - when normal pistol become easy, you can add some extra weight.

Here is a video for all those steps: Pistol progression

Note There is a common mistake, that many people do. When they get down they just fall down and bounce up. This way they do more reps, but squat become less efficient and increase potential for knees injuries.

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Another option for progression, albeit one which might be trickier in a large class, is to reduce the distance that you descend. In the simplest form, this consists of a folding chair. Much as with a regular pistol squat, the person performing it will extend one leg and then squat straight down in a slow and controlled manner, except here, they're only squatting until they put their butt in the chair, then they push back up from there, again just using their legs and core. From there, you can progress to lower platforms, but honestly, I've found that the next best step is to just do negatives, just lowering yourself as slowly and in control as you can, then scrambling back up to standing.

I can't take credit for the chair tip. I learned it by watching the Pigmie "How to Pistol Squat in Only 5 Minutes" video. He has an even longer list of progressions in that five minutes.

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Convict conditioning book presents very effective progressions for multiple exercises including pistol squats.The first progression is always pretty easy, even the weakest athletes can perform it without trouble. As you progress you will move to a harder progression. The 10th step in every exercise is called the master step. In squats the master step is the pistol squats.

This book is really helpful in bodyweight training. Cheatsheet available here, book available here

What step to start with ?

This depends on your level of fitness and the strength of your muscles and joints. Just begin with a challenging exercise that you can perform and keep adding reps until you meet the progression standard in the book then move to the next step in the series.

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  • This is basically an ad for a book, you haven't given any actual exercise recommendations for the progression.
    – andrewb
    May 13 '14 at 23:39

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