Also called the single-leg squat, this elite strength move is basically a gym party trick. Here's why it's worth your time and attention.

By Lauren Mazzo
Updated August 21, 2019

Squats get all the fame and glory-and for good reason, since they're one of the best functional strength moves out there. But they're all too often limited to the two-footed variety.

That's right: You can do a pistol squat (aka a single-leg squat, demonstrated here by NYC-based trainer Rachel Mariotti) and it's just as hard as you're imagining. It's an elite strength move that requires balance, mobility, and crazy coordination-but the satisfaction and feeling of all-around badassery when you finally nail it? Totally worth the hours.

Pistol Squat Variations and Benefits

What makes the pistol squat (or single-leg squat) so impressive is that it's not about pure strength. (If that's what you're after, you can load up a barbell and go at some back squats.) "This move requires a ton of hip, knee, and ankle mobility," says Mariotti. It demands core stability and balance while "building unilateral strength in the hips, glutes, quads, and hamstrings, which makes it more acrobatic than any other standard single-leg exercise."

Plus, it'll be a wake-up call for any strength or mobility asymmetries you have, says Mariotti. Give them a whirl, and you'll probably realize one leg is way stronger than the other. You'll probably also realize that single-leg squats are freaking hard. (After all, that's how it made Jen Widerstrom's list of essential bodyweight strength moves women should master.)

The good news is that there are tons of exercises you can do to progress safely into a single-leg squat. You can perform them while holding onto TRX straps or a pole for support. You can squat down onto a bench or box. Or you can actually add weight to make it easier (hold a dumbbell horizontally at chest height with arms extended and it'll help counterbalance the weight of your torso). Before you try any of these, also work on your forward lunges, reverse lunges, and side lunges to build up strength and stability in each leg individually.

Single-leg squat too easy? Don't worry-there's another challenge for you. Try the shrimp squat next.

How to Do a Pistol Squat

A. Stand on left leg with the entire foot rooted firmly into the floor, right leg lifted slightly forward to start.

B. Bend the left knee and send hips backward, reaching arms forward while extending the right leg forward, lowering body until hips are below parallel.

C. Squeeze the glutes and hamstring to stop the descent, then imagine pushing the standing leg through the floor to press back up to standing.

Try 5 on each side.

Pistol Squat Form Tips

  • Try not to let the front leg touch the ground.
  • Keep the spine long and back flat (don't round forward or arch back).
  • Keep core engaged throughout the movement.
  • Sit hips back versus pushing the knee forward.

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