What are Sissy squats? (A bodybuilding guide to sissy squats)

What are sissy squats?

What are sissy squats?

You've probably heard the term 'sissy squats' but what are they? How are they performed? and what is the benefit of adding them to my bodybuilding program. In this article, we will answer the question 'What are sissy squats'?

Sissy squats are an awesome exercise to add to your routine. They target your hip flexors which can be a tricky area to activate with any intensity. 

The compound movement will add mass to your quads and tone your glutes as well as take its toll on your abs and hamstrings. 

Don't just use sissy squats as a warm-up or finisher, make it an integral part of your routine and see development in areas you have probably overlooked. 

Which muscles are targeted with sissy squats?

Whilst the sissy squat is predominantly a leg exercise, it also activates the glutes and abs. This makes it a great compound movement for the lower body. 

How to do a sissy squat

Sissy squats target your legs from a different angle than traditional squats or hack squats. This encourages development in the quads and will help to give you the 'teardrop' appearance as well as definition between the muscles. 

It is an exercise that is often overlooked by bodybuilders and strength trainers who prefer to load up a squat bar or leg press but it definitely has its place in any leg routine. 

If you find sissy squats too easy, you can add resistance by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell to your chest. If you want to go further and take it to another level, a loaded barbell bar on the shoulders will do the trick. 

How do I perform a sissy squat?

The most common method of sissy squat is with a dedicated bench. If you do not have one at your gym, it is worth looking into purchasing one for your home. 

They are relatively cheap to buy and most will fold up for storage. 

We recommend the Gymax Deep sissy squat bench as it is sturdy, reasonably priced and well-reviewed, Cheap options seem to be made of low quality steel with inferior welds so tend to break easily. 

There are other methods of performing sissy squats but none are as effective as the traditional sissy squat bench. 

What is a sissy squat
A basic sissy squat is fairly straightforward. 
  1. Stand on the platform and tuck your feet under the lower pad.
  2. Adjust the pads so that the rear pad is resting against your upper calves and your legs are firmly secured.
  3. Place your hands on opposite shoulders so that your arms can not assist in the movement. 
  4. Keeping your back straight, sit backwards flexing at the knees.
  5. Carry on until your legs are at a 90-degree angle. 
  6. Hold the position for two seconds before slowly standing upright again.
If you want to add weight, start with a dumbbell, kettlebell or weight plate held on your chest. If this is not heavy enough, you can load a barbell bar and rest it on your shoulders. 

Sissy squats are not going to be a heavy resistance exercise such as squats or deadlifts. They should be performed with a lighter weight and a slower, controlled movement. Make sure that you are connecting with the target muscle and aim for 8-12 reps instead of chasing a 1 rep max PB. 

Sissy squats should be utilised as an accessory exercise rather than a major mass builder but will help with hypertrophy and strength gains. 

Alternative versions of sissy squats.

Not all gyms have a sissy squat bench so you may have to improvise. There are a couple of ways to target the same muscle groups without a sissy squat bench. Some of them may attract some funny looks from other gym users as they look very unorthodox but focus on the end game. 

Dumbbell bench sissy squat.

The dumbbell bench sissy squat will target different areas of the quads to a standard squat but does not activate the glutes as much as a sissy squat bench would. If you do not have a sissy squat bench or a smith machine to utilise, this is the next best alternative

  1. Set an incline dumbbell bench to a 45-degree position. stand behind it with your hands on the bench and feet at shoulder width.
  2. Keep a straight back, flex at your knees and lean back as far as possible.
  3. Make sure that you have a good grip on a solid bench and bend your toes.
  4. Your knees should move underneath the bench as you lean back.
  5. Hold the reclined position for two seconds before returning to the upright position.
  6. If you need extra resistance, use one hand to grip the bench and hold a weight plate to your chest with the other. 
This can be a tricky exercise to perform and requires a solid dumbbell bench as well as a pretty good grip strength. 

Smith machine sissy squat.

The smith machine can be used for sissy squats with a bit of improvisation. Simply lock the bar just below the backs of the knees and place a couple of heavy dumbbells down for a counterweight on your feet.

    Sissy squat on a smith machine

The exercise is performed in exactly the same way as it would be with a sissy squat bench. You may find it beneficial to add pads to the bar as it will take its toll on your lower legs. Additional resistance can be added with a weight plate or kettlebell held to the chest.

Banded sissy squats.

Banded sissy squats can be performed as another alternative to traditional sissy squats. You will need some heavy-duty bands or straps and a strong support such as a cable machine. 

Banded sissy squat

Simply attach the bands to a strong support post just above knee height. Perform the sissy squats in the same manner as a standard squat but use the bands on the backs of the knees as support.

 Additional resistance can be added again but make sure that you have a strong support and straps that will handle the strain. If you have a heavy set of hex dumbbells, use them as a counter-weight and tuck your feet under them for additional support. 

Alternative exercises to the sissy squat.

There are a few similar exercises to the sissy squat that will target areas traditional squats will not. These are all great accessory movements for building muscle in the upper legs. 

Bulgarian Split squat.

Bulgarian split squats

The Bulgarian split squat is a great alternative to a sissy squat as it essentially targets the same muscles. The obvious targets are the quads but this method also activates the glutes and hamstrings as a sissy squat would. It can be performed as a bodyweight exercise or with a loaded barbell. 

The Bulgarian split squat is one of the trickier exercises to master as it requires good balance and posture. If you are new to the exercise, start by using a support such as a cable machine or rack. This allows you to focus on the movement and muscle connection instead of trying not to fall over. 

Wall squats

The main benefit of wall squats is that you do not need any other equipment (other than a wall). It is a simple exercise to perform if just using bodyweight as resistance.

Wall squat. Vietnamese strong young woman doing wall squat royalty free stock photo

Once you have mastered a wall squat. you can add resistance by holding a weight plate to your chest or a barbell overhead. Wall squats are similar to sissy squats in that they target the hip flexors and glutes.

There are many other methods for targeting the hip flexors and glutes such as smith machine seat squats and forward-leaning hack squats. 

Nothing can replace a standard squat for overall mass building and strength in the upper legs but by adding a variety of accessory movements, you can push muscle growth even further.

Alternatives to sissy squats.


Leg extensions

Stiff leg deadlifts

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