How to Do a Sissy Squat Properly

Though promoted by the legendary bodybuilding trainer Vince Gironda, the sissy squat is rightfully viewed with ambivalence.

Monty Wolford Classic Bodybuilder Balanced Thighs

He said it made a sissy out of any conventional squatter. Others ascribed the name to the agony of Sisyphus rolling the boulder uphill in Greek mythology.

Vince defended the sissy squat to etch upper front thigh detail.

Taught to him by a fellow bodybuilder named Monty Wolford, Vince stated that his friend’s middle thigh measurement equaled his upper. This unique proportion created a pleasing effect from the illusion of long, balanced thighs.

This concept even has loose support today as the position most overloaded happens when stretched at the bottom, which may lead to more sarcomeres in series.

Vince generally disliked back squats, so he would have also valued that sissy squats don’t work the glutes or potentially widen the hips.

Some bodybuilders applied it as a finisher, doing high bodyweight-only reps at the end of a lower body workout.

They’d simply grab something tall & stable enough, leaning back while bending the knees to really stretch & work the quads.

The sissy squat does hit all 4 quadriceps muscles, so the vasti and the rectus femoris, while preventing gluteus maximus contribution unlike other squats.

However, the motion can invite tremendous shearing forces, maximizing the force requirement as your knees get further away from your body. This overload and excessive range of motion forms a disastrous combination.

Moving past this esotericism, my reasons for doing the sissy squat, and how I apply proper form, are more practical.

Involving the Rectus Femoris

Our goals for the sissy squat should be to (1) allow purer knee extension, (2) made possible at home and (3) done safely.

The rectus femoris, a multi-joint muscle, will not activate much without isolated or countercurrent knee extension.

Roman chair-style squats, sometimes done through inappropriately-named sissy squat machines, include hip extension. This fails to work the rectus femoris despite an upright torso.

A Smith machine does nothing special either. Front and hack squats both involve the hips too. Finally, hip flexion like on decline sit-ups fail to work the rectus femoris much due to poor leverage.

Trainees can easily do the sissy squat at home with basic equipment. You only need a tall object to hold onto, then either weight plates to hold or a dip belt.

Without a leg extension machine, we must do sissy squats if we want to hit the rectus femoris!

Proper Sissy Squat Form

Wilfried Dubbels Bodybuilder Sissy Squat Leaning Back

Keep your hips forward.

This is the main focus. We don’t care about the resulting stretch; we oppose gravity to provide resistance.

I like to overload the motion using a dip belt with 25 lb. plates for the max size. Keep the plates in front to allow a full range of motion.

Start by standing upright after attaching the dip belt. Squeezing your glutes can facilitate keeping your hips forward during the exercise. Get on your toes without the need for anything like a 2×4 wooden block or a lack of shoes.

Look forward. Hold something tall enough for balance, ideally with both hands while aligned within the chest. I like to use a loaded barbell on a half rack, but you could also use a railing next to a set of stairs.

Lower slowly, keeping your hips forward all the while. The object for support allows you to exaggerate it. Your knees will go far beyond your toes.

Reach the floor with your knees.

If leaning back properly, most trainees will achieve a bit more than 90° at the knees upon reaching the floor. This is enough range of motion. By getting those hips forward, you prevent excessive range at the knees.

Once you tap the bottom, quickly but smoothly rebound through the reverse motion. Both knee extension & hip flexion should drive this positive phase, and it should feel more difficult.

Don’t complicate it!

Vince did a 3-part variation, employing a complex technique called the burlesque bump. This can feel awkward & unbalanced. I don’t feel it’s needed even if done masterfully.

Other Sissy Squat Considerations

Prepare by starting with bodyweight reps only, using your upper body to limit the resistance.

Consider keeping the reps in the double digits. This is not just safer but realistic given the loading challenge via the dip belt. Know that going close to failure is the most important part of muscle growth.

If performing a squat or leg press in your program, try doing it earlier in the same workout. The compression forces on the knees are handled well, providing a good warm-up.

Should You Sissy Squat?

If the sissy squat bothers you, the best option would be to try a leg extension machine. Unfortunately, this isn’t accessible to most home trainees.

Ultimately, you could ignore the rectus femoris, seeing if you get some development indirectly through compound exercises.

Leg extension machines aren’t perfect either. They may lack much range of motion. They could overload the shortened position at the top, depending on the cam, which may cramp the muscles.

I believe the sissy squat, or even a leg extension, is the only exercise you need for complete quadriceps. However, perhaps due to knee issues, some research shows that squats develop the vasti better but not all studies.

Don’t forget that bodybuilding is unnatural, especially to grow multi-joint muscles. These evolved to facilitate movement and not to look impressive. Nonetheless, bodybuilding has requirements that have nothing to do with our primal history.

The sissy squat is an effective leg extension machine alternative at home, perhaps better, if applying the simpler & safer version described here.

If tolerated, the sissy squat will totally develop your front thighs, all through a single great exercise!

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