How to Fix Knee Pain
I traveled down with Jake Horst as a sidekick and we trained with Ben, KOT Guy, at his gym.
The first thing Ben had us do was use sleds. We put the belts on, tightened the strap, and swept the belt out of the way so it didn’t get in the way of our feet. We leaned into the sleds, getting out chests all the way in, and we moved intentionally slow to think about the intention of our big toe.
As Ben said, most of the lifting we do we are flat-footed. The sled allows us to get the loading through the big toe and the fascia of the foot. Then we pulled the sleds backward. We were told to get the toe behind the knee each step to know if the weight is too heavy. This insures the VMO is being used to move the sled.
Then we pushed the sleds again, moving a little bit faster. My quads were already smoked. Ben told us to try and keep the sled at a smooth tempo when we started walking backward again.
We just continued pushing and pulling the sled, giving the heart vigorous blood flow. No running needed as an athlete. Just doing the sport and the sled. Halfway through Ben started increasing the speed. To my credit, Jake keeled over before I did. No quit in this old dog. We did eight lengths. Ben complimented me, calling me a savage. I’m huffing and puffing the whole time; Jake’s suffering in silence; Ben is just easy-peasy crushing our souls.
Done our eight lengths, Ben said, “You can quite literally make your body de-age and younger from sled training.”
In real life, the sled is horrible. The quad pump is legit. I was not ready.
Ben put it elegantly about himself, “My king lift is the sled.” Regardless, everyone can use the sled to get knee rehab while still increasing max power. We also got our cardio in. The sled brings a pump, a sweat, and keeps the pain away.
The quad pump while pushing through the toes felt great and quite honestly, was way bigger than using a leg press. The sled is great for older people and young people to keep their knees healthy.
Eventually, the pump goes away. With Jake, Ben and I started to hypothesize what might happen to Jake when he goes into his technical lifting progression. Ben talked about potential hidden adaptation. For instance, Ben noticed the vascularity in Jake’s VMO. He said the vascularity doesn’t necessarily grow the VMO but perhaps if it became part of his routine when Jake does the training, the muscles might grow more and heal faster.
And to a larger point, Ben inquired Jake’s age. Which is 24. Ben noted that the sled work doesn’t need to change what has been working the whole time, but how the sled work can contribute to where Jake is as an athlete at 30, both from a longevity perspective as a human and as a performance perspective as an athlete.
According to Ben, Jake has world-class ankle mobility. The length through the ankle is amazing. Quoting Ben verbatim, “This is insane.”
Using the full pause in the position of the deep, deep lunge, according to Ben, can be used as a great accessory. Ben noted that Jake’s sport is Olympic weightlifting and that training confusing intentions within the sport isn’t necessarily ideal.
The intention of the movement is to improve strength, particularly when loaded. The weight should not shorten the range. Pausing and exploding out, and in particular for the eccentric load, the movement should be done for Olympic lifters as an accessory or on a day on its own.
The angle of the movement is not straight down but is diagonally forward. Olympic weightlifting requires the body to shoot up but this movement in the proper position creates a lot of loads and asks to be shot out.
At this time in the session, Jake wanted to announce that he had, “Actually, zero, knee pain.” Ben also announced that Jake had outstanding form and might be, “The best, first split squat,” he had ever seen.
Olympic weightlifters often have knee pain. Ben talked about not feeling exactly the same on each side in the bottom of a squat. The great thing about the ATG split squats is that it allows athletes to milk the pause position in the bottom. The hidden aspect is that it stretches the back leg’s hip flexors and strengthens them at the same time, securing up some missing knee protection elements. The elevated heel on a ramp is best because it creates even more range. Even athletes who can mobilize into the position without the ramp, the ramp, or an Olympic weightlifting shoe help because it creates even more range of motion.
Watson Tibialis Machine
I did this one. Ben had me sit back with the weight lifted up onto the toes. I slid my feet until my heels were down. The machine gave me a nice stretch through the front ankle. I then flexed up, held, and lowered down. The movement demands a short range of motion. Ben prescribed three sets of 10-20 reps, noting that doing 20 reps means going heavier, and not getting 10 reps means going lighter.
Olympic weightlifters when they receive the bar are crashing in with a ton of force. This exercise will allow the body to have more flex in the lower leg catching the bar. Ben said the movement is not a primary knee bullet-proofer but a secondary knee bullet-proofer.
This exercise also helps with open-skill sport athletes decelerating motion.
The tibialis wraps around.
Jake did this movement as well. He struggled.
Ben vocalized that he does not have an opinion on how the movement should be performed, noting that he simply copies Mary St. Louis.
The movement is explosive knee flexion. The concentric is neural drive. The eccentric is structural, thickening up the tendons on the way down. Fighting down on the Nordic is a good idea.
After Ben went, Jake went and nailed it. Jake’s lat cramped. Ben revealed it took him two and a half years to build to be able to do a Nordic curl. So where a hamstring curl is solid for building a foundation, a Nordic curl is great for getting freaky athletic.
Three sets, three to five reps work well. Jake is a freak.
I went next with the bottom of the Nordic curl machine rose up.
Flexing The Hip
Tieing the feet into a strap attached to a cable machine, Ben sadi to think about getting the upper thigh to touch the lower abs, thinking reverse squat. The movement needs to be taken to tap out. It can be taken all the way down or to keep it under constant tension. Keep driving until the knees can’t come up.
This exercise also functions as ab work. According to Ben, a lot of us are weak below the belly button.
All of these movements help decelerate athletic abilities and put on the breaks.
Many of these movements help normal athletes be more like freak athletes.
A sled is a great tool. Heavier weight forward, more steps backward, a combination of Joe DeFranco and Charles Poliquin. Just make sure as the blood flow increases and the pump keeps bringing better performance.
As Ben said, the goal is less pain, more strength, better performance. Simple, sweet, and that’s it.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.