The Pistol Squat, aka Single Leg Squat, is performed by athletes and people looking to stay fit, decrease their risk for injury, and enhance their fitness.
Photo credit: https://breakingmuscle.com/learn/everything-you-need-to-know-to-do-a-perfect-pistol
It is an impressive feat to be able to perform one if not multiple ones with bodyweight or some other type of implement such as kettlebells, dumbbells, etc.
There are a couple areas of concern with the pistol squat.
1. Repetitive Loaded Lumbar Flexion
Repetitive Loaded Lumbar Flexion is the rounding of the lumbar spine at the bottom position of the pistol squat. There is nothing inherently wrong with lumbar flexion. Lumbar flexion is a normal movement pattern that should be able to be performed.
The concern that arises is when it is either:
As Stuart McGill, a spine biomechanist from Canada, has found through his extensive research is that repetitive loaded or unloaded lumbar flexion over time has contributed to spinal pathology ie. disc herniations, disc bulges, etc.
Now, if you do a pistol squat one time, loaded or unloaded, your back will not explode. But performing a movement repetitively loaded/unloaded in this position over time is not ideal.
2. Athletic Position?
Is the pistol squat helping athletes become more athletic?
Photo credit: https://breakingmuscle.com/learn/everything-you-need-to-know-to-do-a-perfect-pistol
When, in athletics or life, are you ever in a position like the bottom position of the pistol squat?
Don’t get me wrong, the pistol squat is a great movement for bringing the body through full ranges of motion at the spine, hip, and ankle as well as improving strength in those areas.
But, for the 2 reasons mentioned above as well as others, there must be a better option out there.
Bring in the Skater Squat!
I first heard of the skater squat from Ben Bruno. Ever since seeing this variation, I’ve used it with my athletes and clients.
The skater squat puts the athlete in a more athletic position, allows for good technique throughout the body, and if need be, can be loaded safely and effectively.
Now, just like the pistol squat, there are regressions and progressions to make the movement easier or more challenging depending on the needs of the athlete or client.
If someone’s technique is subpar and/or the movement is too difficult, then a regression of that movement is in order.
Decrease the Distance Traveled
If someone can’t perform the entire movement from standing to the floor and back up, then decrease the distance they need to travel.
-Maintain good technique (no knee valgus, hip drop/trunk sway)
-Decrease the distance traveled enough where the athlete can still find the movement challenging, but technique is still on point.
-Once it becomes too easy, increase the amount of distance they need to travel.
TRX Assisted Skater Squat
-Use the TRX to assist in the movement.
-Don’t use the TRX so much that the TRX and your upper body are performing the majority of the work.
TRX Limited ROM(Range of Motion) Skater Squat
Eccentric Only Skater Squat
Concentric Only Skater Squat
Well, what if skater squats are too easy?
Enter the Progressions!
Increase The Distance Traveled
Increased ROM Skater Squat
Counterbalance Skater Squat
Goblet Skater Squat
Racked Kettlebell Skater Squat
With all of these variations, regressions, and progressions, make sure to maintain good technique by maintaining:
-No Knee Valgus
There you have it! If you are doing pistols and they hurt your back or knees or you just want to train to be more athletic, give skater squats a try!
Throughout the rehab and personal training realms, you can find clients and patients performing exercises. Great! It is good to see people moving. But the problem arises when these clients and patients aren't progressed and challenged with these movements.
The concept of:
is what needs to be addressed!
In rehab and personal training, etc., some clients and patients are not being LOADED to the point at which positive adaptations can be made. We could even say that negative adaptations are being made.
In order to get stronger, faster, more powerful, variables need to be adjusted in the terms of:
-Increased time under tension
-Decreased rest breaks
Movements need to be made more challenging in order to make positive adaptations. If this principle isn’t adhered to and progressive overload doesn’t occur, we can make the case that negative adaptations may occur. Not negative to the extent that injury could occur in the clinic or weight room, but for the long term in regards to maximizing strength, power, and injury resiliency.
Here are a 3 examples of this.
1. Using Resistance Bands as Load
Before the “Hate E-mail” starts flying in, I use resistance bands in my office. As a physical therapist, there is a time and a place for the use of “physical therapy resistance bands” that you see in many physical therapy clinics or gyms.
They provide a form of progressive overload and the difficulty of them can be increased through increasing the stretch OR by increasing the difficulty of the band. They can be a great rehab/personal training tool.
But the problem arises when that is all people are doing!
When someone has an injury or is progressing back from an injury, these types of bands can be great in helping someone move and feel better. But eventually they need to start doing multi-joint movements with heavier loads.
This doesn’t mean that they need to have aspirations to be a powerlifter or a Crossfit athlete, but life happens and people need to be resilient to the demands that life throws at them.
People are meant to squat, hinge, push, pull, and carry. Start using these movements or variations thereof.
Examples of the Squat include:
Examples of a Hip Hinge include:
Trap Bar Deadlift
Single Leg Deadlifts
Examples of a Push include:
Bench Elevated Push-Up
Dumbbell Floor Press
Examples of a Pull include:
Pronated Inverted Rows
1- Arm Cable Row
Examples of a Carry include:
You get the idea. You don’t need to work in a state of the art facility either. Dumbbells can work just fine for the majority of these movements.
2. Not Loading Enough
Both the rehab and personal training/wellness fields are guilty of this. Ok, say you took one of the movements from above and are having someone do it. Eventually, you should make the movement more challenging.
The body is a great and wonderful organism. It is going to adapt, positively or negatively, and it needs to continue to be challenged in order to make positive adaptations.
If movements are looking too easy, then make the movement harder. It doesn’t have to be exponentially harder, but add 5-15 lbs to the movement.
If the implement (bar, weight, etc.) is moving rather quickly, increase the weight. If someone voices to you, “this is too easy”, then increase the weight. Our clients and patients pay us their hard earned money to help facilitate positive changes in their lives. Make it worth their while.
So, please stop using pink dumbbells. Unless your pink dumbbells are 50lbs! Yes, if someone is coming off a surgery, injury, etc. and are using them as a stepping stone to recover from their injury, they are fine to use. But progress to heavier weights when it’s necessary.
3. Gender Specific Weights
This is one that is still a problem in our fields. Men are fine to lift as much weight as humanly possible, but women need to stick to the lighter weights.
Men and women can perform similar movements. There should be no “Gender Specific Weights” or “Gender Specific Exercises.”
Women have just a right as men do to squat, hip hinge, push, pull, and carry. As mentioned above, don’t be afraid to load the movements and make it challenging. There are many strong women out there who can deadlift, squat, etc. Just because you are a certain gender, shouldn’t designate you to a certain range of weights or exercises.
With all of this being said, form and technique are of the utmost importance. If someone can’t maintain good technique, then either lower the weight or regress the movement.
Start using more implements than just resistance bands, load your clients, and men and women can both lift heavy weights!
Injuries happen! If someone tells you they can prevent injuries, they aren’t telling the whole truth. They may be stating that they have ways to help reduce the incidence of injuries. There are many aspects of life that we cannot control and injuries are one of them.
They happen and will always happen, but if we can reduce the prevalence of them from happening and find risk factors that may predispose someone to an increased risk for an injury, we are on the right track!
Many injuries occur during the eccentric phase or during the deceleration phases of movements/exercises. If the body can’t control these movements via muscular control, soft tissue and bony/ligamentous structures are recruited to compensate and pick up the slack.
If you are constantly doing movements that are fast paced and you are not controlling the eccentric portion of the movement, you are putting yourself at an increased risk for injury. By performing fast-paced movements all the time is just focusing on working on the “gas pedal” (concentric movements) when you need to work the “brakes” (eccentric movements) as well.
Either macro- or micro-traumatic injuries can occur due to poor eccentric control. So what can we do to improve our body’s resiliency? Start by incorporating eccentric work into your training!
Slow Eccentric Pull-Ups
Slow Eccentric Push-Ups
Slow Eccentric Dumbbell Bench Press
Bilateral Plantar Flexion to Single Leg Eccentrics
Slow Eccentric Goblet Squats
Slow Eccentric Single Leg Deadlifts
Slow Eccentric Reverse Lunges
Slow Eccentric Offset Reverse Lunges
Learning to control your body is paramount for improving athletic performance as well as decreasing someone's risk for injury! Try adding more controlled eccentric work into your routine today!
Do you have a dreaded case of the “Butt Wink”? No matter what you do, you can’t stop going into lumbar flexion at the bottom of the squat.
Well, first off, “butt wink” is not the end of the world. For those who don’t know what “butt wink” is, it’s when a squat is being performed and the sacrum (tailbone) “tucks” under the body and there is movement from an extended or neutral lumbar spine to a flexed lumbar spine.
Now, as said before, it is not the end of the world. The problem arises when this movement is loaded, performed for high repetition, and/or done repeatedly over time. This repetitive flexion at the lumbar spine can create issues long term at the hips and lumbar spine.
Reasons why someone may “Butt Wink” can range from:
-Joint Capsule Restrictions
-Soft Tissue Restrictions
-Bony Hip Joint Anatomy
-Impaired Core Stability
Check out my guest post on Dr. John Rusin’s website, “Stop Squatting Through That Painful Hip Pinch” for more detail about those reasons.
For the brevity of this post, here is one quick tip to improve your technique and to potentially avoid any type of spinal movement from happening.
Literally, where you start can dictate where you are going to finish. What is meant by that is that where you begin a lift technique-wise can often dictate how the lift is going to be finished or performed.
For example, with the squat, if we start with a heavy arch, rib flare, and overly extended,
1 of 3 things is typically going to happen.
Now, there is nothing wrong with a decreased depth on squat. Some individuals cannot squat to depth due to their hip anatomy, joint/soft tissue restrictions, etc.
In the case of “Butt Wink”, if you are already starting in a heavy arched/lumbar extension position as shown in the picture above, eventually your hip joints are going to run out of space. When there is no mobility left to be used, somewhere else in the body will have to pick up the slack.
Typically, the lumbar spine will compensate and flex to allow for increased movement into the bottom of the squat. This is not advantageous due to the reasons mentioned in the beginning of this post.
So, if you are someone who typically flexes at the bottom of the squat, try setting up in a more neutral spine position.
When you unrack the weight and step back to prepare to squat down, before you do, perform a slight posterior pelvic tilt.
As you can see in the video, the person squatting performs a posterior pelvic tilt where they “tuck their tailbone” and go from a slightly extended lumbar spine posture to a more neutral lumbar spine posture.
What this pelvic tilt does is to allow the participant’s hips to have a little bit more mobility as they descend into the bottom of the squat.
If they are starting out in an anterior pelvic tilt/extended lumbar spine, etc.
photo credit: bretcontreras.com
as shown on the picture on left, eventually the hip will no longer have space to accommodate the femoral head. When someone “butt winks”, their body is artificially creating more space for that femoral head to move within the acetabulum. This is done at a cost to the lumbar spine when flexed under load, for high repetitions, and/or for prolonged periods of time.
So instead of continuing to bang your head against the wall and “butt wink” at the bottom of a squat, try setting up in a more neutral spine position!
Here I will be writing and posting about topics ranging from physical therapy, injury prevention/reduction, and strength and conditioning.