What’s a Smolov?

Posted on March 18, 2011. Filed under: Exercise |

OK, so since I brought it up I should probably explain the Smolov.


Lets put it this way if  you saw a headline in a fitness magazine that said you could gain 100 lbs on your max squat in 13 weeks. You’d probably say they are so full of it.   And you’d be absolutely right. The exception is the Smolov. IF and I do mean IF you can survive it is not unreasonable to believe this could happen.


The problem is I don’t know anyone whose done the whole original 13 week cycle personally. You have to keep in mind, you are hard pressed to find a guy who works his legs intensely period. Let alone a guy who is able AND willing to do full do or die squat routine.


But I digress, basically the folklore is that there is or was an actual coach by the name of Smolov, Eastern Bloc of course who wanted his lifters stronger. And over time he developed a  high volume routine based on squats. The results were incredible and IF completed consistent.


Now the reason I keep capping the IF is because you have to understand Eastern European lifting philosophy.  They were not always interested in health, they were not concerned with your specific genetics. They wanted strength here and now. either you accomplished this goal or you were sent home to make room for someone stronger. So Smolov is not user-friendly, nor will you probably ever see it in Men’s fitness, SHAPE, M&F, or the others. Although in my opinion more women would be better off with a more intense leg routine, but that’s for another blog. Essentially in the original Smolov routine you are Squatting 4 x a week.


See where the fun begins.


So lets say your max Squat is 355, for example. First be sure this is a true all the way down to parallel max out. Or a pretty honest estimated. The Smolov is not about ego it’s about perseverance.


This basically is how your week goes after you plug-in the numbers:

sets x reps  (%wgt)

MON – 4 x 9    70% 1RM
WED – 5 x 7    75% 1RM
FRI    – 7 x 5    80% 1RM
SAT  – 3 x 10   85% 1RM


You  start your week on Monday with 4 sets of 9 reps with 70% of a 1rep max.

You will experience some soreness in the thighs from doing this kind of volume and intensity, but it is all part of the conditioning that takes place within the first phase.   If you are doing the regular Smolov, you rest a day and head back in on Wednesday for 5 sets of 7 reps with 75% of a 1-rep max.  Yes. we need more of this level of volume because we didn’t get enough of that on Monday.


Sooner than you think comes  Friday for 7 sets of 5 reps with 80% of a 1 rep max.   Many say at just this point the thought of quitting occasionally crosses the mind. And then the very next day, joy of joys, 10 sets of 3 reps with 85% of a 1 rep max. And YES, this is an awful lot of squatting.


Are you having fun yet, of course you are and the fun can’t stop now.


Now, is that first week really that bad?  Since I’ve only done the modified version I would guess, yes, yes  it is. But there’s no time to complain about it because you’ve got to get back in the gym on Monday to do it all over again…but wait, this time you add 20 pounds (or 10 kilos if your speaking like Smolov) to all working weights.   So if you were trying to improve a max squat of 360.  And you did 4×9 with 250 in week one, you’re doing 270 for 4×9 in week 2.   Yay!


The “good news” is that when you get past week 2, they say your body really starts adapting to the increased volume and intensity.


this is what we call coach humor.


Because what this really means  is that your legs are now so completely done, your brain just goes ahead and shuts those receptors off.   Again having done the modified version I can attest that eventually you can get used to the sound of your heartbeat in your ears, the dizziness, and the urge to fall down and weep openly. Really, you adapt. Unfortunately it doesn’t get any easier by week 3, because now you have to add another 10 pounds (or 5 kilos) to all of your working weights as you did in week 2.


So just to give perspective in 2 weeks time roughly, you have gone from 4×9 with 250, to 4×9 with 280. Calculate the volume and your squatting an additional volume of oh about 1000 pounds.   And needless to say during the Smolov you do nothing else workout wise, and trust me, you wouldn’t want to.


Getting enough sleep and eating enough of the right foods becomes extremely important.


Now after you pay some serious dues in the squat rack during week 3, you deserve a rest. You take week 4 off from squatting until Thursday or Friday, then you go in, warm up, and hit a new 1-rep max. Chances are if you’ve completed every set and rep in the routine, that 360 is now 410. And that’s just the first four weeks.  The entire Smolov routine is 13 weeks


Now in my experience, most people do not have the time or energy to do a full Smolov.   Although I really hope to set up and try to do the whole routine.  So I recommend doing the staggered version, suggested by Coach Tsatsouline. What I mean is that instead of doing Mon 4×9, Wed 5×7, Fri 7×5, Sat 10×3. Do the same thing only on Mon 4×9, Thu 5×7, next Mon 7×5, next Thu 10×3, then add the wgt as it would go accordingly. SO instead of a 3 wk routine, it’s a 6 wk.


Now you might ask does this still work?


Yes.  I have applied the modified Smolov twice and both times  added 50 lbs to my max squat.  Personal best 560 raw.


And for the record, modified, but still painful.


Now the theory floated around has been you could apply the Smolov to other compound lifts.  so I am experimenting with applying it to standing presses.


Hope that explains it.



Best Health,

Coach W



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