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Smolov vs Jim Wendler 531 [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Dec 19, 2017 10:00:00 AM

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Smolov vs Jim Wendler 531

This write-up compares the Smolov squat program and Jim Wendler 531 for different sports purposes like powerlifting, weightlifting, football, and martial arts. Generally speaking based on my experience with the programs and as a Judoka in my teenage years and aspiring powerlifter in my thirties, Wendler 531 makes a good addition to any athlete's training cycle who wants to build general strength with a barbell while Smolov lacks usefulness because of its single-minded approach and is still fun to do once in your life to test your mind and body.

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Powerlifting / Weightlifting

In Powerlifting and weight lifting, you want to achieve the same goals. Over a certain amount of attempts, you want to tally up the highest possible total. In Powerlifting you perform three lifts with three attempts each for a total of nine attempts. The lifts performed are the bench press, Squat, and deadlift. In weightlifting, you compete in two lifts, the snatch, and the clean and jerk, with three attempts each.

Both of these sports assume a high amount of volume and very experienced lifters, as their main focus is to perform on the platform to lift the highest amount of weight.  Therefore, they need programs that are high in Intensity and high in volume to improve performance.

Smolov and Jim Wendler 531, therefore, might not be ideal for both of these sports. Smolov is a program that has been specifically designed to increase your squat mainly. As long as the lifters do not have weaknesses in getting out of the hole or the squat itself, the programs lack specificity to the sport. Jim Wendler 531 mainly creates overload based on the top sets which are prescribed as many repetitions as possible. This creates not the type of stimulus which high-performing lifters need. They usually operate with sets of 2 – 3 repetitions at a high intensity of 80 – 90% of their one-repetition maximum. This is only given very few times in the Jim Wendler method and he also designed for people who are not lifters but want to be generally strong and healthy after he left the powerlifting world.



Demonstration of the Snatch



Demonstration of the clean and Jerk



Comventional deadlift demo



Heavy squat variations and deadlift and discussion


Martial Arts

If you are active in martial arts like MMA, Judo, Karate or teak won do the goal set is a bit different from professional lifting. Here you most likely want to build a balanced physique that is fast, explosive and resilient. For this, you have a certain amount of time in the day which you have to optimize between the different aspects of building the ultimate fighting machine. If you prefer a less aggressive wording and/or mindset, to achieve the perfect balance between body and mind.

Smolov is again a very single-minded program that does not necessarily help to provide balanced strength development between all parts of the body. It also takes three months to complete which is a big commitment for a fighter who has to distribute time between building endurance, power, and speed. What it can be used is to toughen up a fighter’s spirit and push him/her out of their comfort zone off-season. If you have fighters who struggle with grit, even though that is the hardest one to train, getting them on Smolov and some brutal interval runs while getting them into sparring with heavy hitters who beat the crap out of them for three months will definitely form some character.

Jim Wendler 531, on the other hand, is in my personal opinion one of the best and complete training programs for strength that you can get off the shelf for martial artists, rugby players, or any other athlete that wants to develop strength. It has been designed by an ex-football player who went into powerlifting and mixed the requirements of the two worlds together. While the program is suboptimal for platform performance in powerlifting, it is a great and easy-to-do structure for your athletes to get strong like bull. The routine takes only half an hour for four days a week to complete and gets results. Alternatives to 531 are Stronglifts 5x5 and the Juggernaut method. Stronglifts 5x5 is advisable for the part of your roster that has never been exposed to strength training before and therefore their main priority is a strength as it takes more time than Wendler and starts with an empty bar. The Juggernaut method improves your stars over a three-month time rather than monthly on Wendler 531 or weekly on Stronglifts. Depending on the maturity level of your team decide which program to pick or drop me a comment to help you out. I have done all of these programs myself and can comment.


For a full review of the program with detailed feedback please refer to my detailed Smolov review. In short, when you go on Smolov you will squat for three months, the sessions in the gym will be one to one and a half hours long and you will struggle to walk for entire weeks if done right. A great test of manliness and a tool to push through a squat plateau for the professional lifter. You have to be dumb or very determined to do it. Only recommended for people who know their own bodies and have no obligations coming up regarding competitions and/or team events as the injury risk is high.

Jim Wendler 531

Wendler 531 is a solid early intermediate strength program written to build general strength for sports and less for performance on the platform. Ideally, you will have done a year of lifting beforehand on either Stronglifts 5x5 or Starting Strength. Most importantly you should know your mind and body to a sufficient degree under the barbell. The most important tool for progression in Jim Wendler 531 is the AMRAP (as many repetitions as possible) set at the end of each session. It takes a bit of experience with the squat, bench press and deadlift to know how far to push these to get a training effect, but at the same time not to increase the risk of injury to high a level. Because, let’s face it, if you are a martial artist or football player and you get injuredd in the weight room instead of on the pitch or in the ring, you are an asshole to everybody around you who supports and relies on you. For full insight pleae refer to my Jim Wendler 531 review. 


Smolov and Wendler are beautiful programs which are fun to do and challenge you within their own rights. Smolov should only be done by very few people who either want to break a squat record or just try things out on a general basis as they have no professional business in the sports world. Wendler 531 should be known to any strength coach and athlete who wants to be worth their salt and believe in barbell training for their athletes to enhance performance on the pitch or in the ring.

Further reading

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Topics: Jim Wendler 5/3/1, Smolov, Bench Press, Deadlift, Squat, Powerlifting, Bodybuilding, Strongman