It’s relatively easy to ignore the thighs by simply covering them up. After all, with summer long gone and food flowing more abundantly in some cases during the pandemic, no one wants to think about the extra softness that creeps into the thighs. It’s fine to relax a bit during this time of year, but you can also use the time to prevent the winter sag and to get a jump-start on next spring’s unveiling of your new lower body.

It would seem logical to think an exercise that has “sissy” as part of its name should be a real snap to perform. If that was your guess, you’d only be partly right. On one hand, it looks easy to do and it doesn’t require any sophisticated equipment. However, whoever named this exercise “sissy squats” must never have actually appreciated how difficult this exercise can be! Working on your thighs, and especially something associated with a squat exercise, is anything but easy, and this is also the case with this exercise. Sissy squats place the thigh muscles under constant tension and this eventually deprives the muscles of any opportunity for rest until the set is over. In fact, this exercise will seem to quickly add a fire to your lower extremities. Although it’s truly misnamed, “sissy squats” can transform your training program into an intensive, thigh-shaping experience.

Women who begin a fitness program frequently have a few objectives. They may have the goal of eliminating extra bulk on the outside of their thighs or of trying to overcome soft inner thighs. There are a number of exercises that can pay good dividends for the inner or outer thighs. However, if you want to engage in an exercise that will help to transform flat, shapeless, lower thighs in the area just above the knee to an area that’s firm and fully contoured all the way to the hip, then you need to read further to determine if sissy squats are for you.

Quadriceps Muscles

Sissy squats activate the entire musculature of the anterior (front) thigh, but especially the musculature closest to the knee. The anterior thigh consists of four major muscles that are collectively knows as the quadriceps femoris (“quadriceps” or “quads”). These cover the anterior and lateral parts of the femur bone of the thigh and comprise three vastus muscles and the rectus femoris. “Vastus” is a Latin name meaning large or great. The three large vastus muscles are named to indicate their position on the thigh. The vastus lateralis muscle lies on the lateral (outer) part of the thigh. The vastus medialis covers the medial (inner) part of the thigh. The vastus intermedius is located intermediately between the vastus lateralis and the vastus medialis and covers the central and deeper parts of the thigh. The vastus medialis is anchored to the medial part of the femur bone (thigh bone); the vastus lateralis to the lateral part of the femur; the vastus intermedius to the central, anterior part of the femur. The fourth muscle is the rectus femoris. It attaches to the hip and it courses down the central portion of the thigh. All four muscles come together above the knee to attach to the patellar tendon. This attaches to the patella (knee cap) and the patellar ligament attaches the patella to the top part of the tibia bone just below the knee. Together, the quadriceps straighten the leg at the knee joint by pulling on the patella and through it, the patellar ligament attached to the lower leg (tibia bone). The rectus femoris also flexes the thigh at the hip joint by pulling the knee and thigh toward the chest. It works with the iliopsoas muscle to flex the thigh at the hip joint. The rectus femoris muscle is a weak knee extensor when the hip is flexed because it’s mechanically unable to make a major contribution to force production when the hip is flexed (as in sitting). On the other hand, sissy squats do a great job of activating the rectus femoris because the hip is extended and straight through each repetition so the rectus femoris can be strongly activated.

Sissy Squats

You should warm up the knees and thighs before beginning your thigh workout. This should include some stretches for the quadriceps and some light cycling or a few minutes on a stepper.

1. Locate a high object that you can firmly hold on to. At the gym this isn’t too hard, as you can use the vertical poles on a Smith machine or a cable machine or even the top of an incline bench (make sure the bench is anchored to the floor and it won’t move). At home you can hold on to the back of a sofa or recliner chair.

2. Stand upright, with feet about 4 inches apart and hold firmly to your supporting structure.

3. Flex your knees and rise up on your toes.

4. Slowly bend backward so your torso is lowered toward the floor. Continue to bend backward as you let your pelvis and knees move forward. Stop when your buttocks approach your heels. (Make sure you don’t lose your grip on the support as you’re bending backward).

5. Hold the bottom position for a count of three before starting back up. At the bottom position you should feel a great stretch across the entire thigh.

6. Return to the starting position by straightening your knees and standing upright.

It’s important to obtain and keep a smooth motion in both directions. Don’t rest at the top of the exercise as this will eliminate the constant tension on the muscles and the weight will be transferred away from your muscles. You should always do this exercise slowly and never bounce into the bottom position or explode upward from a position with a flexed knee.

There are some important considerations before attempting to conqueror this exercise. Most importantly, this exercise isn’t for everyone. There are many folks who swear by its effectiveness, but it can be too tough on the knees to make this a good exercise for everyone. For example, if you’ve had a knee injury, you should avoid this exercise altogether. This is because any time your knees travel past the point of your foot when you’re squatting, it places a lot of stress on your patellar tendon. Thus, not everyone has the flexibility and strength in their patellar tendons to handle the exercise. In addition, you won’t have to add extra weight by holding a dumbbell, etc. as this would greatly increase the risk of injuring your knees, especially during the deep squat. Furthermore, if you’ve had a back problem and or any disc injury, bending backward might compound the problem and again, you shouldn’t use this exercise.

On the other hand, if your back and knees are in great condition this can be a terrific exercise for firming and shaping the front of your thighs. Sissy squats are particularly well suited for people who have sufficient flexibility in their patellar tendons. If this is the case, the exercise shouldn’t give you any problem. Nevertheless, if you experience even mild knee or back pain from sissy squats this could eventually lead to more chronic knee or back injury, so be very aware of how you’re reacting to the exercise if you want to add it to your regular training routine.

Sissy squats can be downright uncomfortable partway through the set. The first three or four repetitions will be OK, but as you continue to work through each set, your thighs will quickly become fatigued and starved for blood and oxygen. As you become mentally tougher, you’ll learn to ignore the pleas from your thighs to stop your set early. Nevertheless, don’t expect this type of mental toughness to arrive overnight, but it will come. Start with no more than two sets of 10 repetitions. Work up to three sets of 15 or 20 repetitions in a slow, constant-tension style. Do this as your last finishing exercise, after you’ve completed your other thigh exercises. It will add some final sculpturing to the anterior thighs.

If you’re someone who can do sissy squats (i.e., without knee pain, etc.) you’ll find a new awakening in the fibers of your thighs. This transformation will result in you possessing firm, shapely and contoured front thighs that you’ll want to show off all year long.


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