Thursday, April 30, 2009

KBs, Inversion and Pistols - good, bad or ugly??

Training today:
Prep - Quick Z warm-up
Get-up 32 kg x 3+3
VO2 Max 20 kg - 8 reps per 15 sec. x 20 sets
Inversion table to finish
Tore a couple of decks of cards and quartered one half

Feeling good.

An Applied Strength blog reader posted a link to another blog/article on the Pistol - aka Single Leg Squat and it is worth responding here we go:  (I will try to add a picture soon)

First let me say that not every exercise is for every person - I acknowledge that and respect an individuals injury and training history.  

Second let me say that most exercises get bashed or demeaned because the individual that had a bad experience either- 
A) brought faulty movement patters, asymmetries, and restrictions to the exercise.
B) Used bad form.
C) Did not follow a proper and systematic progression towards achieving the goal movement.
Or they brought some combination of all three and wound up getting hurt or having a negative experience and therefore feel justified in bashing the exercise.

Personally I have performed pistols on and off for years now - since prepping for the 2002 Tactical Strength Challenge Article here...
and in March of 2003 I hit 10 pistols on the left leg and 9 pistols on the right leg holding the 32 kg KB at the second TSC in Vista, CA.  I have performed pistols holding onto the Beast (106# kb) and with 2/24 kg KBs in the rack position.  Bodyweight pistols, however, have been a bit of different story - only recently have these begun to feel good - previously I had to use a counter balance (kb, or hold on to the toes of the extended leg).  And I help to teach pistols at the Level 2 RKC and to clients so my point is...I know a little bit about the pistol.
And I have injured both of my knees in the past - knee surgery on the left and a significant injury on the right - and I can still perform the pistol.

Criticisms of the pistol can take the form of:
It's not functional.
It's not safe.
An individual's body proportions will make it impossible.

Well functional is in the eye of the beholder to a certain extent because barbell squatting is not functional (IMO and I love back squatting) but it seems to get a lot of "air time" for athletic development etc... 
Ask the question - Functional for what?  How does the exercise stack up?

Safe is more often than not determined by the issues I listed above which I will go into greater detail in a minute.

An individual's body proportions - as I said at the beginning - not every exercise is for everybody but to use this an excuse for why an exercise is just plain unsafe is not good reasoning.
Consider that the depth of the squat can and should be monitored by many factors one of those being the compression of the calf against the hamstring - by maintaining tension in the bottom position and stopping when these two areas touch and not "bottoming out" by relaxing or forcing the depth beyond the point of touching you will not "force open" the knee but most people because they lack control at the bottom of a pistol and have rushed to the full movement fall into this position and then blame the pistol and their body proportions - not so fast...

So lets look at the issues I raised in the beginning:
#1 - An individual brings faulty movement patterns, asymmetries or restrictions to the exercise and in that case ANY exercise can break you and often does in the gym (bench press and squats for example).  
This is the idea behind the FMS - remove the asymmetries and restrictions before getting into a "conditioning" routine.  Fail to do this and an ankle restriction etc.. can make any squat a potential date with injury.

#2 - Used bad form.  Dan John has a great saying - "Squats don't hurt your knees - The way YOU squat hurts your knees."  And this is VERY true in the single leg squat.  If you knee caves in or doesn't track or any number of other faults appear - STOP and go back to #1 and read carefully through #3...

#3 - 
Did not follow a systematic progression leading to the goal movement.  There might be 5 or 10 or 20 steps in the process to get someone to a full single leg squat.  Skip just one (but many people skip several) and you might have a negative experience - is it the squats fault that you were in too big of a hurry to progress appropriately???

VERY few people will be ready to tackle an exercise like the single leg squat without a fair amount of prep time which can include corrective strategies to remove roadblocks, and a multiple step systematic progression to achieving the goal.  

Can you even perform a deep bodyweight squat with good form?  If not - why are you even thinking of the single leg variety?

Ignore them at your own risk and don't blame the exercise when you have a negative experience.

Also - there are many single leg squat variations - the Airborn Lunge for example... (pic soon)


Sean Schniederjan RKC said...

Brett, I messed up my femur awhile back and can't do pistols on my left side. I've been laying off doing them and am starting to get frustrated. Do you have any advice for faster recovery? Thanks, Sean

Brett Jones said...

Shoot me an email and define for me "messed up my femur"
What to do depends on what happened etc...?

Sean Schniederjan RKC said...

Will do. Thanks.

SG Human Performance said...

Great article Brett. I also know that a well respected strength coach, Michael Boyle uses the single leg squat as a great evaluation tool for athletes recovering from ACL surgeries. If they can't single leg squat, he will not let them return to sport.

If you ask me, I think the pistol and single leg squat is very functional. How many knee innjuries do we see when athletes are in a double leg closed chain position? Hardly never... They are the majority of the time in a single leg closed chain position.

Brett Jones said...

You are very right - and Boyle is one of the most safety conscious trainers on the planet!
It all boils down to the factors I laid out - ignore them at your own peril!

Mike T Nelson said...

Sean, if you are still stuck drop Fawn, myself or a local Z Health trainer here an email if you want to try some stuff for your "femur stuff"

Rock on!
Mike T Nelson

Brett Jones said...

that is what i advised Mike - hopefully you all can make something happen.

Matt Albanese said...


What are your thoughts on the spinal flexion aspect of the pistol? McGill's work points to some people being flexion intolerant (unfortunately, though I love pistols, I'm one of them), and he makes specific mention of the pistol being ill-advised for this portion of the population.
Thanks, Matt

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