Sometimes, you step into the gym despite how many years you’ve been lifting, and see a piece of equipment, that you don’t know how to use, let alone know the name of. The pendulum squat is one of those pieces of equipment. At first sight, It may even look like a medieval torture device. The pendulum squat is very similar to the hack squat. So if you are already familiar with the hack squat machine, this machine will not be too much of an unknown. The only real difference between the two is the bar path. The pendulum squat has a curved path whereas the hack squat will usually have a straight path upwards and downwards.
What is the pendulum squat
The pendulum squat is an exercise machine that has a counterbalance helping you squat into an arching motion, like a pendulum. This is how the pendulum squat gets its name. As a squat variation, this exercise is great for adding some variety into your training regimen, to help build size and strength in your quadriceps, glutes, adductors, and calves. But obviously, this exercise can never ever compete with the barbell squat – king of the exercises. But for those gym goers who, for some reason, can’t perform barbell squats this is an interesting substitution.
Pendulum squats proper form
In order to perform pendulum squats, you will need access to a pendulum squat machine. Here are step-by-step instructions on how to perform pendulum squats using the perfect form.
STARTING POSITION (SETUP):
- Adjust the machine to fit your body. This means adjusting the angle of the platform (the most important adjustment) and the height or depth of the shoulder pads.
- Load the machine with the required number of weight plates to ensure the exercise will be challenging enough. However, keep in mind that the weight of the unloaded machine itself could be difficult enough on its own, so don’t overdo it.
- Walk inside the machine’s footprint and set your back against the back pad with your shoulders tucked comfortably under the shoulder pads.
- Stand on the footplate with your feet between hip and shoulder-width apart.
- Extend your arms to grab the handles in front of you (or, depending on the type of the machine, next to your shoulders) and place your feet shoulder-width apart on the platform below.
- Straighten your legs to release the safety bar. This is your starting position.
- Begin the movement by bending your legs, descending down and forward into a squat. Try to hit 90 degrees at the knees or deeper.
- Extend your legs and return to the starting position, stopping just short of complete lockout to keep the tension on your quads.
- Repeat for the required number of reps.
Additional tips (performance pointers)
These additional tips will help you even further with the proper execution of the exercise.
- There are lots of different pendulum squat machine manufacturers and designs, and each one works slightly differently. Maybe the instructions given above will not be 100% applicable. Always use the pendulum squat machine according to instructions provided with the machine or as directed by the gym staff.
- An angle that puts the platform in the middle of its height selector is usually a good starting point. Too flat or too angled will often feel awkward or force you to raise your heels as you squat down, which is not recommended.
- Vary the foot position according to your desires. There’s no right or wrong foot position, per se, so it’s important to play with different setups and to cross-reference and see what allows you to perform strong reps comfortably at high intensities. A narrow stance shifts the focus to your quads. A wider stance increases glute activation.
Main benefits of the pendulum squat machine
- Its guided trajectory creates a unique movement halfway between a squat and a 45-degree leg press.
- The presence of the backrest reduces stress on the lower back during the movement (lower back friendly exercise). Back squats and front squats are great but they can lead to higher degrees of fatigue due to the stress they place on the spine.
- The backrest and shoulder pads make pendulum squats quite comfortable, even when lifting heavy weights.
- Since you don’t have to balance the weight (using lower back and core muscles) like in a barbell squat, you are free to push your quads and glutes closer to failure, which is optimal for hypertrophy.
- You don’t need spotters.
- Easy to adjust for different lifters.
- Suitable for beginners because the pendulum machine guides your movements. It’s, therefore, hard to do this exercise incorrectly.
- Pendulum squats can be very useful for working around injuries.
The main disadvantages of the pendulum squat machine
- Most gyms don’t have pendulum squat machines. However, that’s been steadily changing over the last few years.
- The movement you perform on this machine is not very functional – is unlike anything you’ll ever do in real life or any sports activity.
- Pendulum squats are of little use to athletes looking to build functional strength.
- It barely works your core muscles and stabilizers.
Pendulum squat muscles worked
The pendulum squat is a compound or multi-joint exercise that works many of your lower body muscles simultaneously. Like the barbell back squat, the pendulum squat works the same muscles, such as the quadriceps (the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius), glutes (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus), hamstrings, adductors, and calves (gastrocnemius) without balancing a barbell. Since you don’t have to balance the weight, all the numerous stabilizing muscles (core muscles, muscles of the lower back and along the spine) will be excluded.
As already mentioned, vary the foot position in order to emphasize different muscles. If your goal is crushing the quads then you’ll want to bring your feet closer together (around hip to shoulder width apart) and down a little bit on the platform. To squat more for your glutes, keep your feet wider apart and slide up on the platform. To squat more for your adductors, keep your feet around the hip to shoulder-width apart and turn your toes out slightly.
Replacement exercises for the pendulum squat
With all the different types of squats to choose from, you can say goodbye to workout boredom. Try these squats for every need and fitness level.
- Basic bodyweight squat
- Barbell squat
- Pistol squat
- Double kettlebell front squat
- Dumbbell front squat
- Single-leg squat
- Goblet squat
- Zercher squat
- Sissy squat
- Dumbbell squat
- Front barbell squat
- Smith-machine squat
The pendulum squat is an excellent squat variation. It’s back-friendly, easy to learn, and still targets the same lower body muscles as a regular squat. It’s a rare machine that offers a unique way of loading the squat pattern, so consider yourself lucky if you have access to one!