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Sissy squats are a type of squat where the feet are together and the heels are raised off the ground.
This exercise is often used to target the thighs and hips. But are sissy squats bad for knees? Let’s find out!
Table of Contents
7 Benefits of the Sissy Squat Movement
There is no doubt that squats are one of the most beneficial exercises that you can do for your lower body.
They strengthen your legs, improve your balance, and even help prevent knee injuries.
But some people worry that sissy squats might be bad for their knees. Especially when compared to traditional squats.
The good news is that sissy squats are quite good for them!
In fact, they can help improve your knees’ health and reduce the risk of knee injuries.
Here are seven sissy squat benefits for your knee joints and hip flexors:
1. Sissy squat exercise builds bigger quadriceps muscles, which are the muscles that support the knee joint.
These include the rectus femoris, vastus intermedius (and tensor), vastus lateralis, and vastus medialis.
2. Help to improve the range of motion in the knee joint (Knee flexion and extension).
3. Increase the flexibility of the hamstring and calf muscles, which can help to prevent knee injuries.
4. Improve balance and coordination by engaging the hip stabilizer muscles.
5. Prevent injuries by strengthening the ligaments and tendons to increase knee joint stability.
6. Prevent arthritis by increasing the lubrication in the knee joint.
7. Improve the overall health of your knees, and leg muscles, and reduce the risk of knee injuries.
Why Sissy Squats Could Hurt Your Knees
One of the reasons sissy squats could hurt your knees is that when you do them, your joints are not in a neutral position.
This means that your kneecaps are not aligned properly with your thighbones. This can put a lot of stress on your knees and cause pain.
They could also hurt your knees because they can further damage the ligaments in your knees if there are pre-existing injuries.
(If it’s something minor, you might not even know about this injury until it’s too late.)
When you do a sissy squat, you are putting all of your body weight on your knee joints, which can cause the ligaments to stretch or tear.
Additionally, the knee joint is not designed to handle too much force and pressure.
Another reason they could hurt your knees is that they can cause them to collapse inward. This is called knee valgus.
When this occurs, it could potentially put a lot of stress on the ligaments and tendons around your knee. This can lead to pain and inflammation.
If you want to try sissy squats, warm up properly and use body weight or light weights first.
Gradually increase the weight and intensity as your body becomes more accustomed to the exercise.
And always listen to your body – if you start to feel pain, stop immediately and rest.
How To Do a Proper Free-Standing Sissy Squat
During the sissy squat, our body mechanics create hinging movements with the knee as the hinge and leg bones as the levers.
As we apply force to close these hinges, our legs counteract, which leads to muscle growth.
Proper heel elevation during a sissy squat is the key to emphasizing quad stimulation.
To do freestanding sissy squats, you will need to:
- Begin by standing up straight
- Place your feet hip-width apart and point your toes outward
- Elevate your heels 2-4 inches off the ground (if you have trouble balancing stand on a sturdy object)
- Lean back and slightly lower yourself down until there’s a straight line through your back and knees
- Hold this position, then return to the start and repeat for reps
- Be sure to keep your back straight and push your kneecaps outwards on every rep
This is a difficult bodyweight exercise to master so be patient and practice frequently.
Once you get good, try doing weighted sissy squats by holding a weight plate or dumbbell in your hands.
If you’re training for more explosive movements like jumping you could even use a resistance band. These will greatly improve terminal knee extension.
10 Sissy Squat Alternatives and Variations
The following exercises involve one or more joints to provide muscle loading similar to a sissy squat.
Sissy Squat Alternatives Index
The sissy squat sounds like it’s for sissies. But it actually requires a level of willpower, courage, and flexibility to perform.
If you’re struggling with it, these 5 exercises are equally good at targeting the quads.
1. Front Squats
Unlike regular squats, the bar should be placed on the front of your shoulders rather than the back to target the quads.
- Place a barbell in the rack just below shoulder height.
- Step under the bar and cross your forearms over each other to grasp the bar with an overhand grip (Cross Grip).
- Lift the bar off the rack while resting it on the muscular part of your front deltoids.
- Take a deep breath and then squat down until your upper and lower leg form a 90-degree angle.
- Reverse the motion and stand up tall.
If you have enough wrist mobility you can also try the clean style grip while front squatting.
2. Leg Extension Machine
To perform leg extensions, you first need to sit down in the seat and make sure that the backrest is in the right position for you.
Next, secure your feet against the footpads, and then slowly extend your legs until you feel a comfortable contraction.
Hold the contracted position for a few seconds before slowly lowering your legs back to the eccentric phase. Repeat this process as many times as desired.
Be sure to keep your butt pressed firmly against the seat throughout the entire set. And squeeze your upper legs at the top.
3. Heel Elevated Squats
- Place two small weight plates close together on the floor.
- Then step on them with your heels so that the balls of your feet are still on the floor in a forward-slanting position
- Also, be sure that your feet are set roughly hip-width apart
- From here squat down by bringing your knees forward as far as you can comfortably go while keeping your back straight
- Reverse the motion and repeat
4. Quad-Focused Smith Machine Squats
Compared to other squat variations smith machines provide stability. This way you can focus on pumping up your quads to the max.
- Start by placing the bar on or under your traps with your heels lined up under the bar.
- Setup with a narrow stance with your feet less than shoulder-width.
- Begin the first rep by lowering your butt straight down toward the floor.
- Squat down as far as you can comfortably go without taking tension off of your quad muscles.
- From the bottom, go straight back up until your legs are fully flexed. Make sure to keep a slight bend at the knee.
- Repeat for the desired amount of reps
Be sure to maintain a straight upper body position during the entire motion.
This will help keep more tension on your quadriceps muscles rather than your posterior chain muscles.
5. Zercher Squats
- Place a barbell on the floor in front of you
- Deadlift it to your thighs using an overhand grip
- From here, rest it on your thighs and secure it with your inner elbows
- Then, squat down to at least 90 degrees
- Reverse the motion and repeat
- Be sure to push your knees outwards and limit forward lean while squatting
Sissy Squat Variation Index
Fun Fact: the name sissy squat is an antonym for how the movement truly feels!
1. Deficit Sissy Squats
- Start by standing on an elevated surface with your feet close together
- Elevate your heels off the ground
- Lean back and lower your upper body and legs toward the ground
- Once your upper leg is in the stretched position (knee past your feet) reverse the motion
Note that performing sissy squats with a deficit requires extreme balance and flexibility.
Don’t try this exercise until you’ve mastered the regular sissy squat first.
2. Smith Machine Sissy Squat
This is a great variation if you don’t have access to a proper sissy squat bench.
- To do the smith machine sissy squat start by setting the bar at about knee height
- Also, consider putting some weight on the bar so it’s stable
- Assume a close stance with the backend of your kneecaps against the bar
- Now slowly lower your butt towards the floor until you feel a nice stretch in your quads
- Return to the starting position, stopping shy of full lockout, and go again.
Be sure to keep your torso upright and pressure on your heels throughout the entire exercise.
3. Sissy Squat Machine
- To do the machine sissy squat secure your feet and ankles into the pads
- Place your arms in front of you for balance
- Squat down with your back straight until your upper leg is at least parallel to the floor
- Go back up and repeat
4. Kneeled Sissy Squats
- Start in the kneeling position with your upper leg and body in a straight line
- Extend your arms straight out in front of you
- Then tilt your body backward as far as you can through knee flexion
- Then extend back to the starting point
5. Power Rack Sissy Squat
- Begin by setting up a barbell at knee height in a squat or power rack
- Assume a close stance with your upper calf against the bar
- Put your arms out in front of you for balance
- Then, with your torso up high, squat downwards into knee flexion until you feel a nice quad stretch
- Reverse back up from knee flexion, but don’t fully lock your legs
- And then repeat
Things To Keep in Mind When Doing Squats of Any Kind
When doing any kind of squatting, it is important to maintain proper form.
This means keeping a neutral spine, your head up, pushing your knees outwards, and your feet hip/shoulder-width apart.
You can also make other adjustments to switch the focus muscle group of your squats.
For example, standing upright with a closer stance means more anterior thigh muscles will be activated.
However, standing wider and slanting your upper body (torso) forward will target posterior chain muscles and offer more hip flexion.
If you are new to squatting, it may be helpful to start with a lower number of repetitions and gradually increase as you become more comfortable with the movement.
To make squats more challenging, you can add weight in the form of dumbbells, barbells, bands, or kettlebells.
Conclusion: Are Sissy Squats Bad for Your Knee Health?
Sissy squats have been around for a long time and are often used as an exercise to target the quads.
However, there is still debate about whether or not they are bad for your knee health.
After reading this article, I hope you have a better understanding of the pros and cons and how to perform this movement safely.
If you’d like to see more variations and alternatives, along with a manual for adding the sissy squat to your exercise routine, check out my sissy squat guide.
Sissy Squat FAQ
Does Sissy Squat Strengthen Knees?
Sissy squats are a good way to target the quadriceps, which is the muscle group responsible for extending the knee.
However, any squatting motion can help to strengthen the knees if done correctly and with proper form.
Is the Sissy Squat Safe?
There is no definitive answer to this question.
Some fitness industry “experts” claim that the sissy squat is safe, while others say that it can be dangerous.
There are a few potential risks associated with this exercise:
- The sissy squat can put a lot of stress on the knee joints and may lead to injuries.
- It can also cause back pain for some people.
- If you perform sissy squats incorrectly they can lead to balance problems and falls.
Is It OK To Do Squats With Bad Knees?
It’s not ideal, but it’s not terrible. You just need to be careful and make sure you’re doing them correctly.
What Are the Best Squats With Bad Knees?
There are a few different squats that can be done if you have bad knees.
One is the goblet squat, which can be done with weight or just your body weight.
For this squat, you hold a weight (or even just a water bottle) in front of you like you are going to drink from it, and then squat down as low as you can.
Be sure to keep your back straight and don’t let your knees go past your toes.
The other squat exercise that is good for people with bad knees is the wall sit.
To do this, stand with your back against a wall and then slowly slide down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
Hold this position for as long as you can, then slowly slide back up the wall.
Finally, another great squat to do if you have bad knees is the air squat.
This is just a traditional squat where you lower yourself down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, but you don’t actually touch the ground.
Be sure to keep your back straight and push your butt out as you squat.