Have you ever met someone in your life that refuses to learn anything new? These people tend to get under my skin more than Digger the Dematophyte ever could. Even stupid things can make us smarter, which I try to read as much as I can with the little free time I have. One man I have great respect for will scour at the mention of T-Nation. He doesn’t read it. He won’t read it. He has his reasons, and I have great respect for them. I, on the other hand, visit the website on occasion and usually catch up with the most recent articles. I don’t think it’s the greatest source of information, but any website that can lure in Dan John surely will grab my attention.
I came across an article today that bothered me enough to get me away from the TV during Seinfeld (this is a very hard task). I have nothing against the author, but I have everything against the information presented. The article is entitled, “What's Your Weak Link? 3 Solutions to Strength Plateaus,” and is written by Lee Boyce.
My History With Knee Pain
For those of you that have been loyal enough to follow me for the past year know that I used to own a blog entitled, Simply Strong. One of my biggest productions on this blog was my Mighty Steel Knee series that now is being used to serve as the skeleton for the book I am writing. To prevent you reaching for another coffee, here is the reader’s digest version: I have struggled with knee pain my whole life, and after vigorous experimentation I devised a way to get rid of it, the end. I detailed the method and threw it online. I received enough positive replies that it made me feel confident enough to expand on it even further (hence the book).
Lee Boyce presents one of the heaviest misconceptions (in my eyes) about knee pain in the article I referenced above. In the article, there are numerous references to the all powerful VMO. To Lee’s credit, it’s not the only place where you can find information on VMO and its relationship with knee pain. Other gurus and people I know have advised me countless times to focus on the VMO. After a few months worth of experimentation, I found the VMO to be a big hoax. One so big, even Nixon couldn’t pull it off.
Let the Games Begin
I hate to tear down Boyce’s article, because I don’t know the guy. Nevertheless, when you publicly present information you have to be ready for other's opinions. Consider this my drive by shooting.
After taking a critical look at VMO strengthening exercises and claims, the two do not add up. Boyce states that the lower the squat the better and the less stability the better. Yet, the strengthening exercises (Peterson Step Ups and TKE’s) consist of top end range of motion movements with a lot of stability. Both are in stark contrast which should be the first red light in your critical evaluation.
Secondly, Boyce claims that the VMO is essentially shut off which causes the rest of the quadriceps muscles to take the slack of the VMO which in turn puts more stress on the patellar tendon. All of the muscles of the quadriceps are connected to the patellar tendon so how could more stress be placed on the patellar tendon? Stress is a constant thing and doesn’t vary because muscles may not be working or firing properly. If anything, the lack of firing would place more stress on the tendon because the VMO isn’t doing its job, not because the rest of the muscles take the slack.
When In Doubt, Look Elsewhere
What boggles my mind about knee pain is that people refuse to look in different areas for the root of pain. Dissecting the VMO like it’s a slide in your high school Biology class will only get you so far. If writer is unhappy with how a certain paragraph is going, rarely will he or she spend hours reworking one sentence. In all likelihood, the entire paragraph (as well as what came before) will be examined, tweaked, and changed. The same process needs to happen when we take a look at our knee.
Since I’m a nice guy, I’ll let you in on my million dollar theory. I can almost assure you that your knee pain isn’t a result of a malfunctioning VMO but rather a malfunctioning hip. Boyce states the lack of VMO activity will increase patellar tendon stress, I disagree. It’s not the knee. In fact, we owe the quadriceps an apology, VMO included. Perhaps the glove didn’t fit after all.
Go back to your high school physics class. No, not the part where you starred in the girl that sat three seats in front of you. Not even to the other girl four seats up and two to the left. What I want you to remember is the concept of force transfer. All force must travel up and down the kinetic chain before being dissipated or expelled.
Our glutes are the powerhouse of our lower body. They are the largest, nearly injury free muscle in our body. Anytime we move, the force (think of it as electricity passing through our legs) must pass through our glutes. Since the vast majority of humans have sub-par glutes, think of there being a bypass of the hip during the electrical transfer. Instead of force being potentially dealt with at the hip-knee-ankle complex, it now only has the knee-ankle complex. Since the knee is the next thing in line on the chain, it only makes sense that it would take the majority of the load. This is where our seemingly never ending source of knee pain comes from. Getting rid of it is a process in and of itself. To give you an example, I’ve been writing about just that topic for months with no clear end in sight.
A Matrix Like Decision
You have a decision to make. You can choose to blame the small, relatively weak VMO or the large, vastly powerful glutes for your dysfunction. Take a critical look at VMO exercises—end range of motion knee extension. How can knee extension exercises fix a problem that occurs during knee extension? I’ll let you decide.