Sissy squats are a traditional quad isolation exercise for bodybuilding that were made popular decades ago by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Due to the widespread belief that they are an efficient way to grow the quadriceps and thighs, they have become even more well-known in the bodybuilding and fitness industries over the past few years. In addition, we are seeing more recommendations and examples of the sissy squat from people who have a much wider range of motion in their knees than did Arnold and his fellow bodybuilders decades ago.
I used to occasionally include the sissy squat in both my own exercises and those of my clients, but I quickly learned that there were far better alternatives that not only more effectively worked the quadriceps but also saved the knees. Here are my top 10 go-to alternatives to sissy squats.
WHY YOU SHOULD STOP DOING SISSY SQUATS
The stress on the knee joint during sissy squats is less than ideal since the weight is pushed excessively and unnecessarily forward into the knee joint, which is obvious to anyone with a basic understanding of biomechanics and functional anatomy.
Yes, some people with knee joints that are naturally resilient can get away with this. But just because someone can get away with something doesn't mean it's right or best. There will eventually be repercussions if dysfunctional and abnormal mechanics are used during a movement, which one could claim is the case with the sissy squat.
Therefore, in general, I don't advise performing traditional or even contemporary forms of the sissy squat exercise since I think there are safer and more efficient alternatives. Additionally, it could be argued that the sissy squat is highly dysfunctional when it comes to understanding functional movement and ideal biomechanics for the human body because it in no way, shape, or form represents a movement we would ever do in everyday life or sports, especially under perfectly vertical force scenarios. In fact, we would consider that very poor biomechanics and a highly unathletic movement in need of a severe overhaul if we consistently observed an athlete adopting such a position during sports or athletic events.
1. FORWARD LEANING SQUATS ON TOES - SMITH MACHINE
This forward-leaning smith machine squat on the toes is possibly one of the most basic, approachable, and convenient quad dominating squat variations.
Simply place your body at a 20-to-30-degree angle toward the smith machine bar and perform squats while standing tall and on the balls of your feet.
This smith machine squat variant has the advantage of being adaptable so that it can be made more power- and sport-based.
In essence, the smith machine enables mid-rep alteration by switching positions so that the eccentric phase more closely resembles a classic deceleration & impact posture, and the concentric explosive phase imitates forward leaning acceleration-based movement (putting the brakes on).
Utilize eccentric isometrics at 90 degrees. In addition to compromising power and torque, over 90 would also put undue pressure on the joints and connective tissue while decreasing the principal muscles' level of activation. Simply said, unless you're preparing for competitive Olympic weightlifting or powerlifting, there is rarely if ever a cause to go above 90 on any squat. In spite of this, it would still be wise to regularly incorporate 90-degree squats into your workouts because they are the most beneficial and efficient for developing functional strength and hypertrophy.
As a matter of fact, more and more powerful powerlifters (such as box squats) and even Olympic weightlifters (Ilya Ilyan) are beginning to do this because they save extreme deeper positions for competition or pre-competition phases because they tend to break the body down while offering no additional benefit over 90. The following movements will all be performed using the 90-degree joint angle approach.
2. LANDMINE FORWARD LEANING SQUATS ON TOES
The athlete can lean into the landmine and angle their body in such a way that they can shift onto their toes and have significant anterior knee drift while completing a functional squat that is particularly sport specific because of the angular force vectors involved in the landmine set up.
These are quite gentle on the knees while yet working the quads. Using attachments such as the Wishbone, provides for higher loading and isolation of the lower body muscles, even though they can be carried out on a basic landmine station with the goblet configuration.
3. SKIER FORWARD LEANING SQUATS ON TOES
A terrific quad-dominant and sport-specific squat activity, the skier forward leaning squat from Purmotion uses a new attachment. It not only imitates the acceleration postures utilized in athletics, but it also works the quadriceps hard while sparing the knees.
Try stopping the action a few inches short of lockout if you want to increase the strain in the quadriceps since the metabolic stress and persistent tension will be extreme. In addition, the position practically requires the lifter to have excellent posture by forcing them to keep their shoulders down and back, have a neutral spine, and have precise 90-degree joint angles at their hips and knees.
4. OVERHEAD BARBELL WALL SQUATS
In addition to being a great full body squatting variation, the overhead barbell wall squat is also one of the most comfortable, user-friendly, and natural-feeling ways to perform overhead squats because the forward torso lean makes it much more conducive to maintaining ideal body mechanics in the overhead position.
The lifter receives natural elongation throughout their thoracic spine, as well as in their thighs and hips, making it a fantastic postural exercise that gives them a full body stretch from head to toe.
5. OVERHEAD SINGLE LEG BARBELL WALL SQUATS
Try performing the overhead wall squat from a single leg posture if you want to increase the quad isolation element and truly feel some serious quadriceps tightness.
This enables the user to blast the thighs while utilizing comparatively lighter loads and necessitates strong stability and whole-body motor control.
6. OVERHEAD BARBELL WALL SQUATS WITH CONSTANT TENSION
If the overhead wall squat with one leg is a little too challenging for you but you're still searching for that insane quad pump, look no further.
Stay at the bottom half of the action the entire set as this places the quads under a great deal of mechanical and metabolic stress.
7. SQUATS WITH ELEVATED HEELS
One of the most traditional quad-dominant squat modifications that lifters have used for years is the heels elevated squat. Elevating the heels 1-2 inches allows the lifter to still drive through their entire foot with perfectly vertical force vectors while putting a little more strain on the quadriceps. This is preferable to trying to shift unnaturally onto your toes when squatting and forcing excessive anterior knee drift.
Having stated that, there are 2 faults lifters do frequently when doing this:
They aim to get as deep as they can by first using an excessive range of motion. Although going ATG on heel-elevated squats is easier and more comfortable than on standard squats, the ideal range of motion (ROM) for these is 90 degrees, just like with any other squat variation.
Allowing excessive forward knee drift and not putting enough weight back onto the heels constitute the second typical error. Keep your attention on applying equal pressure to the entire foot and sitting as deeply into the hips and knees as you would on any other squat. Simply create a modest yet natural anterior knee drift and let the heel elevation handle any additional quad activation. To put it another way, let the knees pass the toes naturally and gently rather than forcing them to do so.
8. REVERSE WALL BALL HACK SQUATS
A straightforward but efficient quad-dominant squat variation, the reverse wall ball hack squat permits a very natural forward torso lean into the ball. As the lifter merely holds kettlebells or dumbbells in their hands to provide higher stress to the targeted musculature, it also permits very natural loading.
These also require the lifter to slow down the movement and apply smooth and controlled body mechanics, all of which bomb the thighs while implementing ideal biomechanics because of the instability caused by the ball.
9. VARYING TRAP BAR SPRINTER
Here's another excellent utilization of angled force vectors that enables the usage of knees over toes and high heels.
The lifter must learn to calibrate their force vectors not only with the anterior knee shift & center of mass modifications, but also with the degree they move to their toes, which is another advantage of these trap bar sprinting variations. The lifter will become unbalanced if there is too much displacement forward or back.
This is very helpful in instructing athletes on how to control their center of mass and body mechanics, especially in settings unique to their activity where they must determine how little or how much their body should shift forward or backward for best performance.
Additionally, they increase foot, ankle, and calf stiffness, which is important for athletic performance, explosive power, and Achilles health. Simply put, during these squats, the foot and ankle complex must work like coiled springs.
Additionally, much as they do in these squats, the quadriceps and calves frequently cooperate on the playing field, making them even more transferrable to sporting situations.
While it is fine, allowing the lifter to elevate their heels under a block or wedge nullifies or reduces the advantages indicated above.
10. PRE-EXHAUSTION LEG EXTENSIONS PRIOR TO SQUATS
Try executing a hard set of leg extensions before any squat movement if you're seeking for a really nasty superset to destroy your quads. These should be done in advance of the squat to fully pre-exhaust the quadriceps, which will make them tire and fail before the glutes, hips, upper body, low back, or core. In other words, it makes it easier to isolate the quads while maintaining good squat biomechanics.
IF YOU MUST
I would suggest a few things if you insist on doing sissy squats and believe they are beneficial for your physique.
1. Don't bend your knees past a 90-degree angle.
2. If you experience any pain or discomfort, stop doing them.
3. Reduce the volume to a minimum and only perform 1-2 sets as a quad finisher.
QUESTION: WHAT ABOUT THE SISSY SQUAT MACHINE?
It may come as a surprise to people reading this that I actually don't like the sissy squat machine because it positions the body, particularly the hips and knees, in a far more biomechanically sound position with significantly less stress on the knee joint. I don't like traditional sissy squats. In fact, it is optimal to do this action with 90-degree joint angles at the hip and knee joints, which is extremely possible and natural. This is hence the preferred and ideal technique for performing sissy squats.