The sissy squat is a quad exercise that’s hit it big of late.
Its stock has soared because it trains all the muscles in your quads in a fully lengthened position—something most other quad exercises, including the back and front squat, don’t. And this means it’s uniquely effective for rounding out your quad development.
In this article, you’ll learn what the sissy squat is, its benefits, which muscles it works, how to do it with proper form, the best sissy squat alternatives, and more.
What Is a Sissy Squat?
The sissy squat is a bodyweight exercise that primarily trains the quadriceps.
Typically, you perform the sissy squat by holding onto something sturdy, then flexing your glutes and bending your knees, allowing your body to lean backward, your knees to track over your toes, and your heels to come off the ground.
You continue to lower yourself until your knees are fully bent, then straighten your knees to stand back up.
You can also perform the sissy squat using a sissy squat machine (or “sissy squat bench”). which is a piece of equipment that locks your feet and shins in place, allowing you to perform the exercise with greater stability.
While performing a sissy squat with a sissy squat machine can be more comfortable, it prevents you from fully lengthening the quads while performing the exercise, which means it probably isn’t quite as effective for building muscle as the regular sissy squat. Furthermore, most commercial gyms don’t have a sissy squat machine.
For these reasons, most people prefer the regular sissy squat, so that’s the variation we’ll focus on in this article.
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Sissy Squat: Benefits
Four muscles make up the quadriceps: the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris.
Here’s how they look:
The three “vastus” muscles attach to the femur (thigh bone) and knee and are responsible for “extending” (straightening) the knee. Conversely, the rectus femoris attaches at the hip and knee, which means it extends the knee and “flexes” the hips (brings your knees closer to your chest).
Thus, to fully stretch the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius, you must fully bend your knee. However, to fully stretch the rectus femoris, you must fully bend your knee while “extending” your hips (pushing your hips forward to create a straight line between your torso and thighs).
Most leg exercises, including the front, back, and Bulgarian split squat, involve bending the knees while extending the hips, but few involve bending the knees while the hips remain extended.
This means most leg exercises train the vastus muscles in a fully stretched position but don’t train the rectus femoris when fully lengthened. This is significant because studies show that training your muscles in a stretched position is important for maximizing growth.
In other words, most leg exercises effectively train the vastus muscles, but most don’t optimally stimulate the rectus femoris.
The sissy squat is different. It involves squatting with your hips fully extended, making it ideal for emphasizing the rectus femoris and rounding out your quad development.
(If you like training tips like this and want an even more in-depth guide to how you should train to build your best body ever, check out my fitness books for men and women, Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger.)
Sissy Squat: Muscles Worked
The sissy squat exercise trains all four muscles of the quadriceps:
- Vastus medialis
- Vastus lateralis
- Vastus intermedius
- Rectus femoris
Here’s how they look on your body:
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Sissy Squat: Form
The best way to learn how to do a sissy squat is to split the exercise into three parts: set up, descend, ascend.
1. Set Up
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a sturdy object (such as a squat rack) 1-to-2 feet from your dominant side. Grab the object with your dominant hand between hip and chest height.
Flex your glutes as hard as possible, then bend your knees and allow them to move forward over your toes. As you descend, let your body lean backward and your heels come off the floor.
Continue descending as far as you comfortably can or until your glutes are 6-to-12 inches from your heels.
Reverse the movement and return to the starting position by pushing your feet into the floor and straightening your knees. This is a mirror image of what you did during the “descent.”
As you ascend, ensure your hips remain fully extended so that your body forms a straight line from your head to your knees.
Here’s how it should look when you put it all together:
The Best Sissy Squat Alternatives
1. Kneeling Sissy Squat
The kneeling sissy squat is an excellent variation if you’re new to sissy squatting because it allows you to strengthen the same muscles as the regular sissy squat from a kneeling position, which gives you a more stable base and minimizes the balance required to perform the exercise.
2. Banded Sissy Squat
In the banded sissy squat, you stand on one end of a resistance band and wrap the other end behind your neck. This allows you to progressively overload the sissy squat when the bodyweight sissy squat becomes too easy, which is vital for gaining muscle and strength.
3. Smith Machine Sissy Squat
The Smith machine sissy squat requires less balance and coordination than the regular sissy squat, making it a workable variation for those who find the regular version unstable or awkward.
Using a Smith machine also makes adding weight to the sissy squat more straightforward, which is beneficial for advanced weightlifters who find the bodyweight version too easy.
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4. Weighted Sissy Squat
The main benefit of the weighted sissy squat over the bodyweight sissy squat is that it allows you to lift progressively more weight over time, which is important for gaining muscle and strength. That said, the weighted sissy squat is difficult to do correctly, which means it isn’t ideal for everyone, especially new weightlifters.
+ Scientific References
- Neumann DA. Kinesiology of the hip: A focus on muscular actions. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 2010;40(2):82-94. doi:https://doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2010.3025
- Maeo S, Huang M, Wu Y, et al. Greater Hamstrings Muscle Hypertrophy but Similar Damage Protection after Training at Long versus Short Muscle Lengths. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2020;53(4):825-837. doi:https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000002523
- Pedrosa GF, Lima FV, Schoenfeld BJ, et al. Partial range of motion training elicits favorable improvements in muscular adaptations when carried out at long muscle lengths. European Journal of Sport Science. Published online May 23, 2021:1-11. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2021.1927199
- EARP JE, NEWTON RU, CORMIE P, BLAZEVICH AJ. Inhomogeneous Quadriceps Femoris Hypertrophy in Response to Strength and Power Training. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2015;47(11):2389-2397. doi:https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000000669
- Kubo K, Ikebukuro T, Yata H. Effects of squat training with different depths on lower limb muscle volumes. European Journal of Applied Physiology. Published online June 22, 2019. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-019-04181-y