Are Pistol Squats Better Than Weighted Squats?

pistol squat
August 30, 2022 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “are pistol squats better than weighted squats?”. I will consider various factors in the discussion such as strength, balance, etc.

Both exercises are great for the lower body, with the pistol squat being an advanced exercise. Weighted squats are one of the best exercises that you can do to build muscular and strong legs. 

Are Pistol Squats Better Than Weighted Squats?

I wouldn’t say that pistol squats are “better” than weighted squats. I view them to be a challenging exercise and one that you can incorporate into your leg workout to provide new stimulus for your muscles.

The pistol squat is great for athletic endeavours as it requires a lot of balance and co-ordination. However, there is more risk of injury with the pistol squat in the bottom position as your back is in more flexion.

Overall,  weighted squats are better than pistol squats. This is simply due to the far better loading potential of the movement and the fact that you can progress with more safety. If you try to load the pistol squat very heavy there is a significant injury risk. Balance is a big limiting factor as well.

More Challenging

The pistol squat overall is more challenging due to the fact that you are squatting on one leg with the other leg out in front of you. It takes a great deal of balance and coordination to navigate the movement pattern.

Even people who are proficient and strong when it comes to the barbell squat could have problems with performing pistol squats. You need to practice the pistol squat to gain proficiency with the movement. It is also more challenging for people who are bulkier and carrying lots of muscle mass.

The pistol squat is commonly performed by lots of calisthenics trainees as their principle lower body exercise. It is a good exercise for addressing weaknesses in individual legs. 

One issue with barbell squats is that many people have an imbalance in terms of strength in each leg and subconsciously could favour one side without realising it. This is something that strongman Eddie Hall has touched on previously in one of his squatting workouts.

Pure Strength Potential

It should go without saying that the barbell squat is far superior when it comes to sheer strength potential. You can load it up with unlimited weights and it is far safer to accomodate loading. 

The pistol squat becomes a lot more dangerous the heavier you try to load it. You are in more of a compromised position and there is a lot of rounding that can take place in the bottom position – especially in regards to the lower back.

This makes it unsafe with very heavy weights. It is true that you can go slightly deeper on the pistol squat. You have to be very careful not to relax and sink into the bottom of pistol squats. 

Overall, for anyone looking to get the strongest lower body possible, barbell squats will always be king.
pistol squat

Randy Bretzer Case Study

I have mentioned Randy Bretzer before on my site. His videos on Youtube are a great demonstration of athletic prowess and strength. 

I like the fact that he utilises a range of interesting exercises and one such exercise is the pistol squat. The way he performs the exercise is shown in the video below, I believe this approach to be smart.

By elevating the squatting foot slightly in the starting position, you can mitigate some of the dangers of the pistol squat in terms of compromising the bottom position. Randy demonstrates very good strength and balance when performing pistol squats.

In the video he manages to hit a PR of a 135lb loaded pistol squat at a bodyweight of 210lbs! This is very impressive. It is still an advanced exercise and I wouldn’t recommend heavy loaded pistol squats if you don’t have sufficient experience with this exercise. 

Pistol Squat vs Bulgarian Split Squat

It is worth comparing the pistol squat with the bulgarian split squat. Both are single leg movements and both are great for building up leg size and strength. 

Personally I believe that bulgarian split squats are just as good as weighted barbell squats. However, pistol squats are not as good an exercise as the bulgarian split squat.

I did an article comparing the bulgarian split squat with the regular squat – you can read it here.

The bulgarian split squat is safer to load more heavily than the pistol squat overall. In addition, it doesn’t put your body into compromised positions like the pistol squat. The bulgarian split squat can even be used by people with back pain very safely.

Whereas, it would never be advisable for anyone with previous lower back pain to attempt to progress with the pistol squat. The risk to reward would not be in their favour.

There is a good article from powerlifting technique about alternatives that you can use to the pistol squat. Click here to read this article.

Final Thoughts

Are pistol squats better than weighted squats? In my view the answer is no. Weighted squats are simply superior in terms of loading potential and the ability to load more safely with heavier weights.

Pistol squats provide good utility for athletes but caution must be exercised to ensure that correct technique is used. You also need to practice this movement regularly to gain proficiency and get the movement pattern down.

Pistol squats can help to address weakness in individual legs, however, I believe that bulgarian split squats are a better exercise and can address any weaknesses as well. 

The weighted squat is still king when it comes to realising your lower body strength and size potential. 

Please leave me a comment below if you have any questions. As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!

>> RELATED: Are squats and lunges enough for legs?

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