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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
One of the few truths that exist in the world of fitness is that sissy squats aren’t for sissies. The other truth is to always make sure you add “squat” when you Google it. That being said, the sissy squat has gained a considerable following over the past few years, thanks to a couple Youtubers who have pushed its benefits.
Not only does its name draw attention, but the movement pattern also goes against everything we’ve ever heard about squats, at least to the untrained eyes. If you’ve never seen a sissy squat, the knees fly forward waaaaaay past the toes, and the torso shoots back as if you’re doing the limbo. Sounds crazy? It is but in a good way.
Sit down to learn about the single best bodyweight exercise for the quads.
This article will cover the following (and more):
Back squats are squats with the barbell on the back, front squats are squats with the barbell in front, safety squat bars are squats done with a safety squat bar, so do I need to put a sissy on my back? Actually, you don’t even use a barbell with sissy squats.
While the name would have you think otherwise, sissy squats are pretty macho; and the name has a badass origin. Sissy squats get their name from a figure named Sisyphus in Greek mythology who was the king of Corinth and was a bit of a troublemaker.
He managed to get himself killed twice yet was able to cheat death and come back to life. Instead of learning his lesson,Sisyphus went out and got himself killed a third time. Zeus had been watching this series of events and so decided he needed to make sure Sisyphus couldn’t return to the land of the mortals again.
To do this, Zeus banished Sisyphus onto a hillside. That almost sounds kind-of nice, except Zeus also placed a huge boulder on the hill with him. Not only that, but Sisyphus was then forced to push the boulder all the way to the top. Sisyphus struggled, pushed, and grinded but was finally able to make it all the way to the top with the boulder in tow.. He was congratulated by having the boulder pushed down the hill (Zeus is an asshole), only to be forced to push it back up again. And again. And again. Forever.
This kind of work is gonna build some massive quads, which is what Sisyphus was known for. And therefore, this type of squat got its name from a Greek legend who had massive thighs. Told you it was kind of badass.
Related: Greek God Body Workout Plan
We learned that sissy squats were named after a Greek legend who had massive thighs from the above information. Therefore, we can conclude that sissy squats are some sort of exercise that can also produce massive thighs. And they are.
Sissy squats are a style of squatting that primarily trains the quads through massive knee flexion and zero hip flexion. Being so, they look very distinct from any other type of squat that we perform and are almost in a category by themself. Sissy squats will basically have a person drive their knees forward while throwing their torso back as if they’re doing the limbo. They will follow this movement pattern as far as possible and then come back up.
Due to the amount of weight that is placed on the muscles and joints, sissy squats are generally performed as bodyweight exercises. If an external load is used, a small amount of weight is held on the chest, such as a small plate or dumbbell.
The sissy squat is actually a remarkable exercise that brings a lot of benefits. Here are the top reasons you should perform sissy squats.
1. Sissy Squats Isolate The Quads
Even though sissy squats are called a “squat”, they’re actually more of an isolation exercise, assuming you use the correct form. While you are going to get a pretty good burn in your core when bracing for the sissy squat, the sissy squat only involves flexion and extension at the knee. This means that the quadriceps are going to be the primary mover and make sissy squats an excellent quadricep isolation exercise. Again, you’ll also likely feel your glutes fire as they play a role in maintaining an extended hip, but your quads will be doing most of the work.
2. No Spinal Load
Back squats are the king of lower body exercises and will produce insane amounts of total body strength. In other words, you need to be doing back squats. However, their one drawback is that you need a load to make them intense enough for growth, specifically a heavy load. Due to placing this load on your back, you’re going to feel it in the spine and lower back. To be clear, this isn’t actually bad and is key to progressing. However, sometimes our lower back just needs a rest from carrying loads; or perhaps you’ve actually injured your back. This means that heavy back squats won’t be an option until you’ve recovered. What to do?
Well, the sissy squat has virtually zero spinal load, even when loaded. This makes the sissy squat a great exercise to use when you want to load the legs but need to give your back a rest. Minimal load with maximal intensity.
3. No Equipment Necessary
The sissy squat can be done with no equipment. While some variations may need basic objects (see below), you can easily find these at the house. This makes sissy squats the perfect leg exercise for at-home workouts.
4. Trains Your Core, Hip Flexors, And Glutes Isometrically
Above, we mentioned how the sissy squat is actually a bit like an isolation exercise due to the movement occurring at the knee. However, we also said sissy squats will work the glutes and core. In fact, they’re also going to activate the hip flexors as well. Remember, our joints don’t have to actually move to be activated. When a joint needs to be stabilized to not flex or extend under a load, they will fire and produce what’s known as an isometric contraction. This is when the muscle is activated but stays the same length and is exactly what happens at all of these locations. While not utilized enough, isometric exercises are an awesome addition to add to any program.
Remember, the sissy squat has you lean your entire body back while maintaining a straight back. This requires a heavy contraction from the core, glutes, and hip flexors meaning they’re all going to be trained.
This is perhaps the first question that a person may have after seeing the sissy squat performed the first time, and for a good reason. The knees come flying out way past the toes, and you lean back, stressing them with the weight of your entire body. However, the knee is a resilient part of the body that is designed to withstand high amounts of stress. That being said, the sissy squat is fine as long as you follow some basic guidelines.
And it should go without saying but if your knees are hurting, don’t start doing sissy squats until you have that fixed. Or, if your knees do start to hurt, stop and figure out what’s going on. People will say that just about every exercise is terrible for you somehow. These people are either trying to sell you a “better” movement or don’t know what they’re talking about and are unfamiliar with how our body adapts. Don’t listen to them; they’re sissies. At the same time, don’t ask for trouble by using heavy weight with crappy form.
The sissy squat is a great way to isolate the quadriceps as long as you are performing it correctly. Therefore, here is a step by step guide to walk you through the sissy squat.
You will first find an area standing in a normal stance with your feet pointed straight forwards. Before you begin the movement, you are going to need to elevate your feet. You can do this using one of two methods.
While your hips are raised off the ground, begin to push your knees forward and lean your torso back. With your hands, you can either place them on your hips or raise them out in front of your body.
Now keep coming back as if you’re performing the limbo. The key to the movement is to keep your hips extended the whole time so that all of the flexion occurs only at the quadriceps. Once you begin flexing at the waist, you will slowly start incorporating the hamstrings more as they’re responsible for knee flexion AND hip extension.
You will lower as far as you can go and then come back up by extending the legs. The quadriceps are the body’s leg extensor so what you are basically doing is lifting your body with just the quadriceps.
Extend all the way up and repeat the prescribed number of reps.
Special Notes On Sissy Squats:
Even though the sissy squat is “bodyweight”, they are extremely tough to perform. This is why it’s a good idea to start with some “easier” sissy squat progression exercises to allow your muscles and body to strengthen and learn the movement. Here are the best progressions to use to work your way up to an assistance-free sissy squat.
1. SISSY SQUAT FROM KNEES
The first exercise that you can do to strengthen the quadriceps to perform the movement of the sissy squat is to first perform them from your knees. The set-up is very similar to the Nordic curl, which uses your body weight to train the hamstrings. However, with a sissy squat from your knees, you let your body fall backward instead of going forwards.
To perform these, get some sort of pad that you can put on the ground to help protect your knees. Once you have that, simply kneel down, place your knees on the mat, and extend your body, so your torso is vertical. This is the starting point with your knees at a 90-degree angle. You can then place your hands either across your chest and get ready to descend. However, if you are a bit nervous about the exercise, you can place your hands down to help assist the movement. You will then allow your body to slowly fall backward while maintaining extended hips (your torso should be straight). Go down as far as your mobility will allow and then come back up. Concentrate on pushing down with your quads to force your torso up when coming up.
2. WALL ASSISTED SISSY SQUAT
Once you feel confident with kneeling sissy squats, it’s time for the next progression, sissy squats on a wall. To perform these, you will basically be mimicking the leg extension of the movement but without the extreme body lean. This will allow you to further strengthen the quadriceps without worrying about the mobility required for a full sissy squat.
Walk up to the wall and stand a little bit shorter than arm’s length away so that you are able to easily place your hands on the wall for support. Then, instead of placing your entire hand on the wall, just use your fingertips. You don’t want to have your full hand on the wall as you need to have mobility as you perform the movement.
Next, you want to come up on your toes and then push your knees forward to flex, allowing your body to come down. This is very similar to a sissy squat, except you are not leaning back. Instead, you’re just going to let your body come straight down while using your hands to help balance. Be sure your body comes straight down and stays over your feet as you travel down. Ideally, you will come down until you have reached maximum flexion in your knees, depending on your strength and mobility. Once you reach your maximum depth, flex the quadriceps to push yourself up.
Once this does begin to get easy, you can start practicing leaning back. You won’t be able to go far as your hands will be on the wall but you will be able to start practicing the movement and feel the difference.
3. ASSISTED SISSY SQUAT WITH TWO HANDS
Once you have mastered the sissy squat from your knees and wall, it’s time to get on your feet and start practicing the actual movement pattern. However, you still need some practice before you start performing 100% unassisted sissy squats. No problem as there are actually several ways to perform assisted sissy squats. The first is with two arms.
This method is the easiest as it will allow the help of both hands while your brace will be directly in front of you. As so, using two hands in front of you will add extra support as well as even balance (compared to one hand). To perform this, you will need to set up either a barbell on a rack or a smith machine. Using a Smith machine is your best bet as the bar will be secure and not be able to fall out.
When the bar is set up, walk up it so that the bar is at about chest height. Place your hands on the bar at a natural distance with a loose grip. Now, come up on your toes and perform the sissy squat normally. The only difference will be that you keep your hands on the bar to help assist with the ascent. You may need to adjust your distance from the bar and the height when you first start to get an efficient setting. The key to this movement is to use the bar as little as possible. For example, if you can perform the movement just by having a couple fingers on the bar, do that. This is a great way to introduce progressive overload to the movement without adding weight.
4. ASSISTED SISSY SQUAT WITH ONE HAND
The next progression will still use assistance, but instead of using two hands out in front of you, you will use one hand off to the side. The most manageable object to use would be a rack at a gym, but you could actually use any sturdy object, even a door. Since you’re now only using one hand ]off to the side, this sissy squat variation will be significantly more challenging. Not only does one hand mean less assistance, it’s also going to offer less help with balance as any pulling or pushing will be one-sided. This makes it a significant step in your progressions as you are learning to become less dependent on your arms.
5. ASSISTED SISSY SQUAT WITH BAND
Resistance band will be used for the final form of assisted sissy squats. Attach the band high up to a secure object that will not tip over. You can hold the band with one or two hands. Stand back, so the band just begins to stretch, allowing you to have some assistance if needed. However, because the band stretches, you will not be able to fully rely on it while doing the lift. This results in most of the work having to be done by you while the band can give you only minimal help if needed. Using the band will force you to master the sissy squat as it will only help with the smallest errors. You could even progress by using smaller and smaller bands until you’re holding on to nothing.
6. UNASSISTED SISSY SQUAT
After the band sissy squat, you can start performing the unassisted sissy squat.
7. ELEVATED SISSY SQUAT
Let’s say you’ve been training for a long time, and you reach a point where normal sissy squats just aren’t a challenge anymore. For one, you must have developed some massive quads. Secondly, your training doesn’t need to stop there as you can actually perform what are known as elevated sissy squats.
Elevated sissy squats have you standing on some sort of solid surface with a ledge. However, it should only be a couple inches off the ground, so nothing too high. One of those shorter step-up boxes would do fine. To perform these, you will just stand near the edge of the object and perform a sissy squat. However, you will push your knees out so they move out past the edge. Continue coming down until your knees brush the ground and then come back up.
Because you are on a raised surface, your knees will have to travel further to reach the floor. This increased range of motion will make a massive difference in the difficulty of the sissy squat, not that it was ever easy to begin with!
8. WEIGHTED SISSY SQUAT
Another way to increase the intensity of the sissy squat is to use an implement for weighted sissy squats. This can be used with either the traditional sissy squat or the elevated sissy squat. Be aware that due to the mechanics of this exercise, just a small amount of weight will make the load feel significantly heavier. Therefore, start light with a 5lb plate; or even a 2.5lb plate to see how it feels.
To perform a weighted sissy squat, hold the weight close to the chest as you perform the movement.
Note: You can also load assisted sissy squats. A common one is one hand assisted sissy squats with a dumbbell. That said, we think you should first learn how to do an unassisted sissy squat before loading the exercise.
Here are some versions of the sissy squat that you could also include in your training.
SISSY SQUAT MACHINE
A sissy squat machine is a straightforward machine that allows you to mimic the sissy squat movement without being as complicated. Well, it’s actually not really a machine as there are no moving parts, similar to a GHD. It simply consists of a vertical pad to support the legs as well as footpads on the bottom to hold your feet. To use it, you place your feet under the footpads, which will secure your feet while the leg rest sits on the back of your calf. In this position, you are able to lean backward securely without falling down. If you're interested in buying one, check out our list of the Best Sissy Squat Machines on the market today!
SMITH MACHINE SISSY SQUAT
In addition to being a possible source of support during the assisted sissy squat, you can actually use the Smith machine to perform a replicated machine sissy squat as well! This is awesome as not every gym will have a sissy squat machine but the vast majority of gyms will have a Smith machine. Place the bar so that it sits a few inches below your knee joint and stand in front of it. You will then need to grab some heavyweights to help secure your feet. To be clear, you shouldn’t be pulling up on your feet but having a bit of resistance to pull up on helps a lot.
The best option is to just use some big dumbbells that you can slide your feet under. You will just squat while keeping your shins totally vertical when you’re set-up. Also, you can bend at the waist for this version so you won’t be pulling with the feet as much.
NARROW STANCE SISSY SQUAT
The narrow stance sissy squat is performed just like a normal sissy squat, except now you use a much narrower stance. To perform these, stand so that your feet are just a couple inches from each other and then execute the movement. In a similar manner as narrow stance squats, placing your feet together will place an even greater stress on your quads. You can use a narrow stance with a sissy squat, weighted sissy squat, or an elevated sissy squat.
No more excuses. Sissy squats are the best quad exercise you haven’t done and now that you know about them, you need to start doing them. This article laid out all of the top reasons why you should include sissy squats into your leg workout program as well as giving you the perfect steps to progress It doesn’t matter what your goal is; improve aesthetics, add muscle mass to your legs, increase muscle strength, or just become more athletic; sissy squats will get you there. That means that everyone should be performing sissy squats. That is unless you’re a sissy.
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