Weighted squats vs Pistol squats

by | Aug 25, 2022 | 0 comments

10 min read



☝️ If you’re looking to add some power and strength to your lower body, then you may be wondering if pistol squats or weighted squats are the better choices for you.

When it comes to squats, there are two main types: Pistol squats and weighted squats. Both have their own unique benefits, but which one is right for you? In this article, we will discuss the difference between pistol squats and weighted squats so that you can decide which one is best for you!👊

📌Be prepared for the standard answer on which is the better exercise because the answer is: IT DEPENDS. Both movements offer their own advantages. Weighted squats are straightforward and build absolute strength. Pistol squats holistically develop the lower body by increasing strength, building muscle, lower body mobility, control, and awareness. While it seems that pistol squats have an edge, it still depends on your goals which we will dive into later. 

Here’s what you will learn in this article:

  • ✅ Benefits of pistol squats
  • ✅ Benefits of weighted squats
  • ✅ Pistol squats vs weighted squats based on different goals



👍 PROs 👎 CONs
Pistol Squats
  • Builds relative strength
  • Can build muscle through volume
  • Improves balance and coordination
  • Extensively trains mobility
  • No equipment needed
  • Corrects muscle imbalance
  • Does not stress the spine or joints
  • Mobility aspect can be limiting
  • Does not train absolute strength
  • Takes higher volume to build muscle for advanced athletes
  • Progression not straightforward
Weighted Squats
  • Builds absolute strength
  • Easy and straightforward progression
  • Excellent bodybuilding exercise
  • Builds mobility depending on range of motion
  • Strength transfer due to absolute strength gains
  • Can stress lower back and joints
  • Prone to “ego lifting”
  • Higher weights put stress on the lower back
  • Needs equipment
  • Looks simple but actually complex


💥Pistol Squats vs Weighted Squats

Pistol Squats vs Weighted Squats

The weighted squat, particularly the back squat, is popularly known as one of the best compound exercises. We really can’t deny the benefits weighted squats can bring to the table. It offers amazing results for the lower body. HOWEVER, pistol squats aren’t something to sleep on.

🤜 Pistol squats, within context, can be highly effective as well. This is the advanced variation counterpart of calisthenics which is why the debate between pistol squats vs weighted squats has been existing and will continue to exist for years.

Hopefully, this article can shed light on what exercise will be best for your lower body to achieve the goals you want.


🏆 Benefits of pistol squats

Pistol Squat

Let’s first start off with the benefits of pistol squats can offer if done correctly. Correctly meaning executed with perfect form, training protocols aligned towards your goals, and progression used suits you.

  • ☑️ Pistol squats are a great way to general strength and power in your lower body.
  • ☑️ It can be done with or without weights, making them a versatile exercise that can be done anywhere at any time.
  • ☑️ It can be progressed for all fitness levels.
  • ☑️ Pistol squats target your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, making them a great exercise for overall lower body development.
  • ☑️ Working your way towards pistol squats improves ankle, hamstring, quad, and hip mobility.
  • ☑️ It builds balance and control.
  • ☑️ You can BUILD MUSCLE with pistol squats.
  • ☑️ It’s a unilateral exercise so imbalances can be corrected.
  • ☑️ No dangers on your spine.
  • ☑️ Improves core activation.

Read more here:📍 Advantages of Calisthenics Leg Training


🏆 Benefits of weighted squats







👉 This exercise has been a staple for lower body development and for a good reason. It’s effective, simple, and delivers results. The main disadvantage of weighted squats is that you need to have the necessary equipment to perform the exercise. You’ll need an Olympic 7-foot bar, (but a standard 5-6 foot bar will do) a set of weights, and a squat rack.

Although you can get away by using dumbbells, or any other alternatives, the squat equipment set will be the best option for safe and efficient workouts.

Another disadvantage is that it’s prone to “ego lifting”. It’s the gym term for lifting too heavy for an exercise you’re not clearly prepared for yet. When you ego lift, you tend to break form, increase the risk of injury, and hurt your joints.

  • ✔️ Weighted squats are a great way to build maximal strength.
  • ✔️ Building size in your lower body is easy.
  • ✔️ Progression is straightforward. You just have to add weights and add training volume.
  • ✔️ Weighted squats target your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, making them a great exercise for overall lower body development.
  • ✔️ Contrary to popular belief, weighted squats can improve lower body mobility.


🔎Which one is better for which goals?

Like what we answered earlier, it depends on different matters, especially what you want to achieve. Each offers a unique advantage over the other, but there is also some overlap so you can still use both or interchange each exercise.

Let’s break down the difference between each for specific goals below.

🎯Max strength goals

For building maximal strength for the lower body, weighted squats are the clear winner. Maximal or absolute strength refers to the force your body can exert regardless of factors. In contrast, relative strength is the force you can exert in relation in relation to your body weight.

👍 With weighted squats, you can endlessly add weights to increase the difficulty as you grow stronger. With pistol squats, you’re limited with your bodyweight, so you will have struggles in increasing absolute strength. Although you can still improve strength with pistol squats, strength limits are capped, unlike the gains, you can achieve with weighted squats.

There is a caveat though. As you lift heavier weights, you will inevitably also put stress on your lower back with weighted squats even if you try to perform with perfect form. Always add weights gradually and test for a one-rep max (or the maximum weight you can lift for a single rep) in a strategic and minimal manner.

This is why 2018 paper recommends training with unilateral work for individuals who experience lower back pain to avoid unnecessary loading of the back.

🎯Muscle building

If you’re looking to build maximum strength in your lower body, then weighted squats are perceived as the better choice for you. HOWEVER, pistol squats can also build size, but since you are difficulty can be capped, you need to add more training volume compared to lifting weight.

👉With weighted squats, you can always train in a 6-12 rep range since you can always increase the difficulty by adding weights. In the calisthenics counterpart, you have to increase the reps and sets to a high degree to continue building muscle when pistol squats become too manageable. High-rep ranges and sets are as effective in inducing hypertrophy but not as effective in building strength.

You can also induce hypertrophy further by manipulating other factors such as increasing time under tension (slower movements), focusing on eccentrics, and decreasing rest periods.

Similar to upper body muscle-building, you just have to satisfying the following elements of hypertrophy:

  • 💥 Progressive overload by training harder every session (adding more reps, slower tempo, etc.)
  • 💥 Getting enough sleep and recovery
  • 💥 Eating enough protein and calories through whole foods

By meeting these factors and using Pistol squat progression correctly, you can build muscle through bodyweight training.

Read more here:📍 How to Build Muscle Mass Using Bodyweight Only


Pistol squat

Weighted squats can also build mobility as long as you move through a good range of motion. Although with a heavier weight range, you need to stay conservative with your loading as this can be dangerous if you are not prepared enough to handle the weight and range of motion.

You’ll need a high level of mobility to perform the full range of a pistol squat so as you progress in your journey, you will inevitably build lower body mobility.

🎯Practical applications

✊While weights offer superior strength gains, pistol squats offer strength, mobility, body control, balance, and body awareness. This means your strength can be more functional which applies to everyday movement.

Don’t get us wrong. Weight lifting can still offer similar benefits if done with intent. But in pistol squats, it’s in the movement’s nature to gain these benefits.

🎯Transfer to sports and other disciplines










🤜This highly depends on what you need for your sport or discipline. For example, if you need to work on producing maximum force for running, pushing, or jumping, then using weights is your friend. If you need to address asymmetry, stability, control, and balance to better perform for example in your movement patterns, then a pistol will work for you.🤛

It depends highly on context. The best option is to first study what you need to work on for you to function optimally in your discipline then decide on the exercise.



Pistol squats vs weighted squats? It depends on your goals.

😱Both exercises have their own benefits that can help you achieve your desired results, whether it be for strength, muscle building, or mobility. These two exercises are the best for developing a lower body.

Alternatively, you can use both exercises by alternating them per session or per training cycle. This way, you can get the best of both worlds.

Developing the lower body with calisthenics can be a daunting task, especially since the move is highly technical. There are many limitation that may appear if weaknesses are present. But don’t worry, training shouldn’t be complicated.

😎You can get a personalized, comprehensive training  program by taking the short assessment below. Know what you’re body’s capable of and what you need to work on next.




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