An exercise that makes me feel weak is the sissy squat. And it’s strange appearance can make it difficult to know which organ it’s actually working on.
But sassy squats are definitely not for the faint of heart. This movement can be difficult for masters and humble even the strongest of lifters.
The biomechanics and benefits will be explained next. Plus how to do a sissy squat for beginners to advanced fitness levels.
What is a Sissy Squat?
This bodyweight exercise strengthens your knees while targeting your thighs and core. Typically, this is done by squatting down without bending your hips, which emphasizes knee flexion and extension.
There are also alternative forms that involve machines or other pieces of equipment, which I will go into below.
Includes physical mechanics
Your body can be thought of as a series of levers and pivot points. Where the levers are your bones and the axes are your joints. In most exercises, these mechanics make pulling movements around one or more joints.
During a sissy squat, your knees are the grip and your leg bones are the levers. In this case, your body weight is trying to close the hinge. While your leg muscles counteract this force to pull it open.
Sissy squat muscles worked
Knee extension is controlled by the quadriceps muscle group. These are the four muscles in the front of the upper leg. This includes the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris.
Additionally, the backward body position tightens your rectus abdominis (also known as abs). While the greater range of motion strengthens the tendons and ligaments of the knee joint.
Compared to leg extension
If you zoom in on the lower body, the sissy squat movement looks like a leg extension. Both exercises really isolate the quads with a single bending motion around the knees.
However, there are important differences between sissy squats and leg raises. These differences have to do with range of motion (ROM) and muscle loading.
First, ROM on leg extension is usually from 90-180o. In comparison, a sissy squat can theoretically range from 0-180o. So you go twice above ROM with sissy squats. And recent studies suggest squatting below 90o actually protects joint health1.
Second, quad loading on leg extension is mostly in the contracted position. In contrast, the loading on sissy squats is in a very deep position. So it’s like strengthening the bottom of the squat rather than a lockout at the top.
Sissy Squat Benefits and Limitations
- The straight upper body position separates the quads more than any other squat exercise
- Creates bigger and more defined quads
- Increases strength in other squat movements
- Exercises the quadriceps in all directions
- Activates hip stabilizer muscles and improves balance
- Engages many areas of the stomach
- No equipment needed
- Increasing the range of motion and strengthening the knee joint
- If loaded too much or too quickly can aggravate an existing knee injury
Several people recommend to stay away from sissy squats if they are suffering from knee problems. But that’s just not true! Sassy squats are actually good for your knees as long as you start slow and gradually increase the load and speed range.
An exception may be if you have a knee injury or are in recovery. In this case, talk to your doctor before trying this exercise.
How to do a sissy squat
- Start with your feet hip-width apart
- Lean your upper body back slightly while bending your knees
- Form a 90-degree angle between your upper leg and lower leg by lowering your body
- Then bend your knees (extend your quads) to bring your body back to the starting point
Proper sissy squat form
In addition to the steps mentioned above, here are some tips for proper sissy squat form.
- When you pass your knees over your toes, your knees should be well above your toes.
- You should maintain a straight torso and upper legs
- Try to get where your upper and lower leg form an acute angle (<90o).
- Use your hands as a counterbalance or hold on to a sturdy object
- The key to balance is to keep your center of gravity directly over the balls of your feet
(see Figure 2).
From beginner to advanced
The first time you try sissy squats, you may not be able to do them as described or demonstrated in the video. And that’s totally fine. Here’s how you can go from beginner to advanced.
For your first attempt, hold on to something like a power rack or other piece of equipment. You can also use TRX bands or have a partner bring you.
Ease into it by using partial range of motion. Don’t worry about getting 90o on the first day. Just feel for the movement by going down a few inches and coming back up.
For extra stability, place an object under your heel. This gives your feet and ankles a solid base so you don’t have to think too much about balance. Below I show some small hacks with dumbbells
Once you increase your strength, balance, and range of motion, you can add some variations to make the exercise more challenging.
For starters, you go past the 90o knee flex. Like Limbo, see how you can go down! Eventually, you will be able to touch your knees to the floor. You can also try deficit sissy squats by standing on a raised platform.
Another way to do sissy squats is a little more challenging by placing your hands on your hips instead of in front of you. It takes more skill because you don’t have balance to keep you steady.
And if it’s still not hard enough, you can make it harder by adding weights. Weighted sissy squats involve holding a dumbbell or plate close to your chest as you perform the exercise to increase resistance.
Finally, you can play around with the foot placement. Wide feet and/or toes marked by more internal tears or tears. When targeting tight feet and/or toes in the outer stretch.
Sissy Squat Alternative
If you are unable to do sissy squats, there are some alternative variations of this exercise. Most of them involve the use of machines or equipment for added stability. This can be beneficial, but it also changes the practice.
In this section, I will explain how these alternatives compare to the original version in terms of mechanics and muscle function.
Sissy squat machine
A sissy squat machine (or sissy squat bench) is a piece of equipment with pads that enclose your legs below the knees. With this device, you can perform a squat motion by only bending at the knees and hips. Keep your back straight.
One advantage of this variation is that it is more stable, so you don’t have to worry about balance. And it doesn’t require a lot of power, so it’s a good starting point.
The body will, however, exhibit some significant differences in the way it is loaded and positioned.
First, the range of motion is often restricted by the pad at 90o. This means that you are only loading code through a very limited ROM.
Second, bending at the hips moves your center of gravity forward. So there is less distance between load and axis point. Moreover, the quads experience less resistance.
For these reasons, the sissy squat machine does not provide the same benefits as the free standing sissy squat.
In addition, most gyms do not have sissy squat machines.
So if you want to do assisted sissy squats without a machine, here are some other alternatives.
Smith Machine Sissy Scoot
A Smith machine sissy squat uses a stationary bar to hold the lower legs in position during the movement. But it doesn’t have ankle pads like the sissy squat machine. So you have to be careful not to let your feet stick out.
Again, this movement does not provide the same loading or range of motion as the free standing sissy squat. Although this is an acceptable way to ease into the sissy squat movement.
Closed Sissy Squat
When performing a banded sissy squat, the resistance band is anchored to the back of your knees, then the other end is wrapped around the other end of the band. In doing so, you lock your lower legs in place in the same way as the previous two variations.
Of course, the bands have some give, so you’re not really locked in place. This change includes a bit more balance, meaning you get some stabilizer activation as well.
Hack Squat Variation
This final change eliminates the lower leg lock. Instead, the hack squat machine includes a padded sled on your back and shoulders that keeps your back straight and straighter than your legs.
The key to replicating a sissy squat on a hack squat machine is to keep your feet low on the platform. By doing this, you decrease hip flexibility and increase knee flexibility. Therefore, you transfer almost all the load to the quads.
This position allows for better movement below 90 degrees, as shown in the image below. It also gives you the advantage of stability because the sled moves on linear bearings. And it is also easy to develop by adding more weight.
Sissy squat is more difficult than the name and appearance suggest. While it contains relatively little weight, it will humble even the biggest bodybuilders.
By isolating the quads and increasing the range of motion, you get benefits that traditional squats and leg extensions don’t provide. As more quad activation, more coordination, and increased joint stability.
So if you’ve shied away from this exercise in the past, now is as good a time as any to get tougher doing sissy squats!