When Getting Your 1st Pistol Seems Impossible, Trust in Mobility

Well they finally showed up. People had been saying this would be the year but I was confident it would be otherwise. The CrossFit Open 20.4 WOD certainly showed just how wrong a guy could be. After alternating across a total of 90 box jumps & 40 clean & jerks — the last 10 @ 185! — I would have the pleasure of moving onto pistols (aka single-leg squats). For the first time ever.

I gotta admit I had this coming. For years, literally, I had dismissed pistols. Unnecessary. Functional how? Maybe good for party tricks but for fitness, c’mon. I had dabbled here & there with progressions, modifying to pistols off of a box but never lower than 20” meaning plenty of ground clearance. Besides, if they never showed up on the CFUE whiteboard how could they possibly make it into an Open WOD?

And yet again good fortune came to the rescue. In the months leading up to the Open my supplemental programming just happened to include a steady stream of single-leg strength, balance & mobility/flexibility work. At that time I viewed all of these as beneficial toward maintaining & maybe even improving my running game; keeping me healthy & safe in both high rep & heavy load deadlifts; and contributing to good depth, form & endurance in both front & overhead squats. In particular I’m talking about dumbbell weighted single-leg box step-ups, lunges (lateral, forward, reverse) and probably most critical single-leg romanian deadlifts.  

What really tied these altogether when it came to pistols was the mobility programming. With weights there’s likely an eventual top-end range, and that’s in no way a bad thing. Mobility work however gives you the opportunity to gauge gradual progress in range of motion, flexibility & stability. 

Sensing this progress is what gave me the confidence to say maybe I can practice box pistols from 18”; perhaps even 16”; then 14”; next time 12”; until eventually 3x45lb plates stacked up to 9”. A steady practice twice a week of my pistols mobility sequence even got me hitting candlesticks without that excessive backward stumble in the finish position that had previously been my signature move (still working on the single-leg candlestick so bear with me). 

Finally it was game day. I calmed myself by silently saying hey, I’ll likely get time-capped before I even reach the pistols. Besides, if I get some then I’ll have earned it just like that double-under WOD 2 weeks earlier. And if I don’t, well it’ll be like the handstand push-up WOD the week before, and that proved to be a perfectly survivable event. 

Well, I got there with nearly 2 minutes to spare, meaning it was time to deliver. If you ever caught the video that was posted my first few attempts to grab my extended foot did not bode well. Then just like that focus kicked in & it happened: grabbed that foot, stabilized, hit a controlled descent & drove up to complete that elusive First Pistol Ever. Small celebratory shout then back to business & the next one. Followed by the 3rd. Plus a 4th & final pistol before the clock timed-out while moving into number 5.  

Small movements, practiced with quiet patience, generously sprinkled with tenacity & an abiding acceptance of temporary failure: all of these bring great rewards while still keeping us humble.  And here’s your reward for sticking with this blog post: the 6-part mobility sequence that helped me connect the daily dots between strength, balance & flexibility:  

3 Rounds:

  • 1:00 banded kettlebell ankle stretch / each side

  • :30 plank hold

  • 10 banded air squat w/:03 hold in the bottom *

  • 20 banded side steps / each side *

  • 15 kneeling donkey kicks / each side *

  • 40’ perfect stretch 

*band set 1” below knee 

Whenever you feel like giving up, know that’s when you’re closest to another breakthrough.  

Stay mobile my friends,  

Coach Andre 

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