The front squat is easily one of the most effective exercises that you can do to build muscle mass and strength in your lower body.
Unfortunately the average trainee spends far too much time training the back squat and not enough time training the front squat. If you are ready to start giving the front squat the attention that it deserves then I have just the solution for you.
In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you 13 of the most effective front squat workouts of all time!
- Part 1: The Klokov Squat
- Part 2: Patient Lifter Method
- Part 3: The 10 x 3 Method
- Part 4: The Modified Hepburn Method
- Part 5: 3/2/1 Wave Loading
- Part 6: Mechanical Advantage Drop Set
- Part 7: Relative Strength Drop Set
- Part 8: Cluster Sets
- Part 9: 1/6 Contrast Sets
- Part 10: Heavy-Light Supersets
- Part 11: 5 x 5
- Part 12: 6/12/25 Method
- Part 13: Hypertrophy-Specific Cluster Sets
The front squat is an extremely rewarding exercise that has the potential to dramatically increase the strength and size of your lower body.
In my experience absolutely nothing helps bodybuilders and powerlifters break through a lower body training plateau quite like a training cycle dedicated to the front squat.
The main difference between a front squat and a back squat is where you balance the barbell on our body. In a back squat the barbell is placed on top of your upper traps or rear delts. These muscles create a nice “shelf” that the barbell can rest on.
For example here is a perfect demonstration of a back squat:
A front squat is the complete opposite: the barbell rests on top of your front delts and clavicles! This altered bar placement has some radical implication and makes the front squat a completely different exercise from the back squat.
For example here is an example of a front squat performed with picture perfect technique:
With a front squat the center of mass of the barbell is actually in front of your body. This is in contrast to a back squat where the center of mass is actually somewhat behind your body.
There are several major implications for the altered bar placement with front squats relative to back squats:
- You are forced to squat with a more upright torso
- Your scapular retractors must work very hard to hold the barbell in place
- You recruit your quadriceps slightly more and your posterior chain slightly less
- The front squat places less mechanical pressure on your knees and lower back
I want to bring your attention to the fact that front squats pace very high demands on your scapular retractors as this has very profound implications for how you design your front squat workouts.
Unlike the back squat the front squat should never be trained for more than 6 reps per set. On higher-rep sets the scapular retractors such as the rhomboids and middle trapezius fatigue isometrically before your legs are fully exhausted.
If you try to perform sets of 7+ reps on the front squat then you will probably find that your upper back rounds forwards and “caves in” before the end of the set. A much better solution is to train the front squat with 1-6 repetitions per set.
Bodybuilders and powerlifters alike can use the front squat to completely transform their lower bodies. Some of the best front squat workouts include training methods such as 3/2/1 wave loading, cluster sets and the 6/12/25 method.
In this comprehensive guide I am going to give you 13 highly optimized front squat workouts that you can start using today to bust through a lower body training plateau.
I will be covering a range of workouts that work awesome for both size and strength gains. Of course many of these workouts are more geared towards relative and absolute strength gains as the front squat should not be performed for more than 6 reps per set.
Don’t worry, I have some creative ideas to make this exercise work like magic for you even if you are only interested in muscular hypertrophy. If the front squat was good enough for Ronnie Coleman then it is probably good enough for you as well!
Please note that all 13 of these routines are written with each of the strength training loading parameters clearly defined. If you have any trouble reading these workouts then please consult this article.
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: The Klokov Squat
Let’s kick things off with one of my absolute favourite lower body training methods: the Klokov squat. The Klokov squat is named after the Russian weightlifting superstar Dmitry Klokov.
Dmitry almost always performs his front squats and back squats in a very unique manner: he lowers the weight very slowly through the eccentric range and pauses for several seconds in the bottom position.
Due to the longer than normal tempo Klokov squats are performed for multiple sets of single repetitions.
For example here is what Dmitry’s squats typically look like:
In other words you would use a 7-second eccentric phase and a 6-second isometric pause in the bottom position of the squat.
The prolonged eccentric phase overloads your eccentric strength levels and reinforces proper exercise technique throughout the entire range of motion of the lift.
On the other hand the prolonged isometric pause in the bottom position almost completely eliminates the stretch reflex. This means that your muscles have to work much harder to initiate the concentric range out of the hole.
The Klokov squat is particularly effective at boosting the strength of your vastus medialis because of this muscle’s role in the very bottom position of front squats and back squats.
Here is a sample routine featuring “Klokov squats” that you may want to try. Check it out:
Front Squat “Klokov Squat” Routine
- A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 6-8 x 1, 7/6/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Bilateral seated leg curl (Poliquin method** / feet neutral), 6-8 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Front foot elevated split squat (holding DBs), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest
As you can see this workout involves multiple sets of single repetitions. The time under tension for just one of these squats is about 14 seconds so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to perform multiple reps per set for this routine.
I recommend that you pace yourself over the course of the 6-8 total sets of front squats. You do not want to “blow your load” by performing an all-out 1-rep max on your first set as that would negatively impact the rest of your workout.
Instead I recommend you perform your first set at approximately 90% of a weight that you think you could hit for a single on that day and slowly work up from there over your 6-8 total sets.
For example here is how Joe Average might progress in weight for the squat portion of this workout:
- Set 1: 90% x 1 – Very easy
- Set 2: 90% x 1 – Very easy
- Set 3: 92% x 1 – Somewhat hard
- Set 4: 92% x 1 – Somewhat hard
- Set 5: 92% x 1 – Easy, faster than set #4
- Set 6: 94% x 1 – Hard
- Set 7: 94% x 1 – Very hard, a total grinder, I’m done!
All of these percentages are based on Joe Average’s estimated 1-rep max for that day using the prescribed tempo. As you can see our hypothetical lifter starts out around 90% and slowly works his way up in weight over the course of the prescribed 6-8 sets.
Joe understands that it is the cumulative effect of these sets that matters rather than just his heaviest weight for the day. At the next workout Joe will perform his first working set with a slightly heavier percentage and work up from there depending on how he is feeling.
Remember, as a general rule of thumb there is no point in repeating a workout if you cannot add at least 1-2% to the bar!
If you want to learn more about “tempo squats” then I strongly recommend you check out the following article:
Part 2: Patient Lifter Method
The patient lifter method is an extremely underrated training method. In my experience it works particularly well for the front squat.
The idea behind the patient lifter’s method is simple: you are going to pick an exercise and perform 6 sets of 2 reps. Rather than increasing the weight from one workout to the next you are going to focus in increasing the total number of reps per set.
Your goal is to get to the point where you are performing 6 sets of 4 reps with the same load. Once you are able to perform 6 sets of 4 reps with the original load you increase the weight and repeat the process all over again.
For example here is what a typical progression from workout to workout might look like:
- Set #1: 2 reps
- Set #2: 2 reps
- Set #3: 2 reps
- Set #4: 2 reps
- Set #5: 2 reps
- Set #6: 2 reps
- Set #1: 3 reps
- Set #2: 3 reps
- Set #3: 3 reps
- Set #4: 3 reps
- Set #5: 2 reps
- Set #6: 2 reps
- Set #1: 4 reps
- Set #2: 4 reps
- Set #3: 4 reps
- Set #4: 3 reps
- Set #5: 3 reps
- Set #6: 2 reps
And so on. Once you are able to perform 4 reps on all 6 sets then you would increase the load to a weight where you are only able to complete 6 sets of 2 reps and the entire process repeats itself.
Here is a sample front squat routine using the patient lifter’s method. Check it out:
Front Squat Patient Lifter’s Method Routine #2
- A1: Front squat (close stance / heels elevated), 6 x 2-4, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- A2: Kneeling leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing in), 6 x 2-4, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- B1: Deficit snatch grip deadlift, 6 x 2-4, 3/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest
Note: many of you reading this have never seen someone perform a heels elevated front squat or back squat. This squat variation has many benefits including increasing emphasis onto the quadriceps and especially the vastus medialis muscle.
For more information on the benefits of heels elevated squats you can consult this article.
In my experience the patient lifter’s method is an extremely effective training method for boosting strength levels in the front squat.
For this reason the patient lifter’s method is an excellent choice for someone who wants to use a strength-focused routine for a few weeks but doesn’t want to risk burning out their central nervous system.
Part 3: The 10 x 3 Method
The 10 x 3 set and rep scheme is a classic training method that has stood the test of time. The strength coach Chad Waterbury has gone so far as to say that the 10 x 3 scheme is his all time favourite set and rep scheme for boosting strength and size gains.
The lower number of reps per set does a great job of stimulating neurological adaptations that are necessary for strength gains. On the other hand the relatively large number of sets performed means that you are accumulating sufficient volume to stimulate functional hypertrophy gains.
Here is a sample 10 x 3 front squat routine that you may want to try. Check it out:
Front Squat 10 x 3 Routine
- A1: Front squat (wide stance / heels flat), 10 x 3, 3/1/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- A2: Unilateral seated leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing out), 10 x 3, 3/0/X/1, 100 seconds rest
- B1: Walking alternating DB lunge, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Romanian deadlift, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
It is EXTREMELY important to be conservative with your weights selection for this type of workout.
Many trainees find that their strength starts to rapidly decrease after the 5th set or so. In my experience most trainees will do best using a weight that is around 85% of their estimated 1-rep max for the first workout.
In other words you should use a weight that lets you perform about 5 total repetitions for all 10 of your sets.
The physique coach Mike Israetel would call this training with “2 reps in reserve” because you are training 2 reps shy of failure on your first set.
To be honest I’m not sure I agree with this assessment. After all, you may find that you can *barely* squeeze out 3 reps with the same load by your 8th, 9th, or 10th rep.
Whatever you want to call it, the point still remains: you will do well to be conservative on your weight selection during your first 10 x 3 workout. If your chosen weight was too light then feel free to make a larger than normal weight jump for your second workout with this method.
Part 4: The Modified Hepburn Method
Doug was widely considered to be the strongest man on the planet in the 1950s. He was a multi-time Olympic Weightlifting world champion and the first man to officially bench press 500 pounds.
It may shock you to hear this but Doug didn’t have an internet connection back in the 1950s!
Instead Doug had to figure out for himself what works best in the weight room for producing superhuman strength gains.
Doug’s training system is split into two separate parts:
- Part 1: Relative strength = 8 sets of 1 reps
- Part 2: Functional hypertrophy = 5 sets of 3-5 reps
The first part of the workout involves performing 8 sets of 1 repetitions while the second part involves performing 5 sets of 3-5 repetitions. You are going to vary the exercise slightly from the first part of the workout to the second part.
For example you might perform front squats with your heels flat for the first part of the workout and then perform front squats with your heels slightly elevated for the second part of the workout.
A simple way to accomplish this is to place a pair of 2.5, 5, or 10 pound plates underneath your heels.
Slightly varying the exercise selection in this manner allows you to tap into a slightly different motor unit pool for your functional hypertrophy work. This will ultimately result in significantly faster size and strength gains.
Let’s take a look at our sample front squat routine before discussing the Modified Hepburn Method further. Check it out:
Front Squat Modified Hepburn Routine
- A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 8 x 1, 5/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest
- B1: Front squat (medium stance / heels slightly elevated), 5 x 3-5, 5/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- B2: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (Poliquin method** / feet turned out), 5 x 5, 5/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- C1: 45 degree back extension (with band tension), 2 x 7-10, 2/0/X/2, 120 seconds rest
**To perform the Poliquin method on leg curls you dorsiflex your ankles (point your ankles away from your shins) on the concentric range and plantar flex your ankles (point your ankles away from your shins) on the eccentric range.
Let’s talk about proper weight selection for each half of this routine. For the 8 sets of singles you want to select a weight that is very heavy but still slightly submaximal.
You may want to perform your first set at around 90% of your 1-rep max and slowly work up in weight over your 8 sets to a max weight. This will help to minimize the stress on your central nervous system while still maximizing the results that you get from this routine.
Of course it is absolutely essential that you DO NOT fail on any of these singles. You must only attempt a weight that you are extremely confident in your ability to lift.
It is ok to have a few “grinders” on your singles. However, it is not OK to miss a lift entirely. This would cause too much fatigue in your central nervous system and interfere with your brain’s ability to learn the correct motor unit recruitment pathways for this exercise.
For the second part of the workout I recommend you start off with a weight that is 80% of your max single for the day.
For example if your best single on the front squat was 300 pounds for the day then you would use about 240 pounds for your 5 sets of 3-5 reps. The idea is to continue to use the same weight (300 pounds in our case) until you are able to perform all 5 sets of 5 reps with the same load.
Once you can do this you can increase the weight slightly and work on getting back up to 5 sets of 5 reps with the new heavier weight.
The Modified Hepburn Method is one of the most powerful strength training methods of all time. If you are looking for a fast way to boost your front squatting strength and you respond well to lower repetitions then I highly recommend you give this routine a shot.
You won’t be disappointed!
Part 5: 3/2/1 Wave Loading
3/2/1 wave loading is another powerful training method. Many of the world’s best strength coaches such as Christian Thibadeau and Pierre Roy have used 3/2/1 wave loading protocols extensively with their athletes to develop relative and absolute strength.
A strength training “wave” involves performing a series of 3 sets in a row with decreasing rep ranges. For example:
- Set #1: High reps
- Set #2: Medium reps
- Set #3: Low rep
These three sets performed back-to-back count as one wave. A typical wave loading workout may involve 2-4 of these waves performed in a row for a specific exercise. There are many 3/2/1 wave loading protocols but 3/2/1 waves are probably the most popular and effective out of the bunch.
Here is what a single 3/2/1 wave looks like:
- Set #1: 3 reps
- Set #2: 2 reps
- Set #3: 1 rep
A typical 3/2/1 wave loading workout will feature 2-4 of these waves. Most trainees find that their strength actually *increases* after completing the first wave due to a phenomenon called post-tetanic potentiation.
In layman’s terms the decreasing rep ranges “excite” your nervous system and help it to tap into additional motor units. On your subsequent waves you can tap into these newly activated motor units and lift roughly 1% more weight than you used on the first wave.
How cool is that!?
In my experience the 3/2/1 wave loading protocol works especially well on the front squat. I have trained many strength athletes who finally busted through a long-time plateau on the front squat by using this superior training protocol.
Here is a sample 3/2/1 wave loading workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Front Squat 3/2/1 Wave Loading Routine
- A1: Front squat (narrow stance / heels flat), 6-12 x 3/2/1**, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing straight), 6-12 x 3/2/1**, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Split squat (holding DBs), 3 x 5-7, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: DB stiff-legged deadlift, 3 x 7-9, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Performed as a 3/2/1 wave loading protocol. Perform 6-12 total sets depending on your performance on that particular day. If you are feeling like superman on PCP then go ahead and do 12 sets. If you feel like a sloth on NyQuil then stick to 6 total sets.
The exact number of sets or “waves” that you perform in this workout is completely up to you. If you are having one of those days where you feel like superman on ephedrine then go ahead and shoot for 12 total sets.
On the other hand if you go to the gym and you feel like a sloth who overdosed on NyQuil then you are probably better off sticking with 6 total sets.
The accessory exercises performed at the end of the workout are important but nowhere near as important as the main 2 exercises for the day. Make sure you are putting most of your effort where it counties: on the front squat and the lying leg curls.
Part 6: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets
Mechanical advantage drop sets are easily one of my favourite training methods to use for boosting muscular hypertrophy.
Many of the world’s best strength coaches such as Josh Bryant and Christian Thibadeau have repeatedly used mechanical advantage drop sets with IFBB professional bodybuilders to help them pack on muscle mass in record time.
The idea behind a mechanical advantage drop set is rather simple: you are going to perform 2-4 variations of an exercise back-to-back with only 15 seconds rest between sets. You are going to start with the exercise variation that you are weakest on and progress to the one that you are strongest on.
- Exercise #1: Weakest position
- Exercise #2: Middle position
- Exercise #3: Strongest position
The weight that you use on each of these exercises is the same. In layman’s terms you are going from exercise variations where you are relatively weak to ones where you are relatively strong so that you can pump out more reps and maximally fatigue the target muscle.
An unbelievably effective way to structure a lower body functional hypertrophy workout is to perform a superset of front squats and back squats.
You would perform a set of front squats for 4-6 reps, rack the weight, then immediately get under the bar again and perform a set of back squats with the same weight.
Because you are stronger on back squats than front squats you can continue to pump out additional repetitions with the same load and further exhaust all of the available muscle fibers in your lower body.
Let’s take a look at a sample mechanical advantage front squat workout. Check it out:
Front Squat Mechanical Advantage Drop Set
- A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3-5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, no rest
- A2: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A3: Kneeling unilateral leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing straight), 3-5 x 5-7, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Side step up (holding DBs), 3 x 6-8, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: 45 degree back extension (eccentric emphasis with DBs), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Perform as many reps as possible with the same weight that you used on exercise A1. Both the front and back squat sets should be taken to 1 rep shy of failure.
The exact number of reps that you get on the second exercise really isn’t that important. The important thing is that you are pushing yourself as hard as you can on these sets and truly grinding out as many reps as possible.
This superset is extremely painful. Trust me, I have performed it many times myself throughout my training career. I personally guarantee you that the day after you perform this workout it will feel like a gang of angry samurais tied you down and started beating your quadriceps with bamboo for 2 straight hours!
OK, maybe that isn’t true. In reality the delayed onset muscle soreness is actually much worse than this! If you perform this workout properly it will feel like the angry samurais were beating your quads with bamboo for 3 straight hours!
If you want to add slabs of functional hypertrophy onto your quads then you must find a way to work through the pain.
As my mentor Nick Mitchell once said, “If you train like a beast then you will eventually become a beast. If you train like a maggot…”
Part 7: Relative Strength Drop Set
I would like to share with you a very powerful relative strength workout that I first learned from Charles Poliquin. I don’t know if Charles ever gave this workout a name so I am just going to call it “the relative strength workout from hell.”
You will see what I mean once we get to the routine!
This training method is actually very similar to the Modified Hepburn Method. You are going to divide your workout into two distinct phases:
- Phase 1: Relative strength
- Phase 2: Functional hypertrophy
For the relative strength phase of this workout you are going to perform a single drop set. This drop set features seven singles performed with 60 seconds rest between each single.
I recommend you perform your 1st rep at approximately 95% of your estimated 1-rep max on that day and slightly reduce the weight for each subsequent single. This is a drop set after all!
For the functional hypertrophy work you are going to perform 5 sets of 5 reps. I recommend you use about 70% of your estimated 1-rep max for the day.
This may seem like an excessively low weight. After all, most trainees can normally use at least 80% of their 1-rep max during a 5 x 5 set and rep scheme.
The key point to remember is that you are going to be VERY fatigued after your quintuple drop set on front squats so you will have to use a lighter than normal load for the functional hypertrophy work.
Here is what the actual drop set might look like in practice:
- Set #1: Perform 1 rep at 95%, rest 60 seconds
- Set #2: Perform 1 rep at 93%, rest 60 seconds
- Set #3: Perform 1 rep at 91%, rest 60 seconds
- Set #4: Perform 1 rep at 89%, rest 60 seconds
- Set #5: Perform 1 rep at 87%, rest 60 seconds
- Set #6: Perform 1 rep at 85%, rest 60 seconds
- Set #7: Perform 1 rep at 83%, rest 60 seconds
And here is what the functional hypertrophy work might look like in practice:
- Set #8: Perform 5 reps at 70%, rest 2-4 minutes
- Set #9: Perform 5 reps at 70%, rest 2-4 minutes
- Set #10: Perform 5 reps at 70%, rest 2-4 minutes
- Set #11: Perform 5 reps at 70%, rest 2-4 minutes
- Set #12: Perform 5 reps at 70%, rest 2-4 minutes
As you can see you are going to perform 12 sets of front squats for this workout. If you have the guts to complete this workout as written then I am sure you will find your front squat shoots through the roof and your quads developing a thick, “dense” look.
Here is the sample front squat routine. Check it out:
Front Squat Relative Strength Drop Set
- A1: Front squat (narrow stance / heels flat), 7 x 1**, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B1: Front squat (narrow stance / heels flat), 5 x 5***, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- B2: Bilateral seated leg curl (Poliquin method**** / feet neutral), 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- C1: Reverse hyperextension, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 120 seconds rest
**Performed as a maximal singles drop set as described above. Perform the first single at around 95% of your 1-rep max. On each subsequent single drop the weight by 1-3%.
***Performed with 80% of your top single for the day. If you used 300 pounds for the first single in your A1 drop set then use 240 pounds for your 5 sets of 5.
****Dorsiflex your feet (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantarflex your feet (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range.
This quintuple drop set is very demanding and will separate the wannabe’s from the people who are truly willing to do what it takes to develop a huge front squat and tree trunk thighs.
As Ben Pakulski likes to say, you have to “take your balls out of your purse” before attempting a routine like this. If you have the guts to complete this routine as written then I think you will be surprised at how quickly it produces results.
Part 8: Cluster Sets
Many of the best strength coaches in the world believe that cluster sets are the single most effective training method in the world for boosting maximal strength.
Christian Thibadeau, Josh Bryant and Charles Poliquin have all used cluster sets extensively throughout their careers to produce superior results for their athletes. Cluster sets can be customized for a wide variety of goals.
However, for our purposes we are going to be discussing the grand-daddy of them all: the Poliquin-style cluster sets protocol.
For this routine you are going to perform 5 sets of 5 reps with your 3-rep max. No, that was not a typo! You really are going to do 5 sets of 5 reps with your 3-rep max. The key to making this work is you are going to rest for 15 seconds in between each of the 5 reps on each set.
For example here is what a single cluster set would look like in practice:
- Perform your 1st rep, rack the weight, rest 15 seconds
- Perform your 2nd rep, rack the weight, rest 15 seconds
- Perform your 3rd rep, rack the weight, rest 15 seconds
- Perform your 4th rep, rack the weight, rest 15 seconds
- Perform your 5th rep, rack the weight, done!
These intra-set rest periods give your fast-twitch muscles just enough time to at least partially recover between each repetition.
One of the problems with training in the 1-3 rep range is that it can be challenging to expose your muscles to enough time under tension in any one set to maximally fatigue the muscle fibers.
Cluster sets solve this problem by using a weight that is heavy enough to recruit nearly all of the fast-twitch muscle fibers but also exposing them to a long enough time under tension in each set to maximally fatigue them as well.
The end result is a powerful training stimulus that is virtually guaranteed to drive up your front squat poundages and add slabs of functional hypertrophy onto your thighs.
Here is a sample cluster sets front squat workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Front Squat Cluster Sets Routine
- A1: Front squat with chains (medium stance / heels elevated), 5 x 5**, 3/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Unilateral lying leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing out), 5 x 5**, 3/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Alternating DB drop lunge (2 inch platform), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Romanian deadlift, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
Here are the exercise videos:
It’s really important to be conservative with your weight selection. If you have never performed this type of routine before then you may want to use a weight that you can lift for 4-5 reps in a row for your cluster sets rather than a weight you can lift 3 times.
It is very important that you complete all 5 sets with the same weight in order to foster the correct neurological adaptations. If you pick a weight that is too heavy and you have to decrease the load for your 3rd, 4th or 5th sets then you may not progress as quickly.
Part 9: 1/6 Contrast Sets
The 1/6 contrast set is another training method that I first learned about through the writings of Charles Poliquin. The basic idea is to perform sets of single repetitions and sets of six repetitions in an alternating fashion.
A typical 1/6 contrast set workout would involve 6 total sets on your primary exercise.
- Set #1: 1 rep
- Set #2: 6 reps
- Set #3: 1 rep
- Set #4: 6 reps
- Set #5: 1 rep
- Set #6: 6 reps
This type of workout is very similar to the wave loading method as described earlier. The single repetitions have the effect of potentiating your nervous system so the weight should feel MUCH lighter on your shoulders when you go to do your sets of 6 on the front squat.
This routine is absolutely outstanding for building both relative and maximal strength in the front squat. Let’s take a look at a sample training routine.
Check it out:
Front Squat 1/6 Contrast Set Method
- A1: Front squat (wide stance / heels flat), 6 x 1/6**, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Bilateral seated leg curl (Feet dorsiflexed / neutral), 6 x 3, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Back squat (medium stance / heels elevated), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 75 seconds rest
- B2: Bilateral seated leg curl (Feet dorsiflexed / neutral), 3 x 3, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: 45 degree back extension (holding barbell with snatch grip), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 120 seconds rest
**Performed as 1/6 contrast sets as described above.
If you perform this workout correctly you should find that your strength actually INCREASES as you progress through the workout.
For example here is what a sample weights progression might look like on the front squat for an intermediate level lifter:
- Set #1: 300 lbs x 1 rep
- Set #2: 240 lbs x 6 reps
- Set #3: 305 lbs x 1 rep
- Set #4: 245 lbs x 6 reps
- Set #5: 310 lbs x 1 rep
- Set #6: 250 lbs x 6 reps
This may sound impossible to many of you. After all, if you can increase your strength within a workout like this then why wouldn’t everyone train this way? I can assure you that many of the best strength coaches in the world use techniques such as contrast sets on a regular basis with their athletes.
Why don’t you give this front squat a routine a shot and see for yourself just how effective it can be? I am sure you will be pleased with the results!
Part 10: Heavy-Light Supersets
One of the best training methods for boosting muscular hypertrophy is supersets. A superset involves performing two exercises for the same body part back-to-back with only 10 seconds rest between exercises.
The second exercise helps to prolong the time under tension and further exhaust your muscle fibers after approaching muscular failure on your first set.
This specific routine involves a special type of superset: heavy-light supersets. The basic idea is to perform the first exercise in the superset for relatively low reps and the second exercise in the superset for relatively high reps.
This type of superset allows you to exhaust both the fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers in one blow. This type of superset works AWESOME when paired with the front squat because you never want to train with more than 6 reps in the front squat anyways.
Here is a sample heavy-light superset workout that you may want to try for your lower body. Check it out:
Front Squat Heavy / Light Routine
- A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3-5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Leg press, 3-5 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing out), 3-5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0
- B2: Snatch grip Romanian deadlift, 3-5 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
Don’t let the relatively low number of total sets fool you: this is an incredibly demanding workout! Both the rep ranges AND the tempos are varied for each exercise in the quadriceps and hamstrings supersets.
Most trainees will find that their strength decreases significantly from one superset to the next. Don’t worry, that is perfectly normal.
As a general rule of thumb I recommend you use a 20% fatigue drop off curve whenever you perform a bodybuilding-style workout using supersets or other training techniques such as tri-sets and giant sets that prolong the time under tension of a set.
Basically this means that as soon as your strength decreases by more than 20% you should stop and move on to the next exercise(s) in your routine. For example let’s say our old friend Joe Average tries to perform this routine.
Here is what his sets look like for the quadriceps superset:
Quadriceps superset #1
- Front squat: 300 pounds x 6 reps
- Leg press: 450 pounds x 15 reps
Joe puts up a great performance for his first superset. Each of these exercises was performed to 1-rep shy of failure. In other words Joe felt like his spleen was going to come out of his left eye on the last rep!
Joe knows that he is supposed to use a 20% fatigue drop-off curve. This means that he should stop the exercise if he has to use less than (300 pounds) x (80 percent) = 240 pounds on the front squat.
Quadriceps superset #2
- Front squat: 300 pounds x 4 reps
- Leg press: 450 pounds x 10 reps
Joe was feeling good so he decided to use the same weights on his second superset. In retrospect he should have decreased the weights slightly as he struggled to stay in his target rep ranges.
That’s perfectly OK! Joe just has to make sure he drops the weight for his third superset.
Quadriceps superset #3
- Front squat: 270 pounds x 6 reps
- Leg press: 405 pounds x 15 reps
This is the way! Joe took some big jumps down in weight for the third superset. This was absolutely warranted as Joe was able to get back towards the top of his target rep ranges. Joe is REALLY starting to feel fatigued at this point in the workout but he decides to give a fourth superset a shot.
Quadriceps superset #4
- Front squat: 255 pounds x 4 reps
- Leg press: 390 pounds x 12 reps
At this point Joe is completely wiped out. His quadriceps are on fire and he absolutely dreads the idea of performing another one of these supersets! This is perfectly fine. Joe is already close to reaching his 20% drop off point.
After all, front squatting 255 pounds for 4 reps is roughly the equivalent of front squatting 240 pounds for 6 reps. Joe wisely calls it here and moves on to the hamstrings superset that the routine calls for.
Figuring out how many sets to perform during a hypertrophy-style workout can be very tricky. This is especially true when you are performing a high-intensity training method such as supersets.
I hope this discussion helps you to auto-regulate your training volume in your own workouts!
Part 11: 5 x 5
Five sets of five reps is one of the classic strength training set and rep schemes. It has been used by many world-class strength coaches such as Bill Starr to build maximal strength without burning out your central nervous system.
In fact many strength training programs such as the “Texas Method” and the “Madcow 5 x 5 Program” almost exclusively use this set / rep scheme.
Here is a very simple but extremely effective front squat workout featuring the 5 x 5 scheme. This routine will work awesome for anyone looking to build muscle mass and strength. Check it out:
Quadriceps Routine #11
- A1: Front squat (narrow stance / heels elevated), 5 x 5, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- A2: Kneeling unilateral leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed in), 5 x 5, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- B1: Snatch grip rack pull (just above knees), 5 x 5, 2/1/X/0, 240 seconds rest
One exercise from this routine that you may not be familiar with is the snatch grip rack pull. This exercise is outrageously effective for packing on muscle mass on the entire backside of your body.
OK, your triceps might not get much stimulation from this exercise but every other muscle group on your backside including your hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, traps, rhomboids, lats, and rear delts will be absolutely destroyed!
The ultra-wide grip forces your lats to work much harder to stabilize the barbell and places your spinal erectors in a more difficult mechanical position. The end result is that you can stimulate far more motor units with a snatch grip rack pull than you can with a regular rack pull.
Part 12: 6/12/25 Method
The 6/12/25 method is a tremendous way to train for muscular hypertrophy.
If Bill Gates hired me and said “Mike, I’ll give you 1 billion dollars if you can help me pack on 10 pounds of pure muscle mass in 1 month” then I would be very tempted to train him with the 6/12/25 method. It is that good!
The 6/12/25 method is a specific type of tri-set. A tri-set is very similar to a superset. The main difference is that you will be performing three exercises back-to-back for the same body part rather than just two exercises.
For example here is what a typical tri-set looks like:
- Perform exercise A1, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise A2, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise A3, done!
The 6/12/25 method is named after the specific rep ranges that it features. You are going to perform 6 reps on the first exercise, 12 reps on the second exercise, and 25 reps on the third exercise.
This “omni-rep” protocol allows you to absolutely thrash all of the available motor units in your muscles.
In my experience this type of tri-set works especially well for training the quadriceps. Many IFBB professional bodybuilders such as Ben Pakulski and Stan Efferding believe that the quadriceps grow best with 20+ reps per set.
The 6/12/25 method certainly fits the bill! Here is a sample 6/12/25 workout featuring front squats as the first exercise of the day.
Check it out:
Front Squat Tri-Set Routine
- A1: Front squat (wide stance / heels flat), 3-4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Machine hack squat, 3-4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Seated machine leg extension, 3-4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
I highly recommend you bring a trash can with you as you complete this workout. If you perform this workout correctly you will accumulate so much lactic acid in your quadriceps that you may start to feel nauseous.
A few of my online coaching clients have thrown up their lunch while attempting this workout!
Of course you do not need to redecorate the gym floor with your half-digested breakfast to know that you had a great workout. However, you really need to understand just how difficult it is to perform this workout correctly.
Your quads are going to be screaming at you to stop during the leg extensions. It is your job to show your quadriceps who’s boss and push through the pain. Just remember: the more your legs burn the more they will grow.
If you can visualize your goal clearly in front of you, if you can see the end-result then you will be happy to push through that pain barrier because you know it is on the other side of that pain barrier where the real growth occurs.
If you want to learn more about tri-set workouts for quadriceps hypertrophy then you can check out this article.
Part 13: Hypertrophy-Specific Cluster Sets
Earlier in this article I mentioned that cluster sets can be modified to build muscular hypertrophy. Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave you in the dark on this unbelievably effective training method!
Here is Josh himself talking about his hypertrophy-specific cluster set protocol:
As Josh explains you are going to pick a weight you can do for about 10-15 reps. You are going to perform mini-sets of 5 reps with 5 seconds rest in between each mini-set. For example:
- Perform 5 reps, rest 10 seconds
- Perform 5 reps, rest 10 seconds
You continue busting out mini-sets of 5 reps for a total of 5 minutes. If you get to your last set and you are able to perform more than 5 total reps then you would perform an “AMRAP” set where you bust out as many reps as possible.
On the other hand if you are unable to complete 5 reps on any of your mini-sets then you would simply drop a rep and keep going until the 5 minutes are up. So if you can’t do 5 reps you would start doing sets of 4. Then when you can’t do 4 reps anymore you would start doing sets of 3 etc.
Typically Josh likes to have you perform one cluster set per exercise and 2-3 exercises per body part. Here is how you might set up a front squat hypertrophy-specific cluster set workout to pack on some serious size onto your quadriceps.
Check it out:
Front Squat Hypertrophy-Specific Cluster Sets Routine
- A1: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet plantarflexed / neutral), sets of 5**, 2/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
- B1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), sets of 5**, 2/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
- C1: Leg press, sets of 5**, 2/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
- D1: Dumbbell stiff legged deadlift, sets of 5**, 2/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
Hypertrophy specific cluster sets are unlike anything you have ever tried before. At first they don’t seem very hard. After all, you are performing sets of 5 with your 10-15 rep max.
But after a couple of minutes on this protocol you are going to start feeling a very deep muscle burn. The lactic acid slowly pools in your muscles and it builds and builds over time. After 5 minutes your muscles are going to feel like they are ready to explode!
This is definitely not the best workout to try if you are looking to improve your front squatting strength. On the other hand if you are trying to build some tree-trunk thighs then this would be an excellent choice.
The front squat is one of the most challenging but rewarding exercises you can perform in the gym. Many of my heroes such as Dmitry Klokov and Ronnie Coleman have used front squats as one of the key exercises of their lower body workouts.
If you have been neglecting the front squat in your training for too long then I suggest you address this mistake right now. You have no idea how much lower body size and strength you are leaving on the table by neglecting this most important of exercises!
“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
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