The sissy squat is a popular quad isolation exercise. But it’s not an easy movement to master, and it can be uncomfortable for people with knee issues.
As such, you may need to find a sissy squat alternative that is more comfortable for you to perform.
The 17 best sissy squat alternatives are:
- Leg Extensions
- Cable Leg Extensions
- Leg Press
- Hack Squat
- Pendulum Squat
- High Bar Back Squat
- Close Stance Back Squat
- Front Squat
- Heels Elevated Trap Bar Deadlift
- Bulgarian Split Squat
- Dumbbell Leg Extension
- Walking Lunges
- Banded Inverted Leg Extension
- Heels Elevated Goblet Squat
- Foam Roller Hack Squat
- Landmine Hack Squat
- Reverse Nordic Curls
This list includes sissy squat alternatives that can be done with machines, a barbell, dumbbells, your body weight, and other pieces of equipment such as a kettlebell.
In this article, I will show you the proper way to do each of these exercises and include some pro tips to help you get the most out of each movement.
What Makes A Good Sissy Squat Alternative?
The sissy squat targets the quads, so a good sissy squat alternative should primarily work the quads as well.
The quad is made up of four muscles: the rectus femoris, the vastus lateralis, the vastus medialis, and the vastus intermedius.
- The rectus femoris is located in the middle of the front of the thigh and is the only muscle of the quad that crosses both the knee and the hip.
- The vastus lateralis is the largest muscle of the quad located on the outside of the thigh. It aids in lower leg extension and helps keep the thigh in position when doing activities such as walking or standing up from a squat.
- The vastus medialis is the middle-most muscle of the quad and helps stabilize the knee joint.
- The vastus intermedius sits under the rectus femoris. Together with the other three quad muscles, it helps to extend the knee.
Key Takeaway: The sissy squat targets all four of these muscles with limited glute and hamstring engagement. As such, quad isolation is key when looking for a sissy squat alternative. Some alternatives may also work other areas of the lower body, but they should still prioritize the quads over any other muscle group.
Sissy Squat Alternatives With Machines
1. Leg Extensions
Leg extensions are a popular quad isolation exercise that appears regularly in many lifters’ programs. They’re excellent for building the rectus femoris and getting the quad sweep, which gives the quads the bow shape that appears from the hips to your knees.
How To Do It
- Adjust the back pad so your knees will be right at the end of the seat when you sit down.
- Adjust the ankle pad so when you sit down, it rests at the top of your ankles.
- Set the pins to your desired weight.
- Sit on the bench and lean back, keeping your spine neutral and your head straight.
- Grip the handles, then extend your legs until your knees are straight.
- Bend your knees and return to the starting position, then repeat for your desired number of reps.
To target more of the upper and inner quads, you can do leg extensions with your toes pointing out instead of pointing them up towards the ceiling.
Also, while many people don’t think of adding isometric work to the leg extension, it’s an excellent way to boost hypertrophy and increase strength throughout the full range of motion. A common way to add isometric training to the leg extension is to only extend your legs until they’re at 60-degree flexion and hold them in place for several seconds.
Wondering what the difference is between a leg extension and a leg curl? Check out Leg Extension vs Leg Curl: Differences, Pros, Cons.
2. Cable Leg Extensions
The cable leg extension is most commonly done standing, but you can do it seated as well. And unlike the sissy squat, which you may not be able to do while holding weight, you can more easily load the cable leg extension.
How To Do It
- Secure an ankle cuff that’s tethered to a cable machine around one of your ankles.
- Make sure you’re seated or standing away from the machine.
- Kick the leg that’s attached to the machine until it’s fully extended.
- Lift your leg behind you as if you were trying to kick your butt until your shin is parallel to the floor.
If you do cable leg extensions standing, you may find it challenging to maintain your balance. If there isn’t something sturdy nearby for you to hold onto, grab a PVC pipe or bring an incline bench over to the machine to hold on to.
3. Leg Press
The leg press machine is a staple in almost every gym. As such, it’s an exercise that appears frequently in most programs. Like several other machine-based quad exercises, it allows you to work the quads without overloading the spine.
How To Do It
- Adjust the footplate and back pad so when you sit in the machine and put your feet near the center of the footplate, your legs can be at a 90-degree angle.
- Load plates so there’s an equal amount of weight on each side of the machine.
- Sit down on the machine and place your feet on the footpad about shoulder-width apart, then disengage the safety locks and grab onto the handles on each side.
- Take a deep breath and drive through your entire feet until your legs are extended. Be careful not to overextend your knees.
- Bend your knees until they reach a 90-degree angle and repeat for your desired number of reps.
- Be sure to reset the safety mechanisms when you’re done before stepping off the machine.
You can change your foot placement on the leg press to target different muscle groups or place more emphasis on the quads.
A narrow stance will isolate the quads more while a wide stance will target more of the glutes, adductors, and hamstrings. Placing your feet higher on the footplate will also work the glutes and hamstrings more, and placing them lower will work the calves in addition to the quads.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to do both the leg press and the back squat in order to strengthen your quads. Find out which exercise may be better for you in the article Leg Press vs Back Squat: You DON’T Need To Do Both.
4. Hack Squat
The hack squat isn’t available in every single gym, but it is relatively common. While it’s more of a compound movement than the sissy squat, the hack squat allows you to work the quads without having to worry about the stabilization demands of a back squat.
How To Do It
- Step into the machine and place your shoulders against the shoulder pads.
- Set your feet so they’re about shoulder-width apart.
- Disengage the safety locks and put your hands on the handlebars near the shoulder pads.
- Bend your knees and squat until your hips are at parallel or slightly below.
- Think about pushing the footplate away from you as you stand up.
- Complete all of your reps, then reset the safety locks before exiting the machine.
The hack squat can exacerbate knee pain in people with a history of knee injuries. Sometimes this can be resolved by pointing your toes out slightly, widening your stance, or placing your feet higher up on the footplate. However, if none of those relieve your knee pain, you may have to find an alternative to the hack squat.
5. Pendulum Squat
The pendulum squat requires a unique piece of equipment called a pendulum squat machine. Not every gym has one, but if yours does, you should definitely consider using it. You’ll be able to move through a larger range of motion, which is great for quad hypertrophy, without overloading the spine.
How To Do It
- Load plates on the back of the machine if you’d like.
- Adjust the footplate higher or lower so you can stand in the machine comfortably with your shoulders touching the shoulder pads and your knees straight at the start of the movement.
- If your pendulum squat machine has a handlebar in the front, feel free to hold onto that. Otherwise, hold onto the shoulder pads.
- Squat down as far as you can go. Ideally, you should be going below parallel.
- Drive through the feet and push up against the shoulder pads to stand back up.
You’ll likely need to play around with your foot placement to ensure you don’t come up on your toes as you’re ascending from the bottom of the squat. If you find yourself doing this, place your feet higher up on the footplate. You can also wear a pair of heeled squat shoes because the added height can help prevent you from coming up on your toes.
Sissy Squat Alternatives With A Barbell
6. High Bar Back Squat
The high bar back squat is traditionally done by Olympic weightlifters because you need to maintain a more upright torso, which has more carry over to the snatch and clean and jerk.
But because you can get a deeper range of motion with a high bar squat, it places more emphasis on the quads than the low bar squat, making it a good alternative to the sissy squat.
How To Do It
- Adjust a squat rack so the bar is at about armpit height.
- Step under the bar and place it on your traps.
- Unrack the bar, take 2-3 steps backward, and adjust your stance to your desired width.
- Brace your core, then squat down while pushing your knees out until your hip crease is below your knee.
- Driving through your feet, think about pushing the ground away from you and stand up.
A common mistake with the high bar squat is placing the bar too high up and resting it on your neck, which can cause neck pain. Usually, you can resolve this by just making sure the bar is placed on your back correctly and keeping your head in a neutral position. However, you may also have to add muscle mass to your upper back.
Also, even if you’re a powerlifter, you should consider alternating between the low bar squat and the high bar squat if you’re not peaking for a meet. It can help challenge your muscles in a different way and provide a new training stimulus if you’re getting bored with your routine.
Do you have trouble feeling your quads when you squat? Check out my tips for how to resolve this in my article Can’t Feel Your Quads When Squatting? Try These 8 Tips.
7. Close Stance Back Squat
The close stance, or narrow stance, back squat is a squat that’s done with your feet close together. It allows you to move through a deeper range of motion because your knees travel further past your toes.
This movement engages the glutes more than the sissy squat does, but the extra demands it places on the quads make it a suitable alternative.
How To Do It
- Adjust a squat rack to the same height you’d use for a regular back squat.
- Step under the bar so you can place it across your back with your hands at least shoulder-width apart.
- Lift the bar off the rack and walk out 2-3 steps.
- Keeping your feet close together, squat down as low as you are able to while maintaining a neutral spine.
- Stand back up, then repeat for your desired number of reps.
Doing a squat with a very narrow stance requires a lot of ankle mobility and hip mobility. If you plan on incorporating this movement into your routine frequently, I recommend adding 2-3 mobility sessions to your routine per week if you’re not already doing so.
It’s also important to note that you will not be able to use as much weight as you typically use in the regular back squat. I recommend starting with 55-60% of your back squat 1RM and then progressing from there.
8. Front Squat
The front squat is a variation of the back squat in which you rest the bar on your deltoids and support it with your fingertips instead of placing it on your back.
Front squats aren’t solely a quad isolation exercise because they also work the upper back. But they place more emphasis on the quads than back squats because you need to maintain a more upright torso, which takes the emphasis off the glutes and lumbar spine.
How To Do It
- Adjust a squat rack so the bar is at the same height you’d set it at for a back squat.
- Grab the bar with your hands at about shoulder-width apart.
- Unrack the bar and walk out about 2-3 steps.
- At this point, the bar should be resting on your deltoids, your elbows should be pointing up as much as they can, and you should only be using your fingertips to keep the bar in place.
- Brace your core and bend your knees, lowering until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
- Keeping your heels on the ground, drive through your feet to return to standing.
When doing a front squat, you should focus on keeping your chest up as much as possible. This can be a more effective cue for you if you lack the mobility to keep your elbows high.
You should still continue to work on your front squat mobility if this is the case, but the chest up cue can help in the meantime because you’ll be able to remember to stay upright and avoid your upper back from rounding.
Does the bar choke you when you’re doing front squats? If so, check out these 5 tips on how to prevent the bar from choking you during front squats.
9. Heels Elevated Trap Bar Deadlift
Despite having “deadlift” in the name, the heels elevated trap bar deadlift is actually a quad exercise. It places the quads in a lengthened position because they’re in constant tension from having the heels raised. This has been shown to have positive effects on muscle hypertrophy.
How To Do It
- Load a trap bar with your desired weight and place a heel wedge or a plate on the ground in the center of the bar.
- Step inside the bar and place your heels on the wedge or plate.
- Bend down to grab the handles of the bar, pushing your hips back and keeping your chest and shoulders tall.
- Take a deep breath, then stand up as you think about pushing your hips forward.
- Slowly lower the bar back down.
- Allow the bar to come to a dead stop before moving into your next rep.
The heels elevated trap bar deadlift can be used to continue building hypertrophy or strength in the legs if you’re dealing with a hip injury. Because the trap bar has higher handles, you don’t have to bend over as much to grab onto it, which takes some of the stress off your hips.
As such, you may be able to include this exercise as part of a rehab program (under the care of a physical therapist) even if other squat variations are causing you pain.
Sissy Squat Alternatives With Dumbbells
10. Bulgarian Split Squat
Even though the Bulgarian split squat is a single-leg exercise, it’s still a suitable alternative to the sissy squat because of how much it involves the quads.
How To Do It
- Holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides, stand about 12-18 inches in front of a box or bench.
- Rest the ankle of one of your legs on the surface behind you.
- Squat down until your back knee is touching or almost touching the ground.
- Driving through your entire front foot, and without letting your heel come off the ground, straighten your legs.
- Complete all reps on one leg and then switch sides and perform an equal number of reps on the other leg.
If you experience discomfort in your ankle on the leg that’s behind you, you can put a foam roller or a rolled-up yoga mat underneath so your ankle isn’t rubbing against the hard edge of a box or firm bench pad.
Also, if you can’t find a bench or box that’s the right height, you can set the safeties on a squat rack to your ideal height, put a barbell pad on the barbell, and use the barbell to support your back leg.
Looking for easier or more challenging ways to do Bulgarian split squats? Check out my article 9 Bulgarian Split Squat Progressions (From Basic to Advanced).
11. Dumbbell Leg Extension
The dumbbell leg extension is a variation of the leg extension that can be done if you work out at home or at a gym that doesn’t have a leg extension machine.
How To Do It
- Sit on a sturdy bench or box with a dumbbell standing up vertically at your feet.
- Grab the dumbbell in between your feet with the tops of your feet up against the head of the dumbbell.
- Making sure to keep the dumbbell squeezed in between your feet, extend your legs until they’re parallel to the floor.
- Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
If you can’t find a box or bench that you can sit on while keeping your thighs at a 90-degree angle, try putting a foam roller under your knees. This will put your butt at a slightly lower angle to your quads and make it easier for you to extend your legs more, which will engage your quads more.
You can also adjust an incline bench to a low incline, which will also put your butt at a lower angle and put your legs in a more optimal position when they’re extended.
12. Walking Lunges
Walking lunges involve more muscle groups than just the quads. They also work the glutes, hamstrings, calves, abs, and hips. But they’re a beneficial movement that can help improve your balance, posture, and lower body mobility.
How To Do It
- Find an empty area of the gym where you can take at least 10 steps forward and back.
- Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides. If you prefer, you can also hold a barbell in the back rack or front rack position.
- Take a large step forward while bending both knees at the same time. Avoid slamming your back knee to the ground.
- Push off your front foot and straighten both legs.
- Take another large step forward with the opposite leg as you bend both knees.
- Repeat until you’ve taken an equal number of steps with both legs.
Avoid swinging the dumbbells to generate momentum as you’re walking forward, which will take some of the emphasis off the quads.
You’ll also want to avoid letting your chest collapse or overarching your back. A slight forward lean of your torso is okay, but it should remain mostly vertical to prevent injuries to your lower back, and you should rely only on your own strength to propel you through each of your steps.
Sissy Squat Alternatives You Can Do At Home (With Bands, Bodyweight, and Limited Equipment)
13. Banded Inverted Leg Extension
The banded inverted leg extension, also called the pike leg extension, is an excellent way to target the quads using just a resistance band. This makes it a great exercise to do at home or while you’re traveling.
How To Do It
- Stand in front of a bench or against a sturdy wall.
- Place one of your hands through one end of a resistance band, then bring the band around the back of your legs just above your knees and place your other hand through the other end.
- Place your palms on the floor shoulder-width apart and either put your toes on the bench or put your feet up against the wall.
- Make sure your feet are hip-width apart.
- Your hips should be angled up towards the ceiling, and you should feel tension from the band.
- Bend your knees towards the floor. Your hips will move a bit, but they should continue to be angled up towards the ceiling. Don’t let them collapse so your torso becomes parallel to the floor.
- Return to the starting position by extending your knees while pushing your hips up and back.
If you feel a cramp in your feet as you’re bending your knees, your hands may be too far in front of you, which causes you to have to bend your toes more and places excess stress on the arches of your feet. Bring your hands in closer so you don’t have to curl your toes as much to get your knees to the proper depth.
14. Heels Elevated Goblet Squat
The goblet squat is often used as an accessory movement or as a progression for new lifters who are working up to a barbell squat. By elevating your heels by putting plates or a heel wedge under them, you can squat deeper and get more activation out of your quads.
How To Do It
- Set a pair of plates next to each other on the floor or use a heel wedge that will allow you to elevate your heels.
- Hold onto a dumbbell so the handle is vertical to the floor or hold a kettlebell at your chest.
- Keep your elbows glued to your sides.
- Place your heels on the plates or heel wedge.
- Bend your hips and knees at the same time and squat until your hips are below parallel.
- Pause for a second at the bottom so you’re not tempted to bounce out of the hole.
- Push through your heels to stand back up until your knees are extended.
- Repeat for your desired number of reps.
As you get stronger, you may reach a point where your upper body is the limiting factor because you can’t hold onto a heavy weight for a long time. Once you get to this point, you can incorporate tempo work or pause at the bottom for a longer duration, which can help you continue to build strength and muscle mass even when using a lighter weight.
15. Foam Roller Hack Squat
The foam roller hack squat is an excellent hack squat alternative for people with limited equipment. All you need is a foam roller and a pair of dumbbells.
How To Do It
- Stand against a wall and place a firm foam roller behind the small of your back.
- Step your feet out about 12-18 inches from the wall.
- Squat down until your thighs are at least parallel to the ground.
- Keeping your weight evenly distributed through your feet, push back against the foam roller and stand back up.
- Repeat until all of your reps are completed.
Like most squat variations, you can target the quads even more by elevating your heels. You can wear heeled squat shoes, place plates or a heel wedge under your heels, or place your heels on dumbbell handles.
If you decide to use dumbbells, I recommend using rubber hex dumbbells so they can grip the floor well and won’t roll out from under you.
16. Landmine Hack Squat
The landmine hack squat is an excellent exercise for home gym users who may not have a hack squat machine but have a landmine attachment, a barbell, and plates at home.
How To Do It
- Secure a landmine attachment to a squat rack or wedge the end of a barbell into the corner of the wall.
- Load the other end of the bar with your desired amount of weight. If possible, I recommend using bumper plates or at least one 45lb plate so you have more surface area to lean your back against.
- Carefully lift the loaded end of the bar up and turn so your back is against the plates.
- Rest the end of the bar on one shoulder, holding it with both hands for support.
- Make sure your feet are out in front of you enough so your body is at a 45-degree angle.
- Squat down until you’re at least at parallel, if not further.
- Pushing back against the plate, drive through your feet to stand back up.
It doesn’t matter which shoulder you rest the bar on, but if you want to make sure each side is bearing the load evenly, you can switch shoulders with each set.
Also, when doing this exercise, I recommend erring on the side of caution and not training to failure as it can be difficult to bail safely. I’d also recommend doing it near the beginning of your routine so your legs aren’t already too fatigued by the time you get to this exercise.
17. Reverse Nordic Curls
As the name implies, the reverse Nordic curl is an exercise that targets the front of the thighs as opposed to the standard Nordic curl, which targets the back of the thighs.
The reverse Nordic curl most closely resembles the action of the sissy squat. The main difference between the two exercises is that the sissy squat is done while standing and the reverse Nordic curl is done by kneeling on the ground.
How To Do It
- Kneel down and make sure your head, shoulders, hips, and knees are all in alignment.
- You can either rest the tops of your feet on the ground or tuck your toes so your heels are facing the ceiling.
- Keeping your torso straight, lean back as far as you can. You should think about leaning your shoulders back towards the wall behind you instead of simply bringing your butt to your heels like you would in a kneeling squat.
- Push your shins into the ground and use your quads and glutes to return to the starting position.
If you find it difficult to achieve a full range of motion, you can use a band for assistance.
Loop a resistance band around the post of a squat rack, then kneel a few feet in front of it and grab the other end of the band with both hands. Allow the resistance of the band to help you lean back further, but don’t let it pull you back up too quickly as you return to the starting position.
Other Lower Body Exercise Alternatives
- 9 Best Hack Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 15 Best Leg Extension Alternatives (At Home, Bands, Free Weight)
- 5 Best Box Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 9 Best Bulgarian Split Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 9 Best Leg Press Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 8 Best Pistol Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 9 Best Cossack Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 9 Highly Effective Belt Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 10 Highly Effective Front Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 7 Wall Ball Alternatives (Dumbbell, Kettlebell, Bodyweight)
- 10 Best Box Jump Alternatives (With Pictures)
If you find the sissy squat too challenging or you’ve had it in your routine for a while and want to switch things up, there are numerous other ways you can target the quads.
Just keep in mind that some of the sissy squat alternatives provided above may have greater mobility demands, require unique pieces of equipment, or exacerbate previous lower body injuries. It’s always best to do some trial and error until you find an exercise that suits you the best.
About The Author
Amanda is a writer and editor in the fitness and nutrition industries. Growing up in a family that loved sports, she learned the importance of staying active from a young age. She started CrossFit in 2015, which led to her interest in powerlifting and weightlifting. She's passionate about helping women overcome their fear of lifting weights and teaching them how to fuel their bodies properly. When she's not training in her garage gym or working, you can find her drinking coffee, walking her dog, or indulging in one too many pieces of chocolate.