How to Perform a TRX Pistol Squat

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

TRX Pistol Squat
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: TRX single leg squat

Targets: Quadriceps, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings

Equipment Needed: TRX Suspension Trainer

Level: Intermediate to advanced

The TRX pistol squat is a variation of the basic squat and offers an alternative challenge to your lower body workout. It is performed on one leg (unilateral) using suspension straps.

Doing this version of the squat with suspension straps forces you to activate several muscles to complete the movement. The primary working muscles include the quadriceps, hip flexors, glutes, and hamstrings. If modified or done improperly, the suspension can also provide a workout for the upper body, as people have a tendency to use their arms as well as their lower body to pull up to a stand.

Performing suspension pistol squats also forces you to engage your core to improve balance and overall strength. Your body is being challenged in conditions of instability with this exercise and all TRX movements.

The pistol squat without suspension straps is considered an advanced exercise. It requires superior strength and balance to squat down on one leg with the other leg extended, hold the position, and rise to stand without overloading the knee joint.

Using suspension straps to perform the pistol squat enables you to work at your fitness level with the movement. The straps provide an upper and lower body spot while you work toward building leg strength and balance.

You may have considered adding suspension training to your workout routine for an added challenge or it may have been recommended as a great way to correct body imbalance. Either way, if you are new to this exercise method, it may be a good idea to enlist the help of a certified TRX coach or a qualified personal trainer.

Benefits

The TRX pistol squat is an alternative way to challenge the lower body, specifically the quadriceps, hip flexors, glutes, and hamstrings. It also forces you to keep your core engaged throughout the movement for improved balance and overall strength.

Using suspension straps for the pistol squat offers a full-body challenge because it works multiple muscle groups during the exercise. Your center of gravity is always out of balance forcing you to use your core, back, hips, and shoulders to stabilize the movement. This creates a more dynamic squat as other muscle groups are working to support the move.

Performing the TRX pistol squat with suspension straps are shown to provide an effective full-body workout and offers other numerous benefits including:

  • Great alternative exercise
  • Increased exercise motivation
  • Improved balance and stability
  • Increased strength
  • Increased neuromuscular response
  • Decreased body fat
  • Improved blood pressure
  • Decreased body imbalance
  • Reduced fall risk
  • Better gait (walking)
  • Improved leg strength
  • Improved core strength
  • Improved functional fitness (day-to-day activities)

Step-by-Step Instructions

The great thing about TRX training is portable cables that offer the ability to workout anywhere. It just requires an area where they can be securely attached and you are ready to exercise.

Follow these simple steps to perform the TRX pistol squat: 

  1. Attach cables to an anchor point above your head adjusting the straps to hang down about mid-length.
  2. Grab the handles and stand with your body facing the anchor point.
  3. Step back until all slack is removed from the suspension straps.
  4. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and extend right leg out in front of you without touching the ground.
  5. Keep your core tight, neutral spine, and arms fully extended in front of you.
  6. Lower down into a squat maintaining weight over the left heel.
  7. Push through the left heel to standing position maintaining a slight bend in the left knee.
  8. Perform the exercise for a determined amount of reps and repeat on the other leg to complete the cycle.

Common Mistakes

The TRX pistol squat is performed in unstable conditions and special attention is required for proper form and technique. The following are common mistakes to avoid during this exercise:

Using Arms Instead of Legs

There is a tendency to pull on the suspension straps with your arms to return to a standing position during the pistol squat. This takes the work and exercise effectiveness away from the intended area of the legs. Focus on body awareness and pushing through the heel to standing for the proper execution of the movement.

Knee Overload

It’s important to work at your fitness level and range of motion for this exercise. Squatting too low may overload the knee joint increasing risk of injury. Apply progressive exercise methods and increase the challenge as your leg strength improves.

Incorrect Weight Distribution

Shifting your weight forward is a common mistake during this exercise. Be aware of correct weight distribution—maintain your body shifted back, weight over the heel of the squatting leg and knee behind the toes.

Modifications and Variations

The TRX pistol squat can be performed in a variety of ways to accommodate your fitness level.

Need a Modification?

If you're new to pistol squats and TRX training, you may want to apply a few modifications as follows:

  • Perform the exercise with a chair behind you for a spotted movement. This will help maintain a safe range of motion as you build strength and confidence during the exercise.
  • Try the TRX basic squat before progressing to the pistol variation.
  • If you have tight hamstrings that keep you from extending your leg in front of you, consider adding hamstring stretches to increase flexibility. A few helpful stretches include: standing hamstring stretch, lying hamstring stretch (try it with a strap), and seated hamstring stretch.

Up for a Challenge?

TRX training is a progressive exercise method suitable for all fitness levels. This means you can increase the intensity of your workout as you become stronger. The following applied modifications make the TRX pistol squats more advanced:

  • Once you have mastered the TRX pistol squat, you can increase the challenge by adding a jump to the move. The TRX pistol squat jump is an advanced plyometric exercise that adds explosive power to the movement.
  • Make the exercise more dynamic by combining the TRX pistol squat with a lunge back to increase the challenge and intensity of the movement.
  • You can also increase the intensity by dropping slowly to different size benches, using a doorframe, or sitting on a resistance band. 

Safety and Precautions

The TRX pistol squat is performed in unstable conditions and requires keen body awareness during the exercise. Because of this instability, it’s important to be aware of your body position/movement at all times. The following tips will help you perform the pistol squat correctly and reduce the risk of injury:

  • Work at your fitness level and range of motion for this exercise to increase overall strength, mobility, and balance before adding more challenge.
  • Maintain proper weight distribution keeping your body weight over the heel of the squatting leg and knee behind the toes.
  • If you experience pain or discomfort that doesn’t feel right during the TRX pistol squat, stop the exercise.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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