As appealing as advanced exercises can be, it's not wise to jump straight into them without taking the time to learn proper and safe progressions. Many important factors need to be addressed before jumping into pistol training. To have a strong and safe pistol, one needs not only strength but also flexibility, mobility, and balance.
Think about this for a second, if you do not have the mobility to do a rock bottom two leg squat, why on Earth would you think, “Hey, let’s train a one leg squat!” Before I will add pistols to any of my student's programs, I start by testing their mobility in a barefoot narrow stance squat first without a counter balance and then with a light counter balance if necessary.
Did you reach this position with stability or did you roll backwards?
If you could not reach this position, we have mobility, flexibility and balance work to do. Mobile feet and ankles are a must. As stated in the SFB manual, stretch your feet regularly to make sure you have good dorsi flexion. Flexible hips, calves and hamstrings are also required.
And to quote Pavel Tsatsouline:
“Always stretch feet, calves, hamstrings and hip flexors prior to doing any pistol work.”
Example: if the bottom is your sticking point, then work on your balance with the two following progressions.
This drill will teach you to become stable on one leg in the rock bottom position. It will also show you if you are lacking in hip flexor and hamstring mobility. Many people will lose balance at the bottom and roll backwards. Then they are unable to get back off the ground, which leads us to our next progression and some of my favorite drills.
Slow bodyweight single leg deadlift will help with two common issues. The first is balance, which is very important at this stage. The second is building strength, which we will revisit later toward the end of our progressions.
Bodyweight SLDL will allow you to work on your balance and force you to slow down. Most people rush this process and miss the sticking point. Bodyweight training also allows you to improve your technique and learn proper posture prior to loading with weight.
Sit relaxed on the floor with one leg extended in front of you. Can you lift off the ground from this relaxed position into your rock bottom position of your pistol?
Work this drill into your pistol training to increase your starting strength from a completely relaxed state.
Cossacks are a great stretch but can also be used to build strength.
Now that you have worked the decent and owning the bottom position, there are a few other drills to consider adding.
Depending on your sticking point will determine how you should use the box.
If your sticking point is due to mobility/flexibility and you are not ready for a full rock bottom pistol then you will only pistol to the height of the box that suits your mobility.
If your sticking point is due to lack of strength to get back up then pistol to a box height that you can get back up from.
This time we will be seeing the SLDL utilized for greater strength gains by loading with a kettlebell, dumbbell or even a barbell. It is important to try to keep the hips and shoulders square. Many people allow the hips to rotate out and this keeps you from getting the most out of this drill.
** It is very important to keep a flat back to keep from rounding the thoracic spine under load
** I have also found that people who let the back leg bend have a greater tendency to round their spin and lose tension.
There are many tools that you can use to assist yourself. TRX, doorway or a training partner are just a few examples. Only use as much help as needed at your sticking point.
Once you have a solid BW pistol on each leg, you can begin to load your pistols to get stronger, which I highly recommend. Own the bodyweight pistol first, so that you know you are not compensating for lack of mobility or causing any asymmetries. If you did not own the bodyweight pistol prior to adding a weight, you have now made standing harder. While loaded is the eventual goal, I recommend bodyweight first.
Enjoy and now go get mobile and strong!
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