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3 Steps for Mastering a Pistol Squat

CrossFit may conjure up images of athletes hoisting barbells with massive weights overhead, but one of the workout’s super-effective exercises actually requires no gear whatsoever. Pistol squats—when you squat on one leg with your other leg extended off the floor in front of you—is a common move in many WODs (CrossFit speak for workouts of the day).

It’s popular for good reason: The move strengthens your entire lower half, from your glutes, hips, and quads all the way down to your calves. And to keep from falling over to one side or the other as you lower your body toward the floor, you have to engage your core—which means the move helps strengthen and tone your abs as well.

But that’s not all. “The unilateral movement of a pistol squat allows you to strengthen your legs one at a time,” says Colleen Fotsch, Reebok FitPro and strength and conditioning coach. “That’s important because when you work the legs together, you can subconsciously compensate for weaknesses in one leg.” Lunges and split squats have some of the same effect, since they target each leg separately, but they’re not as big of a challenge. “A pistol squat is a little more high skilled than these,” says Fotsch. “It requires more balance, and you can’t compensate for imbalances like you can with the other moves.”

The exercise is also worth incorporating into your workout routine because it can teach you what you need to work on. Why? Because you don’t just have to be strong to squat on one leg; you also need to be flexible and have mobile joints, especially your hips and ankles, notes Fotsch. If you struggle with the movement, you can determine where you’re weak or need to get more flexible. For instance, get stuck at the bottom of the move? You need to work on strength. Can’t keep your leg lifted off the floor as you squat and rise back up? The hip of your lifted leg is probably weak. Lean forward on your toes when you squat? Your ankles are likely tight.

Ready to master this challenging move? Read on for Fotsch’s favorite steps to work through until you progress to a full-fledged pistol squat.

1. TAKE HOLD

Stand facing a pole or something stable you can hold onto while you move through the exercise. Stand on one foot with your opposite leg extended in front of you, lifted off the floor. Reach your arms in front of you and hold onto the pole for support as you lower (it removes the balance challenge, making the move easier). Hinge at the hips and bend the knee of your supporting leg. Squat, keeping your bent knee pointed over the toes of the supporting foot and keeping your front leg lifted. Push back up, until your supporting leg is straight, to return to the starting position.

2. HAVE A SEAT

Start sitting on a wooden box or bench, with one foot on the floor and the other extended in front of you and lifted off the floor. Put your weight onto the foot on the floor and push up to stand, keeping your lifted leg off the floor. Once that becomes comfortable, try the same movement but starting from standing. Push your hips back behind you as you lower, then tap the box lightly before returning to standing.

3. PRACTICE THE PISTOL

Stand on one foot with your opposite leg extended in front of you, lifted off the floor, with your arms extended in front of you. Hinge at the hips as you bend the knee of your supporting leg. Squat, keeping your bent knee pointed over the toes of the supporting foot and keeping front leg lifted. Push back up, until your supporting leg is straight, to return to the starting position.

Banner image courtesy of YouTube

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3 Reasons Why Your New Year's Resolutions Fail—and How to Fix Them
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You don’t need a special day to come up with goals, but New Year’s Day is as good a time as any to build better habits. The problem is, by the time February rolls around, our best laid plans have often gone awry. Don’t let it happen this year: Heed these three simple tips for fail-proof resolutions.

PROBLEM 1: THEY’RE TOO OVERWHELMING

Let’s say your goal is to pay off $5000 worth of credit card debt this year. Since you're giving yourself a long timeframe (all year) to pay it down, you end up procrastinating or splurging, telling yourself you’ll make up for it later. But the longer you push it off, the bigger and more overwhelming your once-reasonable goal can feel.

Solution: Set Smaller Milestones

The big picture is important, but connecting your goal to the present makes it more digestible and easier to stick with. Instead of vowing to pay off $5000 by the end of next December, make it your resolution to put $96 toward your credit card debt every week, for example.

In a study from the University of Wollongong, researchers asked subjects to save using one of two methods: a linear model and a cyclical model. In the linear model, the researchers told subjects that saving for the future was important and asked them to set aside money accordingly. In contrast, they told the cyclical group:

This approach acknowledges that one’s life consists of many small and large cycles, that is, events that repeat themselves. We want you to think of the personal savings task as one part of such a cyclical life. Make your savings task a routinized one: just focus on saving the amount that you want to save now, not next month, not next year. Think about whether you saved enough money during your last paycheck cycle. If you saved as much as you wanted, continue with your persistence. If you did not save enough, make it up this time, with the current paycheck cycle.

When subjects used this cyclical model, focusing on the present, they saved more than subjects who focused on their long-term goal.

PROBLEM 2: THEY'RE TOO VAGUE

“Find a better job” is a worthy goal, but it's a bit amorphous. It's unclear what "better" means to you, and it’s difficult to plot the right course of action when you’re not sure what your desired outcome is. Many resolutions are vague in this way: get in shape, worry less, spend more time with loved ones.

Solution: Make Your Goal a SMART One

To make your goal actionable, it should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. When you set specific parameters and guidelines for your goal, it makes it easier to come up with an action plan. Under a bit more scrutiny, "spend more time with loved ones" might become "invite my best friends over for dinner every other Sunday night." This new goal is specific, measurable, time-bound—it ticks all the boxes and tells you exactly what you want and how to get there.

PROBLEM 3: YOU FELL FOR THE “FALSE FIRST STEP”

“A false first step is when we try to buy a better version of ourselves instead of doing the actual work to accomplish it,” Anthony Ongaro of Break the Twitch tells Mental Floss. “The general idea is that purchasing something like a heart rate monitor can feel a lot like we're taking a step towards our fitness goals,” Ongaro says. “The purchase itself can give us a dopamine release and a feeling of satisfaction, but it hasn't actually accomplished anything other than spending some money on a new gadget.”

Even worse, sometimes that dopamine is enough to lure you away from your goal altogether, Ongaro says. “That feeling of satisfaction that comes with the purchase often is good enough that we don't feel the need to actually go out for a run and use it.”

Solution: Start With What You Already Have

You can avoid this trap by forcing yourself to start your goal with the resources you already have on hand. “Whether the goal is to learn a new language or improve physical fitness, the best way to get started and avoid the false first step is to do the best you can with what you already have,” Ongaro says. “Start really small, even learning one new word per day for 30 days straight, or just taking a quick walk around the block every day.”

This isn’t to say you should never buy anything related to your goal, though. As Ongaro points out, you just want to make sure you’ve already developed the habit a bit first. “Establish a habit and regular practice that will be enhanced by a product you may buy,” he says. “It's likely that you won't even need that gadget or that fancy language learning software once you actually get started ... Basically, don't let buying something be the first step you take towards meaningful change in your life.”

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6 Tips for Achieving Your Fitness Resolutions in 2018
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If the holiday season makes visions of sugar plums dance in your head, the caloric austerity plan you have in mind for the new year will feel like a rude awakening. Between snacks, drinks, and the main meal, the average American consumes over 4500 calories on Thanksgiving Day alone, and with a calendar full of holiday parties, this over-indulgent lifestyle usually persists until January 1.

For anyone who’s planning to pursue a fitness- and health-related New Year's resolution, it’s important to start preparing before the clock strikes midnight on December 31—it's nearly impossible to make a drastic lifestyle change at the drop of a hat. Use these expert tips to get a head-start on your fitness goals in order to maximize your success.

1. DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE DEDICATION NEEDED TO MAKE A CHANGE.

It takes a lot of patience and persistence to follow through on your fitness goals. “The problem that most people run into is that they don’t think through what they’re getting into,” says Dean Gavindane, a certified personal trainer and CEO/co-founder of SuperMe Performance.

Gavindane says that underestimating the level of commitment needed to stick to a new fitness routine is common because people see their fitness goals “as a sprint instead of a marathon.” Understanding that your new diet and workout routine won't achieve results overnight is the first step to shedding pounds and toning up.

2. START COUNTING YOUR CALORIES.

Losing weight is a simple math problem: Eat fewer calories than you burn each day. In order to count calories effectively, you therefore need to know how many you are taking in through your food as well as how many you are expelling when you exercise. Use a fitness tracker and a calorie-counting app to help you make smart snacking choices during the holidays.

3. KEEP A FOOD DIARY.

Jen Hazzard, cross country coach and adjunct chemistry and physics professor at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, has her clients keep a food diary where they record what they eat on a daily basis, using each day as a benchmark for the next. She says the diary is a way to be honest with yourself and to change the way you think about your nutrition changes. “I avoid the term diet,” says Hazzard. “It suggests giving up things you love for things you don’t like. You should never make fitness about denial, but about finding a middle ground. A good start to finding that middle ground is treating certain meals like rewards.”

Hazzard also says that by cutting out processed and junk foods, you’d be surprised at the quantity of healthy food you can consume without gaining weight. There’s no shame in filling up the pages of your food diary as long as they’re healthy foods.

4. STICK IT OUT FOR 66 DAYS.

Hazzard has also worked as a consultant for a wellness program called Commit to 66, which is based on a 2009 study that showed the average length of time it took participants to form a new habit was 66 days [PDF]. It's important to remember that 66 days was the study's average, so it may take you more or less time. What’s important is setting a long-term goal to help you curb your impulses as well as keep from getting discouraged.

5. DON'T BE AFRAID TO EXPERIMENT WITH FITNESS.

It's easy to get in a rut at the gym (do you head to the elliptical every time you're there?), but keeping an open mind about your physicality and trying new things is an important part of shedding weight. "Simple yet effective exercises and workouts can be done in several different ways depending upon the time allowed and equipment provided,” says Tiffany Tatlock, a certified personal trainer, meal planner, and competitive bodybuilder.

6. INCORPORATE BODYWEIGHT WORKOUTS INTO YOUR ROUTINE AT HOME.

If a gym isn’t available for you (or if it feels sub-Arctic outside and you can't bear to leave the warmth of your home) it’s still possible to get in a great workout, no equipment required. Here are some body-weight circuits that Tatlock has suggested that can be performed at home and aren’t very time-consuming.

Set 1:
Floor Touch Squats (10 reps)
Wide-Grip Push-Ups (10 reps)
Squat Jumps (10 reps)
Full Tuck Crunch (10 reps)
Rest (60 seconds)

Set 2:
Forward and Backward Lunge (10 reps each leg)
Tricep Dips (10 reps)
High Knee Skips (10 reps each leg)
Bicycle Crunch (30 seconds)
Rest (60 seconds)

Set 3:
Flutter Kicks (30 seconds)
Swimming Plank (10 reps each side)
Diagonal Squat Thrust (5 reps each side)
Toe Touch Beetle Crunch (10 reps)
Rest (60 seconds)

Set 4:
Lateral Lunges (10 reps each leg)
Close-Grip Push-Ups (10 reps)
Single-Leg Skater Squat (10 reps each leg)
Vertical Leg Lift (10 reps)
Rest (60 seconds)

Set 5:
Plank (30 seconds)
Skydiver (30 seconds)
Tick-Tock Squats (10 reps each leg)
Spinal Rock-Up (10 reps)
Rest (60 seconds)

Completing sets one through five marks one round, and Tatlock advises performing up to five rounds in your workout session. “Effective and great workouts are all about giving it your all,” Tatlock says. “Typically, three to four of these sessions per week can be effective when the gym isn’t achievable.”

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