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Single-Leg Squats – The Best Bodyweight Exercise For Glute Strengthening

The Single-Leg squat (the Pistol squat is another name) is a hard and controversial exercise. Many people know it from school physical education lessons, but only a few athletes can perform it at least a few times in adulthood. Let’s figure out, what is the peculiarity of such squats. What are their benefits and possible contraindications? How to do the Pistol squat properly?

Pros and cons

Single leg squats are a powerful exercise, which uses a huge muscle mass and allows you to build the legs and buttocks muscles. It’s a bodyweight exercise. It means that you can work out at home and without any equipment.

The effect on the lower body muscles is comparable to squats with a barbell of your weight. However, there is one difference between exercises. The barbell squat presses on the spinal column. For people with a sore back, this can create significant difficulties. Therefore, barbell squats are forbidden to them.

You can use Single leg exercise to gain mass and increase muscle strength in the lower body without problems.

Effects on muscles

The Single-Leg squats effects the following muscles:

  • The main load falls on the quadriceps and gluteus maximus muscles

  • Hamstrings, adductors, calf muscles, back, and abs stabilize the supporting leg and core

  • The quadriceps, the tensioner of the broad fascia, the sartorius muscle and the comb muscle work at the raised leg

In addition to the load on the muscles and the difficulty of the exercise, Pistol squats require good joint flexibility. These are the hip, knee, and ankle joints. The elasticity of the ligaments is also important. It’ where many problems begin. The joints are much less flexible in adulthood than in school years. The body weight is much higher. Add to this the injuries and joint diseases, which people have.

Load on the knee joints

The exercise creates pressure on the knee joint. Doing the exercise, the knee is bent at an acute angle before contacting the biceps femoris and gastrocnemius muscle. Therefore, if you have knee problems, feel discomfort during regular squats, and pain when running or walking, then Single-Leg squats are contraindicated for you.

If your knees are okay, then take into account the following two points:

1Always warm up and stretch before training

2Don’t make sudden movements. Do support exercises until your muscles will be strong. Don’t squat or stand up abruptly. Otherwise, the injury can negate the exercise benefits

So, let’s summarize. The Pistol Squat is a good exercise for developing your leg muscles. It has a complex effect on the muscles of the lower body and requires a huge amount of energy. Moreover, the exercise replaces the barbell squat at home.

Single-Leg squats develop flexibility and coordination. But, there are disadvantages too. The exercise creates significant stress on the knee joints. It excludes it from the training program for people with knee problems. In addition, you should always work out with great care, even with healthy knees.

Now, let’s take a look at the exercise technique.

Single-Leg squat technique

Consider the exercise technique, which you should strive for. It’s the Pistol squat without additional support. Below I’ll tell you what exercises will prepare your muscles. First of all, we need to understand what the Single-Leg exercise is.

1Stand up straight and put your feet hip-width apart. Shift your weight on the supporting leg. Lift the other leg off the floor slightly. Stretch your arms forward for balance.

2Squat slowly on your supporting leg while lifting your second leg forward. At this moment, your pelvis should be laid back, and not tucked forward. You need hip joint flexibility to do this. Tilt your body forward for balance. Try to keep your back straight. The second (non-working) leg is straight. It should rise at the same time as you squat.

3Descending to the lowest point of movement (the biceps of the thigh contact the calf muscle), check the position of the non-working leg. It should be parallel to the floor. The back is straight. In this case, the knee of the supporting leg will protrude beyond the toe. It distinguishes the exercise from the classic squats. It’s the most traumatic moment of the movement.

4Tighten your thighs and glutes as much as possible. Push off the floor with force, but without a jerk. Raise your pelvis and straighten your knee. Place your non-working leg near the supporting leg.


Do Single-Leg exercise as many times as your physical fitness allows. If you get 10 or more squats, you’ll get an intense workout for almost your body.

First exercises

Not every athlete can do the Single leg squat without support. Most people get down to the bottom point, but they can’t stand up. Weak muscles aren’t always blamed for this. The main reason for the failure is the unusual load.

So, what exercises will prepare you for Pistol squats?

1Stand up and place your feet hip-width apart. Raise your straight leg to parallel with the floor. Try to stand in this position for at least 30 seconds. Believe me, it’s not an easy task

2Next, practice squatting on one leg without raising the other leg in front of you. You need a sturdy stand or drawer to do this. Place the box near a wall or other support to hold on to with your hands. Squat on one leg and freely get down the other leg

3The next step is to perform squats, holding the support with your hands. That is, you squat on one leg, bringing the other forward. But at the same time, you hold on to the support with your hands. For example, open a door and grasp the handles on both sides.

4Make the task more difficult. Try the exercise without using your hands. Touch the support with your shoulder. Stretch your arms forward. The benefit of such a movement is psychological. It’s already the Single leg squat

In addition to these exercises, use classic squats with a barbell, dumbbells, or other weights. They will help you gain strength in your legs. You can do Single Leg exercise in a Smith machine. The technique is easier because you don’t need to keep your balance.

Include several stretch exercises in your workout plan. You cannot do the Single-Leg squat properly without it.

By following the recommendations and regular training, you’ll get perfectly developed leg muscles and buttocks. The main thing is to remember about the knees. Reduce the load immediately if you experience discomfort.

I'm a professional fitness instructor and nutritionist, runner, husband and father. I do my best in providing the right guidance when it comes to the grounds of sexual health, nutrition and common fitness.

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