Should You Be Doing a Smolov Cycle?

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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.

 

  • I tried this for about 6 days. It almost crippled my knees, and I was walking like I got prison raped for like 2 weeks… never again..

  • Great article as always, Matt

    If you don’t mind me asking, what are your thoughts on long-term programming for those who have run Smolov in the past and have found volume/frequency to be the only thing that really gets their squat moving?

  • I totally agree with this post. I just finished the full Smolov program a few months ago, and it was a success (315 to 355). BUT the first thirty-five pounds came from the initial base phase and only five from the intense phase. I did finish, and I did PR, but it was a hell on earth for those 13 weeks. A few things I took from the program:

    -Everything will revolve around your squatting, EVERYTHING! Eating is now a full-time job, you walk from chair to chair, and you make decisions based on how it will affect training.

    -I thought I had hernias the entire cycle (I didn’t) but you feel as if your body is about to snap into a million pieces. Knees are in constant pain and quads are constantly on fire.

    -I hated every minute of training, except for hitting the PR’s (which I only did twice the entire cycle). I never wanted to squat again. You won’t enjoy training any more; it’s now a chore.

    Smolov works, you will improve. But at what cost? It is a miserable 13 weeks, and that is if you don’t become injured.
    This program isn’t meant to be an impulse decision. This is at-best an off-season strength program for high-level athletes.

    Most wannabe Smolov squatters just want a magical program that will make them a monster in 13 weeks. But look at the top athletes in your prospective sport; did Rich Froning win the games with a 13-week program? Did Klokov become what he is with Smolov? NO! It takes consistency and drive to become good, not voodoo.

  • Smolov JR (3weeks of 4x a week squatting with quite high volume) was great and got me stronger. Never tried a 13 week cycle and probably wont.

  • Greg Warren

    Love the Smolov Jr cycle with a rest/deload week at the end of it. I’ve done it for bench three times and once for deadlifts. Great gains every time, but I was certainly ready for the deload/rest at the end.

  • Jay Tremonti

    Male lifter 24 yrs old 193 cm 102 kg, ~10 yrs of training, former varsity athlete. I ran the program last summer(low stress time in my life, low physcial activity job) with great success, going from 360 lbs to 430 lbs squat (parallel depth, hybrid between a high bar Olympic and low bar, no belt). I also would do some moderate upper body lifts, pull ups and some bench when I felt up for it during the program(max twice a week), I definitely didn’t gain upper body strength but I didn’t loose any, >5% loss. My squat maintained really well staying a~400 lbs 3 months post program with little squatting (2-3 x per month). I found the program fairly fun to run, and should be considered for a lifter who is experienced and would generally consider themselves a responder to volume. That being said my personal experience says “greasing the groove” or high volume is the best way to increase a lift.