Sissy Squat: Benefits, Muscles Worked, More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 22, 2022

Several exercises target the quadriceps femoris, a group of muscles situated at the anterior thigh. This group of muscles functions to flex the thigh at the hip joint and extend the leg at the knee joint, thus helping in the performance of movements such as kicking, running, walking, and jumping. One such exercise is the sissy squat.

The sissy squat is a quadriceps femoris-dominant exercise that is carried out by squatting down while stooping backward and hinging on the knees, all the while maintaining a relatively straight upper body. To achieve perfect free-standing form, a sissy squat differs from a traditional squat in that it does not hinge on the hips and instead heavily relies on balance.

The danger of knee injuries exists even if the sissy squat is excellent for isolating the quadriceps femoris muscle. Learning the proper mechanics of the activity is paramount to reaping the benefits of the workout and avoiding injury.

What is a Sissy Squat?

The name "sissy squat" is a tribute to Greek mythology's King Sisyphus. He was the king of Ephyra who was punished by being transported to the underworld. King Sisyphus was forced to push a cursed boulder up a hill that would continually roll back down.

The sissy squat is coined as such because the isolation of all quadriceps femoris heads during the activity is what occurred when King Sisyphus pushed the boulder up the hill.

bodyweight sissy squat

A sissy squat is a variation of the standard squat that targets the quadriceps femoris muscle and may be performed with or without the use of a sissy squat machine. However, the lack of a sissy squat machine changes the mechanics of the exercise.

How to Perform a Sissy Squat

The execution of the traditional form of the sissy squat may be hard to perform especially for beginners. This version requires standing on the balls of the feet with the feet at a shoulder-width distance and the toes pointed forward. 

If a sissy squat machine is available, the execution of the workout may become easier. The machine helps by holding the feet and calves in place such that it eliminates the challenge of maintaining balance while standing on the toes. This is because the machine stabilizes the feet by keeping them flat on the ground.

sissy squat movement

For first-timers, it might be safer to do it standing next to an object that one can hold onto for balance such as a rail or a post. Starting in a standing position, place the heels on the edge of a block and space the feet approximately shoulder width apart.  The block should be approximately two to four inches high and solid enough to support the body weight and not fall out from beneath while executing a rep.

sissy squat muscles

Lean back as low as possible with a bend at the knees, keeping a straight line from the neck to the knees, and maintaining balance. Hold the position for about 3 seconds before pushing the body back up to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps while maintaining proper form.

Muscles Involved in the Sissy Squat

The quadriceps femoris is the main muscle that the sissy squat targets and stimulates but it also engages the hip flexors. However, in contrast to the standard squat exercise, the hamstrings and gluteal muscles are activated to a lesser degree in this squat version.

The core muscles and hip flexors are activated when the torso is leaned back while maintaining a neutral spine and a line of alignment with the knee. As gravity works against the body's structure, the core muscles and hip flexors support the trunk and keep it in place.

Benefits of the Sissy Squat

Quadricep Muscle Strengthening and Hypertrophy

The advantage of performing the sissy squat over the standard squat is that the former is able to achieve near-total isolation of the quads. This being said, the sissy squat may achieve greater muscle hypertrophy in the quadriceps femoris as well as greater increases in strength.

Improves Functional Strength

An increase in the strength of the quad muscle group may be helpful in the performance of activities of daily living even for the elderly. According to a 2019 study, maintaining the strength of the quadriceps above 11 kg may help to retain the independence of elderly individuals in terms of the execution of basic daily activities. Hence, strengthening the quads through the sissy squat may be of benefit in the long run.

Knee Pain Relief

Some studies also suggest that strengthening exercises applied to the quadriceps may improve pain, function, and quality of life in patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee. In this regard, the sissy squat may be helpful. In addition, because the exercise, when done on a machine, applies less stress on the knee joints, the sissy squat is said to be safer for quad isolation as compared to regular squats, and even leg extensions.

Risk for Injury When Doing Sissy Squats

The sissy squat is a challenging exercise that calls on the power of the four muscles that make up the quadriceps femoris, namely the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. Before doing the sissy squat, appropriate conditioning is required since any muscle strength imbalance might result in knee discomfort and damage.

Some people lack the necessary quad and core strength to complete a sissy squat. The quadriceps are strengthened by this exercise, but additional exercises that also increase quad strength should be performed to make sure that the muscles are strong enough to perform the sissy squat safely. For a safe and efficient sissy squat workout, exercises that target the core and quadriceps, including planks and leg presses, are helpful.

The majority of the stress of the exercise will land on the knees, which increases the risk of catastrophic damage when quad muscle strength is not yet optimum for a sissy squat. With consideration for knee movement and mobility, a sissy squat transition should be gradual. To lessen the strain on the joint, avoid locking out the knees at the peak of the sissy squat.

When performing a sissy squat, weights may be added. However, the addition of weights should be moderated and preceded by careful control of body weight. Some people like to attempt the sissy squat with more weights right away, but this can be dangerous since the body, particularly the quad group of muscles, is not ready to support the resistance.

Additionally, some authors contend that using a machine to do the sissy squat is preferable for avoiding injuries. This is so that the knees and ankles may be supported by the machine while executing the movement.

Final Thoughts

Although the sissy squat is a good exercise for strengthening the quadriceps and hence may lead to the above-mentioned benefits, caution must be taken before performing the activity, and the advice of a physical therapist or a doctor may be necessary. It is also important to perform exercises that increase the strength of the core and quads prior to engaging in the sissy squat workout in order to avoid injury.

References

1. Wearing J, Stokes M, De Bruin ED. Quadriceps muscle strength is a discriminant predictor of dependence in daily activities in nursing home residents. PLoS One. 2019 Sep 24;14(9):e0223016.

2. Imoto AM, Peccin MS, Trevisani VF. Quadriceps strengthening exercises are effective in improving pain, function and quality of life in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Acta Ortopedica Brasileira. 2012;20:174-9.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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