In keeping with my recent theme of bodyweight exercises, I thought I’d run a series this week that’d help you either get started with the Pistol or hone your skills performing the Pistol.
DISCLAIMER: I don’t have any video right now – I’ll try and shoot some later this week and get it up for you.
The Best Non Kettlebell Exercise For Your Legs And More
Ok, before we get started on the “how to’s” I’d like you to consider why you should be routinely performing the Pistol.
1. It’s a Great Indicator Exercise
The Pistol can tell you where you’re lacking mobility (as if you don’t know) not only on each limb, but whether or not you have any imbalances between left and right (like I do) without having access to an FMS/CK-FMS.
It will help you identify missing rotary stability, ankle dorsiflexion, reflexive [core] stability, hip mobility, hip stability, core strength, spinal mobility and stability…
Of course all of those are really components of the “big 3” – balance, coordination, and posture. Yeah – the Pistol will help with those.
2. It’s Truly A Great Strength Exercise
I know that some people downplay the role of the Pistol in an exercise program saying that the old-timers used it as a “lift” – more of a stunt to be performed rather than an exercise to be practiced.
My incredibly logical and well thought out response is:
Yeah, I know – I think it’s a great response too. 🙂
An exercise is what you make of it, what you decide you want it to be. You want really strong legs? Learn how to master your bodyweight with the Pistol. Will it transfer over to the Squat? Brett Jones told me it did for him. My double kettlebell Front Squat has sky-rocketed since I’ve been doing Pistols. But don’t take our word for it, try them yourselves.
3. It’s A Great Exercise To Do Anywhere
For me, this is now key. I no longer want to be “chained” to exercise equipment of any kind, be it kettlebells, barbell, whatever. I want to know that I can travel and stay strong – total body strong. As one of my client’s said to me years ago, “The legs feed the wolf.” Strong legs, strong body. Pistols build strong legs. Period.
Speaking of anywhere – a great way to draw attention to yourself is to literally do your Pistols anywhere – anywhere you are going to be. Beach, pool, park, wherever.
Getting Started – Turning the Pistol Into A Kettlebell Exercise
The way I got started with the Pistol and probably the best way for you to get started is to actually use your kettlebell and not try and do these “bodyweight only.”
You’ll want to use your kettlebell as a counterbalance.
(Yes, I’m well aware that you might want to hold onto some straps or something else, but I find that the kettlebell in many cases gives more control than the straps.)
Simply hold one heavy enough by the horns (women use an 18lbs-er and men a 35lbs-er) and push it away from your body. Use either with straight arms or bent. It should go without saying that the heavier the kettlebell, the more you’ll have to bend your arms to keep the bell closer to your center of mass.
The counterbalance method works because you displace your center of mass forward and down, closer to the floor. This is a form of feed-forward tension, which allows your body’s reflexive stability to be heightened or tapped into. (Reflexive stability can be thought of as the body’s ability to stabilize and protect joints while moving.)
You’ll most likely feel your abs contract pretty hard. That’s cool. We want that.
Because they are, your body will then give you the required ankle mobility that it needs to perform the Pistol correctly (in many cases). The counterbalance will also help you pry into your hips, opening them up maybe for the first time in quite awhile. I know that for me, the Pistol is my number 1 or number 2 exercise for keeping my left (badly damaged) hip healthy and pain free.
Where To Start With Your Kettlebell Counterbalanced Pistols
Here’s a very simple progression/regression model for you to get started.
1. Down and up on 2 legs.
– Place your feet together – that’s right, insteps touching.
– Imagine pulling your butt down to your ankles. You’ll have to keep your weight over the center of your feet. If you shift your weight backwards, you’ll most likely fall over.
– Use your counterbalance to “steer” yourself – pushing the kettlebell out away from your body or pulling it in as necessary.
– Stand up by pushing your feet through the floor. Again, steer yourself with your kettlebell.
2. Down on 2 Legs – Pause – Extend 1 Leg – Pause – Up On 2 Legs.
Just like the heading suggests, descend on 2 legs, and stick one leg out and hold it out there for a few seconds. Then place it back next to the other one and stand back up.
If for some reason you can’t get your leg back underneath you and panic (not saying you would, but just in case…) simply roll back onto your butt. No harm, no foul. Place your kettlebell on the floor, stand up, and start again.
3. Down on 2 Legs, Up on 1.
Pretty self-explanatory here I think. But you should really feel comfortable practicing the previous progression because you’ll have to feel comfortable holding the non-supporting leg outstretched in front of you.
For the outstretched leg, focus on lifting the heel and pulling your toes back while simultaneously pushing your heel away from your body. This will help you keep your leg off the ground without your quad cramping (in most cases).
And here you have a true Pistol with a counterbalance.
If you found this sequence helpful, let me know – post your comments in the comment section below. If I get 10 comments, I’ll post part 2 of my Pistol sequence tomorrow.