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The Case for Single Leg Squatting, there's more than just Pistols!

I was in the local Hurling Club gym the other day for my squat session, and there was a young first team hurler and an older gentleman, a former top player.

They were having the craic and banter and they started talking about single leg squats and played about with a few between their own training sets.

They talked about how it helps with mobility and strength, makes the knee strong and so on.

Of course, I had to involve myself in the conversation.

So what about Single leg squats?

Which include (in the Wg-Fit play book):

  • Pistol Squats (free standing)

  • Pistol Squats to a box

  • Pistol Squats On a Box

  • Skater Squats

  • Step Ups

  • Step Downs

  • Bulgarian Split Squats

  • Split Squats

  • Front Foot Elevated Split Squats

  • Long Stance Split Squats

  • AiM Squats

  • Cossack Squats

That’s possibly not even a comprehensive list. I've left Lunges out of the list as there's so many variants we use to target different outcomes that that's nearly a list in itself.

Now, of the people that have been through the WG-Fit doors over the years we’ve had very few knee injuries.The only ones I can think of were a motorcycle crash and BJJ competition.

Our members tend towards the adventurous side, with representatives and competitors from a range of Combat Sports & Martial Arts, Mountain Biking, Garda/Police, Hill & Trail Running and more.

So we are used to injuries.

Many come to train with us BECAUSE they've been injured in other gyms.

We also train primarily using Kettlebells, which are not an ideal tool for lower body maximum strength in the way that a barbell would be. So we use single leg work to overload the lower body.

In doing so we are helping our athletes develop or create all the aspects that keep the knee safe and strong.

Balance - You’re standing on one leg, maybe with the other leg helping balance, but all your weight, plus the external load is going through a single foot, a single ankle, a single knee, a single hip.

This helps with stability as it’s commonly thought of.

For many of the lifts, we’re looking for a deep full range of motion, which both requires as well as develops mobility, but with strength through that entire range.

Probably my favourite part of single leg work comes from the lower body alignment a person needs to take in order to succeed.

I’ve never been a “knees out” guy with squats, yes we start with knees out, but that’s so they have somewhere to go as you lower. As the hip flexes it also wants to internally rotate which moves the knee in.With both feet on the floor in a normal squat, you can prevent this from happening, as is commonly taught.

But try pushing your knee out in a single leg squat.

What happened?

I bet you couldn’t do it!

As you lower into a squat there will be internal rotation at the hip and foot/ankle complex. If there’s adequate movement at both ends, then there’s enough rotation in the knee to allow for this.The knee doesn’t just flex and extend, it has rotation too, not a huge amount but it’s there.When the hip, knee and subtalar joints all move as nature intended, the knee is strong. YOU are strong.

Single leg work may be the simplest way to “trick” an athlete into achieving these shapes. Shapes that their body will naturally want to make when out in the real world. Watch any sport and tell me how often you see a knee out versus how often you see a knee in position….

We still do a lot of bilateral squatting, Goblet Squats, Double KB Front Squats and less commonly barbell squats. In my own training, the front squat gives me a lot, so that features high in my list. 

So don’t think this is an either / or argument pitting single leg against double leg squatting. That kind of thinking is reductionist and childish.

At the end of the day, there’s a place for everything, so we put everything in its place.

And if you really want to keep your knees strong and lower body mobile, you’d do well finding a place for single leg squats.


Dave Hedges

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