Single Leg Squats are a fantastic lower body strength exercise. They are also very difficult, meaning they aren’t for everyone. Some refer to this exercise as a pistol squat which, I don’t know what the origins of that are, but it sounds weird and I don’t really like it. That being said I don’t think 99% of people should do “pistols”. Why, you ask? Because unless a person has freakish mobility (especially in the ankles) and quite a bit of strength, the result is the picture below. Or, as I’ve seen, much worse.
Sure it’s a great party trick and very hard to do but look at the back posture here. The pelvis is rolling under and the upper back is rounded a fair amount. Although what’s see here is not necessarily an unsafe position I would deem it unsafe if 10 or 20 or 50 more pounds were added to the movement. And, if we are training for strength the goal is ultimately to progress the weight. Below is an option that suits many people better.
Letting the left hang down off the side of the box requires less hip flexion (aka less lift to keep it off of the floor). Notice how the posture changes to something I would consider much more acceptable for training/lifting/adding load. But, to be honest with you this is extremely hard for the guy in the picture (me). I sort of “bottom out” at the bottom making it tough to come back up. I am able to get a few reps but they are a bit of a grind and it’s difficult to accumulate solid practice in this situation. I know there are plenty of other people out their feeling the same. For that we have a solution.
In this picture I can squat with better control to a target. Notice how the back posture changes yet again. The height of the box behind you can vary but pictured I am using a 13 inch difference. I’m tapping the box with my butt, not sitting.
Currently the Single Leg Squat to Box is the best option for ME and I’m fine with that. I can add a weight vest and/or heavier dumbbells and still do it well. For others with the requisite mobility the Single Leg Squat (standing on box) might be a more advanced progression. That’s great for them, just not all of us. As far as the “pistol squat” just ask yourself, why? Is it really superior? Do you even have the requisite mobility or are you fighting through flexed posture to barely stand and possibly adding a load to that scenario? Play around with it and find what’s right for you. Then make it look good, over and over again.
– Mike Baltren