THE PISTOL CLASS
Kati's Coaching Notes
- Benefits vs. Risks
- Common Faults
- Step By Step
- Front Leg
- Dynamic Mobility Exercises
- Pistol Drills
- 0:30 Narrow Squat Hold
- 10 Narrow Squats
- 0:30 Single Leg Hold
Benefits vs. Risks
- Benefits: Helps develop unilateral strength; Exposes weaknesses you may have in strength, stability, and mobility in the lower half of your body so you can be made aware of it and address it more easily
- Risks: It’s easy to move through an exaggerated range of motion (specifically squatting too low) which puts serious strain on tendons and ligaments within the ankle and knee; Requires a high level of balance and joint strength, which makes it a little more dangerous for newer athletes who have not developed the strength and mobility needed to practice safely; It’s easy to push your joints, tendons, and ligaments too far, resulting in pain and/or injury
- Who should practice pistols? This is up to the athlete to evaluate their goals — If your goal is to compete, the pistol is a necessary evil, and you’ll need to learn and practice it for competition. If you’re simply interested in “getting fit for life”, I would recommend only training the drills to make sure you still get the benefits of the unilateral work, while keeping your joints and tendons / ligaments in safe positions and ranges of motion.
- Premature Practice: The first fault is a simple one — When athletes who are not physically prepared to train pistols, train pistols. We’ve all seen them in high level competitions and they look really fun when you see your favorite athlete do them, but training this skill before you’re ready can be dangerous, and you can put yourself at high risk for injuries. Take the necessary time to increase your strength, stability, and mobility through your joints to build a solid foundation for this skill.
- “Send It” Technique to Go Faster: This one is primarily targeted to you athletes who like to compete. When you see pistols programmed in a workout, you start thinking of how you can go faster, and faster, and faster. Which means? You focus on the end results (getting through X number of reps), and allow your technique to complete fall apart — Leg is bent and angled out to the side, chest is leaning over the foot to the point where you’re body position is broken, arms are flapping to help maintain balance. Sure, to do well in a workout, you need to be fast, but at what cost? When you forfeit technique in your pistols, you force your joints into positions and angles that they shouldn’t otherwise be in. When you lean over and skew your leg out to the side to “go faster”, think about how that affects the hinging motion of your ankle, knee, and hip joint. One small degree off, and you’re going to injure yourself.
- Dropping Too Low / Bouncing: A common overcompensation for a lack of strength is trying to use a bounce at the bottom of the pistol, to help propel the athlete back up to a point where they take re-take control and finish standing through the movement. Squatting too low and bouncing puts severe strain on the tendons and ligaments in the ankle and knee, making them extremely susceptible to injury.
Step By Step
- Shift your weight over your right foot, standing on one leg with toes facing forward
- Lift your left leg forward, keeping it straight and off the ground
- Extend your arms forward and use them as balance
- To initiate the lower, slightly shift your hips back, reaching gently forward with your arms
- As you sit back and lower, press through the heel to stay strong and use your toes to grip for balance
- Your knee should track directly over your toes
- Lower down until your hips pass below the crease of your knee
- Once your hips are below your knee, do not relax, but rather stay strong and keep your posterior chain active by pressing through the heel
- In the bottom position, your legs will stay active, toes gripping, and arms gently reaching forward to keep your weight over the middle of your base foot
- Keep your midline engaged and neck long, looking forward
- To stand, press strongly through your heel, keeping a strong torso, and keeping your left leg straight in front of you, off the ground
- Once you stand, squeeze your butt to reach full hip extension, finishing the movement
Bent or keep it straight? It depends on what your goals are.
- Bending the Front Leg:
- Pros - Keeps the weight of your leg closer to your center of gravity and over your foot which may help with balance; By keeping the weight closer to your center of gravity, it makes it easier to lower and press through the movement, which means you may be able to go faster;
- Cons - Bending the knee send the heel closer to the floor, making it more likely to tap the floor and get no repped; Bending the leg shows un-engagement of the quad, which could lead to bigger issues, like poor and unsafe technique, and a loss of balance, especially when trying to move quickly.
Keeping the Front Leg Straight:
- Pros - An engaged, tight front leg shows muscular engagement and control of the movement; Keeping the leg straight out front helps make sure the ankle and knee joints are hinging safely and correctly;
- Cons - Keeping the leg straight out front distributes your bodyweight slightly forward, which may challenge your balance to a higher degree; Focusing on keeping your leg straight may slow you down if trying to move quickly though a workout
Dynamic Mobility Exercises:
- Stability Heel Raises
- Deficit Toe Raises
- Deficit Toe Raises
- Candlestick Roll + Hold
- Banded Ankle Extensions
- Dead Stop Step-Up
- Box Pistol
- Ring Half Pistol
- Ring Assisted Pistol
- Pistol Negative
- Stability Pistol
Class Movement Demos
Dynamic Mobility Exercises
1. Stability Heel Raises
2. Deficit Toe Raises
3. Deficit Heel Raises
4. Candlestick Roll + Hold
5. Banded Ankle Extensions
Drill 1: Dead Stop Step-Up
Drill 2: Box Pistol
Drill 3: Ring Half Pistol
Drill 4: Ring Assisted Pistol
Drill 5: Pistol Negative
Drill 6: Stability Pistol
Video Movement Tips
NEW — Class Snips
These "class snips" have been taken from your full pistol class, and cut into smaller, more specific chunks of information that you can refer to, to help your practice.
"How To: Step By Step Breakdown"
"Front Leg: Bent or straight?"
"Who should train pistols?"
"Benefits vs. Risks"
"Active Mobility Exercises Overview"
Active Mobility | Stability Raises
Active Mobility | Deficit Raises
Active Mobility | Candlestick + Hold
Active Mobility | Banded Extensions
"Pistol Drills Overview"
Drill | Dead Stop Step-Up
Drill | Box Pistol
Drill | Ring Half Pistol
Drill | Full Ring Pistol
Drill | Negative Pistol
Drill | Stability Pistol
0:90 Quick Tips
"SHOULD I BE TRAINING PISTOLS?"
Be smart about what your goals are, because the pistol can be a high risk movement if you don't prepare properly. I recommend only competitive fitness athletes train the full pistol at high speeds.
"CAN I BOUNCE AT THE BOTTOM?"
No, do not "bounce" through your pistols as it puts you at a high risk for injury. Move slowly and controlled through the movement to build strength, stability, and improve balance.
"WHAT DO MY TOES DO?"
Your toes should be active and gripping the ground to help with balance and stability during pistols.
PASSIVE MOBILITY: DORSIFLEXION STRETCH
This passive, dorsiflexion stretch can help improve mobility in the ankle for easier pistols. Set your foot on a high surface, and use your bodyweight to shift forward and apply pressure.
ACTIVE MOBILITY: BANDED FLEXION & EXTENSION
Take a seat and set the ball of your foot into the band. Pull back on the band to create tension, allowing your heel to rise and ankle move into dorsiflexion. Press your toes into the band and fully extend your ankle. Move strictly pressing and releasing.
STANDING BANDED FLEXION & EXTENSION
Set the ball of your foot on the band, and pull up to create tension. Allow your toes to come off the floor, and feel a stretch in the ankle. Slowly press your toes back to the controlling, controlling the movement up and down.
"WHY IS IT HARD TO KEEP MY FRONT LEG UP?
Hip flexor strength plays a huge part in keeping your front leg off the floor in pistols. If it's really hard to keep that leg up, chances are, you need to strengthen your hip flexors to help improve your pistols.
GENERAL BREAKDOWN OF THE PISTOL
Stand on one foot and extend your second leg out front. Arms reach forward as you send your hips slightly back. Lower until your hips pass below the crease of your knee. Press through the heel and stand back up.
"STRAIGHT OR BENT FRONT LEG?"
I recommend practicing with a straight front leg, so your heel clearly stays above the floor and doesn't make contact. Bending your leg sends your heel down, cutting it close.
THE "DEAD STOP" STEP-UP
Tailor your normal box step-up to better prepare for pistols by taking the "jump" out of the equation — Set your foot on the box, shift your weight forward, then on your bottom foot, lift your toes up so you don't jump off the floor.
RING ASSISTED HALF PISTOL
With feet under the hips, grab your rings and squat down. Extend one leg forward into your pistol position. Press through the heel and stand. Move very slowly and strictly through the entire exercise.
RING ASSISTED PISTOL
Use the rings as assistance in the full pistol. Stand on one foot and extend the second leg forward. Shift your hips back and lower your hips towards the floor. Press through the heel and pull on the rings to help stand.
NEGATIVE LOWER DRILL
Lower as slowly as possible through this negative pistol to build strength and stability. Don't lower too far though - protect your joints by reaching the 'active' bottom position, then sitting back on your cushion.
BALANCE ASSISTED PISTOL
Grab a railing, chair, bench, couch, etc. and use it to help you balance as you move through the full range of motion in the pistol.
SOFT SURFACE PISTOL
Challenge your stability and balance by practicing your pistols on a squishy surface, like a couch cushion, pillow, stack of towels, etc. You'll be forced to focus on stabilizing the ankle and knee as you lower and stand back up.
Check These Out
1. SKILL SPECIFIC WARM-UPS
If you need help warming-up for your gymnastic session, we've got skill specific plans you can follow to best prepare your body.
All warm-ups live under the "Workouts" tab in the navigation menu.