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I have been doing pistol squats the last few weeks and I feel that my lack of balance is keeping from progressing.

I want to find a way to focus only on muscle strength and not balance, what are some ways to do this?

Note that I am not looking for a way to build my balance so that I am able to do the movement, but rather a variation of it that doesn't require balance without taking away the intensity of the exercise.

A few things I tried are the following.

First I tried placing one arm on the wall to keep my balance by I found that I often unconsciously pushed with my arm to assist the movement which is something I don't want, if I don't push it feels like I am loosing my balance again so I discard this possibility.

Another thing I tried is do the pistol squat while my left shoulder is touching the wall, this has kept me from falling sideways but I still seem to fall back.

So can you suggest some other variation?

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  • 1
    Try lifting shoes with a heal
    – E.Aigle
    Jun 25 at 13:49
  • 1
    Try holding a weight with your arms outstretched. Sometimes it just takes 5/10 lbs
    – michael
    Jun 25 at 14:01
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In almost all cases where someone expects to be able to do a pistol squat but can't, the limitation is their ankle flexibility. Pistol squats require a ridiculous amount of ankle dorsiflexion in order to shift your knee and hips far enough forward that your weight can stay over your foot, and the consequence of inadequate dorsiflexion is that as you descend your weight will shift backwards and you will eventually fall backwards. Many people struggle to identify this limitation, and assume that it is strength limiting their descent when it's actually their nervous system being unwilling to continue a movement that will cause them to fall.

In order to test this, you can try pistol squatting with a substantial amount (probably about 50mm) of heel elevation, in order to artificially increase your ankle mobility, or by adding a weight held in the hands which can be pushed forwards as a counterweight as you descend.

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Our balancing performing a pistol squat should be no more difficult than in any other dynamic single-leg exercise. If balance is a consistent issue, it is a question of strength, mobility, or both.

Single-leg balancing requires substantial relative strength, particularly in the hip abductors and extensors (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus)—which are frequently underrecruited relative to the other agonists (quadriceps femoris) involved in leg (knee and hip) extension. Similarly, passive tension in those muscles, as well as in the single-joint ankle plantar flexors (soleus) is frequently a limiting factor in performing a full-depth squat, even when performed with both legs. This tension only compounds existing issues with strength and control. It should be recognised that relatively few recreational athletes have the strength and mobility to perform even a deep two-legged squat safely, and a pistol squat is essentially an advanced variation of the deep squat. The solution, therefore, is to develop that strength and mobility.

As with any squat, the depth to which we perform the pistol squat should be no greater than that which allows us to maintain our centre of mass over the most stable part of our support which, with flat shoes or barefoot, is anterior to our calcaneal tuberosity (heel) but posterior to the heads of our metatarsi (forefoot). Our spine should be maintained in a neutral position throughout the movement, with the knee tracking significantly past the line of the toe. The non-weight-bearing side of the hip should be lifted so as to eliminate lateral pelvic tilt. If these elements can not be accommodated, developmental exercises—including, of course, the deep squat—should be mastered first.

It should be noted that variations in body geometry alter our ideal posture considerably. The petit frame of the woman pictured below allows her to be more upright than is typical. Men are arguably at a disadvantage in performing the pistol squat, and indeed any squat, due to their high proportional upper body mass, which demands greater joint mobility.

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As a final note, if your purpose is to develop muscular strength, and not balance, why have you chosen the pistol squat? The pistol squat is innately unstable and demanding. If you are trying to circumnavigate that instability, would an alternative exercise not be more appropriate? These are philosophical questions that do not require an answer, but might serve as food for thought in your considering how to move forward with your training.

I hope that is helpful.

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Personally, I place my fingertips on the ground once I'm close enough. I can't put enough weight on them to use them for lift, but it gives me sensitivity into my descent enough that I can shift my weight when I find my weight shifting to the hand.

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