sissy squat alternative
Fitness

15 Sissy Squat Alternatives For Stronger Quads

Despite their name, sissy squats can be a very challenging exercise to perform. They predominantly target your quads but also provide a decent stretch for your abs too. Though the traditional squat is seen as the ultimate lower body movement, sissy squats isolate your quads in a way that few other exercises can.

However, they can be an awkward movement to perform, plus they can cause knee and back pain. So, if you’re looking for alternatives to sissy squats, here are 15 of the best.

1. Barbell Hack Squat

How To Do It:

  • Stand with a loaded barbell behind you on the floor. Ensure there’s a bend in your knees and your feet are aligned with your hips.
  • With your back straight, bend down and grasp the bar with both hands, almost as if you are sitting above the bar.
  • Drive through your feet to stand up but avoid locking your knees and ensure your quads are engaged.
  • Lower back down and repeat the movement.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Equipment Used:

  • Barbell

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

The movement is very similar to the deadlift, however, your quads are doing almost all of the work here. You don’t need to load the bar too heavy to feel the benefits of this one, either.

Pro Tip:

Keep your chest open throughout the entire movement by pinning your shoulder blades back.

2. Bulgarian Split Squat

How To:

  • Stand roughly 2-3 feet in front of a bench, facing away from it, and place your left foot onto the bench. Keep the foot relatively flat so that your laces are resting on the bench.
  • Hold a dumbbell with both hands in front of your chest, close to it but not touching your body.
  • Bend your right leg to lower yourself down. Your left knee will also lower; get it close to the ground without touching it.
  • Drive upward from your right foot to return to the starting position and repeat all reps on one leg before switching to the other.
  • Reps: 8-10 on each leg.

Equipment Used:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbell

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

This exercise really isolates your quads one at a time, giving them a deep burn. It also requires a lot of control, so the muscle is under a lot of tension for the whole movement, meaning it’s working extra hard.

Pro Tip: 

Do not allow yourself to hinge at the hips or bend forward. Keep your back straight, chest open, and gaze forward at all times.

3. Leg Extensions

How to:

  • Adjust the machine so that the pad sits at the top of your ankles. Sit back against the chair and hold onto the handles at either side of your hips.
  • Engage your quads to lift the pad up, extending your legs so they are almost fully straight – do not lock out your knees.
  • Lower the pad back down under control and repeat.
  • 12-15 reps.

Equipment Used:

  • Leg extension machine

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

The leg extension machine might be the closest replication of sissy squats in terms of how your quads are being worked, but there’s also the added benefit of the extra weight you can add. Plus, there’s a relatively low chance of injury.

Pro Tip:

Start with a lower weight and increase this accordingly to ensure you’re not trying to lift too heavy. 

4. Leg Press Machine

How To Do It:

  • Adjust the seat so that your legs are roughly at a 90-degree angle when you place your feet onto the platform. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and flat against the platform, roughly in the middle of it.
  • Hold onto the handles and push off the platform with the entirety of your feet to straighten your legs out, though avoid locking your knees.
  • Lower back down under control, bending your knees until you return to the starting position, making sure not to let the weights on the machine slam down. Repeat.
  • Repeat for 12-15 reps.
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Equipment Used:

  • Leg press machine

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

As you’re not loading your back like a traditional squat, you can typically add more weight here meaning that you can get some serious gains on your quads.

Pro Tip: 

Keep your back and head flat against the chair at all times. For extra work, hold at the top position for a few seconds.

5. Barbell Front Squat

How To:

  • Load a barbell with the appropriate weight and rack it to shoulder height. Stand in front of the bar and grasp it with your palms facing away from you. Raise your elbows so your upper arms become parallel with the floor.
  • Take the bar onto the tips of your fingertips and remove it from the rack so you take its full weight.
  • Keeping your arms in the same position throughout, bend at the knees to squat down as far as you can.
  • Drive back up through your heels to return to the starting position and repeat.
  • Reps: 15-18.

Equipment Used:

  • Barbell
  • Squat rack

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

As your posterior chain (the muscles on the back of your body) is doing a lot less work here, the onus is on your quads to control the movement.

Pro Tip:

Keep your toes pointed out slightly while performing this move for stability and don’t try to lift too heavy; the focus is more on the number of reps, rather than the weight.

6. Box Jump

How To Do It:

  • Stand in front of a box with a slight bend in your knees and your feet apart.
  • Bend at the knees and swing your arms back.
  • Explode off of the ground by pushing off with your feet and swinging your arms forward so that you land with both feet on top of the box.
  • Step back down and repeat.
  • Reps: 15-20.

Equipment Used:

  • Plyometric box

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

This is a serious burner on your quads as they never really stop working and they have to generate a lot of force to get you in the air and onto the box.

Pro Tip: 

Bend your knees slightly as you land on the box and always make sure you have enough space around you to safely perform the exercise.

7. Jump Squats

How To:

  • Get into position with your feet in line with your shoulders and a small bend in your knees. Keep your toes pointed forward.
  • Squat down, moving your hips back and bending your legs so that your thighs are roughly parallel with the floor. You can swing your arms back to help with momentum, or keep your hands clasped together in front of your chest.
  • Drive-up from your feet and quads to straighten your legs and jump into the air.
  • Control your landing by bending your legs and moving straight into another squat to repeat the movement.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Equipment Used:

  • None

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Squats are one of the best compound exercises you can perform as they work a wide variety of muscle groups, but the addition of a jump means you’re also improving your power.

Pro Tip: 

Keep your chest open, particularly when bending down into the squat. Hold a dumbbell in front of you or one in each hand by your sides if you want to add more weight.

8. Dumbbell Walking Lunges

How To Do Ito:

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and keep your arms down by your side.
  • With your back straight and chest open, step forward with your left foot and bend at the knee so that the knee of your right leg almost touches the ground. 
  • Push up with your left foot and, at the same time, bring your right foot forward to step it out in front of you in order to lunge on that leg.
  • Repeat for a set duration of time, distance, or reps.
  • Work for 30-45 seconds, rest for 30 seconds, and complete 3 rounds.
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Equipment Used:

  • Dumbbells

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Not only are your quads getting worked here, but you’ll also be improving your balance, coordination, and grip strength.

Pro Tip: 

When lunging forward, step slightly to the side for stability.

9. Barbell Back Squat

How To Do It:

  • Rest a loaded barbell on your traps and shoulders. If you’re lifting a lot of weight, make sure the barbell is loaded on a squat rack first. Hold the bar evenly on either side of your shoulders and make sure your feet are in line with your hips and your toes are pointed forward.
  • Bend at your knees, keeping your gaze forward and chest open, to sit back and get your quads parallel to the ground.
  • Drive through your feet to stand up but avoid locking your knees and ensure your quads are engaged.
  • Lower back down and repeat the movement.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Equipment Used:

  • Barbell

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

The squat is the daddy of lower body exercises as it works for virtually all the muscle groups there, but the quads do a lot of the heavy lifting. This exercise is also great for your core.

Pro Tip:

Keep your weight evenly distributed through your feet. Ideally, you should be able to wiggle your toes slightly.

10. BOSU Ball Squat

How To Do It:

  • Place the BOSU ball on the floor with the flat side facing up. Stand on top of it with your feet apart.
  • Hold your hands clasped together in front of your chest and bend at the knees to perform a bodyweight squat.
  • The focus here is stability and balance, not speed, so keep the movement controlled.
  • If you’re wobbling a lot and losing your balance, flip the BOSU ball over so the flat side is on the floor, then perform the squats on it.
  • Reps: 15-20

Equipment Used:

  • BOSU ball

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

The BOSU ball requires you to hold more tension in your legs in order for you to keep balance, which gives particular attention to the inside of your quads.

Pro Tip: 

Focus on a point in front of you and keep your eyes fixed on it to help keep you balanced.

11. Goblet Squat

How to Do It:

  • Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of your chest, just below your chin, with both hands so that your arms are bent. Keep the weight close to your body.
  • Bend at the knees to lower your bottom down until your thighs are parallel with the floor.
  • Drive up through both feet to return to the starting position, taking care not to lock your knees. Repeat.
  • 12-15 reps.

Equipment Used:

  • Kettlebell/dumbbell

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

By holding the weight in front of you, you’re forcing your quads to do most of the work, thus giving them more of a workout.

Pro Tip: 

Keep your gaze forward and your chest open. Don’t let the weight cause you to lean forward or hinge at the hips at all.

12. Barbell Box Squat

How To:

  • First, make sure the box is the right height. You want your hips to be slightly below your knees when you’re sitting on it. Then, stand in front of it with the barbell on your traps and shoulders.
  • Squat down by bending your knees and sitting backward. Once your glutes touch the box, drive back up to a standing position. Repeat.
  • Repeat for 12-15 reps.

Equipment Used:

  • Barbell
  • Box

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

The box ensures that you’re working to the correct range of motion so that your quads are working to their full potential in this movement.

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Pro Tip: 

Practice without the barbell first so that you know how far in front of the box you need to stand.

13. Pistol Squat

How To:

  • Stand with one leg extended straight out in front of you, the foot flexed.
  • Bend the leg that’s still on the floor so that you squat down as far as you can do, ensuring that the extended leg does not touch the floor.
  • Once you’ve gone as far as you can, drive up through the foot that’s on the floor to return to the starting position and repeat all reps on one leg before switching to the other.
  • Reps: 10-12 on each leg.

Equipment Used:

  • None

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Your weight is brought forward by the extended leg, meaning the standing leg has to work very hard, especially the quad muscles.

Pro Tip: 

Extend your arms out in front of you, or hold your hands on your hips, to help stability.

14. Goblet Lateral Lunges

How To Do It:

  • Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of your chest, just below your chin, with both hands so that your arms are bent. Keep the weight close to your body.
  • Step your right foot directly out to the side and bend at the knee. Your left leg should extend and remain straight.
  • Drive back up to the starting position from your right foot. Then, step your left foot out to the side and lunge in the same way. Repeat, alternating each time.
  • Reps: 15-20.

Equipment Used:

  • Kettlebell/dumbbell

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Simple to perform and with little space required, these lunges will have your quads firing in no time.

Pro Tip: 

Make sure the extended leg never bends, as this reduces the amount of work the lunging leg is doing.

15. Hill Sprints

How To Do It:

  • Start at the bottom of a hill and decide how far up you will be sprinting. Begin in the correct position with one foot in front of the other and your knees slightly bent.
  • Explode forward and sprint up the hill, pumping your arms to help propel yourself forward.
  • Once you’ve hit your mark, walk back down the hill and repeat.
  • Reps: 5-8 sprints.

Equipment Used:

  • None

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Though it might seem like a strange alternative to squats, hill sprints will work your quads in ways you didn’t know were possible. The incline means your quads are working harder than any other area of your legs to move you forward.

Pro Tip: 

Make sure you’re breathing properly all the time in short, sharp exhales while you’re sprinting.

Conclusion

Sissy squats are one of the more peculiar variations of the traditional squat, but they’re an excellent way of targeting your quads. However, they’re not the be-all-and-end-all for this muscle group. The alternatives listed above are terrific ways of giving your thigh muscles a thorough workout and many of them can be done with little or no equipment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a sissy squat machine worth it?

Any piece of heavy gym machinery is going to be pretty expensive, so it’s always best to weigh up whether you actually need it or not. Most of the time, there are plenty of suitable alternatives and that is absolutely the case with sissy squats.

Should I do sissy squats?

Sissy squats mainly target your quads, as this is a muscle group you should definitely be working as a part of your exercise regime. This doesn’t necessarily need to be through sissy squats. As shown above, there are many alternatives for working your quads.

Are squats bad for knees?

Like any exercise, squats can cause problems for certain joints if performed incorrectly. When squatting, always make sure you are using a suitable weight and only move through a range of motion that is comfortable for you.

George Gigney

George is a Level 3 Personal Trainer and qualified Behavior Change Specialist. He has been training clients for several years and writing for over a decade, focusing on sport, wellbeing, and fitness.

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