While the king of all lower body exercises is undoubtedly the Squat and while it has definitely earned this title, there’s one thing you can’t do by squatting. You cannot isolate, strengthen and focus on the quads. In fact, you can’t do that with any leg exercise, other that the leg extension.
The Problem With Leg Extensions
Leg extensions. A condemned quad exercise by most health practitioners, physiotherapists and sports therapists out there…and for good reason.
The leg extension or knee extension machine is an excellent way to isolate all 4 heads of the quadriceps muscle but at what cost? It has been shown that the amount of pressure that is placed on the actual joint is far greater than the quad training benefits it provides.
It’s simple biomechanics really. The way the pad/resistance is placed on the front of the your leg and taking into consideration the leverages that are in play, it’s pretty obvious how the exercise can be devastating to the knee joint, especially if you don’t utilize light weight and higher reps.
And while, sure, you can perform 3 - 4 sets of 15 - 20 reps or so, you may still be damaging your knees in the long run and who wants to take that risk, particularly when there is a far better alternative that includes the same or greater benefits with none of the risk?
Real Men Do Sissy Squats
Yes, Sissy Squats! Unlike the name may imply, sissy squats have been used by some of the world’s top athletes and bodybuilders with amazing results. They are the only way to work the quadriceps in absence of the glutes and the hamstrings and to top it all off, they will greatly incorporate the core as a stabilizing and balancing component of the lift.
If used properly and regularly, they can help build up the power and definition of the quads, fix quad/hamstring imbalances and protect your knees instead of destroying them.
However, the old-school way of doing them is a bit weird, uncomfortable and frankly not all too effective.
STEP 1 would be to place two dumbbells or a small step underneath the soles of your feet and grab onto a pole or a squat rack beside you for balance. Lean backwards by maintaining a perfectly straight line from neck to knees, go as far back as you can, get a deep stretch on your quads and return right back up to the starting position.
STEP 2 would be to start performing them without using a pole for help. The more you practice them, the more your balance and co-ordination will improve and it will become easier. By the 5th or 6th repetition, you should start feeling an extreme burning sensation in your quads but no pain in your knees, whatsoever.
STEP 3, if step two gets too easy, is adding resistance to the exercise, which can be done a couple of different ways. The best way to do it, is by holding on to a weighted plate on your chest and performing the exercise like step two. The second way you could it, is by using dumbbells and holding them behind your body for more stabilization and balance.
Although this version of the exercise is fine, it is, as mentioned before, a bit unconventional and uncomfortable to get used to. Your best bet to incorporate this exercise in your lower body routines and strength workouts is by utilizing a Sissy Squat Machine.
Sissy Squat Machine – The Superior Leg Extension Substitute
With this apparatus, you can simply lock your feet and calves in the machine, stop worrying about balance and “falling back”, and simply concentrate on the exercise.
Think of this exercise as a mix of reverse knee extensions and a hack squat! Either way, key to performing this exercise is standing as upright as possible while maintaining a straight line form neck to knees. If you don’t do it correctly and your hips start bending, you will be shifting the focus from the quads to the abdominals and glutes because now you are now going through hip extension which is done primarily with the abdominals/glutes/hamstrings.
Best way to overload this movement is, first and foremost, by using a FULL RANGE OF MOTION. Go all the way back and down and only when you can perform at least 8 reps that way, you may want to start thinking about adding more resistance.
After that, probably the best way to overload the exercise is by wearing a weight vest. Why? Simply because you won’t have to hold on to any weights and you can keep your hands behind your head. You’ll find it’s far more comfortable if done this way.
If you don’t own a weight vest or don’t want to in-vest (get it?!) in one, barbells and dumbbells can definitely be used here. Optimally, you can load up a barbell with enough weight, clean it up and place it across your shoulders, then get into the sissy machine squat.
Whichever way you decide to opt for, one thing is certain. You will quickly find out that nothing compares to the quad burn you get from this exercise!
In the following video (@ 2:06), fitness trainer and athlete coach Scott Herman explains why Leg Extensions are highly overrated and even dangerous and demonstrates the correct usage of a much safer and effective alternative…the Sissy Squat Machine!
Train Legs & Abs Together!
Now, if you are training strictly for bodybuilding, it may not be a good idea to train abs and legs on the same exercise because you simply want to better isolate and target each area. However, if you are after functionality, performance and strength or if you are looking for a cool idea for a weight circuit to burn more calories, you can use the Sissy Machine and integrate your abs into the movement. Besides, that’s how these two muscles groups were meant to be trained…together.
Start like you normally would by going all the way down like a hack-squat and then continue going down and back, almost as if you want to lay with your back on the floor. A moment before your upper back touches the floor, crunch up with your core and complete the rest of the sissy squat with your quads.
Apologies in advance for that insane soreness the morning after!
Not much more to say here! The Sissy Squat is an amazing lower body exercise that incorporates the abdominals for balance and stabilization. There’s nothing better than working these two muscle groups together, especially if we are talking about increasing your performance and functional strength as an athlete. If you decide to incorporate the Sissy Squat into your current regimen, be sure to pick up the Element Fitness Sissy Squat apparatus, at it’s going to become invaluable to your training.
And before you lock yourself in the sissy squat machine and start blasting through as many reps as you possibly can, be sure to…get your mind right!