April 01, 2007
When it comes to human movement in the context of both daily activities and athletic potential, there are unique physical skills that are useful and worth the investment of time and energy to develop. Some come very easily and naturally, and others demand greater effort and practice to develop the skill. One such worthwhile skill is the ability to balance on one leg and squat. The one-leg squat, popularly called the "pistol," is great for developing improved balance, lower-body strength, range of motion, and agility.
Historically, this movement has been associated with martial arts. My introduction to this sort of training was in Chinese boxing and what we call the crane dip, which is a more controlled and graceful (and difficult) version of the pistol. It is part of the physical conditioning methods that beginners should study and train to set a strong foundation. It requires what I like to call degrees of freedom of motion. To be as balanced in a low or a mid-range position as in a high position and to be able to move fluidly from a dynamic to a static control and back again in an unrestricted environment are very useful characteristics to develop.
The crane dip is distinguished from the pistol in a few important ways. While the pistol is performed with the non-working leg extended out in front of the body, floating in the air, the crane dip is performed while holding the extended leg with your hand. This support from the hand allows you to keep your body more upright than is possible with the pistol, because the support hand provides a counterbalance for your extended leg to press against, and also give you greater balance and stability throughout the entire range of motion.