CrossFit Pistol Squat Progression Template

When I was amidst writing the RX Gymnastics program, I was conflicted on whether or not to include Pistols as one of the movement progressions. One one hand a disproportionate amount of clients in their first 1-2 years at a CrossFit box can’t do them well which justifies why I should include it but on the other hand, they just aren’t that common in the most CrossFit programming. Even though Pistols didn’t make the cut for the RX Gymnastics program their still is a need for having a structured progression available to those who want to pick them up. This article will cover a simple accessory pistol squat progression program that can be done in conjunction with most CrossFit training templates.

Phase 1 of the pistol squat progression

Current ability: Zero pistols

Goal: At least 1 rep of high bar back squat with your current bodyweight. Move to phase 2 once this is accomplished.

Objective: Strengthening for structures involved in the pistol and single leg balancing.

Notes: The primary purpose of this phase is to build you up to a bodyweight back squat. Being able to squat your bodyweight is a good (but not perfect) indicator that you have the base level of strength and coordination for a pistol.

How to: 2-4 workouts a week.

Phase 1 - prerequisite stage for Pistol
1 2 3
3×5 or 5×5 high bar back squat. Move up 5 pounds a week. 3×10 Front Squat. Move up 5 pounds a week. Tabata goblet squats. Each week go up on weight or reps.
Practice assisted pistols Practice assisted pistols
Assisted pistol options ranked from easiest to hardest progression
  1. With on leg forward, squat down on one leg and lower yourself onto a box. The higher the box the easier. Move onto the next progression once you can use box that puts you below parallel. Sample video.
  2. The next assistance progression is holding onto a band or post while doing a full ROM pistol without taping butt on a box. Use the band or post for balance and to pull yourself up. As that becomes easier stop using the band or post on the way down and only use it to help on the way up as minimally as you are able. Sample video.

Phase 2 of the pistol squat progression

Current ability: Zero pistols with a bodyweight back squat.

Goal: 1 pistol each leg without assistance.

Notes: Within phase 2 you’ll have less of a focus on building strength in the back squat and more on specific movement coordination for the pistol.

How to: 2-4 workouts a week.

Phase 2
1 2 3
3×5 or 5×5 high bar back squat. Move up 5 pounds a week. 5 sets of 5/leg at most difficult assistance pistol progression Practice doing reps at a slightly more difficult progression. For instance – if you are doing pistols on a box start practicing with a lower box.
Practice assisted pistols


Phase 2 of the pistol squat progression

Current ability: Able to do a few pistols each leg.

Goal: 10 pistols squats each leg in a row.

Notes: Unlike my progressions on pull-ups, ring dips, and handstand push-ups I will only be posting 3 phases rather than the usual 5. In terms of complexity and capacity pistols simply don’t need that much individual attention. They tend to progress nicely in unison with a well structured CrossFit template. Phase 3 is  here primarily if you want to progress quickly at pistols or know you’ll need to do them in the upcoming weeks/months. As a maintenance, I suggest doing them a few times a month in a warmup or cool down to maintain balance and efficiency.

How to: 1-4 workouts a month.

Phase 3
1 2 3
Tabata pistols alternating legs 10 Every Minute On the Minute (EMOM) for 6-10 minutes Accumulate a set amount as fast as possible. A good range would be 30-60.