The Pendulum squat is an incredible exercise used to primarily target the quadriceps in a controlled manner. In this article we’re going to cover everything you need to know about the Pendulum Squat and why you should include it in your lower body or leg training sessions.
What is a pendulum squat?
A pendulum squat is a lower body weight training machine that has a large emphasis on the quadriceps and gluteus but also engages the hamstrings. In terms of the movement, the movement pattern of a pendulum squat is different to that of a free weight squat and leg press, but more alike a hack squat, with an even greater range of active motion of the quadriceps due to the angle of the foot plate, the machine itself, and your spinal position.
This makes it (if your gym has one) a great tool as part of your lower body training arsenal.
As you can see from the image of this Panatta Pendulum Squat machine, there is a huge range of motion due to the machine alignment where you can truly take your hamstring to your calf with no limitation due to spinal loading in your range of motion here.
Why should you use a pendulum squat?
Well there’s many advantages to a pendulum squat machine overall due the general benefits of any squat movement pattern, but here’s some of the benefits of using one;
- Greater range of motion than a free squat movement for most
- Ankle flexibility is not a limiting factor
- Can safely increase load without the need for a spot
- Easy to standardise form
- Less pressure on the lower back due to back support
From my reading, I can’t see any EMG activity data on a pendulum vs a squat, leg press or hack but safe to say they will be fairly comparable exercises from an activation perspective.
In terms of real disadvantages, the only “real” one from my experience of using a pendulum is increased exertion through the knee joint due to the increased range of motion, but this can be mitigated with foot position, tempo and loading. The other obvious one is lack of equipment availability, many gyms don’t have a pendulum squat, so if you travel around and go to different gyms, picking a pendulum as an exercise to progress week on week may not be beneficial if you can’t use it every session you need to.
But overall, if you can, and you like the movement, you should use a pendulum because it’s just a great exercise for building lower body tissue. There’s no safety limitation, you can push to failure and beyond safely and it’s a HARD exercise.
How to perform a pendulum squat
So the pendulum squat is actually a relatively easy machine to use as you’re effectively locked in place once you set your back, hips and feet. But here’s how to set up and complete the movement (we’ve also shared a great video below from the muscle mentors showing you exactly how to do it).
- Place your feet on the footpad in a hip-shoulder width position with your feet slightly flared out. In terms of height alignment on the footpad, you’re looking for where you can get to a comfortable depth without your heel lifting from the platform.
- Push your back against the back pad, setting your hips.
- Unrack the load
- Move down into a squat motion keeping your hips set and lower back against the pad, with your heel firmly against the foot plate.
- Descend with a controlled tempo until you reach your limiting range of motion (hip movement off the pad or heel movement off the foot plate)
- Then ascend to the start position with a controlled concentric motion.
Tempo wise, I like to use a slow eccentric, slight pause in the bottom position and a more explosive concentric for a pendulum movement.
If you watch the following video by Luke, you’ll see exactly what we mean by the above!
Which Pendulum is best?
Now this is slightly subjective, but we do have some personal favourites out there from commercial equipment that we’ve used and what you can buy on the market for at home.
Sorry hammer strength, you’re not on this list. Here’s our pick of the best 3 pendulum squat machines we’ve used, and here’s one you can buy yourself
Our pick for the best commercially (and more widely available) Pendulum Squat. It's expensive, but a great but of kit nonetheless
You won't see many of these dotted around, but this is my personal favourite I've ever used. (My gym has one, I've never seen another gym with one)
So there you have it, and hopefully with it, everything you’ll probably ever need to know about the pendulum squat.
Give it a try if your gym has one, you’ll probably love (hate) it, but it’s a bloody good one!