T Nation

Core/Transverse Ab Straining on Back Squats


Hi all, I went back to weight lifting after a 15 year break (I’m 39 now, 5’ 10, 168 pounds), via a month of swimming a few times a week, then started very light weights 3 weeks ago.

15 years ago I used to be quite strong - 140kg squat for reps. I’m not anymore though haha! I’ve been active a lot with riding motorbikes & lots of walking my dogs in the last few years, so I’m currently endurance fit.

I’m using the mechanical advantage whole body split from T Nation. Workout below:

Today I was doing back squats with a bit more perceived effort but still taking it easy & my guts felt like they were half bursting through my abs when I strained a bit on the last rep of the last set.

What I imagine a hernia could feel like! I’ve none of the symptoms of a hernia though.

What would cause this, weak transverse abs & a weak core? What work can I do to stop this happening again?

I just added 5 minutes of TVA exercises each morning on my back, a week ago.

I’m lifting very light weights - 40kg including the bar on squats (!!) so given that I’m male & therefore have a pathetic, fragile ego, haha, ideally I wouldn’t want to reduce weight & reps.

All advice really appreciated :))


I wrote that program, so I’ll try to chime in. Could be a few things, actually.

Around what time are you training? If you’re doing the TVA stuff in the mornings and hitting the weights soon after (like later in the morning before work), you could be pre-fatiguing your abs, especially with the additional ab work at the start of the workout. In that case, I’d shift the ab work from first exercise of the day to later in the session and/or do an “easier” ab exercise like simple crunches instead of hanging knee raises.

It’s a little odd that you specifically felt your abs during the back squats and not the front squats (which rely on the abs much more), so I’m thinking your abs are could just be weak overall and the ab work plus the front squats are stressing them, so by the time you get to back squats, they’re like “Okay, yeah, no. We’re done for today, thanks.” Properly using (not over-using) a belt during the hardest work sets for back squats could help until your core strength catches up.

The last option is that it just might not be the right program for your current condition. There’d be nothing wrong with shaking the rust off with a more simple and direct routine, maybe something with a little less volume and/or frequency, then giving this plan a shot in a few months when your overall work capacity is improved.


Could you describe your set up for the squat? What are you doing with your core to brace your body during the lift?


Rushed replies there, will reply in full later. Thanks :slight_smile:


Having a set up is very important to squats. Have a set up that has your “core” braced for the squat every time you get under the bar. I do the same thing on a set, warming up with the bar as I do with a heavy squat. Bracing wise. Breathing can change depending on the intensity of the set.

If you were to set 200lbs down, would you use a sponge to hold it off the ground?


Hi there - big thanks for replying to my thread, Chris : ))

I’m training at 11am & doing the TVA stuff at 10am. I’m also doing quite a lot of Iron Crosses from 9 til 10am as part of mobility work - lots of foam rolling too which uses a lot more core than I’m used to (I’ve actually built some obliques I’m so unused to the foam rolling’s demand on my core ). It sounds like that’s a big issue - I’m working my core tons with the foam rolling (limber 11 & simple 6) then going straight to the gym!

How many hours apart would you put TVA & mobility work, from the workout please?

Very happy to do abs later in the workout :slight_smile:

My abs are definitely weak overall - I can’t do hanging leg raises for many total reps.

I’m also doing an abbreviated version of your routine as follows (apologies for not being clearer)

WO 1:


Back squat: sets of 6 - 8 (so no front squats)

Decline dumbbell bench press

Dumbbell rows

Lateral raise

Skull crushers

Ab work super setted with pull throughs.

WO 2:

Ab work

Flat bench dumbbell bench (bars hurt my shoulders)

Barbell row

Leg press

Alt dumbbell curl

Rear delt fly

Ab work & pull throughs

WO 3:

I do almost as you recommend but do ordinary planks at the start.

I don’t do the pec deck or a substitute like flys, because they hurt my shoulders.

End of the workout I’ll do more planks super setted with hip thrusts or pull throughs.

I’ll start using a belt :slight_smile:

What would you say is a more simple routine? I do feel I can handle the volume currently, despite the ab ache. I seem to thrive off higher frequency & higher volume from past experience.

I’ll do as you instruct though. I’ve recently read it can take ligaments & tendons a year to strengthen vs. The rapid strength gains in muscle from muscle memory… So how long would you keep the perceived effort low in the gym.

Thanks again, Chris :slight_smile:


Hi mb, thanks mate. I don’t do anything in particular to set up for the squats. I warm up with light ab work & light pull throughs. Then I squat just the bar for 2 sets of 12 reps, then 30kg for 8 reps, then I did 40kg for 4 sets of 7 reps.

Just keep my form good & a slow tempo of 603.

Almost all my weights knowledge is pre Internet so bro science aka no science haha.

Could you post links please to squat & deadlift brace set ups?


I will try and dig up a link for you soon. I am just giving my opinion here, I don’t think you should be using a 603 tempo on squats yet. Get stronger.

Bracing. Root your feet into the floor, have your pelvis centered, take a big breath, pretend like you are going to be punched in the stomach.


Great stuff, thanks mb, that makes the bracing easy to understand.

Re the tempo, I chose such a slow tempo for all the exercises, because I read slow negatives in particular are excellent at strengthening ligaments & tendons.

In the past, with long breaks away from the gym, but with muscle memory, my strength has gone up quickly, but I’ve soon after pulled ligaments & had to physio & reduce weight drastically. I’ve taken 10 steps forward but 8 back.

So I wanted to take it easy on the weight used & increased until 8 weeks or so of my ligaments & tendons adjusting :slight_smile:

That’s my rationale - I’ll be working with a physio who does ART over the next year to iron out all my old niggles + a martial arts instructor friend has recommended a year of Tai Chi to iron out ligament & tendon niggles - he says all the isometric & eccentric movements are amazing for connective tissue.

My aim is to get to a 100kg bench & 140kg squat for 10 reps each, within 2 years or so & really get into kick boxing & rock climbing (I love adrenalin stuff, hence motorbikes :smiley: )

I’d love to hear thoughts on the approach I’m taking - and realise I’ve just added tons of new factors - perhaps I should start a new thread addressing all the factors & what I’m trying to achieve ( a rehab road back) - what I’m using professional & supplement wise? I’m also using doctor lead TRT and have been for 16 months now.


It looks like you have a personal plan outlined and I can’t say you won’t reach your goals if you stick to that plan.

I have a different philosophy in my approach. TUT, for me, is targeted by rep ROM for the most part.


At least a few. Morning and afternoon should be fine.

Couple things here. I don’t see the general need to do abs at the start of and at the end of the workout. One or the other is plenty.

Also, I get that you’re adapting the exercises, but a huge point of the program is to use mechanical advantage work (front squats before back squats, pause bench then touch and go bench, etc.) Find a way to still use that technique for the first big exercise/s of the day. Could be back squats then quarter squats, flat DB bench then slight decline DB bench. But that’s a core principle of the entire plan.

And I understand about wanting to strength tendons and support structures, but extremely slow tempos (like you’re using) influence the time under tension, which changes the necessary sets and reps. In other words, I prescribed the sets and reps of that plan with a “standard” tempo in mind, not using slow negatives.

Because every big bodypart is getting hit with a variety of rep ranges through the week, including high reps to get the blood flow in there, you don’t really need to worry a ton about getting to the tendons and ligaments with slow negatives. The “prehab” is there, sort of built in. you can kick those high rep sets even higher if you wanted to, just to really drill down the benefits. 50+ rep sets aren’t fun by any means, but they can definitely be useful for joint health.


Hi Chris, thanks a lot for your reply :slight_smile:

I’ll follow your instructions on all those points, and do the program as you say :slight_smile:


Late to the party here, sorry. I just joined the site. If I may ask, have you checked yourself for diastasis recti?