A while back I was looking for a challenge, and decided to go for fifty consecutive pistol squats. I could not find anyone performing this on YouTube, so I saw a unique opportunity to show people it could be done (in real life, with video evidence, not just forum-talk). I hoped, not to be seen as a show-off, but to inspire people to do things they wouldn’t normally do.
The four-minute mile was something no one thought would ever be beaten until Roger Bannister did it and then all of a sudden a bunch more did it, too. I halfway expected this to occur with my fifty consecutive pistol squats video but alas, as of writing this article, I have yet to see another. If that is because people don’t know how to get there, then as Pavel says, “If you don’t know how, I’ll teach you. If you don’t want to, I’ll make you.”
It’s actually kind of funny about that last part because everything you need to know about how to do fifty pistol squats has already been taught by Pavel.
Your Homework Before You Begin the Program
Warning: This will not be fun. Not even a little bit.
First, read, reread, and read The Naked Warrior again both for guidance in pistol technique and for programming. If there is one near you, I would highly recommend finding an SFB instructor to teach you how to do a pistol squat. If you can, go through the SFB Course also, because if you can’t do a pistol correctly one time, then you sure as heck aren’t going to do it correctly for the 49 times that come afterward. Pay particular attention to the section on greasing the groove because that program is a foolproof plan for progress. It’s the fastest way to strength and you should get strong first. Before I did fifty consecutive pistols, I had already done a pistol while racking two 24kg kettlebells.
The next book to read multiple times would be Power to the People. If you wonder why a book about programming the deadlift would be useful for pistols, it’s the programming part that counts. Read up on the benefits of frequent training and also read up on the wave cycle because truth be told, what I did is simply a variation of that.
When I was talking to Pavel about my fifty pistol squat feat, he asked how my feet and ankles felt and my response was, “Awful.” When you are doing a lot of pistols in a row, the constant contraction used to stabilize your feet tends to make them ache and tighten up so you are going to want to be able to keep your ankles mobile. There is a foot mobility complex in the SFB manual you are going to want to learn either from the course or from a certified SFB instructor. Learn the complex, but don’t make it a religion.
Since programming typically changes the intensity, density, or volume, with this being a “pistol squat without external load” specific program, only one of those factors is going to be able to be manipulated. That would be the volume.
During the first week or two, you start by greasing the groove of the pistol to make sure your technique is there and to ensure proficiency. You should be able to get at least eight consecutive reps before switching to the wave cycle. You want to train below what you are capable of until it is time for you to go above and beyond. Just trust me on that.
When it’s time to switch to the wave-inspired cycle, reread how it’s done in Power to the People. High-frequency training is combined with progressive overload (below your max) each day followed with a back off. This time, however, instead of adding plates for sets of 5, you are adding reps. On day one start with 1 rep and then add 1 rep, just 1 rep, every day for a week. During the start of the second week, back off on the reps but make sure it’s higher then the first week.
Here’s how it looks in application:
- Day 1: 1 rep
- Day 2: 2 reps
- Day 3: 3 reps
- Day 4: 4 reps
- Day 5: 5 reps
- Days 6 and 7: Rest
- Day 8: 2 reps
- Day 9: 3 reps
- Day 10: 4 reps
- Day 11: 5 reps
- Day 12: 6 reps
- Days 13 and 14: Rest
- Day 15: 3 reps
- Day 16: 4 reps
- Day 17: 5 reps
- Day 18: 6 reps
- Day 19: 7 reps
- Day 20 and 21: Rest
Observe how it builds up and backs off. As the numbers start to climb you are going to change the increments because the volume starts to add up (and it is miserable) and the CNS seems to react to bigger jumps. So instead of 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 spread over the week, it would be 5 + 10 + 15 + 20 + 25 starting on Day 30.
During the final week you are probably going to want to split it up with a couple rest days in between. Trust me you won’t want to do 40 consecutive pistols the day before you do 50. Save your strength, it will still be there next week.
As an example, let’s say the hypothetical week starts on a Monday.
- Monday: 10 reps
- Tuesday:20 reps
- Wednesday: 30 reps
- Thursday: Rest
- Friday: 40 reps
- Saturday: Rest
- Sunday: Rest
- Monday: 50 reps and BAM—you’ve done it!
Additional Notes on the 50 Consecutive Pistol Squats Program
- I found the greatest success by doing only one set during the wave cycle because the volume adds up and can quickly burn you out if you aren’t careful.
- Make sure you have plenty of space around you. There will be reps that get a little shaky and cause you to lose your balance and you will want to have room to jump around to catch your bearings and regain control.
- Only use tension during the reps for stability and control. Being overly tense between reps will rob you of your enduring strength reserves. Relax somewhat while still being stable between reps.
- Hold your breath during reps. This will help keep you stable so that you don’t stumble around.
- Keep small objects on the floor that are well out of reach or have marks on the wall. Keeping your eyes fixed on something will help you keep your balance.
- Resting the unloaded foot on the loaded one can help prevent your hip flexors from becoming overly tight and will minimize unnecessary energy usage.
- Take plenty of time after training one leg before training the other, even a couple hours if you can spare it.
- Ignore the “shiny things” until you’ve accomplished your goal. Hang in there, it’s very easy to get distracted on this program.
Using This Program to Achieve Other Goals
Even though this is a pistol-specific program, it can be used for any exercise you wish to pile reps on. I used it to get to twelve consecutive pistols with 32kg, ten pull-ups with a weight belt carrying 24kg, and twenty-something handstand push-ups. Follow the principles of building up, backing off, milking strength, progressive overload, and having a reasonable level of frequency in your training, and strength success will be yours.
To get twelve consecutive weighted pistols, (first make sure you can do weighted pistols, then) follow the same cycle. Same goes for weighted pull-ups or handstand push-ups. Spend a couple weeks practicing weighted pistols or the loaded exercise of your choice following the grease the groove program. Then follow the same cycle as written. You can add a second set that is naked (unloaded) if you wish.
- Day 1: 1 rep loaded 1 rep naked
- Day 2: 2 reps loaded 2 reps naked
- Day 3: 3 reps loaded 3 reps naked
- Day 4: 4 reps loaded 4 reps naked
- Day 5: 5 reps loaded 5 reps naked
- Days 6 and 7: Rest
- Day 8: 2 reps loaded 2 reps naked
- Day 9: 3 reps loaded 3 reps naked
- Day 10: 4 reps loaded 4 reps naked
- Day 11: 5 reps loaded 5 reps naked
- Day 12: 6 reps loaded 6 reps naked
- Days 13 and 14: Rest
- Day 15: 3 reps loaded 3 reps naked
- Day 16: 4 reps loaded 4 reps naked
- Day 17: 5 reps loaded 5 reps naked
- Day 18: 6 reps loaded 6 reps naked
- Day 19: 7 reps loaded 7 reps naked
- Day 20 and 21: Rest
For handstand push-ups done without added weight, follow the same exact program as the pistols. I’ll be honest, I don’t know how much farther you can go past twenty with handstand push-ups, partially because I don’t know for how long you are going to want to be upside down, and also because legs can take more abuse then the upper body usually can.
SFB = STRONGFIRST BODYWEIGHT. GET IT HERE.