Everything You Didn't Know About Surviving Smolov

TAGS: Sergey Smolov, calories consumption, ONE-REP MAX, Russian peaking program, Base Meso Cycle, Smolov, training cycle, foam roll, program, powerlifting

There have been a few survival guides written in respect of Smolov and, more specifically, the Base Meso Cycle.

I would like to add an addendum to what has already been said with a couple of (potentially controversial) points of my own.

I cannot help but feel that the aforementioned articles have been scribed in hindsight; compiled after the dust has settled with a warm, introspective look back at what is essentially a four-week long kick in the nuts.

The notes that I have penned were taken down before, during or after sets and kept safe until I was ready to put pen to paper (or digits to keys). This is undoubtedly a key method when compiling a guide to enduring Smolov, as the brains coping mechanism has a habit of burying revelations from under the bar and relegating them to the subconscious,  rendering them obsolete for future use.

The first two tips I will give you are considered givens and have already been beaten to death elsewhere. But young bucks will almost certainly have pre-fabricated ideas about how they’re going to go from a 140-kilogram squat to a 270-kilogram squat in three weeks and get diced simultaneously, so there is surely no harm in a providing a textual reprimand of sorts, or if you personally know of such an individual, a good dose of Shockabuku.

Designed by the Russian ‘Master of Sports’ Sergey Smolov and made popular by the legendary Pavel Tsatsouline, Smolov is a Russian peaking program which is not for the faint of heart or those with a weak constitution.

Like many others, I always opt to use the Base Mesocycle. The majority of the strength gains are found in this four-week block and it works nicely in building for a powerlifting meet as it involves three weeks of hellish torture followed by a one week recovery phase to allow super compensation to fully kick in, just in time for meet day.

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The program looks like this:

Four days of squatting per week. Using a percentage based system, your numbers are calculated off of a one rep max and laid out as follows:

Day 1 = 4 sets of 9 reps

Day 2 = 5 sets of 7 reps

Day 3 = 7 sets of 5 reps

Day 4 = 10 sets of 3 reps

 

Five kilograms are added to your one-rep max each week and the same set up is performed again. You should not be missing lifts or breaking up sets. If you do, you have programmed too high.

The best way to implement this strategy is to download a Smolov Calculator (a quick google search will come up with a few results). Do not opt for the Smolov Junior program; this is not what we will be using for our peaking cycle. The focus here will be on the squat. Smolov Junior is fine but usually recommended for bench or deadlift. I have experienced far greater results from running the base cycle for squats alone.

I have personally seen increases across the board from just hammering the squat. I will often add roughly 10 kilograms to my deadlift and about 2.5-5 kilograms to my bench. This is without benching or deadlifting once in a three-week period.

Once opened you will be asked to enter a one-rep max.


Tip 1

Hear me on this point: For the love of God, DO NOT ENTER A TRUE ONE-REP MAX.

This has been mentioned before but I would be entirely remiss not to regurgitate what is undoubtedly the single best piece of advice you will ever receive.

Instead, take 10% off your best squat and use that as your 1RM. Many will not listen to this most crucial point, and this is to their detriment.

Do not for one second think that by entering a heavier weight into the calculator you will end up hitting bigger numbers in competition. This is not what Smolov is all about. The purpose of this program is to ‘grease the groove’. Practice the movement pattern over and over and over again, until you become a squatting machine. Your squat mechanics will be so finely honed come meet day that your piston-like legs will drive up whatever weight you put on your back.

The only possible scenario that will stop this happening is if you program too high and end up overtraining or injured.

Smolov will crush you.

And when you drag the waters of your soul looking for a reason as to why you couldn’t last three weeks on a program with only one movement to perform, you’ll only have yourself to blame.

That’s your first tip.

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Tip 2

Eat.

If you’re dieting down for a meet then you will already know how to peak over a longer period of time with increasing intensity and decreasing volume.

Unless the majority of your weight loss is going to be in the week prior to the event, you probably will not want to complete the base mesocycle. Smolov is great for a fairly experienced lifter who is just beginning his/her foray in to competing.

Having said that, when I have used this method of peaking I have increased my calories significantly (from 3700 to 4600) and actually lost bodyfat and gained muscle. I usually end up a couple of pounds heavier than when I started, so take from that what you will. You don’t have to consume an extra-large pizza with chocolate milk after each session. 10,000 calories will indeed help you survive, but so will 5000. I find an additional 1000 calories added to my daily intake is ample to recover and see significant results.

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If you don’t care hugely about your weight and instead just want to hit a big PR total then really do eat as much as you can for the duration. Recovery is such a huge factor that without the right amount of fuel you could very easily end up checking out early.

Oh, and sleep, obviously. I’m not going to say any more than that. We all know we should be getting X amount of sleep each night.

"You should have eight hours uninterrupted sleep each night!"

What planet do these people live on? Sure, if I could sleep through for eight hours I would. But I wake up in the night needing to urinate. I wake up in the night and think about things and then can’t get back to sleep. I get woken up by my wife who is a light sleeper who then experiences the same disruption from me tossing and turning all night, which means that she can’t sleep either.

Sometimes I just can’t get to sleep and regardless of when I do nod off. I have a job to get up for, so eight hours might not be possible regardless of good intentions. And no, chamomile tea, reading a book, covering all the LED lights and counting sheep do not make any goddamn difference.

Now that I’ve covered what are considered the essentials for partaking in a Smolov cycle, lets dig in to what hasn’t been covered.

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Tip 3

I will surely cop some flak for this, but I hear all the time that you should perform a ton of mobility work and foam rolling whilst running Smolov. I disagree. I think that if you feel you need to, then maybe you should.

I personally don’t like mobility work, nor do I like foam rolling. Hey, shoot me. Any time I do either for a period of time I seem to be more vulnerable to niggles and/or injuries. Mobility work tends to make me feel looser in my squat pattern and this is certainly not what I need to be experiencing during a PR lift. I think Brian Carroll said that as powerlifters, the tightness we experience is our bodies way of keeping us solid and stable under heavy loads (I could be entirely wrong about this and apologies to Brian if I have mis-quoted). I have to admit though that wherever I heard it, it resonated. I seem to be pretty flexible and more mobile in comparison to a lot of athletes who I see spending more time mobilizing than actually training.

If you don’t already mobilize and are pretty healthy, you don’t need to add an hour per day to an already long, arduous program.

Tip 4

Here’s one tip that hasn’t been written about but is of vital importance if you have to travel anywhere immediately following a session. I consider this nugget of information to be right up there with points one and two.

Leave enough time for your back to ease off before you drive or walk home.

Jesus, I’ve jumped in the car to drive 20 minutes home and my lower back is so pumped from all the squatting I’ve been doing I can barely sit for more than 30 seconds without it cramping up. Every time. The person behind me must think I’m a madman writhing about in my seat at the traffic lights.

This is something that can easily be forgotten after completing your cycle but is such a pain in ass that it should be considered when planning your workout time. If you’re going to do some foam rolling then do it whilst your back loosens off. Or better yet, eat a post workout meal.

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Tip 5

Yes, overuse and over reliance on anti inflammatory drugs is bad. And no, I’m not saying you have to use it. But your joints can get beaten up during this time and lifting with inflamed elbows or knees is unpleasant. This isn’t however the reason I recommend using Ibuprofen. My issue is that if you decide to be brave and fight on without relief you can actually end up changing your movement patterns whilst trying to compensate for the pain. I experienced exactly that running Smolov Jr for bench alongside Smolov. My elbows were in pieces and my arms would shake as I lowered the bar. I ended up with a small tear of my rotator cuff which eventually led to the complete tearing of my bicep. On my next run I used anti-inflammatories if I had a flare up. Problem solved. Remember, it’s only for a few weeks at most. The anti-inflammatories won’t kill you.

Smolov might.

Tip 6

Save wearing your belt until the final week.

Physically and psychologically, it can be tough going in to your final week. Many fail at this point by quitting, getting ill, or becoming injured. Putting on your belt at this stage is like walking out a weight you have never hit before and realizing as you attempt to drive up out of the hole that despite your initial reservations, you are in fact going to make it back to the top.

Remember that many under estimate how hard Smolov really is. If you take this program for granted it will chew you up and spit you out. And set you on fire. It is a learning experience, and for every successful completion you will gain valuable insight for future attempts. I would agree that you should do this program no more than twice per year. By all means, go ahead if you want to, but don’t be too surprised when you more than likely fall flat on your face.

My first ever attempt at Smolov from years back can be seen on YouTube. The results are nothing short of astonishing, especially the part where I attempt to crush my entire ribcage with a personal record bench press.

Hopefully these few tips will help make your next Smolov experience a little less horrific. Enjoy.

Pete Stables is a Strength & Conditioning coach from the UK and a competitive Powerlifter, taking the BPU British Record in 2014 for the 100kg Raw with Wraps Class. He is also a  Nutrition Consultant and author of the  best selling Ebook 'The Skinny Guys Guide to Building More Muscle'. He can be contacted through his website southpawpower.com

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