Pistols: Locked and Loaded for the Open
Pistols are considered one of fitness’s more advanced and challenging movements due to the balance, strength and mobility skills required to perform them efficiently during a workout. This blog post will go over movement tips and strategies, as well as drills for optimizing pistol performance.
Pistol drills can be broken down into three categories: mobility, strength, and balance/weight-shifting. Athletes are strongly encouraged to incorporate into their workouts drills that build on all three components.
Mobility: The pistol requires end range flexion at the ankle, knee and hip joints. Banded joint mobilization drills are an effective way to increase mobility and can be included in warm-up or routine mobility sessions. Perform banded joint mobilizations with a moderate band, increasing the range of motion with each set.
Strength: Training both the eccentric and concentric components of pistols can greatly benefit single leg strength capacity. Increasing single leg strength capacity will allow an athlete to quickly perform a higher repetition of pistols during a workout, particularly under fatigue.
Eccentric strength drill: Stand at the edge of a box (moderate height), slowly lower into a full squat position until the unweighted leg reaches the floor. Once the full range of motion is completed, return to a fully extended position on top of the box. This drill focuses solely on the controlled lowering portion of the pistol. Perform 3 sets of 5 reps per leg (progressing to 10 reps and a higher box).
Concentric strength drill: Start in full flexion at the edge of a box, lift the unweighted leg from the floor and rise standing in full extension. This drill focuses on the leg strength necessary to stand up from the pistol position while also challenging single leg balance. Perform 3 sets of 5 reps per leg (progressing to 10 reps and a higher box).
Balance/weight-shifting Pistols require a high level of single leg balance in addition to the ability to quickly weight-shift from right to left. An effective drill for improving balance during pistols is using a counter-balance weight held in front of the body while performing single leg squats. Begin with a light to moderate weight plate and perform 5 repetitions per leg (progressing to 10 reps).
Movement tips and strategies: Quick and efficient pistols during a workout are best achieved by having a well-balanced ability to weight-shift equally and get into a smooth rhythm. Be mindful that one leg may require extra drill work to balance the strength/mobility of the opposing leg.
While practicing pistols, find a comfortable end position in the squat that still reaches below parallel but avoids bottoming out (reaching a depth where standing up is a challenge). This is the depth you will want to maintain throughout a workout and should be a familiar, comfortable single leg squat position.