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Why Your Pistols Aren’t Getting Better

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Pistols – they’ve come up in programming a lot recently.  They can be considered an advanced movement, but that’s no reason to shy away from trying just because they seem difficult.  I’ve seen lots of capable athletes default to a scaled movement because they perceive themselves as not being ready to try a pistol.  But in reality, here’s why your pistols aren’t getting better:

  1. Lack of practice.  Pistols require tons of balance, strength, coordination and flexibility.  These things don’t happen over night.  Take the time to practice the movement during open gym or one night after a regular WOD.  Giving yourself a few extra practice reps to develop the movement pattern will go a long way in mastering the pistol.  Even if you have to do a few reps of a scaled variation before attempting or practicing the full movement, the reps over time will help.
  2. Poor ankle mobility.  Tight ankles can be the kiss of death in getting full-depth on a pistol because your dorsiflexion is limited.  That sensation of getting stuck or having tight muscles in the front of the shin can be a good indicator that your dorsiflexion needs some work.  Check out this past blog piece on ankle mobility to help prep you for the pistol
  3. Tight hip flexors. Ever feel that pinching sensation in the front of your leg by your hip? Or that your hips can’t lower anymore, almost like you’re at the end range of motion?  The answer to that is tight hip flexors.  Before you perform a pistol squat, prep the hip flexors by laying face down and placing a lacross ball right where your hip meets your torso.  Rolling over those tight hip flexors will help release some tension.
  4. You forget about your non-working leg.  Just because one leg is taking the majority of the load in the pistol squat doesn’t mean the other leg is along for the ride.  Your non-working leg requires a good amount of quad and hip flexor strength, along with hamstring flexibility, to prevent it from touching the ground.  Remember to keep this leg active as you descend into the bottom of the pistol.

Given the popularity of the pistol squat in both daily programming and the CrossFit Games, it only seems logical that we should keep honing in on practice and mobility to assist in getting the pistol technique down.  Bodyweight movements are some of the most challenging movements that we see at the gym, but rep after rep of practice work will pay off.



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