Pistols: What have you done for me lately?

Posted on 05 Jan 2009 01:47

By Eric Troy

An article of mine, originally published at MaxCondition.com is called "Lip Service". In it I point out that, often, the advice someone gives reveals more ABOUT them than it does FOR you.

Those who continue to stick in and read my ramblings will probably get the idea that I repeat myself. Well, it’s necessary. One way you start to put things together is called “free association”. My mind tends to work that way automatically. Although I have trained myself to do that it’s a nice way to say that my mind wanders. Only it wanders WITH STYLE.

We must learn to separate the wheat from the chaff or in other words develop a filter for the things we come accross regarding strength training.

I recently came across this entry in a blog:

"The one legged squat is employed more often as a feat of strength than it is as a training exercise."

John Grimek, on the pistol

The pistol squat is more of a stunt than an exercise. The Dragon Door folks are completely out to lunch on this one.

For one thing it is a weird and unnatural movement, not "functional" at all, yet a lot of the people that praise the pistol will tell you how important functional exercise is. This exercise is proof that bodyweight exercises are not necessarily functional. A squat with a barbell is far more functional.

The book "Naked Warrior" truthfully, misses a simple mechanical point: your center of gravity
1) Is determined by individual proportions
2) Has to be over your foot at all times

So depending on your individual proportions, getting into that bottom position is going to take some severe compensations. Making these twists and torques with the knee fully flexed and fully loaded is a disaster.

Some of the proportions problems that will knuckle your efforts to do pistols:
• having a gut
• having an ass
• having hamstrings big enough that your knee opens when your heel touches your ass*
• not having short stumpy legs
• not having narrow hips

The book goes through this whole focacta explanation of how the right way to do this exercise is pushing through your heel, like in a real squat, which is pretty much impossible for average proportions. People stick with it and learn to do it with the heel down, but only by making all kinds of ridiculous compensations.

Holding a good sized weight out in front of you at arms length as a counterbalance will change your center of gravity back to front and overcome some of the issues - but holding a 45 out there is a significant bump in weight for one foot. .

But seriously, it is a stunt. If you want something like a pistol but not goofy, do one legged squats Paul Anderson style, off a high box or table. I couldn’t find a good picture of this. You can do these with the off leg behind the box or to the side of the box. The foot either doesn’t reach the ground or just barely touches it, it doesn’t push off the ground. Pavel mentions them in the book; I think he had Maxwell doing them off a picnic table.

I can’t be sure that this is actually attributable to Grimek. Let’s assume it is for arguments sake. His accomplishments can’t be debated. I’m not much of a lifting or bodybuilding historian. Okay, I’m not anything of the sort. John Grimek's heyday was before my time but he was BIGTIME. A huge deal. Here is Dave Draper online with some Grimek info.

At present, however, there is a lot of hype and nostalgia surrounding “old-time” strongman and bodybuilding. It is one of those fitness trends that recycles over and over. Everything old is good. Everything new is evil.

I won’t debate John Gimek’s accomplishments and I will certainly offer no disrespect. I am sure there is a stock photo or two of him on every strength training related website in existence. He is inspirational and the epitamy of strongman. I will simply ask some questions to determine whether his opinion should fit into my philosophy. I own a book by Bob Hoffman written in the 1940's. In fact he wrote a whole lot. You can download books here. There is information to be had there without as much digging.
Bob Hoffman

Hoffman, like Grimek is on of the more well-known strength training figures of yesterday, for many reasons. But well-known does not equal above questioning. Hoffman is himself a controversial figure since many do not believe he actually trained! His books were filled with propaganda and ego driven "hype". Yet he was influential and began the famous York Barbell Company among many accomplishments. In his time, he was probably more an "authority" than Grimek. Authority should be questioned.

So much of fundamental human movement occurs on one leg. Single leg training does not get the respect or time it deserves. Whether it is functional or not depends on what the function is.

Maybe John Grimek had a different idea than we do today. The comment about one legged squats being a stunt seems a bit out of left-field. Anything that you can’t do can be construed as a stunt. I've seen photos of Grimek that portray what could be construed as a stunt, not to mention dangerous. But it is amazing to me that anyone could construe learning to effectively manipulate your own bodyweight as a stunt as opposed to lifting any barbell in any way. Putting a barbell on your shoulders is more ‘functional’ than moving your bodyweight with one leg. Seems like a what the hell moment to me. I'd call the bent over backward press a stunt as well. But, as a matter of fact, although that press is exaggerated, it was taught to extend the back and "thrust forward the hips" back then.

Want a trick for developing that filter I mentioned above? When you come in contact with an ‘expert’ ask yourself “What have they done for me lately”. It’s even easier when, as in this little rant, they criticize others.

When it comes to an exercise I ask a similar question. I don’t need to know, for my training purposes, about functionality. I need to know whether pistols have done anything for me. An unequivocal yes. But what of Grimek?

In his day the rage was to offer a ‘training course’. He never offered one. There are excerpts of his training here and there and some of his philosophy. But, frankly, to investigate it would be historical research, rather than training research. So, my conclusion must be that Grimek, although being inspiring, has done nothing for me. Sorry to all the old-time fans. Being a fan of someone never made me stronger.

By Perform Better he must be speaking of people like Mike Boyle and Gray Cook among notable others. I know who they are and I KNOW what they have done for me. That does not mean I agree with every detail of everything they say but I can point to those names and say, yes, I have learned something from these guys.

Let’s see. Naked Warrior. I’m not a comrade but I have all of Pavel’s books. Once I see my way around the propagandist nature of his approach it is very clear to me that Pavel, too, has done much more for me that Grimek. Although not a great deal.

Right after I saw the Grimek pistol post, I looked at the Sports Performance Coaching Blog and was reminded of a post by Victor Hall about naming 100 experts.

He gives a format and rules:

1. Expert Name
2. Area of Expertise
3. Company / Location / Website / Authorship
4. Brief description of philosophy

1. The expert must have a clear and known expertise.
2. Hold off on help from the world wide web as long as possible and only use it to fill in details of #3 & > #4.

Grimek unsurprisingly does not fit into that format or those rules. As far as I know, besides, having won a bunch of stuff he HAS no expertise. Oh, do I need to mention that winning does not make you an expert. Producing winners, on the other hand….

I could be wrong about Grimek. See, it’s not the point whether he is qualified at all. The point is how he fits into my world. I’m not going to abandon a hard-won philosophy of training because of a rant by someone I’ve never heard of, no matter how convincing they make it. Grimek didn’t convince me for a second anyway.


He was clearly speaking of himself. Sounded like a case of sour grapes to me.

I’m not going to abandon a hard-won training philosophy over THAT. But sadly, many trainees would. There are so many reasons for this it is beyond the scope of this article to get into but. But I’d say insecurity is at the top of the list.

You may be asking why I make such a big deal over comments which have probably not been read by many people. It is because it is a perfect example of the kind of thing that goes on all the time. The person who posted it in his blog probably just assumed it must be right. Perhaps that person has never even heard of Perform Better or Pavel. I don’t know. But I can guarantee that most trainees's knee-jerk reaction to it would be to start telling everyone they know how stupid and “nonfunctional” pistols are (another disconnected term like I mentioned in Lip Service).

Experimentation is vital. There are so many figures who worship at the altar of meat and potatoes. You need to plant a garden and let it grow. Just exercise (no pun intended) some judgment in determining if a new movement can be done safely, what the proposed benefits are, and try something new. Give it a little love and see if it grows.

Okay, enough of the garden analogy.

What have I done for you lately? Well, hopefully I got you to think. It’s up to you to decide if the preponderance of information is enough to give Pistols a go, or I you’re not already giving love to single leg training at all here is some info to get your started.

If you are completely new to this then I would recommend starting with static split squats until you’ve gotten more stable and balanced. There is plenty of information to get you started. But you shouldn’t have to spend months and months on single leg training before you can try pistols. You should be able to sit back to a box with one leg fairly soon. If the box is high enough you may be able to do that now. Sitting to a box and using increased depth as a means of progression is a great way to start toward a free full range bodyweight pistol squat.

Note: All images are clickable for further info.

And of course, some wee little videos.

This page created 05 Jan 2009 01:47
Last updated 11 Jan 2018 20:51

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