In my opinion, the pistol squat is one of the coolest and most impressive feats of leg strength, mobility and athleticism there is when developed to its zenith.
Taking the weight of your entire body (plus the weight of a kettlebell or two) lowering it ‘ass to grass’ on a single leg and back up is something not many people can do, not without the proper training that is!
Caught between a rock and a sore place
My journey with strength began when I first walked through the doors of the iconic Centaur Gym in 2010 and signed up for Paul McIlroy’s Amazing 12 Week Physique. Trouble was, I only had 5 weeks at that time to a holiday I’d booked. I was 20yrs old and very new to the whole strength training scene, but very excited to get the ball rolling so to speak.
I couldn’t see any change throughout the 5 weeks and was convinced nothing had happened outside of the incredible strength gains I’d made (which I was very happy with). Suffice to say when I saw the pictures I could hardly believe my eyes! Clients tell me that my transformation inspired them to try harder during their own journey, which is great to hear and very motivational for me in return.
“To this day Conor McKillop’s transformation is one of the best results I’ve ever been responsible for, especially when the 5 week timeframe is taken into consideration.” (Paul McIlroy)
Over the next year Paul really pulled out all the stops with my training and 2011 saw some serious gains in muscular size and strength for me. We both had the goal of getting to the final of the Men’s Health Cover Model Competition (a high level nationwide fitness model contest that routinely gets up to 10,000 entries ever year). At the culmination of that years training I’d made it all the way to the final 6 over in London, mission accomplished but what next?
2012 saw the arrival of the famous RKC certification for the first time ever in the UK or Ireland and Centaur were the hosts! Naturally Paul approached me with the bright idea to train for, and pass, this notoriously gruelling 3 day kettlebell master class.
We didn’t have much time to prepare so there was no time to train hard so we had to train smart! This was the moment that Paul first introduced me to the pistol squat.
I was training through one of the many kettlebell complexes Paul enjoyed putting me through. After our session had finished Paul started practising some, ‘one legged squats’, they looked bad ass! He asked if I’d ever tried them, I hadn’t, so I watched him do another then tried it myself and to both our delight, nailed it!
Paul then went on to talk about the mechanics of the pistol and how he felt practising with a light weight or kettlebell acting as a counterbalance helps stabilise the movement. He then smiled and pointed at the 40kg bell I’d been using for swings and said “light…like that one”!
I cleaned the bell, set my foot and again to both our delight I did it! Albeit a little slower on the way up.
Preparation for the RKC went well and I did end up passing the cert, but disaster struck during the final stages of my snatch test. I incurred a severe shoulder injury that would lead to almost two years of frustration and eventually surgery.
It was during this period of my life that the Pistol squat saved my sanity becoming my salvation.
Going from 100mph with no sign of slowing down to zero overnight is very tough to deal with mentally. But on the other hand, having absolutely nothing to hang my hat on except pistols led to a steely determination taking me to a place with this exercise that I never thought possible.
With a bit creativity I was able to train pistols no matter how my shoulder felt at the time. Just a few months after my surgery I nailed a pistol squat with double 32kg bells in the rack position!
But much more than building functionally strong legs and providing an emotional out let during my injury, this experience taught me something, something that many people aren’t lucky enough to learn in a lifetime.
Pain in ONE area of your life isn’t an excuse to give up on the rest of it.
Making a higher caliber round:
There are plenty of articles out there about correct pistol technique and techniques for beginners to utilise in order to achieve their first pistol squat. But what about the intermediate guys who know all this already? What about the guys with proficient technique who simply find themselves stuck in a rut unable to illicit further significant progress? What about the guys who wish to pistol ‘The Beast’ or the hallowed ‘Double 32’s like Steve Cotter’?
Well, I thought I’d be a bit different and write an article for YOU guys!
When my shoulder was injured I asked Paul for a routine to use for pistols with the goal of performing a single rep with double 32’s at completion (my current max at that time was double 24’s).
Within less than 30 seconds he was describing the routine below, a routine that got me to my goal very quickly and one which I feel will in time take me far beyond that level.
It must be noted that this routine was originally intended for use with a single kettlebell in the rack position because one of my shoulders was badly injured and I could neither hold double bells in the rack position or one bell by its handle.
When performing reps on the same side as the injured shoulder the kettlebell was loaded counter laterally (the bell was held in the rack position on the opposite side of the working leg), this is not something YOU have to do.
Using a single kettlebell during each session you will start the programme as follows:
(loading is based on a male 1RM of 48kg and a female 1RM of 24kg)
Day 1 Light: Women 8kg 10 sets of 1 rep
Men 16kg 10 sets of 1 rep
Day 2 Medium: Women 10kg 10 sets of 1 rep
Men 20kg 10 sets of 1 rep
Day 3 Heavy: Women 14kg 10 sets of 1 rep
Men 24kg 10 sets of 1 rep
Day 4 Light: Women 10kg 10 sets of 2 reps
Men 16kg 10 sets of 2 reps
Day 5 Medium: Women 12kg 10 sets of 2 reps
Men 20kg 10 sets of 2 reps
Day 6 Heavy: Women 16kg 10 sets of 2 reps
Men 24kg 10 sets of 2 reps
These 10 sets of ascending reps continue until 10 sets of 6 reps with the light, medium and heavy weights are completed. After this the light bell is removed and the ‘medium’ bell takes its place leaving the ‘heavy’ bell as the new medium and the next weight jump up becomes the new heavy (Women = 12kg light, 14kg medium, 16kg heavy/ Men = 20kg light, 24kg medium, 28kg heavy). This process is repeated until peak weight is reached….I haven’t reached mine yet at time of writing and it’s STILL getting easier!
That’s it on the pistol squat for now!
Enjoy getting strong with it and impressing everyone who witnesses you doing double 32’s one day!