From August to October of 2011, I did the Smolov squat routine for no reason other than I just wanted to. After I took 265 out of the rack for a quick set of ten, I racked it and decided that the next day I would start Smolov. Since completing it, I've been asked a lot of questions on how to get through it. Unfortunately, much of what I say falls on deaf ears. I don’t get it. You have questions and I got through it, but you don’t want my advice.
Not for Faint of Heart
I end up hearing that he is having a very hard time with it even though he's making gains. I had very few rough days on it, which isn’t to say that I went too light because I did add fifty pounds to my squat in thirteen weeks. I was hoping for more, but I was OK with fifty. Needless to say, if you look at the base cycle alone, you’ll see that you will do 136 squats per week for three weeks with ever increasing weight. For me, it ended up being a 45-pound jump and moving weight for sets and reps that I had never done before. This isn't for the faint of heart. Never mind the intense cycle…
1. Cut your 1RM down by ten percent and work off those numbers. This is the same mentality as Wendler’s 5/3/1. If you cut down the intensity, you’ll have plenty of room to grow, both numbers wise and size wise. Also, this program was devised by a Russian weightlifter. To paraphrase the advice given to me, they are paid to lift; you aren't. They are on “enhanced vitamins;” you aren't. If you fall into one or both of those categories, I recommend cutting down to ninety percent. I was foolish during the intense cycle and decided not to drop down. I ended up being too tired to lift. This leads me to my next point—listen to your body. When I was too tired, I dropped down to ninety percent and was able to handle the weights.
2. For the love of God, eat dirty. Food is one of the ways that you will repair, and you will need the blood sugar to repair and the energy to get under the bar when you're trying to set a three-rep PR. And then do it nine more times. I credit a dirty diet (with chocolate milk being the backbone of that diet) with me barely being sore in the mornings. Jason Paquette, a good friend of mine, says that, “Candy is a food group. Don’t neglect it.” This is a powerlifting routine, not a fitness routine, so eat accordingly. Of course, when I was sore, I warmed up and foam rolled more diligently than I normally would. I also would have been wise to buy stock in Tiger Balm. I didn’t want a low back or knee injury at any point during this experience, so I did my best to make sure I was waking up ready to go, which included plenty of sleep with ZMA. Sore muscles are weak muscles and you have a lot of weight to move. Don’t be weak.
3. Focus on your squats. I didn’t do one deadlift, front squat, press, or anything while I did this. Like I said, I wanted all my energy on my squats. My deadlift actually went up by 50 pounds when I finished. I sumo deadlift so that may have had something to do with it, too. (My back feels better with sumo than with conventional and I have kyphosis and long arms so my range of motion is nil.) Work on pull-ups, grip, and anything else that won’t tax your body too harshly. I’ve had very strong coaches roll their eyes and scoff when I told them that I was doing Smolov. They know how crazy it is and what it takes to get through. It’s a squat routine, not a squat plus everything else routine. If I had to do it all over again, which I will before I die, I would smartly throw in Prowler® work on my transition cycles. If I were to do any other conditioning, I would smartly do some kind of loaded carries when appropriate to keep my level of conditioning from going to hell. Between finishing my degree and the other responsibilities of life, most of the time I only had the time to squat. Life happens.
4. Personal preference, but I tried to do my squats without a belt whenever possible. If I felt the need to put it on I would. Some days my back didn’t want to hold so I put the belt on and got the work done. Even after this though, I'm now doing more weight for more reps raw, so I didn’t get weaker. Some weak strength “experts” would disagree, but my performance speaks for itself. The night prior to me writing this I did 305 for eight reps raw. On the intense cycle, I did 305 for five reps with a belt.
There you have it. That’s how I successfully got through Smolov. I highly encourage people to go through it if they have been lifting smartly for years and know what they're doing. My squat went from 330 to 380. My deadlift went from 450 to 500, and my power snatch went from 135 to 155. (I don’t Olympic lift and hadn't snatched in a year.) My press went from 135 lbs for five reps to 155 lbs for four reps, and two months later, I'm still finding that lifts are easier than I remember prior to Smolov.