The sissy squat sounds like the opposite of a hardcore exercise. In addition to the odd name, its strange appearance can also make you stand out in the gym. Also, it’s quite difficult to figure out what muscles it’s actually working.
However, sissy squats aren’t for the fainthearted. This movement can be challenging to master even for the strongest of lifters.
This article explains the mechanics of this squat variation, as well as the benefits and how to correctly perform the lift for beginners right up to advanced fitness levels!
What is a Sissy Squat?
A sissy squat is a bodyweight variation of the traditional squat that targets your thighs and core while strengthening your knee joints. Generally, it is performed by squatting down without bending your hips, thus emphasizing knee flexion and extension.
There are also alternative forms of the sissy squat that include the use of machines and other pieces of equipment.
When we consider the mechanics of our body, it’s easier to think of it as a series of levers and pivot points. The levers being your bones and the pivots being your joints. In most exercises, these mechanics create hinging movements around one or more joints.
During the sissy squat specifically, your knee is the hinge and your leg bones are the levers. In which case, the weight of your body is trying to close the hinge while the muscles in your legs counteract this force to pull the hinge open.
The main muscle worked during the sissy squat is the quadriceps, the muscle group responsible for knee extension. These are four muscles on the front of the upper leg, including the vastus, lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris.
Additionally, the leaned-back position engages your rectus abdominis, also known as your core or abs, while the large range of motion strengthens the tendons and ligaments in your knee joint.
You may be wondering how this movement compares to the leg extension machine, found in most commercial gyms.
There are key distinctions to note, such as the range of motion and muscle loading.
Firstly, the range of motion during a leg extension is usually from 90 to 180 degrees, in comparison to a sissy squat which is 0-180 degrees. This means that you get up to twice the range of motion with sissy squats, which is also thought to preserve joint health.
Secondly, the quad loading on a leg extension is primarily in the contracted position, whereas the loading on sissy squats is highest in the stretched position. This means that it’s strengthening the bottom of a squat rather than the lockout at the top.
Sissy Squat: Pros and Cons
As with any exercise, there are benefits and limitations to consider.
Pros of a sissy squat include:
- Straight upper body position allowing for quad isolation, more than any other squat exercise
- Builds bigger, more defined quads
- Increased strength and performance in other squat variations
- Works quads through a complete range of motion
- Engages hip stabilizer muscles, thus improving balance
- No equipment needed
- Strengthens knee joints
Cons of a sissy squat include:
- Not suitable for those with existing knee injuries
The expand on this point, you may hear sissy squats getting a bad reputation when it comes to knee joint health. However, this isn’t true. Sissy squats are actually good for your knee joints, provided you start light and slow, gradually building up the load and range of motion.
How To Do a Sissy Squat
- Begin in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart
- Bend your knees and allow your body to lean back slightly
- Lower your torso until your upper leg and lower leg form a 90-degree angle
- Then, extend your knees while flexing your quads to raise your body back up to the starting position
Sissy Squat: Form and Progressions
In addition to the steps above, it’s important to also consider these technique and form cues:
- Allow your knees to pass over your toes on the way down
- Keep your upper legs and upper body as straight as possible
- Use your arms or sturdy object as a counterbalance
- Keep your center of gravity directly over the balls of your feet
When you first start doing sissy squats, it’s important to hold on to something or have a partner spot you. Practice the movement and ease into the range of motion. Get a feel for the movement by going down a few inches then coming back up.
For additional stability, you could even place an object under your heels, such as a small bumper plate or a small pair of hex dumbbells. This will give your feet and ankles a sturdier base so you don’t have to think too much about balance.
As you build confidence in the movement, you can add some variations to make it more challenging.
Firstly, you could go past 90-degree knee flexion, leading to potentially performing deficit sissy squats if your range of motion allows for it.
Secondly, you could put your hands on your hips instead of out in front of you. This takes a bit more skill because you don’t have a counterbalance to help keep you stable.
Lastly, you could add weight to the movement. This would involve holding a dumbbell or plate near your chest as you perform the exercise, thus increasing resistance.
The sissy squat is a lot more challenging than the name suggests. While it largely revolves around bodyweight or minimal weight due to the challenging angles of the movement, it will humble even the most experienced of lifters.
Isolating the quads and increasing the range of motion enable you to gain more benefits than traditional squats alone.
Sissy squats can help build big quads, increase joint stability, and improve overall coordination.
So, if you’re thinking of incorporating sissy squats into your leg workouts, we highly recommend them!