When it comes to total lower-body development, Squats are king. When it comes to specifically engaging the inner most portion of the quadriceps, or the “Tear Drop” muscle known as the Vastus Medialis Oblique (VMO), there are few exercises better than the Cyclist Squat.
The VMO is critical in stabilizing the knee joint, and its development is essential for long-term knee health. Unfortunately the VMO is the most undertrained head of the quadriceps because it is only fully active in acute angles.
This means that the closer your hamstring gets to your calf in the bottom of a squat, the more your VMO turns on. But if you’re never getting into the bottom of a squat, the VMO is missing out on the full training effect of your squat days.
Enter the Cyclist Squat.
One of the most efficient ways to target the VMO is narrowing the stance and elevating the heels. Bring the heels in so there is only a 4-5-inch gap between the insides of the shoes, and elevate the heels between 4-6 inches off the ground. Initiate the movement by pushing the knees forward and over the toes, while maintaining a vertical torso. The goal is to completely close off the knee joint by squatting until the hamstrings completely cover the calves.
There are many ways you can load the movement. The Hands-Free Cyclist Squat is the first step in the squatting progression I typically use with basketball players. Other Cyclist loading options include a Barbell Overhead Squat, a Barbell Back Squat and a Dumbbell Goblet Squat.
Because the goal is to overload the VMO, any forward lean displaces the force from the VMO into the low back and glutes. This means you have to go significantly lighter than you would in a traditional Squat to keep a vertical torso. Check your ego at the door and focus on technique. Feel the “mind-muscle” connection with your VMO as you perform the movement.
Once you’ve mastered a standard Cyclist Squat, a great progression is the 1 1/4 Cyclist Squat.
This exercise has been around for a long time, but is a bit of a “lost art of training.” It was re-popularized in the 90s by Charles Poliquin, and is a great way to overload the VMO’s with significantly greater time under tension than a traditional Cyclist Squat.
Why the Cyclist Squat Is Great for Basketball Players
I’ve worked with many Division-I Basketball players over the years. A common issue in this population is the lack of mobility necessary to get into the bottom position of a squat. When an athlete’s range of motion is limited, it inhibits the development of the stability needed to add load. It is impossible to get strong when you lack the mobility to perform the exercise, perfect the skill of the exercise and add weight to the exercise.
Many coaches have an attitude to “work around” these mobility issues by only training their athletes with partial rep squats. This is a mistake. An athlete who chronically trains in shortened ranges of motion will develop strength imbalances, leading to compensation patterns and an increased risk of injury.
Rather than work around problems, fix them. Use Cyclist Squats as a great introduction to a proper squat pattern. Start with 4-6 sets of 6 reps on a 4-6-second lower. This will help develop the mind-muscle connection necessary to control a squat through a full range of motion.
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Photo Credit: Alan Bishop