Can you do Smolov for the bench press? [Article]
The short answer is yes, you can, but you shouldn't. Especially if you are just exploring different programs without really knowing what you are doing. A better option is to use Smolov Jr. to boost your bench press if you have gotten fed up with Starting Strength and Stronglifts and want to try something different.
The most important things about strength development are consistency and overload. Consistency means that you do a certain movement regularly and controlled without injuring yourself. This is where most people fail. Most individuals are not consistent enough with their lifestyle choices and therefore do not bench press 150kg or squat 200kg. There is a high drop out rate early in the process when it comes to the development of strength or any other sport. People get babies, jobs and set other priorities. If you are a nerd like me who loves statistics and brain aerobics there is an interesting post at T-Nation titled "Is a 300-pound bench press rare". A recommended read if you are a bench press enthusiast. Overload is the concept that you consistently challenge yourself to lift more and not stay at the same level forever. Only this way you progress. As Smolov is a three-month program and has in built overload it already fulfills the basic needs to be used for the bench press. Let us look beyond the obvious and see if this holds at closer examination.
Smolov is a lifting program for experienced lifters which breaks down into three phases. The first phase will have you work at high intensity in relation to your one repetition maximum and a high amount of repetitions. Most people already drop out in this first phase. In the second phase, you top up 5 to 15kg compared to the first cycle. After this phase, you do the entire thing again to close. The details are a bit more intricate than this and if you want to deep dive please refer to my detailed Smolov review on this blog. For now, it is important that you know that Smolov is one of the most single minded and intense programs out there and that it lives up to the hype as I have done it myself.
The big three
The big three lifts are the squat, the bench press and the deadlift which are performed in powerlifting competitions. When novices look at programs which have been written they often think that these three lifts are easily interchangeable and it can not make so much difference which lifts you do when. This is true in principle, however, more advanced lifters know that it does make a big difference where you put your focus and in which order you do the lifts in any given program. Andy Bolton, for example, always started the training week with his weakest lift, the bench press, as he believed that this helped him to progress better as a complete powerlifter.
In my opinion, the squat is the technically most challenging of the three lifts and, when mastered, leaves the most room for a lot of workloads to be put through. While the bench press and deadlift are more prone to cause injury to the lower back or shoulders the squat can be done relatively injury free once the technique is under control. This is due to the fact that the human body has been designed to carry the most load with its legs, rather than its lower back or arms.
The deadlift is a staple in the powerlifting universe and if you study the totals of top performing lifters the deadlift makes up between 40 - 50% of their total. It is harder to learn than the bench press but not as hard and daunting than the squat. In a deadlift the weight can not fall on top of you and crush you, you just let it go and get out of the way. If you fail a squat you are always between the weight and gravity. Gravity will always win. The challenge with the deadlift is that it is very taxing on your nervous system. If you have ever experienced pulling a weight for two to three repetitions and
on the fourth, it won't move an inch off the ground it is not necessarily due to muscle failure, but because your nervous system fails to give a strong enough impulse to the muscle to twitch. In the squat, it is a little different as I feel muscle failure is way more likely because your brain and nervous system is forced to go into survival mode and fire as you will get crushed otherwise.
The bench press is the most popular lift of the three. Seemingly everyone benches in the gym while only a few do heavy squats and deadlifts. There are many variations of the exercise and it is iconic. The bench press is usually the lift on which people first move 100kg as they just do not do the other two. The challenge with the bench press is that it is easy to do a lot of volume and damage your shoulders and elbows in the process. This can be counteracted by incorporating rows and shoulder stretches into your routine.
Can you use Smolov for the bench press?
As with everything the answer is yes, you can. You can also set your sister on fire and while you are at it club her cat to death with your laptop. Just because you can do something does not necessarily mean that you should. Same goes for using
smolov to increase your bench press. The first issue with this is that you will be working only a few upper body muscles for three months which is very likely to create an imbalance. The next one is that if you already pose a question like "Can I use smolov for the bench press" to the internet it is very likely that you are not that experienced in lifting. If you are not experienced in lifting stay away from Smolov altogether. If however, you are an intermediate lifter who wants to break through a bench plateau by using an intensive program, Smolov Jr is just for you. I hit a wall with my bench press at 140kg and used Smolov Jr successfully yo push beyond that within a month to 150kg. Smolov Jr is, in essence, the first month of the full program to make the approach less extreme while still kicking you like a mule. So if you use a Smolov program for the bench, use Smolov Jr. If you are really crazy go into the full Smolov cycle for additional two months, but it is not recommended. The only exception from the rule is if you were a competitive bench presser.
Smolov has too much volume and too high an intensity to be considered for the bench press for the entire three months. In fact, it is too extreme to be considered at all by most people. This being said Smolov Jr is a great alternative which demands less commitment and still gets you results. Start there and then consider whether you want to move on based on how your body reacts.
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