One of the most common and most popular accessory exercises on lower body days are leg extensions on a selectorized seated machine. You may have heard someone say they use the leg extension machine, but shy away from squats due to “bad Knees.” This however is a common misconception. When it comes to individuals with any type of knee discomfort, leg extension are perhaps one of the last exercises that should be considered.
When it comes to assistance work to train the quads, we use a replacement exercise that we believe, addresses the flaws of the machine leg extension; The “sissy squat.”
Let’s talk about how to perform the exercise first, and then we will address why we think it is superior to machine leg extensions.
All you need are two thick resistance bands and a stable upright to attach the bands to do sissy squats anywhere. Double wrap each band around the upright at about knee level. Step into the band so it is tight against the back of your knee and step back so the bands are almost holding you up from falling backwards. At this point you can perform the exercise. Sit your hips back and drop down until your thigh is just parallel with floor. Stand back up to the point just before your knee extends. Do not let your knees move forward or hunch your upper body over.
The sissy squat is a more practical exercise mainly because it is a closed chain exercise. A closed chain exercise means that’s the far end of a working limb is fixated and stable. As an example, pushups are also closed chain because the hands are fixated to the ground. Machine leg extensions, however would be considered an open chained exercise, because the feet are moving freely. The nature of the sissy squat allows one to move through a more “functional” pattern of knee extension. The knee flexes and extends from a standing position with the resistance load being above the knee and though the bodies sagittal plane. With the machine leg extension, the load is below the knee with the resistance pushing horizontally across the shin.
We usually program this exercise as a main assistance exercise to a squat or deadlift. Most indivuals can handle higher volume as we usually do 3-4 sets of 10-20 reps. Once one has mastered the exercise in this rep/set scheme, dumbbells and kettlebells can be added in goblet squat style.
Add sissy squats to your routine and watch your legs grow and knees feel better!