When I first got into powerlifting 5 or 6 years ago I scoured the internet, searching for hours to find the magic bullet – the most epic badassery – something so h-core only a crazy-ass bro with a death-wish could handle it.
And I found it.
Or maybe it found me.
It had the perfect name – Smolov.So Russian, so mysterious. Surviving it sounded akin to surviving Ivan Drago and we all know how that worked out for our friend Mr. Creed.
Smolov does not do exhibition matches.
If he dies – he dies.
So this was it, I had found it. It was intense, it was Russian and it was unlike anything I had ever heard of. It was unavoidable.
Flash forward several smolov cycles later and here we are: my legs tear apart jeans, I can’t wear cords without starting a fire and I can make any pair of shorts look like spandex.
These are my super powers.
These can be your super powers.
Let me tell you how.
In my years of lifting and forum trolling I’ve never seen someone who can actually squat a half-decent weight step post an article on smolov. I don’t know if it’s because most big raw lifters don’t touch it or just don’t report it, but there isn’t much out there. All I know is that when I was starting I didn’t care to hear how Joe Blo upped his squat from 275 to 315, he could get the same carryover from eating a burrito.
I wanted to see how someone who took it to the next level – something actually impressive.
But I have yet to find such a guide.
And so, in lieu of a higher power to whom I will readily concede, I will now assume the role of the wizened smolov veteran and hopefully inspire some young bucks to fall in league with the Red Army.
The Nuts and Bolts
First, let me preface this by saying that I squat over 255kg until my hamstrings hit my calves at nearly 6’ 210. Not quite the 290kg world standard set by the IPF for the 93kg class, but working towards it.
I first discovered smolov while in 2ndyear uni. I had around a 365 squat. I don’t know how I got there, probably just went heavy and did random wsb shit initially. But my form was crap. I pancaked that bar like a boss. My erectors were running purely on ‘save this idiot’s spine from explosion’ strength. I then ran smolov 3 or 4 times over the next year or two, and ended up with a 550 squat (not legit depth)
The problem was that my form had never improved. I still pancaked, and I was cutting my depth short on the heavy singles. I had no glute or hamstring strength to speak of and not enough flexibility to hit a full squat upright.
And so it didn’t last. Injuries happened, life happened and my squat fell from grace.
Before you begin smolov you must be able to squat with worthy technique
Sound like a no brainer, but it isn’t. I don’t mean passable technique, I mean it has to be worthy. Does the idea of repping out a set to absolute failure terrify you? I’m talking deep nut-busting squats where every rep is an achievement. Does your lower back quiver at this idea?
Did your knees explode?
You need to be solid.If you aren’t solid, then become solid. Stop doing whatever stupid shit you are doing now and learn how to squat for a 3 white lights and respect from real lifters. There are a thousand articles on the subject, find one by someone strong and learn; it will be the best thing you ever do for your physique.
The reason being that smolov will set your technique in stone. While it does have the power to iron out some smaller weak points (to a conscious squatter), if you are squatting above parallel or are flopping like grandma’s flapjacks (not the pancakes) then you will not benefit yet. You will become very good at avoiding your weakpoints and make it much harder to correct after
If you can squat well enough and are motivated to become a bona fide badass then there is nothing stopping you from harnessing the power of the smolov. Below are some tips that I have accumulated to help make it as successful as possible.
I have done smolov a lot. Don’t listen to other pencil necks, do what I say.
#1 – Only run the smolov base cycle
The full program is long as hell – an intro cycle, a base cycle a switching phase and a hell phase. Here’s the secret: don’t do any of that shit.
This is the magic:
Week 1 – M/W/F/S Squat 4×9@70, 5×7@75, 7×5@80, 10×3@85 respectively
Week 2 – add 20 lbs
Week 3 – add 10 lbs
Week 4 – rest and max when ready
This is the smolov base mesocycle. This is the balls. This is the nuts. The is THE absolute best man-building program ever designed. It is devilish in its simplicity and evil in its execution. Imagine adding 50lbs to your squat and nearly as much to your dead in a month. It works.
Don’t mess with the other shit, it is too long. Your body will break, you will get bored and you will develop dramatic imbalances.
What you can do is commit yourself to 3 brutal weeks with a minimum 5-10% increase on your raw squat, with likely better form and more confidence under the bar.
#2 – Avoid Injury
So now you know the plan, but there’s a catch. Smolov is a greedy bastard with a hunger for suffering. He has claimed many lifters and will continue to do so. Even I, during my last cycle in 2011 fell victim to him due to a dramatic imbalance I developed. In short, I had become lazy with my stretching and warmups, wasn’t doing the right pre-hab work and the morning after a convincing 550 1RM my adductors were destroyed. I couldn’t squat without searing pain. I tried to work through it as I was 4-5 weeks from comp, but it made matters worse. I finally succumbed to injury and took a good 3-4 weeks off of the lift, allowing my legs to heal. By the time the comp came I was finally mobile, but my strength had left me.
So here are the rules for the squats days while running smolov:
- My Squat Warmup
o 5 minutes of light cardio (neglect this if you have any self-respect)
o Dynamic warm-up
§ Leg swings to front
§ Leg swings to side
§ Pull knee towards chest while walking
§ Extend leg while holding ankle behind while walking
§ Jogging high knees
§ Jogging butt-kicks
§ Deep pause squat
§ Shoulder cyclones
o Foam roll and lacrosse ball
§ Hit the roller full body
§ Lean against the lacrosse ball on the wall and work out the deep triggers in your hips, glutes and shoulders
o Load up your first warmup squat
Run through your warmup weights until you find yourself facing your first working set.
Post-workout I like to run some static stretches on my tight spots and then quickly hit the foam roller on the IT band and inner thighs for injury prevention.
#3 – Harness the power of shit food
That’s right. When taking on sir smolov you MUST binge directly after every squat workout for it to work. If you stick with your usual soy protein and snow pea latte post workout you will fail without question. There can be no replacements.
Pre-workout (30-60min prior) – 40g whey + 5g creatine, big spoon of peanut butter, 2-400mg caffeine
During workout – sip on 50g whey + 5g creatine, snack on 10 timbits throughout working sets
Post workout 1 (10min after) – 50g whey + 5g creatine, slice of cake or equivalent
Post workout 2 (within 1 hour) – 2 slices of pizza drenched in olive oil and parmesan + 500ml chocolate milk
Post workout 3 (within 3-4 hours) – absolutely meal as long as 50g protein is included
But there is method to this madness
Let me explain.
Pre-workout:This meal is ‘lays the base’ of protein to ensure that you have ample AA floating around when needed. It also supplies a hefty dose of oils which supply nice steady power to get you through the lift. This is a time (probably the only time) to avoid high GI foods. I have made the mistake of shit-loading prior to a lift so many times hoping that I’ll get mad swole but it doesn’t work. When you hit the carbs too early you stunt your body’s release of epi and it is a very noticeable side effect – you won’t explode out into a sweat after the first reasonably heavy warmup set. Finally, 2-400mg of caffeine will do wonders for your power output on squatting longevity, but if you call yourself a powerlifter you already know this.
During-workout:I personally don’t take BCAAs or leucine, but I do sip on a shake with creatine during the workout. It just makes sense – why would I let my body wait? I prefer to think of my first working set as the beginning of my post-workout nutrition. A second important tool is eating a small but satisfying amount of highly processed snack food during your lift. Once the adrenaline kicks in after the first working set I like to keep a steady sugar-high going until the end. The trick is to avoid eating too much or anything that will take a lot to digest. It is easy to make this mistake once you get into the habit of eating during a lift. The problem is that your digestion will kick in it will suck some fuel from your pump – the opposite of what we want to do. Thus, in my experience I like to eat a mid-sized bag of gummy-candies, maybe pick at a slice of cake or grab a box of timbits. You want to just pick at them in-between sets to keep the sugar steady. If you front-load them you may crash too soon.
Post-workout 1: Here is where you spike with a nice fat shake and get that pancreas pumping with a nice dose of carbs. Keep is high GI, that is all.
Post-workout 2: The most important meal of the day. This is the secret to success. This is where you power-hungry animals need to go directly to the closest pizza parlor and eat pizza and drink pop.
THIS ISN’T POWERLIFTING HUMOUR OR A JOKE OR SABOTAGE BRO
This is actually the best secret that I can impart to you. When Dave Tate used to post articles on eating boxes of Oreos back in the good ol’ days I used to think it was to be funny. It wasn’t until I became a man that I realized the wisdom in his words. Processed foods are powerful and when eaten at the right time they can transform your physique. Don’t stress out, you won’t lose your shitty excuse for a 6-pack, if anything 3 weeks of squatting like a maniac will actually build something half decent
Post-workout 3: Is whatever you like, meat and beer is a good choice.
#4 Avoid accessory work
When running smolov, everything besides squatting is considered accessory work. This includes upper body. I have found it best to add a heavy day of benching to the Monday 4×9 squats. This is the lowest intensity day of the week and is usually over pretty quickly. This is the only additional work that I recommend. Anything on top of this may hamper results, but those very used to high volume training will know what they can handle and I will not try to stop them.
Don’t forget, bench is an accessory here so we will only do what is the absolute minimum. We must take the bare minimum away from squat recovery.
Bench (comp-grip paused) – 50%x5, 60%x4, 70%x3, 80%x2x2, 90%x1, 95%x1, 97.5%x2-3×1
Bench (close-grip touch and go) – 80%xMax (without missing)
Chinups – 2 sets full hang to failure
I find bench to be fairly relaxing and I usually work it into my squat sets. DO NOT DO ANYTHING ONTOP OF THIS. Sure, you probably coulddo it. But it would make things worse. If you are one of those who habitually does way too much volume for benching (4-5 work sets on bench, then boards, then dumbbells, then flies, then dips etc) you will most likely improve your bench during this cycle just because you are finally forced to stick to the basics and let your body improve for once. Just aim for some nice heavy singles up around your 1RM, shooting for 3-5 reps in the 90%+ range on any given day. For a dropset I like to switch to closegrip but it doesn’t matter, just limit yourself to one set to near failure at something bench-like (and weak-point oriented) and it will suffice. The chin-ups are self-explanatory.
On a squat day, after the working sets of squats I find it is best to do 2-3 sets of light lunges to stretch out the groin and maintain knee health. If you are very active or have wicked mobility then play it by feel.
#5 – Selecting your 1RM
If you know how to squat reasonably well and are mentally prepared to do what it takes to become a shit-ton stronger then the only real question is how to calculate your work load.
Over the years I have experimented with a couple variations.
True 1RM:Speaks for itself. Take your actual belt/beltless 1RM and complete the work as described with the same gear. If you follow the tips you will build some serious wheels.
Optimistic 1RM: This is for aggressive/greedy mofos out there. Something I used to use in my earlier days when I was young and pissed testosterone. Years ago during my 2ndforay I made a jump from 405 to 475 in 4 weeks using this tactic. I think I had squatted 405 for a double and so calculated my base cycle off of an impossible 450ish. Then somehow I hit 475 after. My form was very novice however and it took some time after to turn it into something presentable.
Geared 1RM:Now I don’t mean actual equipment, but I have run a cycle using a true belted 1RM to calculate and going beltless for the whole cycle. Putting the belt back on at the end I went from a 500 to 550. But be warned: I woke up the next day with an injured adductor and I didn’t feel a strain during the max-out or anything. I attribute it to too great a load and too lazy a lifter (skipping warmups, no SMR, single leg work, stretching or prehab).
Short-sell 1RM:This is limited to noobs or guys that aren’t in it for the strength and just want bigger wheels/ will be performing additional bodybuilding type work alongside this. By dropping the 1RM by 10-15% you will be left with 4-10 very manageable sets with a nice working load and the ability to focus on squeezing your muscles (instead of trying to avoid dying). This, however, is not powerlifting. The near-death factor is what teaches your body to use everything it’s got at a lift and is what makes elite lifters elite.
#6 – How to actual do the working sets
Okay, if you are new to the idea of grinding out multiple sets with I’m going to die intensity then listen up. Take 5 to 10 minutes between your working sets. Use this time to focus, eat timbits, jiggle your quads, visualize your next set and work yourself into a frenzy before getting under the bar again. Smolov is not a social guy. Actually, he is very anti-social. Actually, he’s the kind of racist who hates every race. He does not like it when you are daydreaming or talking to fellow bros or checking out chicks. He is greedy and demands your full attention. If you lose focus you will have a shitty set and might even miss a rep. If you do this you will initiate a dangerous downward spiral. Never miss a rep 2 sets in a row. If you do, then you fail smolov and should stop.
Besides taking 5-10 minutes between sets (closer to 10 minutes the deeper into the program you get), there is a trick to hitting the reps as well. My preferred technique is the burst-pause-single-single. With this tactic I will pump out minus-2 reps, ie 7 reps if doing a set of 9 or 5 reps if doing a set of 7. In this case, the last rep of the burst is very hard, a grinder even. I most likely would not be able to go straight through to finish the set, so I stand up, breathe and refocus for 5-10 seconds. Then I hit a near death single. Breathe, refocus, and hit the last rep.
This tactic is the best way for breaking up the sets that I have found. It also provides a good guideline to judge how your energy levels and recovery is holding up. If you are having a strong smolov session then you are able to go straight through all of you reps without having to reset, or maybe going straight to minus-1. If you are having a very hard set then you might be able to make it to minus-3 and then must grind through 3 singles. This type of day will be maximally taxing and is a sign of poor energy and recovery, or rushed rest-times.
There you have it. It is simple. Squat 4 days a week. Bench once. Eat like a mammoth and you will turn into a machine. If you are young or enjoy pushing the envelope then inflate your 1RM. Focus, smoke your reps to the floor and get serious about squatting.
After smolov you will be a different kind of lifter.
After smolov you will be a different kind of person.