How to Do the One-Legged Squat

The one-legged squat or pistol is a simple but challenging squat option. This gives you a good lower body option if you have access to little equipment. As a one-legged exercise, it allows the trainee to get more resistance from their bodyweight. This limits additional resistance needed. This may reduce stress on the back due to the lower absolute load.

The one-legged squat requires more balance and therefore works the stabilizers. Keep in mind this does not mean the one-legged squat has an advantage over the two-limbed lower body exercises. Too much stabilization needed can reduce the strength stimulus. Balance and coordination can surpass creating tension as the limiting factors of the exercise.

Other athletic activities, such as sprinting, adequately work the stabilizers too. You also work the stabilizers to brace during movements that use both legs as well. This means that even if unilateral work seems more specific to athletics, you get the benefits by including athletic motions. You then perform a regular both-legged squat to best develop lower body strength.

The squat works the hip, thigh, and leg regions. Joint motions include hip extension, knee extension, and plantarflexion. The core muscles, outer hips, and upper back contract to hold your position along with many other muscles.

This guide focuses on the one-legged squat using weight plates or dumbbells.


You will need a bench or something else to sit down upon. You also need dumbbells and weight plates. The dumbbells lie to the sides or you can hug a weight plate. The bench provides the safety mechanism, requiring no extra equipment. This improves the convenience and safety.

A pistol without a bench leads to too much range of motion, which hurts your results, harms the joints, and will round the lower back. I also suggest against the version that places the other leg behind you. Use the bench to limit your range of motion. If you need more range of motion, place a step beneath you.

Starting Position

Hold a weight plate against your chest or dumbbells at your sides. Drive the chest up and out. Pull back the shoulder blades. Keep this position for the entire movement. This represents, by far, the most important tip to keep good form. Do not allow the chest to collapse during the movement. When the reps feel difficult, allowing this to happen will encourage bad form and may end the exercise prematurely.

Stand facing away from the bench. Elevate one foot off the ground. Have some distance between your feet from left to right, even with one foot elevated. Otherwise makes it impossible to stay balanced.

The eyes should focus straight ahead or slightly toward the ground. Never look toward the ceiling. The neck should feel in a comfortable position. Do not tuck the chin or rotate the head. Pick a point to keep your eyes focused on during the movement.

Using a mirror can harm coordination and lead to an unbalanced stress. Rely instead on feel when learning the squat. Do not squat with your face too close to a wall or other object. This assists coordination.

The toes should point outward between 10-30°. This angle increases with a wider lateral distance between the feet. Toes pointed straight can harm hip extension and irritate the knees.

Abdominal bracing, which involves an isometric co-contraction between the muscles on each side of the trunk with a neutral spine, occurs naturally during a squat. Abdominal hollowing is an unnatural activity. This increases the risk of injury. Do not suck in the stomach.


Lowering (Negative) Phase:

Any inflexibility of the hamstrings and other hip muscles can lead to rounding of the lower back. Tight calves can make it impossible to keep your heel on the floor. Make sure these muscles feel loose enough through a proper warm-up and stretching routine. Do not allow the heels to leave the floor.

Take in a deep breath before descending. Hold it until you begin the lifting phase. This protects the spine by providing support created by the column of air. This benefit makes up for any blood pressure risks for nearly all trainees.

Extend the inactive leg as you lower yourself. Keep the dumbbells at your sides or continue hugging the weight plate. Prevent the weights from drifting forward.

Focus on directing the hip of the active thigh foremost. Push the hip back as you descend. Remember to keep the chest up.

The knee will bend naturally and requires no focus. Do not confuse hip extension with spinal flexion. Pushing your hips back does not mean the back has rounded. A vertical torso does not represent the correct way to squat. A forward lean comes with a correct squat, especially this one-legged variation. The knee should not travel much beyond the toes. Failure to properly use the hips and maintain tightness in the bottom position may allow this to happen.

The knees should never twist inward. Prevent this by shoving the knee outward by using a technique called spreading the floor. Spreading the floor also encourages rear and inner hip activation. It keeps you safe and tight.

Right before you reach the bench, you may feel your hips fall suddenly. This occurs as your leverage worsens here. Stay tight and prevent this by making sure to continue pushing your hips away from you. Make sure if using dumbbells that you reach just the edge to sit. Otherwise, the dumbbells will come in contact with the bench. You may need to shift the dumbbells toward the front thighs before you sit on the bench.

Strive for the crease of the hip just below the top of the knee. Achieve at least a 90° bend at the knee. You should surpass this point when your butt touches the bench. Otherwise, add a step below your feet.

Minimize time spent in the bottom position. Use the tightness at the bottom to quickly rebound. Avoid excessive bouncing or jerking out of the bottom position. Make a fast but smooth transition into the lifting phase.

Lifting (Positive) Phase:

The same mechanics apply as the lowering phase. The hips and shoulders should rise from the bottom position at the same pace. Keep the arms stable. Prevent your body from drawing forward by keeping the chest up and the hips back. The load should feel distributed across the foot. You should distribute your weight across the whole foot and not just your heel.


You will likely fail when you can no longer rise. Allow the butt to rest against the bench. Set the dumbbells on the floor or drop the weight plate.

The One-Legged Squat

I am reluctant to recommend any single limb exercise as the mainstay for developing strength. Stability afforded by two limbs makes strength training much more effective. Any benefits of single-limb exercise could come from adding some athletic motions into your program during interval training. Nonetheless, the one-legged squat remains a good option for those lacking equipment and otherwise not able to perform a barbell squat or a trap bar dead-lift safely.

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