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    The Big L's Avatar
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    Pistol squat question

    I'm just getting started with working on pistol squats. So far I seem to have enough strength to do a rep or two, but the balance is very tricky. I'm sure that will sort itself out with practice.

    Other than balance, the one thing that has been driving me crazy is the non-pressing leg -- the one that you hold out in front of you. As I approach the bottom of the squat (or just after leaving the bottom of the squat), I start to feel tremendous pressure on the upper part of the thigh. Not the very top by the hip, but between 1/4-1/2 the distance along the path from the hip to the knee.

    Back when I was doing bulgarian squats, I seem to recall feeling the same sort of fatigue/discomfort in the trailing leg that was resting on the bench behind me. But it's much more acute in the pistol squat.

    Is this a strength issue, a flexibility issue, or both? What are some exercises I can work on to improve in this area?

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    I have felt a similar pain when I have attempted to do pistols. I specify ATTEMPTED lol. Anyways I believe the pain in my case at least due to a lack of strength in my hanging leg because as I go down, my hips angle down more, so to keep my leg at the same height, it is more like lifting leg up past half way and I can't do that... I have tried just lifting my leg higher and holding it to try and build strength but I haven't done it routinely enough to say that is effective.

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    I never had that problem and could always keep my leg straight with no problems. But I have naturally big quads so I suspect that you just need to do more pistol squats!
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    i was getting something similar in my right leg today when i was attempting L sits. The guy I was talking to says it goes away eventually, being more of a flex issue.

    And just because the pain/discomfort is 1/2 way down your thigh doesn't mean it isn't starting at you hip
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    Al_Kavadlo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Big L View Post
    Is this a strength issue, a flexibility issue, or both? What are some exercises I can work on to improve in this area?
    Both. Your hamstrings/lower back are tight and your quads are not strong enough to overcome said tightness. The bottom position of a pistol squat (or an L-sit for that matter) requires a deep stretch. In order to stretch one muscle, the opposing muscle must activate, hence the cramping in your quads.

    I suggest doing some flexibility work for your hammys (downward dog anyone?). In the meantime, you might try practicing your pistols on a bench so the other leg doesn't have to stay parallel with the ground, as I describe in my pistol squat tutorial.
    "In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they couldn't be more different."

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    iniQuity's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Al_Kavadlo View Post
    Both. Your hamstrings/lower back are tight and your quads are not strong enough to overcome said tightness. The bottom position of a pistol squat (or an L-sit for that matter) requires a deep stretch. In order to stretch one muscle, the opposing muscle must activate, hence the cramping in your quads.

    I suggest doing some flexibility work for your hammys (downward dog anyone?). In the meantime, you might try practicing your pistols on a bench so the other leg doesn't have to stay parallel with the ground, as I describe in my pistol squat tutorial.
    My gf took me to a yoga class and I couldn't do the downward dog full ROM (my heels wouldn't stretch so I was on my toes) and I felt inferior to all the women. I was the only dude in class. I was also the only one wearing shorts (soccer shorts) while they all wore pants! I though yoga was a short-wearing activity.

    Try holding the bottom position for time and to help strengthen that area, it will also help with balance. Trying shrimp squats can help with the strength part without having to go too deep.

  7. #7
    The Big L's Avatar
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    Thanks for the responses, everyone. Very helpful, and comforting to know that I'm not alone with these issues.

    Quote Originally Posted by Al_Kavadlo View Post
    Both. Your hamstrings/lower back are tight and your quads are not strong enough to overcome said tightness. The bottom position of a pistol squat (or an L-sit for that matter) requires a deep stretch. In order to stretch one muscle, the opposing muscle must activate, hence the cramping in your quads.
    Al, that's a great explanation! It's quite plausible to me too. I know for a fact that my hamstrings are tight; I've never been able to touch my toes very easily without a lot of (uncomfortable) effort. You also nailed it with the term cramping. Thinking back, it felt exactly like a cramp.

    I suggest doing some flexibility work for your hammys (downward dog anyone?). In the meantime, you might try practicing your pistols on a bench so the other leg doesn't have to stay parallel with the ground, as I describe in my pistol squat tutorial.
    Excellent, will do. Thanks for your help Al. I feel like I've gleaned a lot of good (and free!) advice from your posts on the forums, so as a token of my appreciation I just ordered your book on your website. I'm looking forward to reading it!

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    The balance part can be fixed by imagining your stomping your foot through the floor... create the tenstion and you'll plant solidly.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Big L View Post
    Thanks for the responses, everyone. Very helpful, and comforting to know that I'm not alone with these issues.



    Al, that's a great explanation! It's quite plausible to me too. I know for a fact that my hamstrings are tight; I've never been able to touch my toes very easily without a lot of (uncomfortable) effort. You also nailed it with the term cramping. Thinking back, it felt exactly like a cramp.



    Excellent, will do. Thanks for your help Al. I feel like I've gleaned a lot of good (and free!) advice from your posts on the forums, so as a token of my appreciation I just ordered your book on your website. I'm looking forward to reading it!
    Happy to help! Hope you enjoy the book!
    "In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they couldn't be more different."

    "You can have anything you want, but you can't have everything you want."

    My blog: http://www.AlKavadlo.com


  10. #10
    The Big L's Avatar
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    I was wondering if the following exercises might eventually help make pistol squats any easier:

    - L-sits. I can hold one of these for about 10 seconds, though my abs are shaking by the end (and my form might not be the greatest). The cramping sensation I get with these in my upper quads is similar to what I feel at the bottom of the pistol squat. This also stretches my wrists out a bit, which will hopefully help out with my handstands.

    - Hanging L-sits/raises. Everything's more fun with a pullup bar, right? Instead of hanging though, I prefer to use a parallel grip to lift and hold my chin well above the bar, and then raise the legs so they're perpendicular to my torso. Again, in addition to the awesome ab work, I feel similar hamstring stretching and quad activation as I do with pistol squats. I can do about 5 slow, controlled raises at a time, or about 10s hanging before my abs protest.
    Last edited by The Big L; 04-06-2011 at 01:57 PM. Reason: typo

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