14 Tips on how to survive Smolov
I have run a one month Smolov Jr cycle increasing my bench from 140kg to 150kg and followed with a Smolov 3 month cycle for squats increasing my PR from 140kg to 170kg. I think it is a very interesting program to run, especially when one of your lifts is very weak compared to the others.
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1.Testing is better than estimating
Both programs, the full version, and its little brother, are very single-minded programs which will operate close to your one repetition maximum. You will work with 80% to 95% of it and for one lift even with a whopping 110%. Going on Smolov is not the time to boast with 1RM from the distant past in a faraway place in which you trained with Kazakhs and Uzbeks while having a Testosterone syringe up your back side and some white powder (be it chalk or worse) in your nose.
Still, it is also not as bad as it is portrayed in some reports. It is a hard program, but if a 30-year-old salesman with two children can do it, you can do it too. If your last 1RM max is more than three months old it is time for a retest on the squat or bench press depending on which lift you want to push the envelope. In the case that you are not willing to retest (which would not be wise, but you are the maker of your own faith), do yourself a favor and go in with 90% of what you think your one rep max is. This is good advice from Jim Wendler’s 531 program which can be applied to any new program you enter.
2. Push through Introductory phase
In my personal opinion, the opening month separates the men from the rest. There is no data to be found when most people drop out of the program. My strong hunch is that it is between week 2 and 6. The squatting at high volume (3x8 & 4x9) with relatively big weights really sucks, if you are used to 5x5 programs. If you used to even lower rep ranges of 1 -3, I think your agony will be even bigger. Once you made it through this adaptation phase, I think the rest is plain sailing, if you know how to breathe correctly with 90% - 95% on your back.
3. Stay hydrated
Have your drink ready to have sips (not gallons, you are squatting heavy. Unless you like popping your stomach like a balloon or feeling the wrath of Kahn on the shitter!) of water between sets to freshen up. A little bit of water or supplement of your choice can do wonders to keep you focused & energized between heavy sets.
4. Rest between sets & sessions
Smolov is not crossfit. I love the crossfit approach of timing everything and being always on the go. It worked wonders for my recovery times. However, heavy squats or bench presses are neither the time nor the place to be in a rush. If you need three minutes of rest between sets, take them. The main goal is to get your load in, not to do it in a record breaking time. Give your body the time to recover. On the days between Smolov sessions, if you want to do anything, keep it light, stay away from the barbell and from long distance endurance training. Light kettlebell swings, for example, are a good option, if you are a member of the antsy bunch.
5. Strip when you fail
This is not the lifting version of strip poker (although that would be an interesting twist to weightlifting. You would not ever have to wait for a rack again, if, and only if, your gym membership is not terminated).It is not unlikely, even if you are conservative with your max, that you might fail a set. Of course, you want to avoid that at all cost and definitely reassess your numbers, if this happens. Still, a bad day is a bad day. In the case of missing a set decrease the bump up in load for the next set (for example only go 5kg up rather than 10kg in later stages of the program) or strip a plate / downsize a plate to finish the remaining sets at full rep count for volume (anything above a set of 5, mainly first phase of program).
6. Get a lifting belt
You are not a pussy for using what is allowed at the Olympics and in most powerlifting competitions even if the trolls on YouTube will tell you otherwise. Therefore use one to protect yourself and also get more volume at higher loads in to get stronger quicker. End of story. If you are wondering what might be a good option check out my review of the rogue Ohio belt.
7. Get knee sleeves
Same thing as for belts, only for your knees. If you are not sure what works, check out my review of the Rehband Rich Froning knee sleeves.
8. Get wrist wraps
Last item on the list. If your main focus is squat you can do without them, although I personally think the wraps help me to lock in the weight even tighter. For bench presses, these are very helpful, especially when you start pressing more than 100kg for reps on a regular basis. If you want to know more read my review of the Mark Bell Gangsta Wrist wraps.
9. Perfect your breathing
The one thing which helped my heavy squats the most was improving my breathing and bracing technique. Focus on each repetition to release as much air as possible out of your body after the walk out, breathing in deep into your stomach while pulling the bar around your shoulder and repeating this process for each rep. Avoid doing multiple reps on one breath. You can do that in a program like Wendler where you work with lower weights compared to your real max. Chris Duffin has some great workshops on youtube on how to perfect your breathing.
10. Keep accessory work very easy, if done at all
If you want to do accessory work on Smolov keep it light and easy. Avoid going crazy. Light kettle bell swings, Croc rows, bench pressing with bands, Pull ups, Dips, medicine ball throws, light prowler pushes are your friends. Heavy good mornings, heavy chain and band work, 5k runs and above are not.
11. Sleep enough
If you want to go out and get pissed on the weekend and come back to the gym on Monday with 8 hours of sleep and 10 tequilas plus in your system which has been flushed by half a litre of coffee (or red bull be my guest if you prefer sweet caffeine over the real thing) that is fine by me. However, the weight will punish you and rip your brittle, not rested, undernourished muscles right off the bone. Your choice. Why do you want to be a hero in the gym and not support that with the lifestyle that comes with it? Sleep enough and you will finish the program and gain 60 to 120 pounds in your squat.
This means unprocessed, healthy protein sources served in a real meal. Powders, capsules, gels and injections are no substitute for dead birds, cows, pigs and other farm animals. Have your broccoli, rice, potatoes on the side and drink your protein shake with it.
13. Err on the side of caution
After the base mesocycle in the first six weeks, you will establish a new PR. After this, you will push further and work with weight for reps which are above your one rep max before you entered the program. Give these sets all you have, they will make you bigger and stronger. It is important to be very focused and maybe miss a rep in favor of staying healthy.
14. Spent time with family
It is not just all about the gym life. Have one day in the week of the gym and work to spend time with family. Get a change of scenery. Talk about your dreams and ambitions with your partner, good friends, children or other people who are important to you. This will give you the energy for the next week ahead.
- Detailed Smolov review
- Jim Wendler Diet
- Stronglifts Diet
- How to improve your squat
- How to increase your bench press