ABBH Front Squats

This is a PM that was sent to me today. Instead of just answering him privately, I thought other forum dwellers might be interested in my response. Here’s the message:

hey chad,
few questions, i have turned many people on to your ABBH program, and they have had great results(more than I i am sad to say, LOL) but one problem is that more than one person has had trouble doing 5x10 on the front squat, as keeping the bar racked is a problem, as well as shoulder pain. i must confess, that i have trouble with that as well, and i have squated over 600lbs in competition, and until a recent back injury last march, regularly do 450-500lbs for reps in the back squat. i have suggested switching the routine, or cutting the reps a little on the high rep day as well. i also suggested to one person he contact you and get it straight from the horses mouth. he did and said that it was not advisable.

may i ask what is the fixation on a “magic” number like “10” does the body really know the difference between 10, and 12 or 8-9 reps? as long as the load is lighter and the TUT for the sets are longer than the heavy day, are we not accomplishing the sme thing?

in need of education,
michael headley

I guess I missed the recent thread where this topic was brought up, but I’m here to answer it now.

First of all, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with switching the 10x3 and 5x10 lower body methods so that the Front Squats are performed with the 10x3 method. But for those who are planning on performing the ABBH routine for 6 weeks, the problem is unavoidable (since method/planes need to be switched for a subsequent 3 week continuation).

I recently received an email from a T-reader who sent me a quote about the 5x10 technique being, well, stupid. His reasoning was based on something Poliquin once said about the “scapular retractors” not possessing the necessary endurance to perform Front Squats for anything more than a few reps - complete bullshit. If the scapular retractors couldn’t possess endurance capabilities, then no one would be able to perform 30 pull-ups (not even 20 for that matter). So let’s throw that statement out the window.

The scapular retractors are rarely trained isometrically for any length of time. Therefore, when a trainee performs Front Squats for more reps than they are accustomed to, the scapular retractors fatigue out. No problem, this is what training is all about: force the muscles to adapt. Within a few weeks of 5x10 Front Squats, fatigue of the upper back musculature subside due to isometric/endurance adaptions. There’s no need to avoid the issue.

But, then the issue of technique arises. Unfortunately, I can’t describe the perfect Front Squat technqiue via computer, it needs to be seen in person. But here’s what you should keep in mind:

  1. You should cross the arms and wrap your thumbs underneath the bar (the traditional Olympic style technique is too demanding on flexibility for most people so I’ll avoid describing that technique).

  2. You must keep your arms/elbows elevated as high as possible. This is imperative.

  3. You can elevate your heels on two 25 lb plates in order to keep your torso more vertical (i.e. less upper back tension needs to be maintained since your torso isn’t leaning forward).

  4. You can purchase a Sting-Ray device that rests on your shoulders so the bar can rest in it (the Sting-Ray is the front squat version of the Manta Ray).

  5. You can roll a towel around the bar so it doesn’t dig into your anterior deltoids, and it will provide some resistance against rolling.

Now, back to the issue of TUT. I recommend a 101 or 201 tempo for the ABBH lifts. Therefore, each 5x10 set should last 20-30 seconds. Poliquin often prescribes a 402 tempo for 3-5 reps with the front squat. If you do the math, you’ll quickly realize that I’m not forcing anyone to perform the front squat for any TUT longer than what is typically prescribed. The only difference is the number of reps.

Bottom line: switch Front Squat method to 10x3 or force those endurance-lacking scapular retractors to adapt (I prefer the latter option).

Hope this helps.

That was an interesting read, Chad. Definitely, I needed to realized that the thumbs should be under the bar and to use the towel to prevent the bar from rolling for crossed arm style (I always had issues with the bar rolling).


A good read Chad. I never had any problem doing front squats for higher reps so this is not a problem for me.

Chad why don’t people trust you and try things - I don’t know :slight_smile:

Chad, thank you for posting that! I’m currently doing ABBH. And on my “off” days, I’m rehabbing my shoulders, correcting some biomechanical weaknesses. I had a physical therapist do an assessment and put together a program for me. I’m stretching pecs and strengthening the muscles that retract and depress the scapula (along with some rotator cuff work).

So as you might imagine, I’ll be doing front squats the next go’round, three weeks from now.

I’m getting scary-effective strength and hypertrophy results, both, with the program. I did DLs tonight. 10 sets of 5 rep at 80% of my max was relatively easy?!?! Can’t wait to retest and start my second 3 week (flip-flopping my exercises and the set/rep combo).

May I ask you another ABBH question, or should I start another thread?

First off, let me say that I have a ton of respect for Chad; as such, I’m respectfully disagreeing with this practice. Plus, as I recall, he had said that he likes it when others ask questions or make comments on his programs, as it’s good practice in justifying his logic. That said…

It isn’t a question of not being able to just perform 10 reps; it’s a matter of performing them CORRECTLY. Surely, with proper training, one can increase the endurance capabilities of the
scapular retractors; that’s not rocket science. However, I’d estimate that more than 75% of people I encounter have insufficient strength in this area. Additionally, the cervical/thoracic erectors come into play; they’re often weak/inhibited due as part of upper crossed syndrome.

Come down to the varsity strength room and watch how many athletes start to round over on reps 5-8. Just imagine how bad it would be on subsequent reps. Anecdotally, this is even more readily apparent in female athletes; we all know that they tend to gain strength in the lower body at a more rapid pace than the upper body improves, so this inability is even more pronounced as they start front squatting.

Now, as I said above, one can definitely improve endurance of the upper back musculature to allow for longer TUT per set. Relating this to a specific number of reps is pretty arbitrary because, as Chad pointed out, tempos vary significantly. We’re in agreement there. However, my main point of contention is the idea of just going out and front squatting to improve the endurance of the rhomboids, trapezius complex, and cervical/thoracic erectors. Why? You teach faulty movement patterns, as the athlete winds up doing five reps of front squats and five reps of zercher good mornings. One of the premises behind doing front squats is to reduce involvement of the posterior chain by maintaining the upright position. The second you lose that, you’re doing a different exercise, and possibly even subjecting an individual to injury.

My point is that you have to walk before you can run. If someone has weak abs, do you put them under a bar to squat in their first training session, only to watch their low back arch excessively and knees buckle inward? In other words, if you really feel that you need to do front squats for higher reps, I’d rather see the following take place:

  1. Terminate the set when form breaks down.
  2. Use supramaximal weights on occasion and just focus on standing there with the bar firmly into position. Granted, static postural habits don’t completely carry over to dynamic movement patterns, but they are a good start.
  3. Fix your posture if it’s fwacked.
  4. Use traditional means of increasing strength endurance of the scapular retractors (rows, prone mid/lower trap raises).

I value the opinions of both Chad and Eric.

I didn’t mean to start all this trouble!

You didn’t start trouble, Jeff. We can only learn when someone like EC brings up intelligent questions to someone like CW, who has his reasons for recommending what he does.

And Terry, post any questions you have concerning ABBHP, either here or in another thread, because being a true believer in it and having PM’d Chad tons with questions about it myself, I’d be very interested in becoming more educated!


Good thread.

Thanks, Mike. Actually, since Chad posted the message originally, I guess I’m not really hijacking the thread.

Chad, I need some guidance on ab selection and form for ABBH. I chose Russian Twists and Weighted Decline Situps for ABBH.

The problem with the Russian Twists (10x5 @ 80%), I guess, is that they were overly/exceedingly effective. My obliques became overdeveloped faster than I ever thought possible. I dropped all ab work when I injured myself doing Weighted Decline Situps.

I had a couple of problems with Weighted Decline Situps. One was calculating my working weight. My 1RM was 60 pounds, but I was unable to do 10 reps at 35 pounds (60%). I dropped it to 30 pounds and still failed at about Rep 9 on the last set. Question is: Am I supposed to somehow add in my trunk weight, which is part of the weight I’m lifting, in a Weighted Decline Situp?

Second problem with my Weighted Decline Situps is that I hurt myself on my second Weighted Decline Situp workout. Something “popped,” just above and to the left of my belly button, and there was no continuing with the workout. I thought I had a hernia, which turned out not to be the case. It healed in about a week, but I had trouble doing anything that involved ab contraction (like sitting up and getting out of bed or getting up off the couch). I guess this goes back to my not properly calculating a correct working weight.

One other thing I noticed while doing Weighted Decline Situps is that there was a “not-good” strain on my lower back while doing my sets. Maybe my form was off somehow? I was holding the dumbbell on my chest, just under my chin. Maybe I should have positioned it lower, like belly-button level?

I’m finishing my first 3 weeks of ABBH and am getting ready to flip-flop the exercises to the opposite rep scheme. Please don’t get me wrong, I love the program and the results I’ve gotten in three week. I’d just like to get your (or anyone else’s?!?!) thoughts on what I did wrong. I obviously finished out the program without any ab work.

Thanks, Chad, for your contributions to T-Mag, for your presence and support here on the forum, and for some absolutely INCREDIBLE programs!!!

Bump for Chad . . .

Chad, today I did Front Squats for the second time. I bumped the weight up from 95 to 110 lbs. However, I was only able to do 10,10,5,6,5 reps. I had to terminate the sets early, not because my thighs were fatigued, but because the bar was sliding off my right shoulder.

I even tried the olympic grip as some had suggested, but the pain was too much to bear in my wrists.

Any suggestions?

I have a question about the olympic grip. I tried it one way where I supported the bar on my hands and collarbone which caused a lot of pain, then I tried it where I rested the bar on my collarbone and my fingers only so that the bar pinned my fingers to my collarbone and I kept my elbows high. This was easy with no pain. Is this the correct way?

I prefer the olympic grip but I think you guys need to pick one and use it for a couple of workouts so you get use to it. Everything is awkard at first.

That should have said 95 to 105 lbs.

There shouldn’t be any pain in your wrists if you followed the technique tips I gave. Your wrists should be in a neutral position, directly in-line with your forearms (i.e., your wrists should not be cocked back). Did you keep your elbows high? Too bad I can’t show you the correct technique in person. Based on what you have stated, I don’t know what the problem is. There’s no reason why your reps should drop off that drastically unless your technique is severely faulty. You might want to switch front squats to high bar barbell back squats with a narrow stance and your heels elevated on two 25 lb. plates. This will lead to a similar effect with the quads and it will negate any front squat technique problems that you seem to be experiencing.

Good thread. If I can add 2 cents for a point that I hope is not TOO trivial…

I try hard to make sure my feet are straight and even. Back squats let me step back with the load, look down and square off the feet, then look up and start squatting. FRONT squats make it impossible for me to look down without losing the bar. The plates, set up ahead of time, let me step back and place my heels on them and KNOW that I’m not gonna torque to one side.

I like the Front Squats; I even enjoy the funny looks I get while doing them. Thanks to this thread, I’m going to be smarter and terminate the set when I find myself losing the exact proper form.

Thanks, everyone!

Hrmmmm… This may not be the appropriate thread to post but… Since it seems to be a healthy thread I’ll post anyway.

Chad I dig your workouts. ABBH upper body segment is exactly what I needed.

I do have a question. Ian King is not a big fan of 5x10 type workouts. He quotes studies on neuromuscular efficiency. Do you counter that argument with empirical evidence or conflicting experimental data?

Or am apples and oranges again?


Before I started the ABBH program I had never attempted front squats before, so it was a very humbling experience for me. I had to drop the weight I was used to doing on back squats more significantly than I had hoped. But once I got the form down and swallowed my pride a little, I didn’t find it that difficult to complete the 5X10 workout. I also experienced some shoulder and upper back fatigue. So what I did to alleviate this was to use the Olympic grip on the first 3 sets and switched to the arms crossed in front variation that you described earlier for the last 2 sets. This set up worked very well for me. I would also like to commend you on not becoming defensive and retaliating when someone attacked your teachings. Nothing is black and white in the bodybuilding/strength training community. Everyone has their own opinions and has to decide what works for them. Fortunately, your program worked very well for me and I try to tell as many people as possible to give it a try to see if they’ll like it as much. Thanks for all your hard work and contributions to our little community.