Pistol Squats – now what?

Progressive overload is crucial for eliciting anatomical and physical responses to training. This progression does not always need to be implemented by increasing intensity, other variables such as workout volume, range of motion, time under tension or base of support (and hence, challenges to stability) can be manipulated instead.

Much thought has been given to regressing bodyweight training. A sample progression for an upper body push-type exercise, requiring nothing in terms of equipment apart from maybe a couple of yoga blocks (and hence, being easily implementable in a martial arts class) could look like this:

  1. Push up on knees
  2. Incline Push Up
  3. Eccentric only Push Up
  4. Regular Push Up
  5. Single Leg Push Up
  6. Decline Push Up
  7. Incline Single Arm Push Up
  8. Eccentric Only Single Arm Push Up
  9. Regular Single Arm Push Up
  10. Single Leg Single Arm Push Up
  11. Decline Single Arm Push Up
  12. Eccentric only Headstand Push Up
  13. Headstand Push Up
  14. Eccentric Only Handstand Push Up
  15. Handstand Push Up

This offers a starting point for athletes of every level and stays challenging for all but the strongest. I know few people who are not gymnasts and can actually do full ROM handstand Push ups for multiple repetitions. Lower body exercises are much more limited in that regard, though. Consider the following progression:

  1. Squat
  2. Split Squat
  3. Front Foot Elevated Split Squat
  4. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
  5. Eccentric Only Skater Squat
  6. Partner Assisted Skater Squat
  7. Regular Skater Squat
  8. Regular Shrimp Squat
  9. Deck Pistol Squat
  10. Pistol Squat

If you’re not familiar with any of these, that’s not an issue since the list is rather arbitrary anyway. Much can be improved. However, when it comes to the logical end point, a certain glass ceiling becomes apparent. Reducing the tempo does not actually increase force (or power) output but might actually decrease it. Cossack squats introduce an element of higher velocity in the bottom position but do little over the rest of the range of motion. In my Dojo, quite a few people can do Pistol Squats for high numbers of repetitions. For them, finding a harder lower body exercise without resorting to kettlebells, dumbbells or barbells proves challenging.

Enter supramaximal eccentrics. By using a partner’s bodyweight as a means of adding external resistance, one can overcome the limitations that arise from omitting traditional strength training equipment. Once the pistol squat can be performed for, say ten repetitions, supramaximal eccentrics can be gainfully used to further improve intramuscular coordination. The video shows how I use this type of training during my martial arts classes.

Of course, the concept can be applied to every movement pattern, but I feel that push ups and pull ups can be made sufficiently hard for most people and don’t necessarily require external resistance.

Next time you’re implementing bodyweight strength training in a class setting or go on a holiday with your significant other (and hence, don’t have access to a fully equipped gym), give these a try and let me know how it went.

So long, don’t get hurt

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