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Pistols for Size and Strength?


First off, are pistols an effective exercise for developing size and strength?

Currently my leg routine consists of: front squats, RDL from platform, leg press, and seated calves. Sometimes I add leg ext. and curls if time and energy permit.

I was thinking of adding pistols to the workout, or possibly using them midweek for active recovery. The problem is, I can't currently do them without using my hands to pull myself up. Since this is a new movement for me I'm assuming that once I get the technique down I will no longer need to use my hands.

So, are these worth the effort?
If so, does anyone have any useful pointers on technique?

My goals are size and strength. I squat atg so mobility isn't an issue. My squat numbers are fairly weak though.

Current best front squat ATG 200x6.
Last best backsquat ATG 300x2.
Bodyweight around 210.


I doubt they pack on the size, but you might get some carry over to your normal squat. I can't say for sure since I can't do one, but really if they were that good you would hear about them more.

I have read about some really people who can squat fairly big weight not being able to do one.

I think they are more of an exercise that is useful in correcting imbalances.


Anything thats new to your body can pack on size. I say they're perfectly fine to add to your repertoire.

However, there's the balance aspect, so if you find yourself having a hard time with them, do Bulgarian split squats instead.


u can only progress so much on these so there prob wont be a huge increase in size


They can add size, but it will be very hard. They are hard to progress on and thus hard to add size from, BUT if you choose to use them, here are a few pointers.

1) Do them first thing in the workout. This ensures that both your hips are equally ready for squats.

2) Try 1-leg box squats, and continually lower the box until you are as deep as you prefer.

3) Try reverse stepups (step-downs) Where you are standing on a bench, and step down, only letting your heel touch the ground. These allow you to do a slower negative, and put more stress on the glutes and hips. I usually start with pistols, and end with these.


I've tried adding them in to get a single leg movement. I think that's important as I've noticed imbalance in my squatting.

I can't do them without balancing myself, so I have to imagine if I can work up to doing them unassisted my balance will improve, strength will have improved, muscle activation will have improved, cores stability improves, etc. I also think it shines a light on any mobility/flexibility issues you may have.

So, I would not, say, add "3x10 pistols" to my program, but do them at the end of squat day and then again maybe 3 days later after another workout (when legs are fresh) with the sets/reps you want to feel like you are doing better at them.


Know how to use an exercise.

Pistols aren't going to add size. the same as pushups won't add mass to the chest.

The overload principle rules all. Granted, if you add weight to the pistols it will allow for such.

I would use them in a routine for other purposes though.


Thanks for the replies so far.

To clarify, I know pistols aren't going to provide the same type of hypertrophy stimulus as a heavy BB squat. However, I thought that adding a unilateral movement might help me progress further. I have no intention of ditching BB squats.

Basically, I want to know if these are effective and EFFICIENT as unilateral movements. Or are they one of those movements that 140lb dorks do so they can boast; "you squat heavy but you can't do pistols, you're obviously weak"? /sarcasm


I agree that pistols aren't the best choice for building leg mass.

The reason being that your ability to do pistols will be affected by your level of balance/ stabilisation: I can do at least four more reps doing weighted pistols vs. unweighted (in theory the weighted variation should be harder, so obviously balance and stabilisation are huge factors in being able to do them at high reps and with good form).

I think the main advantage to using pistols while training for hypertrophy is that they can help to improve leg drive for squat movements.

Here are a few other ways to spot yourself on full ROM pistols (besides holding on to a support, that is):

1) Do the movement against a wall or a door. A door would be better, as your back should be 'sliding' up and down the surface.

2) Instead of holding one leg out in front of you, keep the heel of the foot of your extended leg on the floor (this is the easiest option).


I would think it would benefit ankle mobility/strength and overall core strength more than add hypertrophy to your legs, directly...but like trextacy said, it might indirectly make your other legs lifts improve. But be realistic about the improvements. IMO.


i think there are better unilateral movements that are easier to progress on (ie split squat or lunge variations)...

i've seen a couple pro bodybuilders doing lunges, but i've never seen any pros doing pistol squats...but maybe i'm wrong lol...


I agree.
However, split squats and lunges tend to hit my hams and glutes a lot harder then they hit my quads.


I love pistols. They're great as a bodyweight excersize They will increase your leg strength and sustainability but no good for size. Once you are able to do more than 10 weighted pistols are where it's at.


Size, not so much. I love them for strength, injury prevention, and working on your bilateral deficit though.


It looks like everybody is pretty much saying they aren't really worth it, but it's a cool exercise.


Bodyweight pistols alone can't help you put on a lot of mass. If you're already squatting a bar with more 1.5 your bodyweight, even as a new exercise I don't believe they'll help much by themselves.

I found them, however, being useful as grinding sets. After my 5X5 squats I do one long sixth grinding set of bodyweight pistols, which I think helped a lot with size. Since I can already do some 20 reps with each leg, I think I'll add some weight next time.


Do the weighted version on the hack squat machine.


This thread's not for me, but I just learned something :wink:

Thank you


I don't get how some can say they are hard to progress on and they can't add mass. Progress with them and report back.


I train with pistols and I can do them while holding a 50lbs dumbell for reps, but my squat still blows. My legs are bigger (proportionately, I'm not big) but I can't attribute that to pistols alone.

It's not something I would really focus on if your goal is a bigger squat, unless you have an imbalance. Size wise, I guess you'll have to experiment.