Thank Sisyphus for Sissy Squats. As punishment for being the sly, rogue king of the mythical Greek city of Corinth, the god Zeus forced Sisyphus to push a heavy boulder up the side of a mountain—not once, not twice, but forever. I can think of better ways to spend the rest of my life, but rolling a rock uphill for eternity must have endowed Sisyphus with the biggest quads in Greek mythology. Which is exactly what you get when you perform Sisyphus (“Sissy”) Squats—Big. Huge. Quads.
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Why? Because unlike traditional barbell squats, Sissy Squats isolate the quad by eliminating recruitment of the glutes. So if you find your quads lagging behind your hamstrings and buttocks, Sissy squats may be the right exercise to balance out your anterior and posterior chain muscles. If you’re new to Sissy Squats, start with the basic version and then work your way up to the advanced movements.
As an “old school” exercise made famous during the golden era of bodybuilding, there’s a reason why after so many years, Sissy squats are still around. It’s simple—they work. Proof that age is no barrier to accomplishment.
1. Basic Sissy Squat
To perform the basic Sissy Squat, use body weight only. Place feet shoulder width apart (with option of heels resting on the edge of a 2”-4” step or block). A 45-pound plate placed on the floor works too. Start with torso erect while holding one hand onto the side of a squat cage or any piece of sturdy equipment for support. Brace the core, and breathe in as knees bend forward and torso tilts backwards. The body will form a straight line from head to knees. In this position, the upper body should be at 45 degrees to the floor. You should feel the burn in your quads at the bottom. To complete the rep, pull the knees in and lift torso to start position.
2. Weighted Sissy Squat
Once you’ve mastered the basic movement, you can progress to a weighted Sissy Squat by holding a dumbbell or wheel pulled in to your chest, while your other hand is secured against a fixed object for stability and support.
3. Gironda (3-Way) Sissy Squat
Vince Gironda, one of bodybuilding’s greatest all-time legends, refined the Sissy Squat by adding a third step to the exercise.
Step One: Knee Drop
Set up the movement like you would a basic Sissy Squat with heels above toes and core braced. From an erect position, bend knees forward, tilt torso backwards.
Step 2: Burlesque Bump
Ensuring your balance, drop down to a crouch position, bringing your butt as close to your heels as you can. Now perform the “burlesque bump”—as you rise up, thrust your hips forward so that you end up with your torso at a 45-degree angle to the floor.
Step 3: Flush Out
Return to the start position with torso fully erect.
Note of caution: While all variations of the Sissy Squat really pumps the quads, it also places significant stress on the knees. With the knees extended beyond the toes, extra weight is transferred onto them, potentially resulting in kneecap pain or injury to the patellar tendon.