In Coaching, Exercises, Gymnastics/Tumbling, Videos

February 19, 2011

Video Article

Training gymnastics skills like the pistol requires some creativity and change in perspective. Join Carl Paoli, owner of Naka Athletics and a trainer at San Francisco CrossFit, as he shares his tips for working on the movement.

In Part 1, Paoli focuses on squatting mechanics to create a stable, powerful base for the pistol.

“Ideally, when we are under really heavy loads, what we want to do is add tension or add torque for that hip to be able to get out of that hole more efficiently and have more power,” he says.

Paoli helps SFCF athlete Lucas Robinson work toward his first pistol with squatting progressions that test the limits of Robinson’s flexibility. Paoli says mobility should be our first priority.

“When that hip mobility isn’t there, it’s just hard to get into position,” he says.

In Part 2, Paoli drills Robinson using a narrow stance for squatting.

“The narrower the base of support in the beginning, the more you’ll be able to translate it to a pistol later on,” Paoli says.

He uses box squatting and gradually lowers the squat target by raising Robinson off the ground with plates. Once Robinson is able to squat below parallel on two legs, he tries pistols to a box using band assistance.

Paoli also shows another approach to pistol progressions to make them more dynamic. He uses gymnastics rolling and the hollow-body position.

“A lot of athletes that we see that have a hard time getting down into these positions, when they learn how to do this roll and get a little bit of momentum into it, they get into the right positions, they’re able to stand up out of it, and they’re starting to build traction from a different perspective.”

Part 1
11min 39sec

Part 2
11min 14sec

Video by Again Faster.

Additional reading: The Crane Dip and Other Pistol Variations by Steve Cotter, published April 1, 2007.

Free Download

Part 1:
Part 2:


38 Comments on “Pistol Progressions: Parts 1-2 ”


wrote …

How is Carl all of the sudden like the best coach in the world?? he is killin it right now. I Wish i lived in San Fransico.


wrote …

F'ing genius!!!


wrote …

Carl the gymnastics ninja! He always has a solution for even the smallest imperfections. What an amazing display of virtuousity. I always come away from his videos feeling impowered, as if I, too, could someday accomplish a pistol (or handstand, or backflip)!


wrote …

Thanks Carl! this might just be what i need to finally get a pistol.


wrote …

Legit coaching. Carl is the real deal.


wrote …

Carl's the man, hit up his gymnastics WOD if you haven't yet! Carl + K-star + Glassman... deadly


wrote …

Carl, it is hard to believe such a bad ass dude wears those funny little pant things you've got on there. But you do. So go on with your bad self, and thank you for another mind blowingly awesome education. Virtuosity. There it is.


wrote …

Carl, amazing video. This is the best breakdown if the airsquat I have ever seen.

Now for part 2.

When you coming to Europe?


wrote …

Phenomenal Carl! Just nailed my first full pistol!


wrote …

Awesome instructions and explanation - I'm not on to pistols yet but the butt squeeze and knee direction thing was brilliant just for squats - I dont think I'm squeezing my butt enough!! Thank you


wrote …

I just also wanted to say Thank you to Kristofer Shamloo for posting - it's a great resource that I never knew existed until now - Thank you


wrote …

Interesting. We were using the "squeeze the cheeks" technique 40 years ago...still teach it today. Fascinating to learn about what happens to the knees and femur. Thanks Carl!


wrote …

Hey Carl,
Thanks man. I'l be trying this today. I started a gymnastic class and almost got a backflip the first lesson.There is so mcuh more than just that though. They all start with the basic movements like your vid showed. Keep them coming, I'm sure i speak for most crossfiters when i say this.


wrote …


What did you have done in your hip scope? I recently had mine scoped and am hoping to be where you are soon. Great video, I'll be running through this progression once I am cleared by my surgeon.


replied to comment from Trevor James

Carl being an awesome coach is nothing new. SFCF has a solid crew of coaches.


wrote …

First of all, I'm not, in any way, knocking the coaching at all, so please don't attack me. Im just kinda questioning the method to try to get a better understanding, if possible. In short, he ends up with the guy's toes forward and knees going out, not in line with the toes or shins. I understand and support the butt squeeze, but I've always been taught, and was in the thinking that not tracking the toes and shins (keeping all in line), is how you get sheering in the knees, possibly damaging the medial and lateral meniscuses and patella. I would really like to get a better anatomical grasp on how this way differs from toes out and knees tracking before I start to coach this to my clients. If this makes sense and will not cause injuries, Im all for it, everyone should be trying and getting pistols, and if this will help, Im in. Just want to ensure that my people will not end up with knee injuries that I've seen in the past. I sincerely hope that Mr. Paoli will chime in on this, as well as the rest of the community. I look forward to positive comments. Thank you.


wrote …

Thank's for this first part. I share the same problem that you model seem to have: hip (non) flexibility. Can you give us some cues? and also to Kristofer Shamloo for the website address.


Francis LeBlanc wrote …

Elite weightlifters always have toes forward (jump stance) during the pulling phase of the clean or snatch, but after the catch their toes are out with a wider stance (squat stance) to push out the squat. Elite powerlifters usually have a wide sumo style stance, with toes WAY out.

I think the discussion about the narrow, toes forward stance is to address issues that are important to the pistol, not to suggest that heavy weightlifting should be done with feet straight forward. The most perfect pistol squat.

That right?


wrote …

Amazing. I just learned to do pistols from watching this! Thanks


wrote …

Super useful. I have places to go now with my pistols!


wrote …

Thank's for this first part. I share the same problem that you model seem to have: hip (non) flexibility. Can you give us some cues? and also to Kristofer Shamloo for the website address.


replied to comment from randall taylor


Kelly Starrett talks about this quite a bit on Search for "torque" on there, you should get some hits.

From what I gather, keeping the feet pointed forward while shoving the knees out winds up the hip capsule and enervates more musculature, adding stability and power to the position. Knees tracking over the toes represents one level of torque, this is "beyond" that.


replied to comment from Benjamin Moskowitz

I just got back from a crossfit level 1 certification class, where all weekend long they preached toes out during an air squat. Is this teaching of the toes forward suppored by crossfit? Or is this simply a different way of teaching the air squat?


wrote …

Carl, the Chuck Norris of gymnastics with crossfit. Thanks for another awesome demo.


wrote …

After watching this video- I finally pulled off a pistol with my left leg. I've never been able to do it with my left, only my right. My good friend used to give me such a hard time about practicing these all the time and how I wasn't progressing. Watching this video changed that for me and I learned through his cues exactly what I was doing wrong. I'm not going to get into a sob story- but I've had a tough time over the past couple of months in my personal and professional life and finally completing this really helped me out psychologically. Thanks Carl.


wrote …

Great instruction, pistols are my current focus. However, I was laughing my ass off half the time. Two words: Vinnie Babarino.


wrote …

Carl, you are tremendously additive to Crossfit instruction - you bring another level of perspective and approach. That said, there is an assumption one can do gymnastics moves with some proficiency. I, for one, cannot do a roll into standing - my low back is too "flat" no matter how hard I contract abs. Some people just aren't built for gymnastics!


wrote …

BRILLIANT! Just a couple more videos from Carl and I'm on my way to
the US Olympic gymnastics team!


wrote …

Awesome. This simplest cue "squeeze the butt" - made a huge difference in getting me into a deep squat, which has been a real struggle, even with mobilitywod. With some minimal practice today and the cueing, I can now do it with feet pointed straight! Followed it up with Mary, first time rx'd with pistols. They are still hard, but the progressions and mobility have made a world of difference.


wrote …

Wow, that just made my air squat that much better. I like the tightening the butt cue. My jumper's knee pain is improved already.

I had been doing time in the bottom of the squat (I try to make 10 min), as per the Kstar Mobility WOD, with my feet closer and toes straighter but I didn't know that could be applied to air squats also.

That's what I love about CrossFit; there's always something to improve upon and more to learn.

Thanks Carl!


wrote …

Hey Crew,

Thanks for the amazing comments.

Coach Kstar posted a video today on and spends some time clarifying the concept of torque created by that "toes forward" position while squatting.

I hope this helps.


wrote …

I like it, spend a solid 10 min doing the roll into a pistol, this is big weakness of mine and have made it a goal since shoulder surgery to get good at pistols. Thanks for the video.


wrote …

sooo cool! doing this at work while working at my desk.
can feel all the little improvements happening during each evolution of the squat and pistol that Coach Carl and Lucas are going thru.


replied to comment from Benjamin Moskowitz

Sorry sir, for some reason I couldn't reply back to you. Okay, thanks for the info. Im familiar with KStar's MobBlog, I'll check it out. Thanks again.


replied to comment from Carl Paoli

Thanks sir. I just watched the vid. I kinda understand what he's sayin. Guess I'll have to break out the old A&P book to follow what KStar is talking bout. But I see the direction he's goin in. But just to inquire more on it, this is only a technique for pistols and airsquat, not for heavy squats correct? Or am I still not getting it? lol.


wrote …

Great instruction as always Carl. You really break things down in an easy-to-understand way, so the average joe(or jane) can take it all in and put it to practice. Later tonite I am gonna practice the rolling pistols and make it my goal to do regular pistols down the road. Between you, Tucker, K-Star, Pavel T.(kettlebells), I am learning so much and having fun while doing it. Thanks Bro! Shouting out from the Valley in Motown(Modesto).


wrote …

Thanks Carl. 5 Star coaching , as always . I will be trying this at home this weekend. I thought pistols would never be part of my repertoire. I guess I just needed the right coach. You're worth your weight in gold.


wrote …

Just stumbled across this. Without doubt THE BEST teaching progression for pistols I have found so far. Well done Carl, easy to understand instruction, you're a great teacher and coach.

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