The beauty of box pistols

Harry Westgate

More than 500 posts
Hello all,

I just wanted to say a few words regarding my own personal view of the use of box pistols.

Likely, any Naked Warriors out there will be familiar with the box pistol as a means of progressing to the regular pistol squat. While it was my primary tool of choice in building up to the pistol, I have recently come to the realisation that, at least for myself (I'd like to emphasise that this may not be the best thing for everyone, depending on strength levels, coordination, etc.), the pistol is a highly valuable drill in and of itself, and is well worth coming back to regularly, or perhaps even being the focus of one's pistol training, even when un-boxed pistols are 'mastered' (if that's truly possible...).

My personal reasons for this realisation have been that despite having the leg strength and balance to do pistol squats, I still have my 'bad days' when the coordination just doesn't quite seem to be there, and I get frustrated because I end up falling on my backside at the very bottom. I get frustrated due to the fact that I've done a consecutive 50 reps per leg before, plus sets of 5 reps with 24kg, so a stud like myself shouldn't be tumbling over with that kind of experience! However, I bit the bullet, threw my ego out the door, and cracked out my old friend in the form of a curb level Tupperware box, which allows me to do pistols to just above rock bottom. The method I use, as opposed to Pavel's recommendation of sitting back on the box before pressing back up, is to just touch the box with my backside, still tense, and go back up. The invaluable lesson that this practice has taught me is, well, TENSION! What I had grown accustomed to was allowing myself to somewhat 'fall' into the rock bottom position (likely the reason for my inconsistent ability to balance all the way down), as opposed to remaining fully tense and steady all the way to the bottom. Lightly touching a box however, has meant that I have to move nice and steady, remaining tense, so that I don't just fall into the box, thus defeating the purpose of the drill.

Alas, the box pistol shall remain a dear friend of mine and I shan't be neglecting it again any time soon (or hopefully ever)!

Hopefully others might share my experience! :)

Thanks,

Harry
 
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Matts

More than 300 posts
Good for you, Harry! that's a classic way to do them to just break the momentum/bounce in the squat and use proper muscles to come out of the hole. I think the method in NW is focused on being part of progression for people learning how to do pistols.
 

D-Rock

Triple-Digit Post Count
Excellent post and observation. Since reading Naked Warrior several years ago I have more or less always been able to do a pistol. However I am not sure they were true pistols as I now suspect I was falling into place as you were and probably less than perfect form at that. I had a recent experience that reminded me of what you said about tension.

I decided to do some GTG "box pistols" by assuming the pistol position and sitting down with one leg whenever I had to sit in a chair. I could barely do it!!! The tension I had to use to keep from falling and slamming into my seat was incredible. However it wasn't until your post that I thought about this experience and realized that maybe I was dismissing an important training tool.
 

Harry Westgate

More than 500 posts
@D-Rock exactly. What you say there about slamming into the chair is exactly what I'm trying to avoid now with my box pistols, remaining tense like I described above ensures that there are no weak points throughout the range of motion or moments of poor coordination. I have found that I have little to no trouble with my right leg (my dominant side), although my left leg struggles. I believe this is a reflection of the high levels of coordination and total body awareness required for the pistol.

Some people might want to roast me for saying this, but it is my personal opinion that the pistol isn't actually that hard from a pure, brute strength standpoint (honestly, I'd say it's about as tough as a tactical pull-up in terms of the tension/effort required per rep - I'd love for anyone to offer their personal opinions on this, as I only have my own, very personal journey to draw from), but the real difficulty lies in the balance requirements of the drill. At least that has always been my experience with it; by the time I was able to actually balance all the way up and down, I could do a good handful of reps (maybe 5?) while pretty fresh, because I'd built the strength in the involved muscle groups from doing the progression exercises such as box pistols, rocking deck pistols and counterweighted pistols.

What you describe there about getting up and down from a chair in the pistol position is also a powerful tool which I have used when I think of it, and perhaps something I ought to consider always doing with my left leg in order to improve my left side coordination and body awareness... Food for thought!
 

Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
We should point out that there are other uses for a box pistol, e.g., you can rock back and then come up explosively. This drill is great, and if you're so inclined, you can work on lowering the box height until you can do these on the ground.

-S-
 

D-Rock

Triple-Digit Post Count
I think varying the height of the box may be useful as well. I have good tension through certain points then "fall" through other parts. Having not focused on the pistol in awhile, I have good tension the first couple inches, "fall" off and on through the middle of the movement, and have good tension at the bottom.

Even when focusing on the pistol and able to do it correctly, I could never get much explosiveness. Next time I focus on the pistol, I will drill some box pistols and see if I can't build some explosiveness.

Balance and technique/form is definitely the hardest part for me. The pistol is hard but not hard all at the same time.
 

305pelusa

> 1k Posts
@D-Rock
Some people might want to roast me for saying this, but it is my personal opinion that the pistol isn't actually that hard from a pure, brute strength standpoint (honestly, I'd say it's about as tough as a tactical pull-up in terms of the tension/effort required per rep - I'd love for anyone to offer their personal opinions on this, as I only have my own, very personal journey to draw from), but the real difficulty lies in the balance requirements of the drill. At least that has always been my experience with it; by the time I was able to actually balance all the way up and down, I could do a good handful of reps (maybe 5?) while pretty fresh, because I'd built the strength in the involved muscle groups from doing the progression exercises such as box pistols, rocking deck pistols and counterweighted pistols.
I think strength wise, it's probably close to a Pull-up. I can do about the same weight on both personally. But the amount of tension required per rep is far different, again for me personally. I have to tighten quite a bit more to complete a Pistol. And I get much harder muscular contractions (close to cramping) when pistoling heavy vs Pull-ups where I don't for some reason.

I don't think the Pistol squat has much of a balance requirement honestly. Most people can stand on one foot just fine, and that's the point where you're the most unstable as your center of mass is highest. Having a better sense of balance will do nothing for your one-legged squat.

I think the confusion comes because people do a Pistol, and fall back, and immediately blame balance. Yeah the reason why you fall back is because your center of balance has shifted from under your base, but a better sense of balance is not, and will never be, the answer. To prove it, how many people fall to the side at the bottom of a Pistol? Happened to me about 3 times from 5+ years of pistols. Heck how many people fall FORWARD at the bottom of the Pistol? I don't think that's a thing. Compare this to a Handstand, where balance IS a part of the challenge. You'll see backward/forwards falling is pretty even. Ditto to any other balance feet (slacklining, surfing, etc).

No no, what happens is simply a lack of flexibility and compression. At the bottom of a Pistol, your free leg needs to be straight out in front of you at around 90 degrees from your torso (even less because you should be leaning forward). If you don't have the hamstring flexibility or the hip flexor and quads active strength to pull your leg, then you can't achieve that angle/compression. So you lean back a bit such that your foot doesn't touch the floor, while your hip angle is bigger. But if you lean back at all... then you just fall back. Inflexible ankles also means you can't push your knee forward sufficiently, another culprit sometimes.

As someone who has worked on Handstands and Handstand Push-ups (without a wall I mean), and likes to long-board occasionally, the Pistol doesn't feel like a balance feat at all. This gets abused at times as I've actually seen people recommend standing on one leg, and rapidly blinking and moving your head, etc to improve your sense of balance as a way to better your Pistol. That's because they start with the incorrect assumption. "Garbage in, Garbage out". L-sit and Hanging Leg Raise training would be far more useful to prevent falling back, even though they also have nothing to do with balance

A pistol feels like a pure tension and strength feat. Can you compress and tighten your body enough to put sufficient weight in front of your foot?

This is the brilliance of TNW. At no point does Pavel talk about the need to improve "balance". It is sufficient to pick a drill that feels like a Pistol, but demands less compression, such as using a box or a counterweight as long as you keep the tension at a maximum. The guy understood it all along.

Just my 2 cents
 
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Harry Westgate

More than 500 posts
@305pelusa you sir have given me a lot to contemplate there. I agree that hanging leg raises certainly help pistols, as you're able to compress the abs more, thus remaining tighter and more 'centered' for want of a better word. Your use of the word 'compression' is smart, and now I shall make more of a conscious effort to activate my abs in the bottom position, in order to achieve this...

Can you compress and tighten your body enough to put sufficient weight in front of your foot?
You may have answered my prayers of consistently performing pistols with this little gem. Thank you for your insight.
 

Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
@305pelusa, you know more skilled, more coordinated people than I do. The simple act of standing on one foot while moving the other leg around will confound many people, in my experience.

-S-
 

Harry Westgate

More than 500 posts
Hell I might as well quickly ask a slightly unrelated question while this thread has the attention of certain people... As HLRs and L-sits have been mentioned, since L-sits are an isometric exercise, what are people's recommendations regarding time per rep/hold and how many sets? I'm thinking I should give them more attention as an aid to pistols...
 

305pelusa

> 1k Posts
Hell I might as well quickly ask a slightly unrelated question while this thread has the attention of certain people... As HLRs and L-sits have been mentioned, since L-sits are an isometric exercise, what are people's recommendations regarding time per rep/hold and how many sets? I'm thinking I should give them more attention as an aid to pistols...
I've worked on the L-sit for many months now. I'm slowly transitioning to the ring L-sit, but I still have a bit more work to do with the floor variation. Anyways, here's what works really well for me:

-Test your max hold time (say you get 20 seconds). Most people will recommend doing sets of anywhere from 50% to 70% of your max hold time, looking for a total hold volume of 40-70 seconds. So that might look like 4-6 x 9-12 seconds. I personally find the L-sit to be very challenging because it's not just strength, but rather, active flexibility. So I like to cut the hold time in half, and double the sets from the above recommendations. So that comes out to be around 35% of your max hold time, looking for a volume of, again, 40-70 seconds. For your hold of 20 secs, that could mean 8x6 seconds. I think the L-sit benefits from being thought of as a "skill-practice".

Between sets, I find it very useful to relax in a pike stretch for around 30 secs. In fact, that's the only rest I take. I do a set, relax in a pike for 30 secs, go for the next set, etc. You don't need to rest that much for isometrics, and the pike is the perfect rest position I think.

One thing I can't recommend enough is to do leg lifts while in a pike position (say at the end of your workout). While stretched out in a pike and hands by the knees, raise your straight legs out in front of you (butt still on the floor). Hold for 10 secs. If you're cramping your abs and legs, you're doing it right. I find that the more I practice these pike compression holds, the better my L-sit training goes.

This is all detailed well in Overcoming Gravity btw.
 

Harry Westgate

More than 500 posts
@305pelusa brilliant, thanks for your insight. I might add that I'm thinking I'd like to do my L-sits as a 'warmup' for my OAPU/Pistol workouts, which are followed by ab wheel roll-outs on an incline* as my focussed ab work to finish. As such, do you think that the guidelines you wrote out above could still apply, or should I cut the volume a tad? I'm just conscious of smoking my abs at the start of a workout as they are heavily involved in all of the movements to come (OAPUs, Pistols, Ab Wheel), and so I would very much like to treat the L-sit strictly as a warmup/practice, so that my abs, hip flexors and quads are 'primed' for the pistols (I've found in the past that pistols are very easy to get into the bottom position of after a couple of sets of HLRs or a brief L-sit).

*(@Steve Freides by the way you were right about using a full ROM incline as a more effective learning curve - I found a plank of wood to use for these and I've almost got a full rep!).
 

305pelusa

> 1k Posts
@305pelusa brilliant, thanks for your insight. I might add that I'm thinking I'd like to do my L-sits as a 'warmup' for my OAPU/Pistol workouts, which are followed by ab wheel roll-outs on an incline* as my focussed ab work to finish. As such, do you think that the guidelines you wrote out above could still apply, or should I cut the volume a tad? I'm just conscious of smoking my abs at the start of a workout as they are heavily involved in all of the movements to come (OAPUs, Pistols, Ab Wheel), and so I would very much like to treat the L-sit strictly as a warmup/practice, so that my abs, hip flexors and quads are 'primed' for the pistols (I've found in the past that pistols are very easy to get into the bottom position of after a couple of sets of HLRs or a brief L-sit).

*(@Steve Freides by the way you were right about using a full ROM incline as a more effective learning curve - I found a plank of wood to use for these and I've almost got a full rep!).

You should experiment with the volume as you and I are obviously different. Just fyi, I treat L-sit training like I treat Handstand training. It is mostly about correct positioning and getting some practice in, without going too hard. I place it right after my warm-up (10 min of HS work, then 5 min of L-sit, and then I begin my actual strength training with planches, front levers, overhead pressing, etc). Handstand and L-sit work is typically thought of a "skill" (the former because it's more about balance than strength, the latter because it's more about active flexibility than strength).

Your exercise selection is fine as two of the exercises tax your abs in a compressed position while the other two tax them in the "open" position. If you were doing 4 hip flexion exercises (say L-sits, Pistols, HLRs and weighted sit-ups), I think you might run into fatigue. OR 4 "hollow" exercises (say Front lever, Dragon flags, Ab wheel and OAPUs). But as it stands right now, I don't think you'd have a problem. Just give it a shot and you'll quickly learn.
 

D-Rock

Triple-Digit Post Count
The simple act of standing on one foot while moving the other leg around will confound many people, in my experience
I can vouch for that. This is still something I struggle with sometimes, and cannot hold for a considerable length of time without fatigue. As basic as this sounds, I am seriously considering working on this as a part of improving my pistol.

I often wonder, if people cannot stand on one foot, should they even be sprinting and running? If someone doesn't have the strength to hold a one-foot stand, what happens with hundreds of pounds of force and thousands of repetitions through an unstable leg and foot?
 

Harry Westgate

More than 500 posts
@305pelusa thanks very much, you've provided a lot of great info. Just out of interest do you train at all with barbells or kettlebells or are you a pure calisthenics/weighted calisthenics practitioner?
 

305pelusa

> 1k Posts
@305pelusa thanks very much, you've provided a lot of great info. Just out of interest do you train at all with barbells or kettlebells or are you a pure calisthenics/weighted calisthenics practitioner?
It's all calisthenics and weighted calisthenics except for the Press. Its carryover to the handstand push up is too good to be true. This is mostly out of necessity since regressing the Handstand Pushup is quite difficult,so I've adopted an exercise that builds it up.
 

305pelusa

> 1k Posts
@305pelusa, you know more skilled, more coordinated people than I do. The simple act of standing on one foot while moving the other leg around will confound many people, in my experience.

-S-
I don't know that many people into pistols in real life. This is solely based on what I see on most forums, where people fall back and believe a better sense of balance would be useful. If you were falling on all directions, I'll buy the argument that there's a large balance component, similar to handstands,slacklining, surfing, etc.

Maybe I don't frequent the right forums, but almost exclusively, people fall backwards. I believe that has nothing to do with balance.

However, I do agree with you that if you can't stand on one leg with the other leg in front of you, that's something that you'll need to tackle I suppose. Note that this problem would ALSO be found in every other regressive exercise. If you could box pistol squat, but fall back on regular pistols,then obviously it's not a question of balance, as they both have the same balance requirements don't they? If you can do them on a box, but fall back on the regular drill (which I think represents most people no?), I don't quite see how that points you towards a balance issue.
 

Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
@305pelusa I agree with you on all points. Maybe I didn't understand what you meant in your earlier post.

-S-
 
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