The Best Way to Strengthen Your VMOs

Posted by Filed Under: Cross Training, Running Injuries

My running has been plagued by bad patella tracking and therefore knee pain. Poor patella tracking is typically due to weak Vastus Medialis Oblique (VMO) muscles and tight quads. I have tried doing many different VMO exercises but they came up short. I did many leg extensions and leg presses and even though the VMO was worked in these movements I never found it adequate in developing VMO strength. Doing some squats as a test of strength for my physiotherapist revealed a lot. He could see flexibility problems and strength imbalances with my knee buckling as I descended into the squat position.

So what is the answer? The answer is squats. Squats work the quads, buttocks, and VMOs like nothing else (plus they teach the VMO to fire at the right time). To begin, first perform progressions such as step-up and split squat variations. The step-up squat is done by placing the foot of first leg on bench. Stand on bench by extending the hip and knee of the first leg and place the foot of second leg on bench. Step down with second leg by flexing the hip and knee of first leg. Return to original standing position by placing the foot of first leg to floor. Repeat first step with opposite leg alternating first steps between legs. For the split squat you squat down by flexing the knee and hip of front leg until the knee of rear leg is almost in contact with floor. Return to original standing position by extending the hip and knee of the forward leg. Repeat. Continue with opposite leg.

Once you have developed the proper strength from these progressions you may perform full squats. To do these you descend until knees and hips are fully bent. Extend knees and hips until legs are straight. Return and repeat. One of the many reasons full squats are extremely beneficial is their ability to develop the VMO and make them fire properly. Going to the full squat position places the VMO is a fully stretched position under a load. Other great exercises are the rear lunge, side lunge, single leg squat, and the walking lunge.

My physiotherapist has often spoken of his ability to cure knee problems of athletes just by utilizing full squats and their variations. For me, squats were the only thing that has made a difference to my knees. It was painful at first, but I stuck with it and now am reaping the rewards.

  1. Irene on June 5th at 10:25 am

    Great tip and great description on how to do squats. They really do work! Are you using free weights or a Smith machine to do the squat exercises, or is it body weight only?

  2. air-run on June 6th at 11:23 am

    Irene, I just use dumbells and body weight. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Aydin on June 10th at 6:21 pm

    Hi, great stuff!! I have same the same problem. I get pain in my right leg in VMO area while jogging and afterwards. I will give squats ago, I tried doing some today and felt the VMO working. Overall my knee feels unbalanced hopefully this will sort things out.

    Thanks again, your tip is appreciated.

  4. air-run on June 10th at 8:40 pm

    Us weak VMOer’s gotta stick together Aydin!

  5. Vee on June 11th at 12:05 pm

    Sounds so simple! I don’t have knee problems at the moment or flexibility problems but I guess I will add the variations to my routine.
    I do full squats at my work cubicle. Why not!?! Sitting down all day 5 days a week doesn’t help at all.

    Thanks for the tip.

  6. Aydin on June 12th at 12:16 pm

    Hi there again, I have been doin the squats for around 3 days now and my vmo on my right leg feels uncomfortable and knee fells kinda unbalanced. What kind of training plan did you use? Shall I do squats every other day, to give my vmo a rest?

    Thanks to you I now have hope in getting back into running and MMA. I really appreciate it when guys like you write this info on websites, as without it I wouldnt be able to run anymore.

    Thanks from aydin in London.

  7. Aydin on June 21st at 6:26 am

    How long did you train your VMO before you started running again? It has been 2 weeks for me and want to start running asap, but dont want to cause any injuries.


  8. Damien on February 20th at 6:54 am

    Ridiculous. If my knee cap is already laterally maltracking and clicking, one i squat past a certain range of motion how am i supposed to do step ups etc?

  9. Aydin on February 20th at 11:50 am

    Hey damien, the only exercise that really did work for me was knee raises with ur toes pointing out wards this really develops the VMO and isolates. Give it a try with low weight and more reps and build it up. My Vmo is really defined and strong now.

  10. Damien on February 21st at 5:42 pm

    Hi Aydin thanks for the reply, did u have bad pfp pain? and did this cure it? if i do anything like that i can hear a crunching sound under my knee cap

  11. dani on March 17th at 9:42 am

    Thanks for posting this – I was searching for ways to target my VMO (tear drop) in order to add definition and this article addresses that. I haven’t had any injuries *knock wood* and currently do dumb bell squats (to parallel) and walking lunges so do you think I could lower the amt of weight I use and start doing full squats immediately without going through the progressions first? Thanks!

  12. conor on August 5th at 2:58 pm

    hello…i was in a accident last year and recieved multiple knee injuries.. im now struggling with flexibility and strength… im reading ur posts and seems to be squats thats solves these problems… if so how long at least will i have to do them 4 and how many times cheers…