Article written by Matt Falk
“Dude, have you heard about Smolov?” Yes, I have. No, I don’t want to do it with you. And before you elaborate on your excellent plan any further, I need to stop and ask you why you are doing it in the first place. In this article, I will give a brief explanation of what the Smolov cycle entails, and why the overwhelming majority of lifters should not be blindly using it.
Smolov is an intense and brutal 13-week squat program named after its creator, Sergey Smolov, “The Russian Master of Sports”. Composed of several micro and mesocycles varying in length, it is common to squat 3-4 days a week at 85% or above. The program boasts the ability to add 50-100 pounds to your squat in certain cases, but many lifters are unable to complete the program due to its combination of near maximal percentages and volume.
So, why shouldn’t you do Smolov?
1.) Well, for one, a well-written strength program should not be a human meat grinder. Just because you CAN “make it through” does not mean you should. You won’t get a medal from Comrade Putin or a certificate of achievement upon completion. Being a tough guy isn’t cool, being strong is.
2.) As a strength athlete, who has 13 weeks to dedicate to one specific lift? The squat is only a competition lift in powerlifting. For the rest of us, it’s an accessory movement. Some people may bench while running Smolov, but you can kiss deadlifting goodbye. If you truly believe that spending three months out of the year breaking your body down through squats is a good use of your time, then you also probably don’t spend much time on the podium.
3.) Smolov is not an “add-on” program. I have to pick on CrossFitters for a moment here (you are the biggest perpetrators by far). Smolov is meant to be run alone. That doesn’t mean also follow your gym’s Oly programming and do bi-daily metcons. It means go squat, maybe do a little assistance work, and go home. If you find your other lifts suffering and your knees feel like they’ve been stabbed with a rusty piece of rebar, I told you so.
4.) “But some people have put 50-100 pounds on their squat!” Key word, some. And honestly, if someone really put 100 pounds on their squat in a couple months, they probably weren’t very strong to begin with. Most folks end up in the 10-20 pound range, which had they just followed a more traditional protocol, probably would have happened anyway, while continuing to build their other lifts. Many lifters actually lose the strength they accumulated once the cycle is over due to a dramatic crash in volume and CNS stimulus anyway.
5.) Look at the big names in your respective sport. Are they doing Smolov? The answer is no.
I know somebody will come back with a study that disagrees and a bunch of scientific claims, but look at it from a logical standpoint. Are there better things to do with your 13 weeks? I would hope so.