Sissy squats are an underrated body weight exercise for growing your legs. They are deceptively challenging and stimulate the quadriceps muscles (quads) perfectly.

Not many people will nail the sissy squat on the first go, and you may need an alternative to build up some strength or you might need to miss this one out if you have a knee injury. 

I’ve created this guide to give you 12 sissy squat alternatives so you can build some seriously strong legs. 

Sissy squats require strength and mobility in the joints and overall good body awareness and balance, making it an advanced bodyweight squat exercise.

If you're a beginner you might need to work your way up to this challenging exercises with some variations that builds strength and flexibility. 

Let's get straight into my top 12 sissy squat variations you can try today. 

1. Tiptoe Squats 

Woman Doing Tiptoe Squats

Tiptoe squats are similar to traditional squats, but they focus on your quads and calf muscles, making them an ideal sissy squat alternative and a good option for beginners.

This exercise is similar to a traditional squat but performed on the balls of the feet.


  • Strengthens your hip flexors.
  • Builds strength in your quads.
  • No equipment required - easily done from home or whilst travelling. 

how to A Tip Toe Squat:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, on your tiptoes, and lift your heels off the ground. 
  2. Perform a squat by keeping your back straight and lowering yourself down until your hamstrings are parallel with the floor. 
  3. Return to the starting position. If you can’t balance on your toes, you can also elevate your heels using a block or a weight.

Tips From A Trainer!

If you find the balance required too challenging then try holding onto a wall for stability.  

2. Bulgarian Split Squats 

Woman Doing Bulgarian Split Squats

Bulgarian split squats are another great sissy squat substitute. They’re perfect for targeting your quads and improve balance and overall strength. For this exercise, you’ll need a platform about knee height.

To make this exercise more challenging, you can add weights to each hand or wear a heavy backpack.

If you want to make it easier, you can focus on doing the exercise slowly and hold on to something like a chair for extra balance.

If you can't perform this exercise, you might want to try out Bulgarian split squat alternatives for targeting similar muscles.


  • Ideal exercise for improving balance.
  • Works one leg at a time, perfect for working on muscular imbalances.
  • Builds strength in the quads and glutes.

how to do A Bulgarian Split Squat:

  1. Face your back to the bench, then put one foot on the bench behind you, so you're standing on one leg. 
  2. Squat down with your standing leg. Your knee of the leg on the platform should almost touch the ground. 
  3. Keep your back straight and your core engaged throughout the exercise, and return to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

If you're a beginner and you're struggling to balance then you can hold onto something for stability and as you get stronger, try doing it without assistance. 

Related Article - Split Squats Vs Lunges

3. Barbell Hack Squat 

man doing barbell hack squat

Barbell hack squats are a good substitute for sissy squat exercises because they cover a comprehensive range of muscles. These include the abs, adductors, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

The primary muscle targeted is the quads, as with many squat exercises. It requires a barbell, but you can pick the weight you’d like to start with.

Because it’s a compound exercise, you’ll be exerting yourself heavily across each set, making it great for high-intensity workouts.


  • Great variation if you don't have access to a hack squat machine. 
  • The low position of the barbell can improve flexibility.
  • Improves athletic performance. 

How To Do A Barbell Hack Squat:

  1. Place the bar behind your calves and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Grab the bar with a pronated grip and stand as if you’re doing a deadlift. 
  3. Now move your torso to a more vertical position. 
  4. Breathe in and drive your feet into the floor, bringing up the bar. 
  5. Stand tall and extend both the hips and knees to lock out the bar. 
  6. Lower the bar back to the starting position and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

If you're new to this exercise, don't go heavy and open yourself up to risk of injury. Go light and nail form before loading the barbell.  

4. Overhead Barbell Wall Squats 

Woman Doing Overhead Barbell Wall Squats

The overhead barbell wall squat is a more advanced sissy squat alternative for weightlifters looking to strengthen their legs.

It brings in extra muscles because the barbell rolls up and down a wall while you’re in a kneeling position.

But it’s also more comfortable because it helps you maintain your form while lifting the bar. This makes it a good exercise for beginners.


  • Increases mobility in the thoracic spine.
  • Can be used to work your way towards overhead squats without the wall. 
  • Improves full body strength. 

How To Do A Overhead Barbell Wall Squat:

  1. Place the barbell against a wall. 
  2. Kneel and grab the bar using a pronated grip. 
  3. Roll the bar upwards as you rise, keeping your back pushed out but straight. 
  4. Keep going until you’re vertical, and then move in reverse to lower the bar. 
  5. Repeat as many times as desired.

Tips From A Trainer!

You can try this with just your body weight before giving it a go with a loaded barbell. Always go light at first when trying an exercise for the first time. 

5. Goblet Squat 

Woman Doing Goblet Squats

The goblet squat is a great exercise that can challenge beginners and advanced lifters alike. It’s a step up from the bodyweight squat but with no added barbell. It’s a suitable sissy squat alternative for several reasons.

Firstly, it’s easy to perform correctly. Secondly, the weight at the front means you’re targeting the same quad muscles as you do when you do a traditional sissy squat. 


  • Improves balance and stability.
  • Staple exercise for beginners. 
  • Increases core strength. 

How To Do A Goblet Squat: 

  1. Start with a kettlebell or dumbbell.
  2. Hold the weight at chest height in front of you.
  3. Squat down and explode back to the starting position. 
  4. Keep your back straight and your core engaged throughout the exercise.

Tips From A Trainer!

Only go as low as you can whilst keeping a stable and upright torso and your heels on the floor. If you have limited hip or ankle mobility, you can try elevating your heels with small weight plates.  

6. Hack Squat 

Man Doing Hack Squat Exercise

The hack squat is a sissy squat alternative that uses a hack squat machine.

The main benefit of this machine is the amount of weight you can add and how easy it is to get started using it.

It targets the exact same muscle group as a sissy squat but you're able to load a lot more weight into this exercise.

If you don't have access to a squat machine, you can try out hack squat substitutes.


  • Perfect for lower body hypertrophy.
  • Improves strength in the core.
  • Great for those with limited shoulder mobility and are unable to do a barbell back squat.

How to Do A hack Squat: 

  1. Position yourself underneath the pads so they are resting on your shoulders. 
  2. Put your feet shoulder-width apart on the footplate, toes pointing forwards, and disengage any safety locks. 
  3. Hold onto the handlebars in front of your shoulders, lower yourself into a squat position, then drive yourself up to the starting position. 
  4. When you’ve completed your desired number of reps, re-engage the safety locks.

Tips From A Trainer!

Foot positioning targets different muscles. A high foot position will recruit more glutes and hamstrings whilst a low or medium placing will target the quads. 

7. Jump Squats 

Woman Doing Jump Squats

Like other squats using bodyweight, jump squats are great for beginners and are as intense as you want to make them.

Jump squats are a good sissy squat alternative because you can do them without worrying about getting injured and they also target your quads. They are also shown to improve athletic performance significantly.[1]


  • Promotes lower body explosive strength.
  • Builds strong legs and glutes.
  • Get the heart rate up and improves cardiovascular fitness. 

How To Do A Jump Squat: 

  1. Squat down so that your hamstrings are parallel with the ground. 
  2. Explode with a jump back to a standing position.
  3. Land on your feet and descend back into a squat.
  4. Repeat for desired amount of reps. 

Tips From A Trainer!

Use your arms to produce momentum during this exercise. The arms come forward as your squat down and swing them back as you explode upwards into a vertical jump.  

8. Box Jump 

Woman Doing Box Jumps

The box jump is similar to the jump squat, except you aim to jump onto a platform such as a wooden box or bench.

Box jumps are a very popular exercise amongst athletes as they’re great for mobility, explosiveness, and strengthening your leg muscles.

However, if you don't have the equipment or want to skip this exercise because of an injury, there are box jump variations for you to try.


  • Builds both lower body strength and power.
  • Great addition to a HIIT workout.
  • Challenges hip extension and flexion.

How To Do A Box Jump:

  1. Squat down and swing your arms back to get momentum. 
  2. Now swing your arms forward and jump onto the platform in front of you. 
  3. Gently jump back down and repeat. 
  4. To adjust the difficulty of this exercise, increase or decrease the height you’re jumping onto.

Tips From A Trainer!

Don't do too high if you're a beginner. Start lower and as you get stronger then increase the height of the box. 

Suggested Equipment - Best Plyo Boxes Reviewed

9. Leg Press Machine 

Woman Doing Exercise On A Leg Press Machine

A leg press machine is typically present in most gyms and is a suitable sissy squat machine alternative. The main advantage of the leg press machine is that it’s straightforward to use.

You can also challenge yourself by reducing or adding weights no matter how experienced you are.


  • Builds strength and muscle mass, especially the quad muscles.
  • Ideal for beginners, keeps you in a stable position.
  • Risk of injury is lower compared to compound exercises like squat and deadlift.

How To Do The Leg Press Machine: 

  1. Sit down and put your feet on the footplate. 
  2. Adjust your seat, so your legs are at a 90-degree angle. 
  3. When you are in a comfy position, load the weights on the racks on each side of the leg press machine.
  4. Make sure there are an even number of weights on each side. 
  5. Sit back down and release the safety locks. 
  6. Push the weights with your legs. 
  7. When you're finished, re-engage the safety locks. 
  8. Ensure you don’t over-extend or straighten out your knees.

Tips From A Trainer!

Make sure you don't go too low and cause your lower back to round and your glutes to lift off the seat, this puts you back at risk. Control the decent and lower to the point just before you feel your glutes lifting. 

Related Article - Leg Press Vs Squat

10. Dumbbell Walking Lunges 

Woman and Man Doing Dumbbell Walking Lunges

Dumbbell walking lunges are another great all-around exercise that strengthens your legs and quads. They help to improve your core strength, balance, and posture.

A recent study has also shown that lunges can help athletes increase hamstring strength and sprint speed, and that are not all lunges benefits.[2]


  • Great unilateral exercises to improve strength in both side of the body.
  • Great for balance and coordination.
  • Builds strength in the glutes and quads, which improving core stability. 

How to do a dumbbell walking lunge: 

  1. To do a dumbbell walking lunge, simply carry a dumbbell in each hand. 
  2. Choose a weight you’re comfortable with at the start, or just do bodyweight lunges. 
  3. Put your arms by your side, then take a large step forward, bending both your knees, but avoid hitting your back leg off of the ground. 
  4. Then push off your back leg and straighten your legs again. 
  5. Repeat this until you have completed an equal number of steps on each side.

Tips From A Trainer!

Don't step too far forwards. Your step should mean you can stay vertical with your torso and your legs are both and a 90 degree angle.  

11. Leg Extension 

man doing leg extension machine exercises

Leg extensions is a specific leg exercise that focuses on building your quad muscles, making it a perfect sissy squat substitute.

The leg extension is perfect for isolating your quad muscles, similar to sissy squats.

However, it's easier to start doing leg extensions as they require less overall strength or flexibility.


  • Perfect exercise for hypertrophy training.
  • Good for beginners.
  • Strengthens the hip joint.

How to do the leg extension:

  1. Sit on the leg extension machine. 
  2. Adjust your seat so that your shin is pressed gently against the padded part of the machine. 
  3. Choose your weight and push the padded bar at your shin with your leg, imitating a kicking motion. 
  4. Try to do this exercise in a smooth and controlled way.

Tips From A Trainer!

Fully straighten out your knees at the top of the movement and contract your quads to get the most out of  leg extensions. 

12. Banded Sissy Squat 

Man Doing Band Sissy Squat Exercises

A great traditional sissy squat alternative is the banded sissy squat. Rather than using a barbell, you'll only be using a resistance band. It works by pulling your legs toward an anchor point that the band is attached to.

You then perform a sissy squat as usual, using the resistance from the band to train your muscles. This makes it simpler to maintain good form and easier to get started with.


  • High degree of muscle tension on the quads.
  • Building stronger quads helps protect your knee from injury. 
  • Great quad isolation exercises that puts less force through the knee.

how to do a banded sissy squat: 

  1. Using a suitable resistance band, wrap it around your knees and secure it to a solid pillar. 
  2. Stand shoulder-width apart with your back straight and head forwards. 
  3. Push your knees outwards as you descend into the squat. 
  4. Bring yourself up in a fast but controlled motion. 
  5. Repeat for desired amount of reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

Keep your chest behind your knees and keep you torso vertical, don't lean forwards during this movement. 

Benefits Of Substitute Exercises Instead Of Sissy Squats

Some of these exercises will yield better results for experienced fitness enthusiasts, whereas others will be better for beginners. The barbell hack squat and workout band sissy squat are good examples of choices aimed at beginners. Jump squats are more intense, and walking dumbbell lunges need precise movements.

The best course of action we can recommend is to try each one out using the steps we’ve provided. Then you’ll discover what level you’re at. Once you’re comfortable, focus on the more complex exercises. All of them will tone and strengthen the muscles within the legs, but some focus on particular muscles.

Gymgoers enjoy these exercises because they work the muscles hard and are convenient for targeting multiple muscle groups. Sometimes sissy squats are performed with these exercises, but it depends on strength level and mobility.

What Muscles Do Sissy Squat Alternative Exercises Work?


The primary muscles that sissy squats targets are the quadriceps, commonly referred to as quads. When you do a sissy squat, you're doing the opposite movement compared to a traditional squat. Much of the exercise's activation is on your upper thighs, and less focused on your glutes or hamstrings.  

Gluteus Maximus 

As mentioned above, your quads are mainly targeted more than any other muscle. However, your gluteus maximus (Glutes), one of your body's largest muscles, will also be under plenty of strain.[3]. Strong glutes are essential for almost every lower body exercise, and sissy squats are no different.   


One of the most critical factors in doing a sissy squat (and many other exercises) is your core strength. For sissy squats, you need to lean back, which will require a lot of balance. Your core muscles will help to stabilize you and prevent you from tipping over.

Hip Flexor 

The hip flexor can be a complex muscle to target. However, the sissy squat is one of the best exercises to target it. The leaning back motion of the sissy squat is rarely replicated in any exercise, which is what makes the sissy squat beneficial for the hip flexors. 

Common Sissy Squat Questions

Are sissy squats difficult? 

Sissy squats are challenging because of the muscles they use. These muscles are often unused in day-to-day activities. If you try to do sissy squats when you don't have the strength or mobility, you risk injuring your knees, hips, or ankles. You can use a sissy squat machine, a door frame, or a chair for assistance at the start. 

Do sissy squats build muscle? 

Yes, sissy squats are great for building muscle. They primarily target your quads and help develop other muscles such as your hip flexor, core, and glutes. This makes them a convenient and effective all-around exercise for the legs.  

Is sissy squat bad for knees? 

When you do sissy squats, you’re putting your knees in an unusual position. Because of this, sissy squats can be bad for your knees, but not if you take sensible precautions. You can train safely to build up to a sissy squat by lowering your range of motion and doing half reps until you build up enough strength.  

Which one of these 12 exercises is best? 

All of the exercises mentioned above are great for targeting your legs. However, if you want to choose one sissy squat substitute, we would recommend the Bulgarian split squat. This exercise is excellent for targeting your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. 


The sissy squat is one of the best exercises for targeting your quad muscles,  hip flexors, and core. However, because it requires a lot of strength and mobility, it's not suitable for all fitness levels.

Try choosing some of these sissy squat alternatives to improve your strength and flexibility. 





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Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor

Hi, I’m Jo. I love sunrise swims, cold water immersion and cats. I have been dedicated to strength training for the past 14 years. I became a qualified Personal Trainer in 2020, and am passionate about helping my clients get stronger. Visit Jo Taylors Website