Reverse Sled Drag – The Best Kept Secret for Knee and VMO Strengthening

Exercises for VMO Strengthening

Finding the best exercises that activate the VMO can be a challenge. And not all exercises for strengthening the vastus medialis are created equal.

But as an athlete, you know that you can’t risk neglecting the critical muscle groups that keep your knees healthy and prevent injury.

This article covers everything you need to know about the importance of the VMO for healthy knees and how the reverse sled drag is one of the best-kept secret exercises for developing a solid vastus medialis.

What Is the Vastus Medialis Oblique (VMO)

VMO Exercises - Vastus Medialis Diagram

The vastus medialis is part of the quadriceps muscle group in your legs. Its primary purpose is to assist your quads with proper extension of the knee joint. The vastus medialis oblique (VMO) is the portion of muscle fibers above the kneecap. Its function is to stabilize the position of the patella.

Interestingly, since there isn’t a distinct separation between the fibers above and surrounding the knee, there is some disagreement between anatomists and physical therapists about whether the VMO is its own muscle or if it is just a part of the vastus medialis itself.

Whether the VMO is separate from the vastus medialis or not, the function remains the same – stabilization of the patella during knee motion. From the perspective of training, it’s often referred to as the VMO. We can let the anatomists and physiotherapists battle out the terminology. We’ll focus on the most effective ways to train the muscle group.

Why the VMO is Important for Knee Health

The knee is the largest joint in the body. And for athletes, it’s one of the most critical joints for the movements you rely on every day.

Every time you extend, bend, or rotate your legs, your knee plays the role of hinging your femur and tibia. If the motion of your knees doesn’t track properly, it can lead to debilitating damage down the road. 

According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, knee injury accounts for up to 41% of all sports injuries. And unfortunately, most knee injuries lock the breaks on both training and competition, which is why focusing on strengthening the muscles that can bulletproof your knee function is critical as an athlete.

While strengthening the quads and hamstrings play their part in improving how well you can bend and extend your knees. The missing ingredient is the muscle group that ensures your knee moves in its correct motion. This muscle group is the vastus medialis and the VMO. 

Unfortunately, many of the exercises that are excellent for developing the muscles of the legs fail to challenge the VMOs adequately. Even worse, incorrect knee tracking during these exercises under heavy resistance can itself lead to knee injury.

This is why it’s crucial to include exercises that focus on strengthening the vastus medialis. It will keep all of your lower body exercises moving correctly and help reduce your chance of injury – keeping you in the game and progressing as an athlete.

How to Approach Selecting the Best Exercises for VMO Training

When it comes to selecting exercises that strengthen often neglected muscles or fixing imbalances, there are two factors that you need to take into consideration:

  1. Exercise Adaptability
  2. Progressive Overload

If you’re just beginning to focus on a new muscle group, you need to adapt the difficulty of the exercise to match that muscle’s current strength. This allows you to engage the muscle with the correct technique without overstraining or overcompensating with stronger muscles (the quads and hamstrings.) It also allows you to adjust the exercise and work around current immobilities or previous injury.

Adaptability gives you the ability to add and remove resistance from the exercise. This attribute leads to the second factor in exercise selection, progressive overload. 

Progressive overload continually increases the volume and intensity of your training to cause adaptations in your musculoskeletal system. As the muscle you’re targeting begins to get stronger, you will need to slowly add resistance to maintain consistent progress. 

Meaning, the exercises that you select for a specific muscle’s development need to be scalable and continue to provide adequate resistance as you gradually get stronger.

Why the Reverse Sled Drag Is One of the Best Exercises for VMO Strengthening

The VMO is most active past 30 degrees of the knee’s extension. The reverse sled drag puts your body in a natural pulling movement that applies continual resistance to the quads through the full range of your leg’s extension.

This is what makes the reverse sled pull an excellent choice for targeting the vastus medialis. When you are first starting, you have the ability to either remove weight or adjust your body positioning to modify the difficulty of the exercise. 

As you progress, increasing volume and intensity for progressive overload is as simple as adding more weight or increasing the distance covered during your working sets.

Reverse Sled Drag for Knee Rehabilitation

Because of its adaptability and progressive overload, weighted sled exercises can be an excellent choice for rehabilitation after a knee injury or corrective intervention.

However, if you are experiencing or recovering from an injury, your first stop always must be with your doctor or preferred medical professional. They know your unique requirements best, and there may even be other exercises that would be better suited for your recovery.

Additionally, suppose your physical therapist does incorporate weighted sled exercises into your rehabilitation design. In that case, they will be able to personalize your starting points, necessary adaptations, and interpret pain thresholds for you.

How to Use Weighted Sled Exercises for Full Body Training

Weighted sleds are a fantastic training tool. Not only can you incorporate them into your VMO training, but they are also a powerhouse in versatility, supplying you with a range of exercises for full body development.

The standard sled pull engages your glutes, quads, lower back, hip flexors, and calves. And if you want an exercise that forces the entire body to work together in a natural movement cohesively, the sled push additionally recruits the chest, triceps, shoulders, and core.

There’s a reason why the weighted sled is a staple for speed training and athletic development. Unlike running parachutes, the weighted sled starts at a standstill, which means you have to overcome initial friction to build momentum. This initial resistance is what helps improve first-step explosivity to build powerful acceleration and maximize top speed.

Its variability and simplicity are what makes it an easy addition to your home gym to take dramatically improve the scope of your athletic development.

Where to Buy a Weighted Sled

Thanks to the power of the internet, you can select from a wide variety of weighted sleds to fit any requirements and budget.

On the cheap and straightforward side of the spectrum, you can find a weighted sandbag or “pull only” option that gets the job done.

Or you can invest in a weighted push and pull sled that opens up the variability of training from VMO strengthening to full body development. 

We’ll leave the best of both options in the Amazon grid below. Also, Mobility Athlete is reader-supported. So if you want to add a weighted sled to your training toolkit, we can receive a small commission (at no additional cost to you!) It helps us keep the lights on here at the site. Thanks for your support!

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