Pistol Squat Fail

Overhead Barbell Pistol Squat: Functional Fitness or Fail?

Rich Thurman MA, CSCS CPT

Rich Thurman MA, CSCS CPT

Owner at Xodus Fitness
Rich is the primary author of The Fitness Library and writes for various other publications, including the San Francisco Police Officer's Association. With 15 years of experience training around the world, Rich combines knowledge and expertise to create fun and effective workouts for his clients.

He's the founder of Xodus Fitness, which offersPersonal Training, Bootcamps, Group Fitness for Small Companies and Startups.

Rich also conducts Workshops and Talks. Feel free to contact through any of the links below to inquire about professional services or opportunities.

Rich has a Bachelors of Science in Physiological Science from UCLA and a Masters of Sports Management from USF.

He is certified by the National Strength & Conditioning Association, (NSCA) as a Personal Trainer (CPT) and Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

Rich is also Certified as an ONNIT Unconventional Trainer.
Rich Thurman MA, CSCS CPT

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I spotted this picture on my Tumblr account and written underneath it was “Awesome”. After observing it for a moment, I decided that it was indeed “not awesome” and that I should address the reason why it was not awesome in an article as well as point out the flaws and irony with a little photo editing. The tell tale high socks suggest their affiliation, but I don’t know whether the ladies in the photo are CrossFit or not. Frankly, I don’t give a damn. This article is not meant to be about their affiliation and hey, pointing the finger at CrossFit would be like pointing a finger at all of Islam because a few jerks blew up a building or disliking every German because some were Nazi. Besides, they could be posers…Fitness Fashionista wanna be’s. Maybe…

By one definition, Irony: an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.

In this photo the expectation of course is strength (I suppose), but the outcome of this sort of misapplication and gross neglect of form and function more often than not can have disabling consequences.

As a strength coach, when I look at this picture, I have to ask the question, “Why?” Why does anyone “need” to do an exercise like this? Is there no better alternative? What is the purpose or expected result or application?

I have to admit that it is a feat of great strength. It is also a movement that I cannot do. But the real question is, “Do I want to do it and if so why?”


Will it make me a faster sprinter? Probably not.

Will it help me jump higher? I doubt it.

Will it enhance my abilities in any other exercise? Maybe Barbell Overhead Pistol Squats Jumps??

Could it create a severe disability in my lumbar spine, knees, shoulders? Quite Possibly.

Will I look cool to my friends and the untrained eye? Yup, until you end up an old fart or barely able to move in your 40s.

Somewhere out there, there’s someone right now saying, “there’s a lot of exercises that can injure me” or “well it’s ok if you scale it right and adhere to strict form.” Ok, I agree… Form is the limiting factor and should be the standard of which to adhere before progression. Someone forgot to tell these girls that though as the form is abysmal. Despite adherence to form, the question still arises… Why do it anyway? Do the benefits of this exercise outweigh the benefits of other exercises? Is there enough bang for your buck in this movement?

Things like this most likely has to do more with egos than anything else. Yes, some women have very big egos too these days. I’m past the ego stage in my life. Quite frankly, I want to live strong, healthy and injury free. I want to be able to outrun my children, play basketball with my son or daughter and grapple with my grandchildren some day. I’ve got no time or patience for bulging discs or chronic knee joint issues.

Take the NFL for example: Former NFL athletes are now suing the NFL for the punishment their body underwent while being paid millions to go hard, go reckless and out of control every Sunday, but who are you going to sue after you’ve gone hard and reckless every other day just because you thought it was the cool thing to do? Some argue that NFL players knew what they were getting their bodies into. Others argue that they had no idea what the long term effects would be. Who are you going to point the finger at 10 years from now? Who is going to take the blame for your choices today? The truth is that there are no long term studies on the effects of some of the exercises protocols and exercise prescription out there these days. At the end of the day, you need to be the judge and jury and protect your own body.

For Personal Trainers and Coaches: Care must be taken to insist on form and insist on recovery. We must insist that people do things right or not at all until they have the flexibility, mobility and strength to do it correctly. Progression must be included in all programs for advanced athletes and regression must be available for others. Remember that an advanced movement is only a movement that “You can’t do”… It has nothing to do with the next man or woman because what is advanced for one is simple for another. Remember that it’s not “No Pain, No Gain” when it’s acute or chronic and that just because you don’t feel it today doesn’t mean you won’t feel it a month, two months, a year or 10 years from now. Everyone will pay the reaper at some point. Personally, I’m just feeling the effects today of only 4 years of High School American Football. Imagine what those NFL guys feel after 10 to 20 years of that stuff.

Now this is not to say a Pistol Squat in general is bad. There are mixed opinions out there. The overall consensus is that unweighted, the curvature in the lower back is fine. However, I disagree with this statement. If you’ve watched Steve Cotter demonstrate weighted Pistol Squats, you will see a strict adherence to form and it clearly demonstrates a mastery of lower levels of progressions. Watch Steve Cotter’s Demo with Kettlebells here.

For more weigh ins on the subject visit T-Nation’s article by Tom Furman breaking down this movement. The pictures here clearly demonstrate proper form of the movement. Finally, check out Dan Blewett’s breakdown and analysis of Pistol Squats.

I’m not here to tell you not to workout hard. What I’m here to tell you is to work out smart, work effective, work targeted and work beyond your ego because the ego will always get you into trouble.




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