One of the best exercises for strong functional legs is the one-legged squat, otherwise known as pistols. In addition to building up your quads, one-legged squats require a great deal of balance, concentration, and focus. Most beginners fall on their butts on their first attempt and have difficulty controlling the negative portion of the range, let alone the positive portion. So how do you ease into doing a full range one-legged squat? One option is to hold on to something such as a chair to maintain balance. While that is a valid approach, I feel that the stair-step approach is much more effective.
Here is how it works-go to the bottom of a staircase and stand straight with your back facing the staircase. Place the back of your heal against the bottom step.
Look Forward and hold your arms straight out in front of you. Starting with one leg held out in front of you, slowly lower yourself to the second step up with the other leg.
(Note: Taller individuals might need to go to the third step and shorter individuals might need to use the first step.) Keep your body really tight and flex both legs. Make sure that the leg that you are holding in front of you stays as straight as possible. Sit down gently, tighten your glutes and stand up. There, you just did a half rep on your own. Now if you cannot do a half rep, just focus on doing negatives for a while. Do one set of five reps, five times a day, five times a week, for three weeks. After that time period, you should be very comfortable and now you are ready to make the exercise more difficult. Instead of lowering yourself to the second step, lower yourself to the first step.
Again really keep your body tight, lean forward as you go down, and as you get close to the step, contract your glutes and abs as hard as you can. Sit down gently and then spring back up. Again, do one set, five times a day for three weeks. Once you get comfortable at this, it is time to do full range one-legged squats.
When doing free standing one-legged squats, make sure to really drill your working leg into the floor. At the top position, flex your working leg's knee as hard as you can and lower yourself slowly. As you get close to the bottom, flex your abs and glutes as hard as you can.
Hold the bottom position for a second; keep everything tight and spring back up. Again, practice this movement as often as possible and do at least five sets of five reps daily. Ideally, you do the sets over the course of the day. However, if this is not possible, do five sets of five in the morning, evening, or whenever you have time. Once you are competent with freestanding one-legged squats, try holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of you to increase the resistance. (Editor's note: If you're looking to get your hands on a good kettlebell, contact our friends at Dragon Door.)
In some ways, holding on to a weight makes the exercise easier as it is easier to stay balanced. However, as you increase the weight, the exercise becomes much more difficult than freestanding squats.
As with the other variations, stay as tight as possible and focus on crushing the weight with your hands. Once you feel that you have mastered one-legged squats, try doing "hit the deck" one-legged squats.
Squat down to the floor on one leg and go into a backward roll at the bottom. Quickly reverse the direction and spring back up.
This one takes some practice and coordination! However, it is a fun variation and I recommend it highly.
Summary Of One Legged Squat Tips
1. Work into One Legged Squats gradually to avoid injuries.
2. Use a staircase to decrease the range of motion.
3. Breathe in while lowering and hold your breath when rising.
4. If necessary, use a 10 lb - 20 lb weight for balance.
5. Flex both legs at the top and contract your abs and glutes at the bottom.
6. Pause at the bottom and stay tight.
7. Lean forward as you go down.
8. Practice one legged squats at least five times a day
9. Do no more than three to five reps.
10. Do more reps for your weaker leg.
Follow the guidelines above and I guarantee you that you will be doing full range one-legged squats in less than ten weeks. I used the stair-step method and went from not even being able to lower myself to doing sets of five full range one-legged squats with a 55lb Kettlebell. In addition to more defined muscles, my legs are much stronger and I have noticed a tremendous carryover to other sports and activities. Give this program a shot and let me know how you do. Enjoy!