Pistols, what pistols?

 Sean – Metro CrossFit

My coach threw out a WOD that for all practical purposes was fully depend on the person’s will to push themselves harder on easier body movements.  Everyone can do a pull up (modified counts), air squats, push ups, jump rope (better know as double unders), right?  Look closer, and there it is, pistols, one legged squat.  How hard can that movement be? For those who have never had the pleasure, demo is available at CrossFit.com.

The pistol is a gymnastics movement not a weightlifting movement. No doubt a person has to have enough strength to lift their own body weight vertically; the true skill is flexibility and balance.  When an athlete does a squat, they can often make minute changes in the stance and foot placement to compensate for flexibility flaws.  However, when it comes to completing a legit pistol, weakness are abound.   Balance and flexibility are what make this movement difficult not the strength aspect.

Great, so how do I get through those horrible 10 pistols (twice no less) to proceed to my staple movements?  It starts with mobility practice. I use the word practice, because it triggers a mindset to know it is required work.  Flexibility in the ankle is being able to move the ankle with the knee out over the foot during a squat.  How is this achieved, by grabbing a rubber-band, (lacrosse) ball, and/or round pipe or form roller.  Complete the mobility WOD links at the bottom.  Kelly Starrett (K Star) of MobilityWOD has great demos on the how to open up the ankle, lower leg and hips to master the pistol and just about every other squat movement.

Got it, but I’m still struggling with the range of motion.  Remember this is a gymnastics skill.  Motor control of the muscles plays a part in the this skill, and really for any movement we do.  Muscles have to be trained or primed to work.  When was the last time someone was seen squatting down to pick up something and did the movement with one leg, probably never.  The muscles need to be trained.  The best way to start is with a box. This allows the athlete to lower the forward leg below the horizontal plane, and thus enables stability and allows compensation for the strength and flexibility needed to lift the leg to parallel. The goal in the exercise is motor control.  Work towards shorting the height on the box.  The last progression should be using rail as needed as counter balance by sliding the hand on the rail with the movement. Also a great two for one is the 10 minute squat with pistol.  Follow the same format as 10 minute squat, however abduct one leg away from body, and then bring it forward in the pistol position position. Leg must remain straight. Over time the the muscles will learn the movement, and then just like that, the one legged squat becomes a normal range of motion.

To get to the perfect pistol takes time. However, tackling these steps and the pistols will be just as easy as those double unders. Off to get ready for my WOD.


  • Ankle and lower leg flexibility  WODs



  •  Hip Flexibility



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