Who else wants to know, “Will Pistol Squats Build Muscle?”
You can’t help but be impressed when you see someone perform a pistol squat.
It actually looks really simple, but for anyone who’s ever attempted their first ever pistol squat, they know otherwise.
Pistol squats are definitely a learned skill that may take some time to master.
However, impressive or not, let’s find out whether pistol squats will build muscle.
Will Pistol Squats Build Muscle?
Pistol squats will require single-leg strength and can build muscle. However, they require far more balance, coordination, and core stability than any other type of squat. Unfortunately, these other factors could take a long time to learn, which takes away from the effectiveness of pistol squats building muscle.
Pistol Squats Aren’t a Pure Strength/Hypertrophy Exercise
There are so many other factors to consider when it comes to doing pistol squats.
The main issue is that they require a high level of balance.
Let’s not forget that pistol squats also require a great deal of coordination, core stability and strength, and flexibility.
This typically makes pistol squats more of a skill exercise than pure strength and hypertrophy.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that pistols won’t build muscle and strength, but probably nowhere near as much as you would hope.
We typically believe that building hypertrophy means performing an exercise in the 8-12 rep range.
However, I have previously spoken of extremely high volume also being a way to stimulate muscle growth.
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With that being said, pistols squats will require a high level of skill to be performing them in the 8-12 rep range with perfect form.
Furthermore, it may take one hell of a lot of practice to get to the extremely high volume level.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of us will never reach these levels of performance with the pistol squat.
Pistol Squats Are Generally Done With Bad Form
The pistol squat is obviously a squat.
So, there are certain body mechanics that we should adhere to when doing them.
However, due to the level of skill required to do pistol squats, many of these “mechanics” tend to take a back seat.
One of the main issues I see with the pistol squat is that people tend to literally collapse into the bottom position.
Furthermore, the exercise is often done with a bounce at the bottom to provide momentum to get up again.
Now if you did either of these things with a heavy loaded barbell on your back for a standard squat it probably wouldn’t be too long before you succumbed to injury.
Lower Back Stress
Additionally, it is highly unlikely that you’ll see someone do a pistol squat without excessive lumbar flexion at the bottom of the movement.
When we perform two-legged squats, with body weight or a load, the aim is to maintain a neutral spine.
A rounded lower back is a definite no-no.
Many people will argue that if you shouldn’t be rounding the back with the two-legged squat then you should adhere to the same principles with a pistol squat.
That being said, I have also seen an argument against this.
Al Kavadlo explains that there will always typically be some rounding of the back when performing pistol squats.
However, he doesn’t believe this is inherently dangerous.
Al states that it is probably best to maintain a neutral spine when doing squats with a weight on your back.
However, your spine isn’t loaded during a pistol squat, so does this really matter?
Now, Al is without doubt the King of Calisthenics.
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So, who are we to argue with him?
Nevertheless, there are many more people that will say that the pistol squat is a squat and should therefore not involve a rounded back.
I myself am in the “non-rounded back” camp.
The Pistol Squat Coach
During my research into pistol squats I came across a guide created by Zach Henderson.
This is a guide that is solely focused on helping people achieve the pistol squat.
If I’m being honest, I wasn’t overly sold on the program.
I feel that the Ultimate Guide to Calisthenics is a far better program.
It’s approximately the same price, has far more details and progressions on achieving the pistol squat, plus it also includes another 7 calisthenic exercises.
However, when I came across a training video produced by Zach and his student Sheila I was a little horrified.
Basically, Sheila completes a pistol squat on each leg, but she hits all the “bad form” metrics that I have mentioned here.
She collapses into the squat, bounces, and has an arched back.
And yet, Zach, the creator of a program on pistol squats, and a so-called expert, gives praise and uses this as a “tips” video.
You can see here for yourself.
Pistols Squats Will Place Stress on the Hip Flexors (and Joints)
One of the requirements of a pistol squat is that your non-working leg must remain parallel to the floor.
This doesn’t actually provide any benefit at all, but simply forms a part of the exercise.
Now perhaps I’m being a little harsh on the parallel leg due to previous injuries and issues.
You see, having to keep your leg parallel will shorten the hip flexors.
If you are someone who has worked their way up to performing a high volume of pistol squats, this can eventually cause a problem.
The hip flexors being in this shortened position, and their subsequent overuse from high volumes of pistol squats, can eventually lead to serious lower back issues.
As someone who has had their fair share of lower back and hip flexor problems over the years, I don’t need telling twice.
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I will also say that the tendency to drop or collapse into the bottom position of the pistol squat can lead to joint issues.
You are putting your knees and hips under a huge amount of pressure by literally “dropping” into this position.
Plus, the ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues will also take a battering.
There Are Better Alternatives to the Pistol Squat
I feel as though I’ve given the pistol squat a bit of a bashing.
Plus, it’s as though I’m saying that you definitely can’t build muscle by doing them.
Realistically, this isn’t the case.
If you can perform a decent number of pistol squats with perfect form.
If you have a high level of mobility and flexibility.
Then I can certainly see you being able to add muscle with the pistol squat.
You will eventually need to add load and higher volumes to stimulate further muscle growth.
However, the main problem I have is that these levels of skills may take some of us a long time to master.
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Then again, there are those of us who will never achieve the perfect pistol squat.
If you have reached this level of skill already I applaud you.
However, even though I am more than capable of performing pistol squats, I choose to avoid them simply because of issues with perfect form.
I believe there are better one-leg squat alternatives that will do a better job of building muscle.
Plus, they won’t have the same negative connotations in terms of technique.
Single-Leg Pause Squat
The One-Leg Squat
Will Pistol Squats Build Muscle?
Well, yes they will, but probably nowhere near as much as you would think.
For me, pistol squats require far more skill than anything else.
And you have no idea how long it will take you to reach the level of skill when you can consider it a muscle-building exercise.
There are better alternatives for one-leg squats, and these will typically cause far less technique issues and will probably build more muscle.
I have seen pistol squats described as a “party trick” and nothing more.
Then again, I’m sure there are some highly-skilled calisthenics’ practitioners who will say that everything I’ve said here is completely wrong.
Each to their own I say.
If you enjoy pistol squats then please don’t let me stop you.
If you really want to master the pistol squat.
Plus, if you’d like to also learn one-armed push ups, one-armed pull ups, handstand push ups, and a variety of other highly-skilled exercises.
I may have just the thing.
Make sure you check out my review of The Ultimate Guide to Calisthenics.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.