As you progress in your exercises, it’s important to remember that what you learn in one exercise may not always be directly applicable to another. With squats and sissy squats, which similar names and similar principles, there are many factors that make them different. You must beware of these differences, to avoid mistakes.
1. Purpose of the squat exercises
Sissy squats are a specialist exercise aimed to help people with patella maltracking restore proper balance in their quadriceps muscles, to ensure the patella does not rub against the condyles of the femur. Squats are the most fundamental movement a human being performs. Using them as an exercise teaches and develops proper movement patterns and strength throughout the whole body.
2. Weight distribution
For sissy squats, you need to think about keeping your weight on your heels, otherwise the wooden heel block will induce you to allow your weight to come too far forward onto your toes. For squats you need to think about distributing your weight over your mid-foot or else your toes could turn out, when weight is over your hells, or your heels could turn in, when your weight is over your forefeet. We covered this in more detail in our article about keeping your knees out.
3. Stance width
The double-legged version of sissy squats should be performed with a very close stance (inside hip width) as this closely mimics the feel of the single-leg version, which everyone should build up to perform. Squats tend to be performed at a variety of stance widths, ranging from very wide (outside shoulder width) to narrow (hip width). The single leg version of squats (pistol squats) are an entirely different exercise which follows a different technique.
4. Back angle
In sissy squats the back angle leans backwards and the hips move slightly forwards. In squats the back angle leans slightly forwards and the hips move backwards. Common to both exercises is that the anterior/posterior tilt of the pelvis acts to match whatever angle the back occupies to keep neutral relative to the back (which ultimately means the hip tilts in the opposite direction for each exercise).
5. Speed of movement
Sissy squats are an exercise where “feel” is important, i.e. due to their purpose, they should be performed slowly, so the quads experience significant time-under-tension to learn how to activate in the proper balance and track the patella properly. Squats can be performed similarly slowly in the early days when learning the complexities of the technique, but, once an adequate level of skill has been developed, they can be performed much more quickly (with the caveat that control must be present at all times) in order to replicate athletic movements and lift more weight.