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5 minute guide to smolov to start right away [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Sep 26, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Guide to Smolov

This is an overview and guidance for Smolov based on my experience. If you want to see how the program is structured in detail please refer to the Smolov post on the Stronglifts web page. I used their calculator and it worked. Here is the anecdotal report on how to make it through it without a major injury or dropping out.

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Smolov is not for everyone and therefore you should consider whether it is the right program to meet your goals and for your level of experience with lifting. Depending on which source you consult you will get mixed feedback whether it is a good program or not. Here some checkpoints for you

  1. You should at least lift longer than 12 months ideally longer than 24 months
  2. You should run beginner program and one intermediate program for general strength before Smolov
  3. Your aim should be to get a higher back squat PR, that is the main goal you are optimizing for
  4. You should have no vacations or other commitments for the next three months to run the program end to end

On the experience piece, it is tantamount that you have squatted extensively and heavy before to know your limits and to pick your one repetition maximum correct. Be humble and understate rather than overstate your 1RM going into the program. The program will be hard either way. If you have not done other programs like the Texas method, Wendler 531, Stronglifts 5x5 or Starting Strength before, start there before moving to Smolov to get the most out oft he law of diminishing returns. This means that these programs will generally produce more bang for the buck for less experienced lifters than a high volume, high-intensity program like Smolov which is single-minded in only pushing the squat.

This is a program for people who want a higher Back squat PR. If you want to optimize your powerlifting total, you might be better off picking a program that addresses all three main lifts, the bench press, the squat and the deadlift. As an Olympic weightlifter you might benefit if you plug the front squat into the template, however, I have no personal experience with that approach.

Your schedule should be free for the next three months so that you can run all the phases of Smolov uninterrupted. Programs which are designed with weekly resets are better suited for a break in between. The Smolov cycles build upon each other. If you can only commit to run Smolov for a month, run Smolov jr instead.

Your 1RM should be a tested or at least be a very recent PR. If you can not provide that and do not want to test (in my opinion only advisable if you are a big ass squatter at 200kg+ PR who might rip off some muscles in an unnecessary 1RM retest), go with the Jim Wendler approach of calculating 90% of your 1 rep max going into the program.

The freely available template at Stronglifts 5x5 works and did the trick for me.

Introductory cycle

The introductory cycle was the hardest for me personally due tot he very high volume. My hunch would be that most people drop out here. If you follow the most commonly lifting programs you will be operating somewhere between 3 – 5 repetitions per set @ 1 to 5 sets per lift per session. Bodybuilders will most likely have less hassle with this phase of the program as they are used to more sets at higher rep range.

Push past the first three sessions and do not give up. Get your repetitions in. If you picked a bloated 1RM max will already know here. Adjust now rather than later because here we are talking pain in the muscle because of the pump. Kater in the program an overstated max will spell pain and injury when you are working around 90 – 95%. Leave your ego at home for this.

Base Mesocycle



The base mesocycle is equivalent tot he Smolov Jr program. This is a month in which you will squat 136 times a week at up to 95% of your current one repetition maximum. I personally found the 4x9 days for the first session of the week to be the hardest. This is a good opportunity to practice your breathing and lift the small weights as if they were big weights. At the end of this cycle, you will retest your one repetition maximum. You will find my attempts on youtube on which I established an increase of 15kg on my squat max in the middle oft he Smolov program


The switching phase might be the one for you personally in which you have to learn the newest movement patterns. Depending on whether you are an experienced lifter you will have done power cleans, squat negatives and box squats before. I think the general population will be less familiar with these movements. As this phase is all about speed I personally decided to sacrifice 10kg in these exercises in favor of crisp and explosive execution. If you are very familiar with box squats and did them on a regular (for example you have executed the westside method before) plough through at recommended weight. If you have never done this stuff before, treat the movements with respect to do your liga,ments a favor.


Intense Mesocycle



After you got a break fort wo weeks from heavy squatting you are thrown in the deep end again based on the newly established one repetition maximum. Breathing and perfect bracing against your belt, making use of knee wraps and a good piece of leather around your waist will help you through this phase. I feel personally that I improved my ability to get very rigid in the setup and make use oft he belt out oft he hole considerably in this phase. If you start to fail either adjust your one rep maximum accordingly or strip plates on the last set. Do not leave any repetitions or sets in the gym, eben i fit means to modulate the load a bit. I finished Smolov with a strong 170kg PR which I could have turned into 175kg but decided to go for 180kg instead and bombed out. Bottom line is a 30kg increase in three months on my squat.

Warm ups



Take your warm ups serious. Even more so in this intense, single minded program. Especially the intense mesocycle will be unforgiving if you are going stiff into a set because you are shocking the system with loads you hav not done before you started the program. Franco agile 8 helped a great deal to losen myself up combined with 50 to 100 double unders with the Rogue SR 2 jump rope.

Heavy squats and breathing

Breathing is key to lock your body tight to keep the power you develop through your muscles within your body and develop force against the ground to drive the barbell up. Try to push up something with a piece of string or a stick and you get the idea how physics work here. Based on feedback from Chris Duffin (workshop here) I started to empty my body fully o fair after the walk out and then breathe into the stomach thorugh the nose. Worked wonders form y heavy squats. On Jim Wendler I recommneded to work with multiple reps per breath. On Smolov take your time with each repetition and get folly focused before intiating the downward movement.


Smolov is a great program if you want to improve your squat. For overall strength for powerlifting meets it is not ideal. Be cautios and give it all. Monitor your progress, treat every rep like a new pr attempt (which they actually are after the switching phase if you did it right). I found the first weeks tob e the hardest. After that I was flying and enjoyed the program a lot.

Further reading




Topics: Smolov, Powerlifting, Bodybuilding, Strongman