9 Alternatives For Pistol Squats (Single Leg Substitutes)

You want the benefits of doing pistol squats but either don't enjoy doing them, or you'd like a variety of exercise options. Pistol squats mostly target your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. Additionally, your core and hip flexors are also worked. If you’re looking for an alternative for pistol squats, we’ve rounded up nine single-leg substitutes for you to try.

1. Skater Squat 

Skater squats, also sometimes called "knee tap squats," are a great unilateral exercise suited toward all strength levels. The benefits of doing skater squats are that they are easier to do than compared with pistol squats.

Beginners are able to perform this workout with a limited range of motion and build from there, while more advanced strength levels can add weight to the exercise. Skater squats target your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Additionally, they help to stretch your hip flexors and ankles too, which improves mobility. 

How To Do A Skater Squat 

  • Begin by standing up straight, then shift your weight onto one leg. 
  • Breathe in and engage your core. Bend your free leg 90 degrees behind you. 
  • Slowly lower yourself down, reaching your arms forward to counterbalance your weight.  
  • Tap the ground with your knee and breathe out as you power up back into a one-leg standing position. 
  • Repeat for the desired amount of reps, ensuring that you do the same amount for each leg. 
Skater Squat

2. Reverse Lunge 

The reverse lunge exercise is perfect for people struggling with existing knee problems, decreased hip mobility, or people who have a hard time maintaining their balance.

As a unilateral exercise (working a single leg at a time), you have more stability on your front leg, and less strain is placed on your joints. This exercise targets your glutes, hamstrings, and core muscles.  

How To Do A Reverse Lunge 

  • Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. This is your starting position. 
  • Take a step back, resting on the ball of your back foot with your heel off the ground. 
  • Breathe in and engage your core. 
  • Drop yourself down into the lunge, ensuring your pelvis remains tucked. Your knees should bend to a 90-degree angle, and your front knee should not extend past your toes. 
  • As you exhale, push through the heel of your front foot to drive your back foot up to the starting position. 
  • Repeat for the desired amount of reps on a single leg, or alternate legs each time.  
Reverse Lunge

3. Split Squat 

Split squats apply a very similar movement to a reverse lunge, except it does not involve stepping backward. Instead, both of your feet remain in place throughout the exercise. If you struggle with the coordination and balance required for reverse lunges, then split squats are an excellent alternative.

This exercise targets your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. If you’d like to increase the intensity of the workout, you can add weights. 

How To Do A Split Squat 

  • Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart. 
  • Take a step back, resting on the ball of your back foot with your heel off the ground. This is your starting position. 
  • Breathe in and engage your core. 
  • Drop your body down into the squat, ensuring your pelvis remains tucked. Your knees should bend to a 90-degree angle, and your front knee should not extend past your toes. 
  • As you exhale, drive up to the starting position by pushing through the heel of your front foot. Ensure that both feet remain stationary in a “split” position and don’t bring your back foot forward.  
  • Drop back down, repeating for the desired amount of reps on a single leg before switching to the other leg. Ensure that you do the same amount of reps for each leg.  
Split Squats

4. Step Up 

The step up is an excellent alternative exercise that works the same muscles as a split squat and involves a similar range of motion for your joints. It’s very easy to execute and is a great way to slowly build up your strength for pistol squats.

Adjusting the height of your step modifies the workout, allowing you to target specific muscles more. A low step will work your quads more, while a high step targets the glutes and hamstrings more.  

How To Do A Step Up 

  • Facing your step, stand shoulder-width apart. 
  • Place your dominant leg onto the step, ensuring that your entire foot is on the platform. Your hip, knee, and ankle should also all be in alignment. This is your starting position. 
  • Using your front leg, push down and step up onto the platform with both feet. Ensure that you maintain a straight posture throughout the movement. 
  • Work the same leg for the desired amount of reps before switching to the other side.  

Also Check Out - 10 Best Step Up Substitutes

Step-Ups

5. Single-Leg Box Squat 

The single-leg box squat is as close to a pistol squat as you’ll get but is significantly easier to perform. It also lets you progressively build up your strength. Once you’ve mastered the single-leg box squat, you can progress onto doing Bulgarian split squats or pistol squats.

With this exercise, you’ll be isolating your hamstrings one leg at a time. This is one of the most efficient ways to strengthen your knees and prevent knee pain. Aside from targeting your leg muscles, you’ll also be working your core.  

How To Do An Single-Leg Box Squat 

  • Select a plyometric box or bench that allows your knees to bend 90 degrees when sitting on it.  
  • Stand shoulder-width apart in front of the box/bench, facing away from it. Shift your weight to your non-dominant leg. 
  • Lift your dominant leg off the ground to a 45-degree angle, keeping the knee straight. 
  • Extend your arms forward for stability. Inhale and engage your core. This is your starting position. 
  • Slowly lower yourself down toward the box by bending the weight-bearing knee.  
  • Aim to touch the box with your buttocks. If you’re not able to bend that low, go as low as you’re able to.  
  • Push through your heel to rise back up and return back to the starting position. 
  • Repeat for the desired amount of reps before switching legs. 

Suggested Equipment - Quality Plyo Boxes For Home Gyms

Single-Leg Box Squat

6. Single-Leg Lateral Squat 

The single-leg lateral squat exercise is very similar to a pistol squat, except that your non-weight-bearing leg extends out laterally (to the side) rather than in front of you.

This is an excellent exercise for improving the flexibility and strength of your hips and knees, as well as improving your balance and coordination. For this exercise, you’ll be targeting your quads, glutes, hamstrings, hip adductors, and calves.  

How To Do A Single-Leg Lateral Squat 

  • Using a step or stacked weight plates, stand with one leg on the platform. 
  • Drop your hips toward the leg that is hanging off the side of the platform and tuck your pelvis. This is your starting position. 
  • Extend your arms out in front of you or hold a kettlebell for stability. 
  • As you bend your weight-bearing knee to drop into the single-leg squat, extend your other leg out laterally (sideways) from your body.  
  • Drive up, pushing through your heel to return to starting position. 
  • Repeat for the desired amount of reps before switching legs. 
Single-Leg Lateral Squat

7. Bulgarian Split Squat 

The Bulgarian split squat is an exercise staple that should be a part of every leg workout routine. This pistol squat alternative is more challenging than the regular split squat, requiring a decent amount of stability and baseline strength from your muscles and joints.

With this exercise, you’ll be targeting your glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves. Additionally, the balance required means your core will be worked too.  

How To Do A Bulgarian Split Squat 

  • Stand around 2-3 feet in front of a knee-high platform, facing away. 
  • Extend one leg out behind you, placing the top of your toes onto the platform. 
  • Ensure that your torso is upright and your shoulders and hips are square. Maintain this posture for the entire duration of the exercise. 
  • Inhale and slowly lower yourself down, driving your knee toward the ground.  
  • As you exhale, stand back up by pushing the floor away from you.  
  • Repeat this motion on one leg for the desired number of reps before switching legs. 
Bulgarian Split Squats

8. Forward Lunge 

The forward lunge is a very simple yet versatile leg exercise perfect for beginners. While it doesn't require any equipment, you can add weight to increase the intensity of the workout too.

Forward lunges target the glutes, quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, and adductor muscles. Additionally, the stability required for the correct form makes them an excellent strengthening exercise for your core and back muscles too.  

How To Do A Forward Lunge 

  • Standing up straight with your feet hip-width apart, place your hands on your hips. This is your starting position. 
  • Take a step forward and, as your front foot touches the ground, drop down into the lunge position.  
  • Touch the floor with your back knee. Both knees should now be at a 90-degree angle. Ensure that your torso remains upright and your hips and shoulders are squared. 
  • Drive your body back up and bring your front leg back to starting position. 
  • Continue the movement for the desired number of reps before switching sides. 

Read Also - Benefits Of Lunges 

Forward Lunge

9. Knee Drives 

Knee drives are an easy but effective pistol squat alternative exercise that combines the movement of a step up and doing high knees. While you can do this exercise standing on the ground, using a plyometric box or platform helps to increase the range of motion and enhance the workout.

For this exercise, you’ll be targeting your glutes, quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, and core muscles. Additionally, knee drives help to improve overall balance and coordination.  

How To Do Knee Drives 

  • Facing your platform, stand hip-width apart. 
  • Place your dominant leg onto the step, ensuring that your entire foot is on the platform. Your hip, knee, and ankle should also all be in alignment. This is your starting position. 
  • Using your front leg, drive up to lift your body up onto the platform. Simultaneously bring your back knee up toward your chest. Ensure that you maintain a straight posture throughout the movement.  
  • Slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position. 
  • Work the same leg for the desired amount of reps before switching to the other side.  
Knee Drives

Benefits of Alternative Exercises Over Pistol Squats 

There are a variety of reasons why people should consider alternative exercises rather than pistol squats. While pistol squats offer a great leg workout, they do have their drawbacks.

These include being very difficult to execute and requiring a significant level of baseline strength. Additionally, incorrect form while doing pistol squats can cause lower back pain due to the overuse of the hip flexors.  

Conversely, our alternative exercises allow you to target similar muscles without the above-mentioned problems. Added to this, pistol squats require you to lower yourself right down to the ground.

If you have an existing hip or leg injury, this would mean you’re not able to do the workout at all. At least half of the alternative exercises on our list don’t require such an extended range of motion, and they can be further customized to suit your needs or limitations. 


Common Pistol Squat Substitute Questions 

Why is it called a pistol squat? 

The pistol squat, a variation of a single-leg squat, gets its name from the form or shape created when doing the exercise. When you perform the workout, you’ll extend your hand forward and grasp your foot, forming the shape of a pistol with your body. 

Why is the pistol squat so hard? 

The pistol squat is the most challenging squat to master, requiring both mobility and strength in order to execute the exercise. Unlike standard single-leg squats, pistol squats involve a wider range of motion, making them more challenging. In a pistol squat, the goal is to drop down as low as possible, ideally resting your hamstring on your calf.  

Are pistol squats good for knees? 

Pistol squats are not necessarily harmful or bad for your knees. When performed correctly, pistol squats can be beneficial to your knees. With the correct form, you’ll be able to target your glutes, quads, and calves while also strengthening your knee ligaments and tendons.  

Which of these substitute exercises is best for beginners? 

More than half of the alternative exercises we’ve included are suited toward beginners. These include: reverse lunges, split squats, step-ups, single-leg box squats, single-leg lateral squats, forward lunges, and knee drives.  


Conclusion

That wraps up our comprehensive guide to pistol squat alternatives. Now that you know the benefits of these substitute exercises and what muscles are targeted, you'll be able to reach your goals and build your strength without having to do a pistol squat. The nine substitutes provided will help your strength training, and you'll achieve your goals in no time! 

Paul J

Last Updated on May 29, 2022