The sissy squats are a quadriceps femoris-dominant workout performed by leaning backward and hinging on your knees while keeping your upper body with the femur. Unlike traditional squats, sissy squats don’t hinge on the hip joint and rely on your balance to achieve a perfect free-standing form. Due to the difficulty this exercise entails, an improper form could cause overcompensation in the knees and ankles, resulting in an injury.
Sissy squats often target the quad muscles, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles. Keeping your spine neutral and your upper body in line with your knees as your torso leans backward engages the abdominal muscles. You can do this exercise with the sissy squat machine or without it. However, doing sissy squats without the sissy squat machine changes the mechanics of the workout.
Traditional sissy squats are performed standing upright on the balls of your feet, with your toes pointing forward and feet shoulder-width apart. Your body should be leaned backward with your knees bent. You will feel the tension in your interior thighs. Lower your back further while maintaining a neutral spine during this movement, then bring it up to the starting position.
Remember, free-standing sissy squats are challenging to achieve, particularly for beginners. For this reason, it’s recommended to use a sissy squat machine. This machine holds your feet and calves in place to maintain balance while standing on your toes.
The 9 Sissy Squat Alternatives
The sissy squat is an exercise you can periodically incorporate into your workouts. However, there are far superior sissy squat alternative exercises that blast the quad muscle group more effectively and prevent knee pain. Here are the top nine sissy squat alternatives for bodybuilders looking for workout variation or if sissy squats are not possible right now.
1. Leg Extensions
The leg extension is a great sissy squat alternative that can be done in nearly every gym. It should allow each leg to work independently, with the movement being slight to the sides such that your knee can extend along a natural path. An effective leg extension sissy squat depends on a perfectly-designed leg extension machine.
A great variation of the standard leg extensions is a reverse leg extension. To perform the latter, load a weight stack to a load that’s greater than your current body weight and use your footpads as anchors. This variation will transform your leg extension machine into a great sissy squat bench. Note that some experienced lifters might outweigh the weight stack of the leg extension machine, making this leg extension variation a non-starter for them.
How to do it
· Adjust your machine so that its pad sits right on top of your ankles.
· Then sit back against the chair while holding onto the handles at either side.
· Engage your quadriceps to lift the pad, extending your legs until they’re almost entirely straight.
· Avoid locking out your knees, and lower the pad back to your starting position.
· Perform 12 to 15 reps
2. Barbell Hack Squat
Although barbell hack squat may seem complicated, it is one of the best sissy squat alternative exercises to target your quads. It increases the explosiveness in the leg muscles, much like box jumps would. Also, if your gym does not have a standard hack squat machine, a barbell hack squat is a great alternative.
Keep your chest up and back straight to ensure proper form when doing the barbell hack squat. This will prevent your back muscles from enduring unnecessary strain during the workout. Also, you may want to start with lighter weights. Remember, when starting a free weight exercise, it is recommended to begin with low or enough weight and focus on proper form. To properly perform barbell hack squats, you need some weights and a barbell.
How to do it
· With your feet shoulder-width apart, position the bar behind your calves.
· Ensure a double overhand grip (your palms should be facing behind you).
· Then squat down slowly in a deadlift position, keep your back straight, and your knees bent.
· Carefully drive your feet into the floor as you lift upwards until the legs lock out.
· Lower down the bar into your starting position in a controlled motion.
· Now repeat for your desired number of reps.
3. Banded Sissy Squat
The banded sissy squat is a great alternative to the standard sissy squat. It is an exercise you can do at home or in the gym. All you need is a heavy-duty shoulder-width apart.
· Now, walk a few steps back until you start feeling the tension in the resistance band.
· Then drop down into a squat carefully until your legs form a 90-degree angle.
· Try to pause for a second before you drive back to your original position.
· Perform 12 to 15 reps or as desired.
4. Bulgarian Split Squat
Another great alternative to the sissy squat is the Bulgarian split squat, which isolates your quadriceps at a time, giving them a somewhat deep burn. This exercise also requires a lot of balance and control so that the muscle groups under tension can work extra hard during the entire movement.
The Bulgarian split squats help improve muscle imbalances as it is a single-leg variation of the sissy squat that doesn’t require the leg press machine or any other machine. When doing a Bulgarian squat, keeping one of your legs behind on a raised bench means you will be performing the traditional squat on one leg (forwarded leg). That means you can overload your muscles without needing extra weight.
How to do it
· Stand upright with your front foot flat on the floor (step forward) and your rear foot on a raised bench for balance.
· Once in a stable position, carefully lower yourself into a lunge.
· Keep your chest up and ensure your knee doesn’t pass your toes.
· Once you have achieved a deep lunge, return to your original position by pushing through your front heel while utilizing the rear leg for balance.
· Repeat all reps on a single leg before switching to the other leg.
5. Bodyweight Sissy Squat
Bodyweight sissy squats use only your body weight to isolate the quadriceps effectively. While this may not be as effective as most sissy squat alternatives that require the use of dumbbells, barbells, or other pieces of gym equipment, it can be done at home gyms with no workout equipment necessary.
Generally, bodyweight sissy squats are a ‘love it or hate it’ workout. Most critics don’t like the knee-over-toe position. However, this alternative exercise to sissy squat can make a significant difference on your leg day when done correctly. It will set your quadriceps on fire, and you don’t need special equipment to do it.
How to do it
· Stand upright with the feet a couple of inches apart
· Hold onto a chair or pole with one hand to maintain balance during the entire movement
· Begin by bending your knees slightly and lowering your body carefully as you raise your heels off the ground.
· Go as low as you can without losing balance
· Then push off the balls of your feet to return to your starting position
6. Pistol Squat
In the strength training game, it’s easy to forget about training on one leg because you probably spend much time working on improving the numbers of the core lifts such as the deadlift, squat, snatch, and clean. Challenging yourself with pistol squats, one of the great alternative exercises to sissy squat or traditional squat can ensure you target the same muscles as a regular squat and improve your balance.
Sure, not everyone can go deep into a full pistol squat, but a touchdown single-leg squat can be an impressive early-stage leg movement that improves muscle strength without hurting your knee joint. To avoid knee problems when performing the single-leg squat, start small and progress appropriately, and you will see a dramatic improvement in your ability to control your knees.
How to do it
· Stand with one foot extended straight in front.
· Extend your arms straight in front of you or hold on to your hips to maintain balance and stability.
· Carefully bend the leg that’s firmly planted on the floor so that you lower yourself into a squat.
· Ensure the extended leg doesn’t touch the floor and don’t lean forward.
· Once you have gone as low as you can, carefully drive up through your foot (one on the floor) to return to your original position.
· Repeat ten to 12 reps on one leg before switching to the other leg.
7. Barbell Front Squat
Barbell front squats are a compound exercise that puts less force on your shoulder and knee joints than a regular sissy squat or leaning squats, making it one of the best sissy squat alternatives. Indeed, advanced exercisers can always benefit from adding the barbell to front squats during their lower body strength training routine. Although you don’t need a sissy squat bench, you need a squat rack to perform this exercise.
Note that this exercise targets the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and hips. Also, it works the erector spinae and, to a lesser extent, your rectus abdominus. If your objective is to improve your quad strength, the front barbell squat is more effective than the back barbell squat. By leaning forward (keeping your weight forward), you can decrease the hamstring involvement, which puts more strain on your quads the same way a sissy squat would.
How to do it
· Load your barbell with the appropriate weight and carefully rack it to your shoulder height
· Then stand in front of the bar and hold it with your palms facing away.
· Raise your elbows such that your upper arms are parallel with the ground
· Now, take the bar onto your fingertips and move it from the rack so that you can feel its full weight.
· While keeping your arms in the same position throughout the movement, bend your knees as you lower yourself into a sissy squat.
· Drive back up on your heels to return to your original position
· Repeat 15 to 18 reps
8. Overhead Barbell Wall Squats
The overhead barbell wall squat is a great full-body squat variation, unlike the heels elevated squats and sissy squats. It is also a comfortable, beginner-friendly, and natural way to perform an overhead squat because as you lean forward, you make it easier to maintain optimal body mechanics in the overhead barbell wall squat position.
It’s important to mention that the overhead barbell wall squat is an excellent alternative to the sissy squat. It is a postural exercise that facilitates a full-body stretch from the head to the toes as you experience natural elongation throughout your thoracic spine and your hips and thigh muscles. You will also feel the strain on other muscle groups, especially the quad muscles.
How to do it
· Load a barbell with appropriate weight. You can add more weight or maintain a low weight depending on your preferences.
· Stand upright facing the wall, raising your arms (holding the barbell) overhead.
· Position the weighted barbell against the wall and keep your toes pointing directly towards the wall to perform a wide-legged squat
· Carefully lower your hips into a squat while keeping the weighted barbell in contact with the wall.
· Once you have achieved your desired squat depth, keep the same control to push your body back to the original position.
9. Smith Machine Forward Leaning Squat
The smith machine forward-leaning squat is arguably one of the simplest and easy-to-do quad-dominant sissy squat variations. The smith machine allows a mid rep modification by changing your position so that the explosive phase will mimic a forward-leaning acceleration movement while the eccentric represents a traditional deceleration and impact position (think of it as putting brakes on).
This is a challenging exercise that targets many muscle groups, just like the sissy squat. Most powerlifters and even Olympic weightlifters choose the Smith machine forward-leaning squat to target their quads and other muscle groups for strength and improved balance.
How to do it
· Start by leaning into a smith machine bar (under the bar) while keeping your body at about a 20-degree to 30-degree forward angle.
· The bar should be placed shoulder height on the smith machine and loaded with the appropriate weight, depending on your strength.
· With your feet shoulder-width apart, hold the bar with a wide grip and position the bar center on top of your upper back muscles.
· While facing forward, lower yourself into a squat position.
· Once you achieve your desired depth, push up through your heels and return to your original position.
· Repeat the desired number of reps
A sissy squat is one of the peculiar variations of the regular squat, and they are a great way of targeting your quadriceps, vastus medialis, and other muscle groups. However, not all gyms have the necessary equipment to perform a sissy squat.
This is one of the main reasons you may want to explore other alternatives to the sissy squat that won’t leave you with a knee injury. Depending on your interests and available gym equipment, you can try the heel elevated squats, bodyweight squats, and more.