Shrimp Squats vs. Pistols Squats: What’s better for mass and strength? [comparison]

| by Truth Seeker |

The shrimp squat and the pistol are two of the most popular 1-legged squat variations, and while both movements have undeniable differences neither of them has an inherent and clear advantage over the other when the goal is muscular growth and strength cultivation.

Overlapping Benefits

The shrimp and the pistol squat are like different phone models from the same class. As such, they share many common characteristics:

  • Unilateral training. [Each leg is trained separately. This prevents side to side weaknesses.]
  • Convenience [The basic variations do not require training equipment and make the pistol and the shrimp ideal for “hotel” workouts.]
  • Balance and coordination training [Both movements are done on one leg.]
  • Improved mobility
  • Encourage leanness [The shrimp and the pistol favor leaner individuals. For that reason, most permabulkers have never even heard of those exercises.]
  • The same target muscle groups [Quadriceps and glutes]
  • Lower stress CNS in comparison to global barbell lifts
  • Good conditioning tools for gymnastics, martial arts, bboying, parkour…etc.

Common Downsides

The shrimp and the pistol are brothers in negativity too. They showcase the following shortcomings:

  • Inferiority to basic lifts when the goal is hypertrophy.

The shrimp and the pistol can stimulate muscular growth, but the process and the programming are subpar in comparison to the offer of basic lifts such as back squats, front squats and Zerchers.

The overtaxed stabilizing muscles dilute the stress reaching the primary movers. This applies in a slightly stronger manner to the pistol as the version requires more balance than the shrimp.

  • High-volume workouts become seriously maddening.

One of the most annoying properties of unilateral movements is that you have to perform 2 sets instead of 1 to hit both sides. To accumulate a volume of 50 reps, you have to do 100 (50 per leg). And don’t think even for a second that one side is fully resting while the other is working. The stress is lower, but it’s still present. Furthermore, the CNS is under constant tension.

  • Unfriendly to fatsos

Doing pistols and shrimps when you are overweight is comical. Bilateral exercises are more forgiving to fat brahs.

  • Lack of barbarian majesty

Grinding a heavy squat or a deadlift creates “bestial” euphoria that shrimps and pistols can never replicate. The adrenaline production just isn’t on the same level.  For that reason, many bodyweight exercises begin to feel like a “chore” once you are proficient in them.

Differences Between Shrimps and Pistol Squats

  • Pistol squats require more joint mobility and balance.

Pistols demand a lot more active flexibility than the shrimp.

  • Pistol squats cause hip flexor cramps

If you hold the leg in front of you fully extended throughout an entire set, the hip flexors may get overworked and cramp.

  • Shrimp squats are more quad dominant.

While the primary movers in both cases are the quads and the glutes, the shrimp squat hits the upper legs harder. The vastus medialis a.k.a. the teardrop muscle works overtime during the shrimp.

  • The pistol squat offers a greater range of motion.

A shrimp squat done without a platform is a partial movement – the performer is technically squatting above parallel [the hip crease is above the knee]. Meanwhile, the classic pistol is a full squat.

  • The shrimp is harsher on the knees.

The shrimp squat forces the knees to travel further than they do during pistols. This creates extra stress which isn’t necessarily bad but does have the potential to cause some knee discomfort and/or to aggravate existing issues.

The pistol squat does not impose this problem because the extended leg acts as a counterweight allowing the trainee to “sit back” – a move that recruits more of the posterior chain.

Nonetheless, neither the shrimp nor the pistol is a major hamstring exercise. In general, squatting for hamstrings is a poor way to train the leg biceps. You are better off doing a pull like the deadlift or curls.

Making the Shrimp Harder

  • Arms behind

The shrimp squat becomes exponentially harder when you grab your leg with both arms instead of one due to the unfavorable leverage.

  • Extra range

Performing the shrimp on a platform increases the range of motion and multiplies the pain. However, the stress on the knees skyrockets too.

  • Extra weight

The shrimp can be done with added weight, but many bodyweight purists prefer to perform its more challenging variations than to make it a weighted exercise.

FAQ: What is the most difficult variation of the shrimp squat?

According to Ido Portal, the man who popularized the movement, the Elevated Shrimp is “the most advanced lower body quad-dominant exercise in existence”.

Making the Pistol Harder

Since the pistol squat is a full range of motion exercise by default, the most straightforward method to make the exercise harder is to perform it with extra weight. There are two possibilities:

  • Holding the weight in front of you [easier]
  • Holding the weight closer to the body. [harder]

If you are doing the pistol primarily for sports conditioning, jumping pistols are also an option.

Can a man reach the natural potential of his lower body by doing pistols and/or shrimp squats?

Some mass can be added, but the coordination requirements and the intense recruitment of stabilizing muscles render both exercises inferior to the basics [squats, leg presses…etc.] when pure hypertrophy of the primary movers is the goal.

The main purpose of those movements is to condition the lower body for various athletic activities rather than to stimulate muscle construction.

Moreover, the classic leg exercises are a lot easier to scale up and program since the motor pattern does not change even when you add weight.

If your goal is to build the biggest legs that you can have naturally, or not, shrimps and pistols are not the best choice and never will be.

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5 comments

  1. Brett

    What do you think about this exercise:

    You need a flat wall and a skateboard.

    So for home gym BW guys its perfect.

    You stand with your back to the wall with the skateboard pressed between your back and the wall (wheels touching the wall).
    Then you drop down (slide down) but in a controlled manner and stop at parallel (90°), pause, and slide up.

    So basically a skateboard body weight hack squat. Once you get stronger you can use just one leg.

    The skateboard grip on your back will require you to wear a t-shirt.

    1. Truth Seeker Post author

      I’ve never done it. I sold my skateboard a long time ago. But I know that Scooby popularized it.

      I guess it’s like a cheap hack squat. It may be fun, especially as a “finisher”.

  2. Tate

    Great article, you are amazing writing

    You can do an article about how to get the superhero body, something like capitan uperbody, for nattys that don’t give a fuck for big legs

    1. Brett

      Hey Tate,

      Truthseeker has already done a similar artice titled – 9 reasons to skip leg day.

      There is not secret routine to be a captain upper body (for natties and roiders). Just train upper body and don’t train lower body.

  3. Robby

    I think these exercises are great for arm wrestlers who want to train their legs because leg mass in and of itself is detrimental to an arm wrestler.

    Also I don’t think that the video you linked demoing the elevated shrimp squat is the best example. Unless I’m mistaken, ideally the heel will be kept flat on the ground like the pistol squat. Al kavadlo did a good demo video of this at one point, but I think he called it a jumbo shrimp squat.

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