Squats are an excellent strength-building exercise for the legs, but if you’re doing home workouts without weights, they’ll quickly get too easy. One-legged pistol squats are a classic variation, but they’re incredibly difficult. For a different one-legged challenge, try shrimp squats.
It’s arguable whether pistols or shrimps are harder, but my opinion is that the progression into shrimp squats — the moves you do when you can’t quite do the full thing — is smoother and makes a little more sense.
In pistol squats, you hold one leg out straight in front of you. In a shrimp squat, you’re still on one leg, but you hold the other leg behind you, typically with one hand grasping the free leg’s toe. Your other arm goes straight out in front of you for balance.
Shrimp squats are still hard, but the steps to progress into them are a bit easier. You may have tried some of these already:
- Static lunges or split squats (where one foot is on the ground behind you, and your weight is in between your two legs)
- Bulgarian split squats, where your free foot rests on a bench behind you
- Beginner shrimp squats, where your free leg is bent behind you but you’re not holding it
- Full shrimp squats, where you’re holding your free leg and you squat down until that knee touches the floor
Shrimp squats are so effective at building strength that the r/bodyweightfitness subreddit has them in their recommended routine. (They advise that weighted squats are still better, if you have access to barbells, but these are the next best thing.)
If you want a sense of how hard these are, I can juuust do a pistol squat: 2-3 reps on the right, zero or sometimes one on the left. (That’s normal — we’re all a bit asymmetrical.) I find the beginner level shrimp squats to be challenging but doable, and I’m not quite up for full shrimp squats yet.
But both exercises present their own challenges. Balance is a factor, and you may find you have quirks in your strength or mobility that make one of these variations more comfortable for you than the other. So if you’ve already given up on pistol squats, give shrimp squats a try.