The September 30-Day Pistol Squat Challenge

After so many of you participated in the 12 Minute Athlete Summer Strong 5 Day Workout Challenge this summer, I thought it was about time to do another fun challenge.

This time we’re going to be focusing on one of my favorite exercises ever—the pistol squat.

I know, I know—most of you can’t do a pistol squat yet. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if at least some of you think that there’s no way you’ll ever be able to do a pistol, no matter how much you work at it—so you might as well not even try.

Well let me tell you something: I used to be exactly the same way. As a long limbed person, even just a little over two years ago I thought I would never, ever be able to do a pistol squat. But you know what? I don’t like to be told I can’t do something. So I put in the work—and slowly but surely managed to be able to do one legged squats, despite previously thinking that they were impossible.

So keep that in mind with this challenge, because no matter how far you are from being able to do pistols today, you can do them if you put your mind to it (and work really hard). Everybody has to start somewhere.

The 30-Day Pistol Squat Challenge Rules

Here’s how this challenge is going to go:

You’re going to commit to working on your pistols 3-5x a week for the month of September. If you’re a beginner and haven’t done many pistols before, you’ll probably want to do closer to 3x a week. If you’ve been working on your pistols for a while or can bust out at least a few in a row no problem, more often is fine.

For each day you work on your pistols, here’s what you’re going to be doing:

  • Step 1: Do the hardest progression of the pistol you can do till failure.
  • Step 2: Immediately follow with the next hardest version you can do till failure.
  • Step 3: Rest and repeat the above three times.

As you make progress, make sure to step it up to the next hardest progression (see the progressions at the end of this post or just watch the short video above). That’s it!

Extremely important: Make sure to keep track of your reps and progressions throughout the month so you know how much progress you’re making. Keep in mind that if you’re not even close to doing a pistol now, you probably won’t be busting out 5 full ones in a row by the end of the month—but if you’re consistent and work hard, you will make progress.

Also, in terms of when to practice your pistols, I’d recommend doing them either:

  • At a separate time from your workout (for example, if your full workout is in the evening, plan to do pistol practice in the morning) OR
  • Right before your regular workout

You can, of course, do your pistols after your workout, but you’re much more likely to have tired legs at that point so I don’t recommend it.

Note: If you have previous knee issues, you’ll probably need to sit this challenge out. You can still do a lot of squats, but pistols can be tough on knees if you’re not used to doing them and the last thing we want is for you to get injured during this challenge. So please, please be smart and listen to your own body!

30-Day Pistol Squat Challenge Prizes

My goal with this challenge is to get you guys documenting your pistols and connecting with each other as much as possible—and prizes are always a good motivator 🙂

I’ll be following along with your progress and liking your photos throughout the month of September, so make sure and post your best photos and videos on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook and tag them #30daysofpistols for a chance to win 12 Minute Athlete swag and get featured.

Here are the prize categories:

  • Most creative location. Do your pistols and pistol progressions in the most unlikely location you can think of. Get creative!
  • Best overall improvement. Did you go from a couple of bench pistols to busting out multiple full ones in a row in the span of a couple of weeks? Tag us!
  • Most pistols completed. If you’re a pistol superstar and can bust out crazy amounts in a row, let us know. Or better yet, show us.
  • Best pistol video. This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Bring your game face and get working!
  • Best buddy pistols. Practice your pistols with a friend (or more) for a chance to win prizes.

Now let’s take a quick look at the progressions:

Pistol Squat Progressions

Below are the progressions you’ll be using to work on your pistols for this challenge. They’re listed in the order that will go from easiest to hardest for most people, however, depending on your personal levels of strength, flexibility, and balance, you might find some of the harder listed progressions actually easier, and vice versa. That is perfectly OK!

Simply work on the progressions you feel fit you best and follow the same protocol as above: doing the hardest version of the pistol you can do till failure, and then follow up with the next hardest version (for you!) till failure, repeating the entire sequence three times.

Bench Pistol Squats

Bench pistol squats are a great way to get started with pistol squats to build strength and work on building up control.

Straighten your opposite leg out in front of you and sit back onto an object (a bench, chair or even a couch works great) that will leave you with a 90 degree angle at your knee. It’s ok if you fall down the first few times: keep working at it and you’ll get control. Squeeze your abs, butt, and pull your shoulders back as you try to lift yourself back up.

If you need assistance from this position, tap your toes of your opposite foot to the ground and lightly use them to balance you as you stand up. Also, keep in mind that the higher the bench, the easier these will be, so a great way to keep working on this progression is to practice on lower and lower surfaces as you get stronger.

Negative Pistol Squats

Negatives help you get used to the movement of pistols and increase your strength while you’re at it.

To do them, hold your arms out in front of you, then stand on one leg with your free leg held straight out in front. Push your hips back and slowly lower down so that your butt is almost touching the ground. Set your other leg down, then stand up with two legs.

Assisted Pistol Squats

Once you know you have the flexibility to get into the pistol position, you can start doing them assisted.

Find a chair, a pole, or stand in front of a doorway and grab the door frame, and lower yourself down to the bottom position of the pistol. Relying as little as possible on your arm strength, push your hips back and raise yourself up.

Elevated Pistol Squats

One of the hardest parts about a pistol is that along with needing extreme strength to lower yourself down on one leg, you need to keep the other leg straight, which requires an amazing amount of strength, balance, and flexibility.

To work up to this, find an elevated surface such as a bench and practice doing pistols on that. Try to keep your leg straight as much as possible, but it’s ok if it lowers below the bench.

Start out by holding something close to you—a bench, pole, or even putting your hand on a wall to assist you. Then work up to doing these without holding onto anything.

Full Pistols

Ready to try the full thing? Awesome! You’re a badass, even for just trying it.

To do one, start by holding your arms out in front of you, then stand on one leg with your free leg held straight out in front. Push your hips back and sit down as far as you can so that your butt is almost touching the ground. It’s fine if you need to learn forward slightly to get there. Once you hit the bottom position, raise yourself back up to standing.

You’ve got this

Have fun, and work hard! Remember, I’ll be doing the challenge with you so make sure to follow @12minuteathlete to watch my pistols improve and see some of your pistol photos and videos featured throughout the month.

PS. Make it a goal to tell at least one friend about this challenge—not only is it more fun to do these types of challenges with other people, it’s a chance for you to help motivate a friend or two to get strong and fit.

PPS. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #30daysofpistols so we can all like and follow along with your photos.

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15 thoughts on “The September 30-Day Pistol Squat Challenge”

  1. I can do pistols great on my right leg, but it’s nearly impossible on my left. So strange. I’ve also been told to try with a counter weight or something to hold in front of me to help with balance– what are your thoughts?

  2. I’m really enjoying this challenge but I just can’t seem to keep my heel flat on the ground when I’m down even on the negative pistol squats. I have to go onto the balls of my foot. Is this normal?

    I have previously been told by my pilates instructor that I have shortened Achilles tendons. I don’t want to use this as an excuse of course but am wondering if this is part of why I’m having difficulties with this.

    • Hi BoCo, sure, if negatives seem scary at first you can use a bench or TRX for them. You can start practicing without them later as you get stronger and feel more confident!


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