We’ve all been there – hit a leg day workout a little too hard, and wake up the next day wondering if your knee pain is going to mess you up for good. Before you give up squatting or start down an endless path of pain medications and surgical interventions, investigate the options. Learn the causes of pain and how to help through the same principles to get your body strong in the gym.
Note that this is not medical advice. You should always seek the guidance of someone who can assess you properly and guide you on the right path. But taking the time to learn about knee pain will help you feel more in control of your training and healing. You’ll also learn how to prevent knee pain going forward.
A few months ago I stumbled across a YouTube video. Joe Rogan was talking about some guy that called himself the Knees Over Toes Guy. Well, as many of you know, one magical click on YouTube can send you down a rabbit hole of other videos. Before I knew it I was DEEP into Ben Patrick’s social media. If you don’t know Ben yet, the @kneesovertoesguy, then let me be the first to happily introduce you to this world.
Build Resilient Knees
Ben is a father, husband, coach, business owner, and freak athlete. Immediately I resonated with him ;). His online training program and coaching group is called the Athletic Truth Group and is more commonly known as ATG. He has made waves in the fitness space by presenting very compelling, highly energetic, and at times awe-inspiring social media content that gets people out of knee pain.
From his late teenage years to now, closer to age 30, he has built some of the most bulletproof and resilient knees on the planet. Even after going through major reconstructive surgeries and being told his knees would never fully bend again. Along the way he doubled his vertical jump from 19″ to 40″ plus, earned a college scholarship for basketball after a high school career that was plagued with pain and injuries, and has built a wide network of athletes and coaches around the world using his methods.
I will always remain a student of fitness, and when I found Ben I immediately felt there were some things I could learn. The best way I know how is to dive in and learn by doing. So I purchased his online training program and started to explore his methods.
I came to find that his approach to strength balance, building resilient bodies, and honoring great movement quality is similar to how we approach coaching with Functional Bodybuilding. Additionally, there was a deep respect for honoring structural balance in the joints – and the exercise selection that Ben used really highlighted this in a way I hadn’t experience for certain parts of my body.
5 Movements for Knee Pain – After Leg Day, or During!
Five movements in particular caught my attention. I had either never been exposed to them or never trained them in a progressive way for more than a week or two at a time. What I’ve experienced and learned along the way has been profound. And for that reason, I will keep these movements along with the principles and form elements with me for a long time to come.
I’m going to break down why these 5 movements will have a place in Functional Bodybuilding and my training going forward. I’ll also show you can bring them into your training too with our Persist training program.
1. ATG Split Squat – Eliminate Knee Pain After Leg Day
Single leg training is nothing new to the FBB community. I’ve been promoting the benefits and split squats have been in our programs ever since Awaken Training Series was released in 2017. This variation of the split squat combines all the benefits of single leg training AND brings a crucial component of mobility to the table that many of our other unilateral lower body variations don’t.
I’ve long known that strength training is the best way to expand our range of motion and become more mobile. Your body is only going to open ranges of motion that it feels strong in; otherwise, going that extra 1″ deeper in your squat will simply feel vulnerable. An ATG Split Squat provides a powerful ankle, knee, and hip flexor stretch while simultaneously building strength in those areas. The result is opening up positions that many of try to find, yet can never quite reach, in full double leg squats. Unilaterally I can find a VERY DEEP (ass to grass/ATG) squatting position with this movement, and it has made my bottom position in movements like the Back Squat and Front Squat feel far superior than before. So it is great for preventing knee pain after leg day.
Where is this showing up in PERSIST?
EMOM x 10mins
1st minute – 5 Right Leg Suitcase Knee Over Toe Split Squat @ 22X1 Tempo
2nd minute – 5 Left Leg Suitcase Knee Over Toe Split Squat @ 22X1 Tempo
First Level – Foot Elevated + Hand Supported
Second Level – Foot on Floor Bodyweight
Third Level – Foot on Floor Suitcase Loaded
2. Reverse From Knee Pain
When I used to pull sleds a lot in my training back in 2017, I always had a love for the Reverse Sled Drag. I moved away from it as a tool since so many clients and participants of mine don’t have access to them in their gyms. What I used to love about this exercise was that it gave me a very focused QUAD pump. It always felt like I was doing hundreds of leg extensions, my knees always felt good, and my quads got a ton of blood flow.
But I never saw this as a tool to implement weekly or even several times a week until I got introduced to Ben’s methods. He calls it Reversing Out of Knee Pain (ROKP) and backwards sled dragging, or backwards walking for that matter, is one of the key tools he uses to help heal knees. It makes a ton of sense based on my experience. When we drive blood to an area and repeat low load contractions like this, we help heal and strengthen connective tissues.
Now I drag my sled in my backyard 3x/week for 5mins backward. I also walk on the treadmill 5-10mins backward a few times a week. It is the perfect complement to a squatting day and is an easy way to build some extra lower body conditioning and strength. Use it at the beginning or end of your session. It’s almost like you can’t overdo it.
Where is this showing up in PERSIST?
Lower Body Power Sets
Row 60sec @ high effort
12 Dual KB Deadlifts
45sec Reverse Sled Drag
-rest 2-3mins b/t sets-
3. Tib Raises – Prevent Knee Pain
The Anterior Tibialis is a muscle that runs up the front of your shin. It is responsible for dorsiflexion (pulling your toes up). In my training life I can recall a few times that that muscle in particular would get incredibly sore – not just knee pain after leg day, but shin pain! It was always such a shock to me when I would wake up the day after training and notice that muscle specifically, often after fast HIGH REP low weight squatting. The Tib muscles were working harder by helping to flex my ankle to pull me into the bottom of my squat.
The thought of training that muscle directly never occurred to me. Yet we do so much of the opposite plantar flexion training all the time. Triple extension in jumping and Olympic lifting involves plantar flexion, as well as Double Unders, sled pushing, and even running. Talk about a joint that gets a disproportionate amount of one movement pattern and not much of the other. Well, the Tib Raise is a solution to that and I realized by just doing the bodyweight variation of this that I was very weak and had low muscle endurance in this area.
I worked the bodyweight variation for a month and then invested in a Tib Bar from the @homegymguys, allowing for weighted and measurable loading of this movement pattern. Now I own three and pump out some reps every time I see the device sitting there. Maintaining structural balance is so ingrained in my thinking around strength training from the past 5 years since we founded Functional Bodybuilding. Now I am looking at the ankle joint and seeing that I have more to learn about how to balance structures. Never stop learning!
Where is this showing up in PERSIST?
Persist Squat Prep 1.0
Ankles and Hip Flexors
20 Tibialis Raises
15 Plank Psoas March R
15 Plank Psoas March L
4. Nordic Curls
I have a distinct memory from last summer during lockdown when I was doing Nordic Hamstring Curls with my feet wedged under the plate storage rack in my backyard. The first time I did Nordics was actually in college in 2007 with my soccer team. I was miserable at them back then and I’m still not stellar. But in all the years I’ve used this exercise, I have never used them repeatedly for weeks on end with the aim of building strength progressively. They have always been a little blip on my strength training radar.
Well for the past 8 weeks, once a week, I’ve done 5 sets of 5 reps in the Nordic with the slowest eccentric I can possibly execute. Each week is humbling but each week I see some subtle yet measurable improvement. This week I was able to actually pause myself half way down for a split second and that was a HUGE victory. What I have noticed is that for the first time perhaps ever, I feel like I can see my hamstrings popping out a little bit. They feel alive and awake instead of just always feeling like all my bending and hinging work was just low back training. And furthermore, I continue to feel more confident with my jumping and landing ability around a stable knee joint.
Where is this showing up in PERSIST?3-4 Sets:
1. 1-1/4 Front Squat @ 20X1 Tempo x 5-7 reps
2. Nordic Hamstring Curl @ 51A1 x 4-6 reps
5. VMO (aka – Cyclist) Squats
This is another area that I have done my fair share of dabbling with in the past. I’ve programmed Cyclist Squats in PERSIST, Awaken Training Series, and Functional Body Composition programs for several years now. Why I have this on my list is because I have a new appreciation for how valuable it can be to squat with the heels elevated in a more pronounced way. Heels elevated squats place a great emphasis on the quadriceps and can help light up your Vastus Medialus muscle (VMO). But what they also accomplish is they can help you achieve a much deeper range of motion in squatting with an upright torso.
I have found this type of squatting to be tremendously impactful on my leg strength and flexibility. After years of “sitting back” into my squats and “loading my heels,” this is the balance point my structure needed. One key difference is that for a long time when I squatting with heels elevated I used small lifts (Olympic lifting shoes, 10lb plates, etc), but recently I purchased a Slant Board with roughly a 25 degree incline. This placed my feet on a much more pronounced slope.
Immediately this put more load onto my quads, allowed for a more vertical torso, allowed me to get deeper into my squat, and placed new demands on my legs. I had to lower my training weights considerably to get going and I still can’t lift as much on a slant board as I did with Olympic lifting shoes on, but the carryover has been great and my ankles, knees, and hips are feeling better than they have in a long time when squatting.
Where is this showing up in PERSIST?
1. Cyclist (VMO) Back Squat x 4-6 reps @ 21X1 Tempo
2. KB Sumo Jump Squats x 15-20 reps for height (53-70lbs)
No More Knee Pain After Leg Day
I still love to learn and bring valuable concepts and content to all of you. Ben has a wealth of knowledge and I think that he is worth a follow. His perspective is valuable for knee pain after leg day and any day – and I also know that there isn’t a single person out there that has all the answers. We have to continuously learn and grow. Seek out mentors, coaches, and teachers that will add value to your life. Continue to be a Thinking Athlete and upgrade your health and fitness experience for the rest of your life.
And if you want to give training a try with Functional Bodybuilding workouts that are designed to be knee friendly, pick up a copy of Beyond Knee Pain: FBB Athletic Muscle.
Look Good. Move Well.
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