T Nation

You, Me, and Atrophy



I need some advice. I've recently been "cleared hot" to start squatting again after my ACL reconstruction. I was warned to use light weight (of course) and that my ROM will be limited, but I can start movements in small pain free doses. I got back in the rack last week and felt really awkward. The day after, my affected leg wasn't nearly as sore as the unaffected leg. Obviously I was cheating and depending on my good leg more than the bad. Tomorrow is my next leg day and I'm not sure if squatting will be the most productive thing for me since I'm still "cheating".

Is this psychosomatic or structural?

Also, should I...

Get in the rack, go to town, and assume the affected limb will catch up?

Start off the first few sessions with lunges rather than full on squats to
work each limb independently?

Consider hacks for the time being?

I'm kind of puzzled and I'd like to have a plan before tomorrow. Just wondering what you guys might think about my sitch..

Thanks in advance



My first suggestion would be to find a good training partner who can tell when you're cheating or favoring your bad leg. I'd start with ridiculously light weight, working on depth and form before worrying about load. Once you feel comfortable doing full ROM squats with just the bar, slowly start adding weight to it. After the surgery, you need to rebuild both your squat and your confidence.


I'd do unilateral legpress work before descending like a locust plague on the squat rack. Follow it up with two legs, and then, if you're ready for 'em, light squats in the same workout.

Merely an opinion,



I had three knee surgeries in my teens, and to this day my left leg is considerably smaller than my right (I'm 30 now). My dad was my football coach and he always got me back squatting really quick, definitely too heavy. I don't know what to tell you to do, but definitely don't just keep leaning on the good leg while you squat. You'll regret that.


More than likely both psychosomatic and structural.

You're going to rely on the stronger leg until you can rebuild the strength in the weaker leg. You can continue with light squats; but look into leg exercises that you can perform one leg at a time.

You may have to resort to machines until the weaker leg is "up to snuff" with the other. After Ko rec'd the go ahead to train after his knee surgery, we worked on leg extensions (and light squats), leg curls and lunges. Another exercise is one legged leg presses. Remember to really gradually increase weight so that you don't further injure yourself.

Isometrics may also help. You know, in a pain-free range of movement.

And of course, don't forget to warm up! Cycling would be a good start for that knee.


I would have a look at Ian Kings Limping... series, the first part of the program is all single leg movements used to pre-exhaust the legs. Then at the end of the session you do light, slow tempo squats.


I appreciate all the advice you guys...

For now I'm going to work on unilateral movement, isometrics, and a strong warmup until I'm more confident.


Bodyweight-only, one-legged squats holding onto something. Also consider using the Smith machine (cue collective gasp from the T-Nation :wink: ), because it will allow you to do a bar-movement while at the same time "throwing" your weight more to one side or the other without falling over. Not to say that you should continue with this for long, but as a starting movement it might not be a bad idea...


sorry trish but had to say it.
due to the torque produced at the knee from the force at the patella (knee extensors) and force at the ankle (load) the only thing acting as a hinge is... YOUR ACL.
Closed kinetic hain exercises only (legpress squats etc) as these provide a compressing force, as opposed to a seperating torque type force.
I would even be weary of hacksquats and lunges with high loads, as your patealla tendon may be weaker than previous.
my $0.02


Hey I was looking through old issues and I remembering reading your question in the forum.

In issue 43 Ian King addresses this question down a ways in the Q&A.