Smolov Squat Routine

Smolov

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.

Tips

Program setup:

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

§ Spider-mans

§ Pideon-toes

§ Deep pause squat

§ Shoulder cyclones

§ Repeat

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

Finish.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Goodluck comrades.


20 Comments

  • peter says:

    that was awesome.

  • Tom says:

    That was an amazing article!

    Do you think it is a good idea for someone who has been lifting for two years to do Smolov or do you think it would be a better idea to wait till less hardcore programs do not give the same gains in strength to do it

    • smolov says:

      Thanks Tom,

      If your tech is solid and your joints are healthy then I’d give it a go! It will redefine what a hard means which will benefit you for the rest of your lifting career.

      My advice is to film your final set of each day – makes for a great video at the end and lets you determine if your tech/depth really are sufficient. Be honest with yourself – smolov is very dangerous if you are not properly prepared.

      Best of luck, comrade.

  • John says:

    Great article, man. I just started my first smolov; however, I have decided to go the traditional 13 week route the first time through to get the full smolov experience. Afterwards, I’m definitely going to give this modified smolov a try.

    One question I have for you is what kind of, if any work, should I do for my hamstrings and calves during this routine?

  • smolov says:

    Great to hear John.

    Smolov is great and really pushing your prime mover strength to the next level but doing so requires the complete focus of your bodies adaptive abilities. Trying to push everything at once will spread yourself too thin.You would be much better served by spending 10-15min stretching and rolling after every session to keep a happy healthy groin

    When youre done smolov then you can focus on bringing up the lagging bodyparts (back, hams, etc) while settling-in/solidifying your new squat power.

    Best of luck!
    Keep us posted
    Cheers


    John:

    Great article, man. I just started my first smolov; however, I have decided to go the traditional 13 week route the first time through to get the full smolov experience. Afterwards, I’m definitely going to give this modified smolov a try.
    One question I have for you is what kind of, if any work, should I do for my hamstrings and calves during this routine?

  • Abe says:

    Awesome article, one of the best reads I have found on the net re Smolov.
    I just finished my last workout (week 4, day 3) of the intense phase (I found your advice of olny running the base cycle after I had started the program).
    I obviously have not tested my new 1RM yet, I wanted to wait until next week/weekend, but I know I am moving heavier weights than before at a much easier pace.
    Here is my question, will I maintain most of the gains or will it all go away in a matter of weeks as suggested by some other articles?
    My goal is to build up enough strenth to do 6-8 reps @ 2.5 BW. My current 1RM is just over 2XBW.
    What has been your experience (or anyone else’s) regaeding the long term gains with Smolov?

    Thank you and sorry for the long post.

    • smolov says:

      hey abe, glad you like the article and congrats for getting through the real deal.

      it is def necessary to follow up smolov w a “solidification phase” in order to settle in to your new strength. something akin to the one-drop method which i describe on elitefts will work well, or anything with a few heavy singles (over 90%) once or twice a week along with a couple ball busting rep outs will suffice.

      a month or two of lower volume /higher intensity will give your body time to get ready for another round of smolov if so desired.

      finally, there is def a huge difference between a 1rm @ 2x bdyw8 and an 8rm @ 2.5x – id say realistically 4 or 5 years of steady training . play it smart, eat huge and squat w good tech and you will be a monster when you get there – its good to have goals but bad to have timelines

      anyways, respect man, best of luck w the maxing
      cheers

  • Abe says:

    Thanks for your response, I think your solidification phase comment is bang on. I received that advice from a trainer I trust.
    Just to clarify my goals, I meant to write, either 6-8 resp @ 2xBW or bring my 1RM to 2.5 xBW. I can do one, maybe two (squat forms deteriorates quickly after one) set at 2xBW. Not sure how long it will take but as long as progress is made I will continue on that path.
    Thanks again

  • Jay says:

    I read this article and was inspired, im currently 3 weeks in with 3 sessions to go… Video of everything and all logged in a blog I set up so hopefully a massive PR to follow. This programme was described as ‘the nuts’ and this article is also ‘the nuts’

    will keep you posted on the PR to come!

  • Jay says:

    update on the smolov (previous comment) Finished with a massive rep PR, 495×3 (never repped anything over 465×2 before) and went upto 520×1 (with some in the tank for a 5lb PR)

    Great article, great programme and great results. If anybody wants to pour everything into their squat for a very crazy and well worth it 3-4 weeks. Id advise you follow this article and get to work.

    nice one manhaven project. I salute you guys.

  • Nick says:

    I’m not going to lie, this article absolutely convinced me that I needed to do Smolov. I’ve know about this program for years but never gave it a shot because I was gunshy about doing a squat specialization program. Now at this point in my powerlifting career my squat is my weak link and this is the ticket. Thank you for the in depth coverage of the routine – I’m in my third week of the modified base mesocycle – and I going for it in just the way you describe. It’s been a ton of fun, and absolutely terrifying at the same time. Logs have been kept and I am looking forward to a huge max next week. Thanks MHP for all of your time and effort in compiling data on the Sheiko and Smolov program!!!

    • smolov says:

      hey thanks for the comment nick sounds like youre having a great time cant wait to see the results.

      also, wow man thats an amazing bench press youve got jeez – well you’ve gained one more regular reader of your log haha

      cheers bud

  • Steve says:

    I started the base cycle yesterday with a 140kg 1rm and hoping to get 155kg I didn’t do the intro as I squatted 3 days a week already but planning base for now if all is good I will carry on with the rest of the program. Thanks for the info

  • Steve says:

    Thanks will do 140kg is only a estimated max from a 125kg 5rm the last time I 1rm in early December it was 127.5kg so it will be interesting to see what it is in 4 weeks

  • Steve says:

    Smolov base cycle done with a 1rm of 180kg that’s a 40kg increase way more than I expected now time to think whether to carry on with the switching and intense phase and go for 200 or start another program like Kortes 3 x 3

    • Smolov says:

      wow steve, thats the biggest increase i’ve ever heard of – respect

      is that with competition technique or with ‘smolov-technique’ ?

      if that’s with good platform-worthy tech i’d say you’d be a fine candidate for the full program.

      if you are a little unsure though, or your joints, or motivation for more smolov aren’t 100% anymore then I would move to a triples-based program in an effort to ‘stake your claim’ as they say.

      you can always run another base cycle after 2-3 months of kortes/sheiko etc so there’s no need for the intense.

      anyways let us know how it goes, amazing work

  • Steve says:

    Not sure what you mean by competion technique & smolov technique?
    I did everything as smolov said, I did a 12.5kg increase week 2 and a 5kg increase week 3 all belt only and knee raps today after I got to 160kg+. But yeah very tempted to push on with the intense phase now because I surprised myself today by having such a big increase in a small amount of time. Thanks for the info it helped a lot

    Cheers

    Steve

    • smolov says:

      hahaha

      thats a good sign
      by smolov technique i meant a little shallow, and a little shaky. does not sound like an issue for you so id say go for it!

      cheers

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