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Home » Pendulum Squat Guide | Form, Muscles Worked, Foot Placement, and More

Pendulum Squat Guide | Form, Muscles Worked, Foot Placement, and More

The pendulum squat is an incredibly underrated squat variation for strength and hypertrophy. This squat variation can only be performed on pendulum squat machines which more gyms are starting to acquire.

In the past, pendulum squats were not as readily available in commercial gyms but that’s been steadily changing over the last few years. As more lifters learn about pendulum squats and their benefits more gyms are starting to keep them in their lineup.

In my pendulum squat guide, I’ll discuss how to perform this movement properly, how to bias different muscles when performing them, and discuss some mistakes to avoid.

The pendulum squat gets its name because this machine and the squat mechanics required to perform pendulum squat reps will resemble a pendulum-like motion when performing reps.

Pendulum Squat Guide

Must Read: Getting more into squats and weightlifting? Check out my favorite weightlifting shoes. I’ve pulled my top picks for powerlifting, wide feet, and more. 

Pendulum Squat Form

Since there are different pendulum squat machines on the market, you may experience slight form discrepancies depending on the machine you’re using. Below is a general coaching flow for performing pendulum squats.

How To Pendulum Squat

Establish your foot position

To perform traditional pendulum squats, you’re going to want to establish a foot position that feels comfortable for you to achieve a full range of motion.

Generally speaking, this will be around the middle of the pendulum squat’s platform and your feet will likely be facing forward or turned out slightly.

How To Pendulum Squat Step 1 Foot Position

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.

Descend slowly

Stand up in the pendulum squat and turn the handle to unlock the machine. Make sure you’re braced and ready for the load before you adjust the safety hook and arm.

Descend slowly keeping your back and hips pressed against the pendulum squat’s pad. You ideally don’t want the hips coming off of the pad and if they are you’ll want to adjust your stance.

How To Pendulum Squat Step 2 Descent

While maintaining tension in the legs, descend fully into the whole of your pendulum squat. More range of motion is better with this variation.

Drive through the feet and stand

As you hit your end range of motion, you’ll drive into the pendulum squat’s platform keeping an even and balanced load across the feet.

As you stand, remember to keep your hips and back pressed in the pendulum squat’s padding, and at lockout squeeze the quads to finish your quad extension.

How To Pendulum Squat Step 3 Ascent

Once you’re comfortably locked out, you’ll then brace accordingly and descend into your next rep repeating the steps above.

 

Pendulum Squat Muscles Worked

The pendulum squat is awesome for focusing heavily on the legs while limiting axial or spinal loading. This gives the pendulum squat a ton of potential for allowing you to focus on lower body hypertrophy.

What Muscles Are Used In Pendulum Squats?

Pendulum Squats Muscles Trained

Pendulum Squats Muscles Worked

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Adductors
  • Gastrocnemius (calves)
  • Adductors
  • Tibialis Anterior

*bolded indicates a higher level of involvement

Remember, how you perform pendulum squats and your setup can influence the muscles you’re biasing and targeting. For example, you can bias the adductors, quads, and glutes depending on your foot placement and execution.

Pendulum Squat Benefits

If you’re just starting to use pendulum squats in your program then you may be wondering about their “why” and benefits. Below are three of the main benefits that come with pendulum squats.

Pendulum Squat Benefit 1: Great for Hypertrophy

The first benefit of pendulum squats is they can be an awesome lower-body exercise for leg hypertrophy. While you’ll obviously get a strength stimulus with pendulum squats, too, I’d argue that their hypertrophy potential is their biggest benefit.

Over the course of my pendulum squat usage and with programming them for clients, I’ve found pendulum squats can be awesome for hypertrophy for three key reasons.

How To Pendulum Squat

  1. They keep a heavy focus on the legs. Since you’re not having to balance a barbell on the back or “think” about too much with pendulum squats you can easily double down on how you’re sequencing the lower body and placing stress into the legs.
  2. The resistance curve is solid. Unlike other machines where you may lose tension at certain points, the pendulum squat keeps a fairly balanced load on the legs throughout the entire range of motion.
  3. Easy to adjust for different lifters. In general, pendulum squats tend to be a little easier regarding your ability to adjust to the machine to make the movement comfortable to get the most out of reps. Whereas some machines may not align with your anatomy no matter how much you adjust.

With hypertrophy, remember that your programming and effort will be the biggest determinates when it comes to growth. Simply performing a few reps here and there won’t do the trick if you really want to create leg growth.

Follow a consistent program, place a high focus on your effort each set, and don’t be afraid to take sets to failure to explore your pendulum squat output potential.

Pendulum Squat Benefit 2: Useful for Limiting Spinal Loading

Another benefit of pendulum squats is they can be a great lower-body exercise for limiting spinal loading, also referred to as axial loading. 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.

This greater degree of fatigue can cut into your potential to “do more” in sets when your goals revolve around building your legs. For example, you may find that your back fatigues faster when back squatting than your quads and glutes.

Pendulum Squat Benefit reduce spinal loading

In this context, your back fatigue would be a limiter regarding your goals and growth. The pendulum squat takes away this spinal loading and allows you to more heavily focus on what the legs are doing.

This is also why I love pendulum squats for leg hypertrophy. To truly create growth in the quads, adductors, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, you need to be able to take them close to true mechanical failure.

Pendulum Squat Benefit 3: Can Be Useful for Working Around Injuries

The final benefit that lifters and athletes can experiment with revolves around using pendulum squats to work around injuries. This benefit is highly individual and it’s a topic that you’ll have to approach with the context of your situation.

That said, I’ve found the pendulum squat to be useful for athletes and lifters working around certain back and leg injuries. Since the pendulum squat doesn’t directly load the spine it can be useful for limiting stress, especially in the context of spinal flexion.

Pendulum Squat Benefit for Working Around Injuries

It can also be useful for lifters with upper back injuries that may be limited regarding how one is holding onto a barbell in a back squat and front squat.

In the context of lower body injuries, I’ve found the pendulum squat’s resistance curve to be a nice tool to progress lifters back into lower body movements without “overdoing” it regarding stress on the knees and ankles.

It’s easy to modify the range of motion in the pendulum squat and since you’re squatting on a pendulum-like arc it can take away some direct vertical loading on the knees and ankles that may be limited.

Pendulum Squat for Quads

If you’re trying to target the quads with the pendulum squat then you’ll want to focus on two aspects. First, your foot placement on your pendulum squat’s platform. Second, watch how much ankle and knee flexion you’re achieving with your reps.

When it comes to your foot placement in pendulum squats for targeting the quads, you’ll generally want to bring them slightly lower on the platform and have your feet around hip-width apart with the toes forward or slightly turned out.

Pendulum Squat for Quads

In most cases, this will traditionally set your legs up so you’re allowing the knees to track further over the toes which will create a greater degree of stretch and stress on the quads.

By bringing the feet down on the platform your knees will naturally need to track further over the toes as you hit your end ranges of motion due to the pendulum squat’s arc.

If you find that your heels keep lifting off of the platform at your hit the bottom of your pendulum squat and this is taking away from your ankle and knee flexion, then I’d suggest exploring the use of weightlifting shoes with this variation.

Pendulum Squat for Quad Hypertrophy

An elevated heel will place your ankle in an environment that feeds better into forward knee translation AKA you’re better setting yourself up for success by the use of shoes (tools) versus tweaking too much

Pendulum Squat for Glutes

If you’re after a glute bias with your pendulum squat then you’ll want to bring your feet further up on the platform and place them about hip-width apart.

The goal with this style of pendulum squat is to get as much stretch possible on the glutes and by bringing the feet upwards on the platform you can typically get a greater stretch on the glute max.

Pendulum Squat for Glute Hypertrophy

With this variation, you’ll typically want to opt for a flatter shoe, too, because an elevated heel can take away from your potential to get a little more stretch on your glutes.

When performing glute-biased pendulum squats, I like to think about keeping a little more weight in my heels as I drive through the platform and I try to achieve the greatest range of motion possible for my body.

Pendulum Squat Mistakes

There really aren’t too many ways you can mess up pendulum squats as they’re a pretty beginner-friendly leg exercise. However, there are two mistakes that I’ll see lifters make with this machine.

Pendulum Squat Mistake 1: Setting Up Improperly

The first mistake that I’ll see lifters make on the pendulum squat is setting up incorrectly. Typically, an incorrect setup will revolve around the feet and how one is placing them on the platform.

The most common example that I see is lifters bringing their feet too far down on the platform which then can result in the heels coming off due to a lack of ankle mobility or reaching their end range of motion.

Pendulum Squat Mistake Foot Placement

This is where bringing the feet up or using weightlifting shoes if your goal is quad-bias comes into play. Remember, for general pendulum squats, you want to keep the feet more or less planted on the platform.

Pendulum Squat Mistake 2: Rushing Reps

There are few exercises that can humble you as fast as pendulum squats. A lot of times I’ll see beginners and newer lifters rush pendulum squat reps and add too much load too fast.

If your goal is hypertrophy, then you’ll want to use a load that allows you to maintain a smooth tempo to keep tension and effort high. For example, if you’re bouncing out of the hole or dive-bombing reps then you’re leaving gains on the table.

Pendulum Squat Mistake Rushing

As a general rule of thumb, I always suggest trying to use a 2-4 second tempo during the eccentric or lowering portion of your rep, then maintain a smooth 1-3 second tempo during the concentric portion of your rep.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q:
What is the starting resistance on pendulum squats?

A:
Generally speaking, most pendulum squats will start with a resistance of 45-55 lbs and this can vary from machine to machine.

Q:
What muscles do pendulum squats work?

A:
Pendulum squats will primarily train the quads, glutes, and adductors. You'll also get some secondary benefit for the hamstrings, calves, and tibialis anterior when performing pendulum squats through a full range of motion.

Q:
What are benefits of pendulum squats?

A:
Pendulum squats are awesome for lower body hypertrophy and they can decrease spinal loading allowing lifters to get more volume and higher intensities without spinal fatigue being a limiter.

Takeaway Thoughts

The pendulum squat is an awesome lower-body exercise when your goals revolve around hypertrophy and strength. This exercise can be used by lifters of all skill levels for benefit.

If your gym has a pendulum squat, I challenge you to use it for a training block or two and to push your intensity on this machine. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with your leg results if you stay consistent.

If you have additional questions about the pendulum squat, drop a comment below or reach out to me via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).

nv-author-image

Jake Boly

I've been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I've trained hundreds of clients, written thousands of articles, reviewed over 100+ pairs of training shoes, and have produced a large list of training videos. I live and breathe fitness and training gear, and I think it's important that reviewers walk the walk with the gear they're testing. As for my educational background, I have my Masters in Sports Science, Bachelors in Exercise Science, and have my CSCS.

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