Smolov for intermediates
Smolov is a program which you can consider to prove your manhood. It is one of these things which are stupid to do if you look at it rationally and are yet very cool once you have done them. Intermediates are in my opinion ready for the workload if they do some additional homework I have outlined in this post. Still, I believe, Smolov is the most fun to do and makes the most sense when you are at an elite stage and do not care about competitions.
Two of the most important components in the development of strength is consistency and overload. Consistency means that you show up every day and do the work. Overload means that you consistently make the work you do harder so that it stays challenging. This happens in increments, not in jumps. Therefore the grind becomes important and patience is a special virtue of the strength athlete who chips away day to day, week to week, year after year at his/her goals to achieve them.
On this blog, you will find this expressed in the comparatively long time I do run my programs. You will not find as many 30 day challenges which overpromise and underdeliver. Instead, you will find programs I ran for 10 months, eight months and six months at a time depending on the nature of the program.
Strength development is a result of constantly applying overload in increments. There are different schools of thoughts on how to achieve this and how big the jumps should be. The core principle still stays the same.
Levels of strength
The levels of strength divide into beginner, novice, intermediate, advanced and elite based on the categories you can find on strengthlevel.com which I find to be a good source based on the books I have read and how much these calculators take into consideration.
The strength level depends on your age and weight based on the lift you are evaluating. In the beginner stage, you will improve in each workout, when you move on you improve week over week and in the highest brackets, it will take you months to years to improve. All of my personal lifts are in the advanced bracket. So the content you read is being provided by someone who is very strong compared to the general population and weak compared to professional lifters. My current goal is to push my lifts into the elite sector for my bodyweight of 80 - 85 kg. Check out the tables at strengthlevel.com. Very educational and good data to work with.
If you are an intermediate you will have done some kind of program to get you there. This can either have been a bodybuilding template you found on bodybuilding.com or in your local gym. Maybe your coach provided you with one in your high school years and you are still using it. Good intermediate programs which I have done myself and also get decent reviews on powerliftingtowin are Wendler 531, Texas Method, Madcow and the Juggernaut method. It is up to you which kind of program you choose and how much you are willing to commit. One thing is sure, at latest at the intermediate stage you are well advised to understand the theory behind what you are doing in the gym to save yourself time and get the most out of it. Some reference points for you:
- Practical Programming for Strength training by Mark Rippetoe
- Excellent content and very technical. Hard to read. Do not make this your first book on strength theory
- Deadlift Dynamite
- Excellent content on the deadlift and kettlebell as a supporting tool to progress. Fun to read and very practical advice. The Face to wall squat revolutionized my mobility (combined with Cossack squats)
- Simple and Sinister
Greatthought process for general strength or as an easy, but bad-asswarm-up for serious lifters. This will also get you to the next level as a kettlebell instructor for your local team and/or gym
Other great sources for you to consider are Eric Cressey, Chris Duffin, Clarence Kennedy and also Brandon Campbell's lifting channel if you have a more casual approach to lifting. At this stage in your development, it is better you source, read and form your own opinions rather than me or anyone else telling you what to do. I personally like to structure my sessions in a way that they are an hour long and I do them six times a week. First 15 minutes warm up, 15 minutes kettlebell work in the simple and sinister template, 30 minutes core lifts on a program of choice. It does not always pan out this way and I try to choose my parts accordingly.
The Smolov program will take three months of your time focusing only on the squat. The introduction phase will challenge with higher rep counts per set compared to other cookie cutter programs. The second month switches things up a little to prepare you for month three in which you realize the gains. If you want to dive deeper on the topic please read my detailed Smolov review on this blog.
Smolov for Intermediates
Intermediates can consider Smolov if they want to challenge themselves for three months and have no intention of competing at a powerlifting meet or weightlifting competition. To state the obvious, Smolov will not get you ripped, get you bigger arms or a bigger chest and definitely not bodybuilder calves which you can put a thong on. If you want to impress the ladies you might as well not go to the gym and invest your time better in thinking about how to be a good father or make more money. That has a higher chance of impressing the female population.
If you now still consider Smolov I would recommend that you first finish whatever program you are on properly until you can not get anything out of it anymore. As stretching is generally neglected it is good advice to use this time to open up your hips with a targeted stretching routine. You will thank yourself that you put in the extra 10 to 15 minutes on each session once you entered Smolov. The face to wall squat described in Deadlift Dynamite is an excellent tool to achieve just this.
Once you are ready for the program from a mobility standpoint you can either jump right in or do another one month cycle of German Volume training. If you have never squatted more than five repetitions per set I would highly recommend to you to get one German Volume Cycle in before going on Smolov. Otherwise, the likelihood of you dropping out in the first month is very likely because you are not used to squatting 5+ reps.
In terms of expectation setting, I improved my squat from 140kg to 170kg belted when on Smolov. As an intermediate, you have to be aware that you start from a smaller base than an elite for improvement so your gains will not sound as impressive. Gaining 50kg on a 230kg squat is still very impressive. Relatively speaking it is similar in terms of gains than the 140kg to 170kg gains I made. Before you get to the comments section to complain, also be aware that there is the law of diminishing returns which makes a 50kg gain on a 230kg harder than 140kg to 170kg, I am aware of this. However, I take the liberty to assume more available time and probable steroid use at the upper end of the scale which even the two scenarios out. And yes, I am less committed than a powerlifter who makes his living out of pushing heavy weights around and so are you most likely. That is why our expectations of gains have to be in check to keep us injury free.
Last but not least stock up on ice packs, hot water bottles and anything else which can help you with faster recovery. This includes being able to take in more calories and plan your diet in advance. It can be as simple as having one wagon wheel of pizza a day in addition to what you are already eating. If you want no cardiac arrest, however, I might suggest chicken breasts, cheese, and bulletproof coffees be added to your diet to get the extra energy in without too much hassle.
Intermediates can consider Smolov as a test of manhood and stupidity in the gym. It is a great program to do and to be proud of. Running the Boston marathon is also comparatively stupid based on what you get out of it and how much time goes into it. Still, it is a badge of honor to have done the Boston marathon or Smolov without dropping out. If I could redo it I would at a later stage. I think Smolov is more suited to lifters who need insane amounts of work to progress in any direction. In addition, I think the gains you make as an Elite lifter on this program are just more satisfying than the relatively small absolute gains you make (10kg a month) as an intermediate.
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