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July 26, 2022 7 min read

There are seemingly endless squat variations that each possess their own unique benefits and are able to target different areas of the body. The back squat is the King of these variations because of its ability to build maximum strength in your lower body.

However, in order to build balanced strength in the quads, glutes, and hamstrings, you must find exercises that are able to isolate more than a big compound exercise like the back squat can.

The sissy squat can be extremely beneficial for targeting the quadriceps, and despite its name, can be a grueling exercise to add into your next leg day.

One of the most convenient and accessible ways to do a sissy squat is with a Smith Machine because not all gyms come equipped with a sissy squat machine.

With this squat variation, you can add some variety to your leg workouts and build more muscle and strength in your quads.

Why Are They Called Sissy Squats?

If you aren’t aware of the benefits or how difficult sissy squats can actually be, you might scoff at the name and not bother including it into your workout routine. The sissy squat didn’t get its name from being easy, rather quite the opposite.

Sissy squats are named after Sisyphus, who was the King of Corinth in Greek mythology. 

The story is that this King was so much of a trickster that, although he got killed twice, he was able to come back to life.

After the third time he was killed, Zeus got fed up and banished Sisyphus to a hillside, along with a huge boulder. He forced Sisyphus to push the boulder all the way to the top, and when he got there, Zeus made him push it back down again. This continued for the rest of eternity.

Sissy squats may not be as miserable as pushing a boulder up and down a hill forever, but they can help build your quads like Sisyphus’s.

Benefits of the Smith Machine Sissy Squat

This quad exercise may be overlooked because it’s not as popular as other versions of the squat, but it can produce benefits that can carry over to other aspects of weightlifting.

  • Leg Hypertrophy: Whether you’re getting ready for a beach trip or a bodybuilding competition, having strong, sculpted legs is a goal many lifters strive for. Although the back squat can build max strength in the quads, it may not necessarily help maximize muscle growth.

The sissy squat helps to isolate the quads more than its compound cousins, and isolating an area of the body helps promote more muscle hypertrophy.

  • Strong Hip Flexors: The quads are primarily worked in the sissy squat, but you can also get some hip flexor activation too. 

Hip flexors play an important role in the movement of your lower body, and anytime you walk, run, kick, or bend over, you’re using this muscle group.

If your hip flexors are weak, you may experience lower back or hip pain and may find it harder to do normal activities like walking up the stairs.

  • Better Knee Health: A common misconception is that squats are bad for your knees, but when they’re done properly, they can actually be beneficial to your knee health. Knee pain is a common disability that can be caused by factors like arthritis, injuries, or overuse, and squats may even help improve the pain.

Since the sissy squat focuses on the movement of the knee joint, it has the potential to improve knee health, help reduce pain, and improve knee range of motion.

  • Improves Balance: A certain amount of balance is required for squats, and some people, especially beginners, may lack it. The Smith Machine and the conventional sissy squat machine provide extra balance and stability, so you don’t have to worry about falling over.
  • More Stable Core: Core stability is important for squats, deadlifts, and basically any other exercise you can think of, but it’s also important for your daily life. Your abdominal muscles help stabilize your entire body, assist in movement, and keep you upright, so if these muscles are weak, you may have poor posture, limited movement, and have a higher chance of falling over.

Your core helps to stabilize your body during the sissy squat and also helps keep your balance. 

By doing this exercise, you can increase your core strength and stability for life in and outside the gym.

How to Do the Smith Machine Sissy Squat

 

Unless you know what a sissy squat is, you may see someone in the gym doing them and think, “that’s not how you squat”. In a conventional squat, you’re used to sitting back in your heels, but with a Smith Machine sissy squat, you actually sink forward onto your toes.

It’s easy to do this exercise wrong, so proper form is of the utmost importance. Follow this step-by-step guide for a safe and effective leg exercise.

How to Do the Smith Machine Sissy Squat:

  • Set the Smith Machine bar at shoulder level.
  • Place the bar on your upper back and shoulders like you would a back squat.
  • Keep your head and chest up as you start to bend your knees. Be sure to keep your hips in line with your torso and knees in line with your shoulders as you lower.
  • Lean back just slightly, so you can go onto your toes and continue to bend your knees.
  • Lower until your knees hover just above the ground, or until you reach your personal range of motion.
  • Push up through your toes, maintaining the same position with your knees in line with your shoulders, and stand all the way up to the starting position.

Common Mistakes of the Smith Machine Sissy Squat

This exercise takes practice, but making sure you have all the right cues can make or break a workout. If you’re unsure, consult with a knowledgeable personal trainer and check out these common mistakes to avoid.

  • Not Keeping the Body Straight: If you’re used to doing conventional squats, the sissy squat can feel unnatural because your hips aren’t the joints moving. Some lifters may try to push their hips back, which can put your body out of line and lose the emphasis on the quads. 

A good cue to remember is to keep your shoulders in line with your knees the whole time.

  • Hyperextending the Back: As you’re lowering your body, you may find your back arching. This could be due to a weak core or simple unawareness. Hyperextending the back can make balancing more difficult, but it can also increase your risk of an injury. 

Try more body weight with just the Smith Machine bar as a guide or focus on progression exercises.

Smith Machine Sissy Squat Alternatives

The sissy squat is a difficult exercise and shouldn't be taken lightly. It can be great for your quads, but in case you’re not ready for it yet, there are alternatives that can help build your legs just as well.

Leg Extensions

 

This alternative most commonly uses a machine and isolates the quadriceps for ultimate muscle growth. Leg extensions can be beneficial for beginners and anyone looking to build bigger, more powerful legs.

How to Do Leg Extensions:

  • Sit down on a leg extension machine and adjust the seat and padding to your height. The back of your knees should be right against the seat, and your feet should be set just in front of the knees.
  • Keep your chest up and back flat against the seat.
  • Without lifting your bottom off the seat, start to extend your legs, pushing the pad up with you.
  • When your legs are fully extended, slowly back to the starting position.

Front Squat

 

Although the front squat isn’t an isolation exercise, it can help emphasize the quads to a greater degree than the back squat. It also requires core strength and shoulder mobility to help keep a good front rack position.

How to Do the Front Squat:

  • Set a barbell on a squat rack at shoulder height.
  • Grab the barbell with an underhand grip and lift your elbows, so that they’re about parallel to your shoulders.
  • Lift the bar off the rack, maintaining the front rack position.
  • Keeping your head, chest, and eyes up, push your hips back and lower your body into a squat.
  • When your hips reach 90 degrees, press through your hands to stand back up.

Leg Press

 

The leg press is a piece of gym equipment that you can likely find in almost any commercial gym and can target different areas of the body depending on how you position yourself. You can load up a large amount of weight on this machine and build tons of lower body strength and muscle.

How to Do the Leg Press:

  • Set the leg press seat based on your height, and so when you sit down, your knees are at 90 degrees.
  • Place your feet lower on the plate to help emphasize the quads.
  • Keeping your back flat on the seat and bottom down, start to press the plate straight out.
  • Fully extend your legs without locking out your knees.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.

Sissy Squat for Bigger, Stronger Quads

Your quads are an important part of your life in the gym and in your daily life. There’s nothing wrong with a heavy back squat, but isolating certain areas of the body can help build muscle without other muscles overcompensating.

The sissy squat might not sound like a big, bad exercise, but just a few reps of it will have your legs burning and balance challenged.

Exercises that isolate a certain muscle group may leave your body more sore than usual, so check out ADABOLIC  to help accelerate recovery while maximizing endurance and power.