Sisyphus in mythology was doomed to roll a boulder uphill in an endless torture. It seems appropriate that that the ‘Sissy’ Squat is named after this character of old. Constant tension and mental persistance are the trademarks of this almost forgotten exercise. It was very popular in the early sixties and deserves to have a comeback. Currently the leg extension machine has been set aside specifically for Health Club Mullets, so the idea of a quad specific exercise is only thought of in terms of therapy or knee rehabilitation. Front Squats do a fine job, but they provide a general or systemic stimulation pattern. Sissy Squats are done freehand with mild assistance from a sturdy upright structure for balance. They can be done weight free for the beginner but loads should be added to keep repetitions low and tension high. Doing endless reps with no weight will not burn cuts into your thighs anymore than it will win you the lotto.
The skill needed for this lift is minimal. Go weight free or grab a barbell plate and hug it to your chest with one arm. The other arm will hold the upright of a power rack or similar apparatus. Now lean back slowly keeping a high level of tension in the whole thigh including the glutes and hamstrings. Your torso should remain in the same plane as the upper thighs and this position must remained locked in a fight with gravity and steel. Your heels will come off the ground and you will be balancing on your toes in a sort of developmental limbo dance as you see how low you can go. Individual balance, flexibility, and skill will determine the ultimate range of motion. You should feel huge levels of resistance in the frontal thighs, hip flexors, and abdominals. Even the calves should effort. Now reverse the motion and slowly raise yourself to the near upright position to complete the concentric phase of this exercise. The trick here is to NEVER come fully upright. That’s right. Don’t remove the tension or pause at the top. Reverse the motion smoothly, rinse, and repeat. At the end of your effort or what may seem like the light at the end of the tunnel, come fully upright and lose the added weight. Take a brief rest, switch arms, and do it again,…and again,….and again.
As far as repetitions are concerned, use common sense. Lots of old timers felt that high reps were in order. Others felt that the Vince’s Gym loading parameters of 10×10, then 8×8, then 6×6 over a period of cycles was the key. I’d think that the standard 5×5 with a heavy load will be more than sufficient if you already are doing heavy lower body work.
Sissy Squats are great for those with bad knees who cannot squat, but can deadlift. They are great for those who are focusing on deadlifting and ignoring their quads for a cycle. They are just plane nasty and are rugged tool and certainly not for sissy’s.