I want to train up to do a pistol squat, and am trying to follow the general advice outlined on the Beast Skills Tutorial, but I'm trying to understand which of the 3 major styles of squats (low bar back squat, high bar back squat, front squat) would be most applicable to pistol strength.

I tried to do a direct pistol progression, but found that my hips and hamstrings were pitifully weak, so I think that basic barbell squatting is a good place to start until I get closer to a level of strength where I could switch over to the skill work I'd need to master the balance / coordination of a pistol.

Would one particular style of squatting me more helpful than the others for this? Looking at pictures of people on the internet doing pistols, I'd see that:

  • The shin is relatively vertical
  • The knee is behind the toes
  • The hips are pushed far back

Beast Skills Pistol Squat

So I'd think that I'd want to train low bar backsquats. Thoughts?

Am I overthinking ths?

About me: I'm 180lbs, and I can low bar back squat 155lbs 3x5. My goal was to be able to squat 120% of my weight for 3x5, then start working in the skill work for pistols. I'm still in a very early phase of training squats, so I think this number should rise pretty quickly.

  • 2
    I was able to do pistol squats after following the advice on this video youtu.be/OLEds-vDd5g. The hardest part of this for me was balance and flexibility, not strength, so this may not help you as it did for me.
    – Moses
    Sep 10, 2012 at 7:26
  • @DaveLiepmann - Thanks. You guys run a good forum here. There's a good mix of backgrounds (recreational powerlifters, bodybuilders, martial artists, guys that have dabbled with gymnastics, etc), and everyone's civil enough that you can actually ask questions like this, and get meaningful answers.
    – DavidR
    Sep 14, 2012 at 16:44

2 Answers 2


Short answer: probably none. The closest type of squat would probably be a front squat, but even that won't have as much carryover as you may want. However, the front squat helps improve your core strength which will help with the stability needed for pistols.

While it helps to squat more than your body weight, the biggest challenge is flexibility. You will need to work on your dorsiflection (leaning the leg forward while your foot is flat on the floor. As you practice the pistol using a doorway or some other support, you will find what flexibility issues you need to work on.

The best bet is to do your front squat routine, and then follow it up with mobility and skill work for your pistols. Be patient, because it requires as much skill as it does strength. I can do pretty close to 2x my body weight with back squats, but can't do pistols because of the mobility issues.

  • Thanks, interesting points. I'll start doing mobility work as I squat, and hopefully the two will come into line in a similar time frame. The times I tried to do a pistol squat before, I found that once my knee went past 90 degrees, I couldn't move my weight in any controlled fashion any more, because my hips and hamstrings were totally overwhelmed by my weight. But its possible that I was pushing my hips too far back, because of a dorsiflection issue, I'll have to experiment some to be sure.
    – DavidR
    Sep 8, 2012 at 19:37
  • I was squatting around 350 and it took me about a year before I could knock out a set of pistols on each leg no problem. A lot depends on the individual but single leg work is very different than dual.
    – Eric
    Sep 26, 2014 at 0:32

I think the best kind of squat to work up to a single-leg squats is assisted single-leg squats. I used rings at hip height, which I held on to as lightly as possible. At first I rested a lot of weight (and balance!) on the rings. Eventually I was only using a finger or two on each ring for balance at the very bottom, and soon after that, I didn't need assistance from the rings at all.

That will help you develop the necessary balance and mobility, and will help somewhat in terms of strength. However, I firmly believe that barbells are king for developing the raw strength (particularly in the lower body) that it sounds like you still need. I think any barbell squat will help. Front squats are closest to the pistol movement, but I would rely on back squats (low or high) to provide more load. (If you're already doing assisted pistols, they would provide the "similar to the task" movement, obviating the need for front squats.)

The only aspect of this that you're overthinking is the planning and waiting. I'd start doing assisted pistols ASAP, alongside your back squat programming. I wouldn't wait until you get to some arbitrary back squat number. Three to five single-leg squats dispersed throughout the day, and after your workout, shouldn't interfere with your strength progress.

  • Good ideal. I'll add some assisted pistols to the end of my workouts. Thanks for the writeup.
    – DavidR
    Sep 10, 2012 at 12:55

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