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Ask GiryaGirl: Troubleshooting the Pistol - a Q&A discussion

Recently I posted a link to the new Shot-At-Alcatraz Convict Conditioning Bodyweight Squat DVD.   I had also recently posted a my review at that same link.   Yes, the price is daunting - but if you're serious about mastering the pistol (aka the one leg squat) then this will be a worthwhile investment.  ESPECIALLY if you are training others—this is essentially on-demand coaching in DVD and manual form.   Having read, studied and applied the info from Pavel's Naked Warrior along with Convict Conditioning 1 & 2 I was really pleased with the new ground covered on this DVD—the hidden steps and variants alone are incredibly cool.   Anyhow, a discussion ensured after I posted the link/review/etc. with a facebook friend—here are the highlights—maybe some of it will help you! :)

Legend: G= GiryaGirl; F=Friend

F: Are there any tips for those who can do close squats and pistols with a counterweight, but not with bodyweight only? That was one of the issues with the book for me, many of the steps can't be done if you need a counterweight.

G: Did you try assisted (with a basketball or medicine ball under the straight leg? How about box pistols - just going half way down?) What happens when you do those? Is it a balance issue? Check your shoes/feet/toes are they gripping the floor or flopping around? (I like troubleshooting the pistol... can you tell?) The answer to your other question is that the DVD/Manual really goes into greater depth of the hidden steps and progressions than the book. LOTS of subtleties - which are absolutely crucial with this exercise (in my opinion)

F: I tried them with the basketball, and it didn't work because I fall backward without a counterweight. Not a balance issue, just a body proportions issue. Have done many many many box pistols over the years, I find them to be of no help whatsoever. Ditto for assisted pistols holding on to a pole in front. With an 8kg kettlebell, no issues. Yes, gripping with the toes etc.

G: Ok... how about... are you flexible enough to grab the toe of the straight leg at the bottom of the pistol? How about any hamstring flexibility issues?

F: At the moment I can't do it; I'd gotten to the point last fall where I could get into the bottom position with support, grab the opposite foot, and hold briefly, with great difficulty, but it didn't seem to translate into the eccentric at all. Does that make sense? I was thinking L sit practice and stiff legged deadlifts to improve flexibility, and see if that helps. I'm close to full front and side splits now, would like to get the rest of the way, so it would serve two purposes.

G: I can't do a full split of any kind (but I haven't worked on that either). Hamstring flexibility might be part of the issue though, I'll be curious to see what happens with your plan. Also, try hanging out down in the bottom position for longer and longer - even just a few seconds, I actually consider it a "rest" and occasionally "hang out" down there and talk on the phone!

F:  I re-read the section from Convict Conditioning on the Pistol. Yes, there are good recommendations for building up strength to do the pistol well. I am taking your advice to be persistent. I have a few questions; hope you have time to address them.

  1. When you're descending into the squat are you at the same time tensing the entire body and support leg as you go down?
  2. When you were learning the pistol squat, what technique was the most effective one for accomplishing it?
  3. Each day I get closer and closer to accomplishing it, but it has been taking me a while. I should have started this stuff when I was younger

G: If it's any consolation, it took me a full year to do it (2008-2009) - I was also increasing my general fitness and losing weight at the time too.

  1. As I descend, I focus more on the planted foot - I think of pulling myself down and reaching forward. There's a combination of tension, but also some relaxation since we need to move too. Have you tried any with a thin book under your heal? (try that unweighted)
  2. It's been a while, and Convict Conditioning hadn't been published yet.  I did a combo of drills from Naked Warrior and a whole lot of experimentation. Since you can do them with a counterweight - try gradually bringing the weight closer and closer to you over time. Oddly enough a game changer for the balance part was to practice hanging out in the bottom of a close squat - sometimes you'll see pictures of people in other countries in this position to talk on their cell phones!
  3. Age is a number, not a fate!  Be patient!

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