T Nation

Gaining Mass Around the Knee


So Dave Tate and others say you have to gain mass around the knee for squats. Well, how do you do this, other than squatting?

My right knee has been giving me trouble lately (feeling pain after heavy squats), and I feel like this may be the problem. I have decent development in my inner thighs, my glutes, and my upper thighs. But then my thighs taper and I have little mass around my knee. This is a weak point and I think it's affecting my lifting.

So recently I have been doing leg extensions after my squats. Any other suggestions?

[Just to put this in perspective, I've been squatting 375x3]


A2G squats, bulgarian split squats, leg press, basically anything you go super deep on to hit the VMO.


My mass around the knee is fairly un-impressive (compared to other folks squatting what I do).

I use a super wide stance and I don't have any problems with having a VMO that doesn't really jump out.


close (relative to you) stance front squats heals elevated. Pause in the bottom for a good 2 count. You feel that in the old quads big time.

Leg pressing as a second accessory exercise.

I know many arent fans but higher rep leg extensions to exhaustion as well. these have really helped me on my squatting and strongman stuff just joints feeling better, as well as strength and mass.



The higher rep leg extension stuff is still recommended for rehab post various types of surgery - precisely to increase stability around the joint.
Go for the burn!


I dont think leg extensions are going to get you anywhere and they are definitely not going to help your squatting. The problem with leg extensions is that if you are using a weight that you can complete a full rep, the ROM around 90 degrees or less is where the VMO is going to work and there is no torque at this point in the movement when doing leg extensions.

It is a very different exercise in that the hardest point in the exercise is when the limb is straight not when it is bent to any great degree. So if the top sixth of your squat is your weak link then go ahead and burn it out on the leg press.

IMO you need to do an exercise where there are the fewest variables that can interfere with the VMO doing alot of work. Lets go down the list.

Leg Press- Depends on the person But I feel like this is pretty tough to get the stress on the VMO during this exercise, there is such a big stretch on the hamstrings and glutes at the bottom position even if you feet are pretty low that I feel like they take the brunt of the load.

Split Squat/Lunge- Very good choice for the VMO but because of the back leg fatiguing and there being so many joints involved I wouldnt make this my #1 choice, if you can keep Poliquin style for on this one, top notch VMO exercise.

Back Squat- If you go ATG hard to argue with this one. If you had to say a few drawbacks maybe that the Hip extensors take a bit off the VMO in the bottom position. Great Choice though.

Front Squat out of the hole off pins- Dan John spoke of this version, some other coaches have mentioned it. You start at the bottom and every rep comes to a dead stop on the pins, this way your quads have to get the weight moving from a dead stop out of the hole. Your torso is very erect so there is less hip extensor involvement than in back squatting or leg presses.

Machine Hack Squat- Same idea as front squat, your torso is erect and you can really concentrate on what you are doing. Hip extensors are not as involved, if I were you I would use this and the front squat variation above to hit the vmo, IMO they are hands down the best.


That new squat article with the quote under Dimas is golden and totally applies!!


Yes but only when his issues have been addressed. If the OP feels pain after heavy squats he needs that looking into. I'd consult a Physio, or at the least back off and re-address your squatting style technique - maybe using that article as a template. That article was freakishly well timed for the OP.


Get that knee checked before it gets worst.


I'm gonna check out tonights article.

Thanks for the replies.


I probably should, but I'm competing in a meet October 20 and I don't want to back off until then.

After my last meet in July my shoulder was really hurting. I didn't bench for a month and it seemed to be fine after that.

Yeah, probably not too smart but what else do you do? How do you know when it's serious, or just a temporary thing?


It's up to you , I told you that because I had a similar experience ; last october my knee felt a little "weird" after lower body training and after the next squat session I ended up with a torn lateral meniscus. If inflamation gets in there, don't wait and get it checked. Good meet.


Several Points:

1) Go to a competent Sports Medicine specialist or an Orthopedist and get it checked out. In my experience, self-diagnosis is a bad thing. You might think you have an idea as to the cause of your pain but you really don't. Be smart, swallow your pride, and see a doctor.

2) You don't describe your pain with enough detail. If you could provide more details then others may be able to help you out better, but this does not mean that you should forget about seeing the specialist. A few points to make could be: a) where EXACTLY is the pain? Under the kneecap? Above? Below? Back of the knee? Deep inside? etc.

b) What activities aggravate the pain? Running, jumping, climbing stairs (up or down?), leg extensions, squats, etc.
c)Is there a lack of stability in your knee? Does it feel weak/wobble/feel like it will give out?

d)Are the crunching noises coming from your knee? With what activities?
BE SPECIFIC. Detail is good.

3) Try foam rolling and stretching your IT bands. You may just have a tight IT that's contributing to patellofemoral pain.

4) Back off the weight. Rule Number One is "if it hurts, don't do it".
The last thing you want to do is make your condition worse by "working through it" and then finding yourself in rehab for six months. TRUST ME ON THIS. I know from repeated experience. There is a fine line between training hard and training stupid.

5) See the doctor. You posted that you are apprehensive about seeing a doctor because you don't want it to interfere with your meet/training. Bear in mind that there are only two outcomes. Either the doctor will tell you not to go to the meet, or he won't and nothing will change. If you have to cancel your meet, THAT'S OK (see point 4). Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to leap ahead.



Forget the leg press, everything else you said is dead on. Front squats, box squats & hindu squats as a finisher.


even if he tells you to compete he's not your mommy.... you don't HAVE to take his advice, but it's good to know what's going on in your knee.


Mass around the knee doesn't just mean developing big quads (specifically big VMO). Think of it as the knee joint, not the knee cap. You want to develop the muscles above and below the knee in the front and back of the leg. Big quads are certainly not going to hurt your squat, but that may or may not be what you need to alleviate your knee pain.

Your hamstrings and even your calves are extremely important in stabilizing the knee as well. Think about strengthening any muscle that crosses the knee joint (front/back, medial/lateral). Without knowing your symptoms or your imbalances, it is foolish to tell you exactly what muscles need to be addressed.

If you see a doctor and he/she tells you not to compete, would you listen? If you would listen, then go see a doctor. I'm assuming that this isn't your last chance ever to compete. If you think the pain is that bad, then why risk doing long term damage just for one meet. There will be plenty of other meets you can enter.

If not, then don't waste your money. Listen to your body, back off when you need it, and then when your meet is over, have a professional evaluate your injury and let them decide what structures need to be addressed.


Foam rolling the iliotibial band and the rectus femoris can sometimes relieve knee pain due to tightness of those muscles/fascia. Even if it doesn't solve this exact problem, it's still a good practice to get into.

Sissy squats with body weight or hindu squats as suggested above will help develop the VMO as well. You can balance that with leg curls using bands or the leg curl machine if needed.


About two weeks ago, the pain started; it hurts after heavy squats; the heavier I go, the more it hurts. Last week it really hurt, so I made that a light session. This week I went heavy, but didn't push it and it didn't hurt too bad.
I'm hoping in two weeks the pain/injury/whatever will subside.

Description: After heavy set, the pain hurts under my knee cap. It does not hurt to squat. The pain comes after the set is complete, about a minute later and so on. Last week it was a throbbing pain that got worse (throbbed more) after each set. This week the pain was not as bad. However, I've been taking Aleve (anti-inflammatory) about once or twice a day for almost two weeks.

Aggravating activities: Running can aggravate the pain. Leg extensions do not aggravate, and sometimes decrease/hide the pain (I don't know why).

Conclusion: This week, my knee really hasn't been hurting as bad, not like last week. The idea was to take it light next week, then the week after go heavy.

Thanks for the replies. Based on common sense and the replies, I probably should go see someone. Based on what I just wrote, what do you guys think (if it's even wise say something based on the above)? The pain is getting better by the week. Of course, that could just be the naproxen and ibuprofen I've been taking constantly.

The question is who? I haven't been to a doctor in ages. I don't even know how to schedule an appointment. Would a college university doctor's office or something like that work? Does the person have to be sports affiliated?

Anyway, thanks for the replies.


Bulgarian split squats, especially with an extended ROM. Put your front foot on a box or some rubber mats so it's 4-6 inches off the ground and go down as far as possible, 3 to 4 sets of 8-12 reps. Best way to build mass around the knee when used as an assistance to heavy squatting IMO.


Do you have medical insurance? You will probably have to go to general doctor first, and if necessary be referred to a knee/joint specialist of some sort. All the regular doc will probably do is x-ray it and prescribe anti-inflammatories (which you are already taking) and tell you to rest it.