The Smolov Squat program is probably one of the best-known powerlifting programs in the world. It is a peaking program. That is, it is designed to prepare you for a specific powerlifting meet or strongman competition.
However, people all over the world regularly use Smolov for reasons other than peaking.
They use it as a way of breaking through a plateau, or to speed up post-injury recovery. Some use it as a training kick-starter; a good way to jump right into a new block of training.
Many guys simply use Smolov as a way of packing on size in the off-season. Their logic is that the incredible loads you are placed under during the program will definitely lead to growth if you eat enough food and get enough rest.
Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure; there is a guy in your gym who is either running Smolov, is thinking of running Smolov, or who has tried to run it in the past.
We say “try” because very few people actually run Smolov properly and complete it.
So what is the Smolov Squat program all about?
Who is it designed for? Who should be using the Smolov Squat program and who shouldn’t?
Is it the best squat training routine?
Can you make the Smolov Squat routine more suited to your needs?
What do you need to do before you try to take this powerlifting program on?
In the article below, we’ll explain what the Smolov Squat program is, how it works, and how you can program it. We will give you an explanation of who the program is for, and who it isn’t for. We’ll tell you ways you can make the Smolove Squat routine more successful, and how you might change it to fit it into your training.
If you have any questions, please post them in the comments section at the end of this page and we’ll get right back to you.
What Is A Peaking Program?
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the Smolov Squat program, it’s worth going through what a peaking program actually is and how it works.
Peaking programs are very specific sorts of training protocols. They have a single, specific purpose – to get you to perform better in one lift on a given day.
The idea is that it puts you under an extreme amount of stress in order to increase your 1RM in a given lift.
For Smolov, the lift is the squat. The program is not supposed to be sustainable. In fact, it is not uncommon for people to see significant drops in their 1RM immediately after running Smolov.
This is common for a peaking program.
After all, you can definitely push yourself beyond your physical limits to perform a certain lift or race. But you definitely wont be in great shape afterwards, or even for a good few weeks afterwards.
For example, strongmen push their bodies to the limits to hit a new PB on the squat every time they compete. They arrange their training so that they ‘peak’ at the show. When they step up to the squat rack, they are primed to lift an extremely heavy weight more times than they ever have before.
Will they be able to hit the same numbers in the gym the next week? No, of course not. The strain on their CNS alone wouldn’t allow it, let alone the muscle fatigue, mental weariness, and the need for joint recovery.
But it doesn’t matter – they hit their numbers, and they will use their regular training combined with a peaking program to do better next time.
The Smolov Squat Program
We’ll get right to it. Here is a broad overview of the Smolov Squat program:
As you can see, the program is separated into 5 distinct phases.
We’ll now go through each phase in detail, explaining what it entails and what it is for.
The “Introductory Cycle”
|1||1||3 x 8 @ 65%, 1 x 5 @ 70%, 2 x 2 @ 75%, 1 x 1 @80%|
|1||2||3 x 8 @ 65%, 1 x 5 @ 70%, 2 x 2 @ 75%, 1 x 1 @80%|
|1||3||4 x 5 @ 70%, 1 x 3 @ 75%, 2 x 2 @ 80%, 1 x 1 @90%|
|2||1||1 x 5 @ 80%|
|2||2||1 x 5 @ 82.5%|
|2||3||1 x 5 @ 85%|
First we have the “introductory micro-cycle”. The first stage of the Smolov Squat routine is supposed to be a kind of warm-up; it is preparing your body for the frequency and intensity of the training that lies ahead.
While advanced powerlifters might be tempted to skip this phase, we think it is really important. You may already be used to squatting multiple times per week, but Smolov is a different animal altogether. We recommend doing the introductory micro-cycle to maximize your chances of finishing the routine.
The Base Cycle
|3||1||4 x 9@ 70%|
|3||2||5 x 7@ 75%|
|3||3||7 x 5@80%|
|3||4||10 x 3@ 85%|
|4||1||4 x 9@70 + 20 pound increase from Week 3|
|4||2||5 x 7@ 75% + 20 pound increase from Week 3|
|4||3||7 x 5@80% + 20 pound increase from Week 3|
|4||4||10 x 3@ 85% + 20 pound increase from Week 3|
|5||1||4 x 9@70 + 30 pound increase from Week 3|
|5||2||5 x 7@ 75% + 30 pound increase from Week 3|
|5||3||7 x 5@80% + 30 pound increase from Week 3|
|5||4||10 x 3@ 85% + 30 pound increase from Week 3|
|6||3||Build to 1RM|
|6||4||Build to 1RM|
Second comes the “base cycle”. This is the meat and potatoes of the program. It is here where the real work begins. This is also where most people see the majority of their gains during Smolov. We think this is because few people successfully complete the later, more intense phases.
The base cycle is often seen as the more manageable aspect of the Smolov Squat program. As such, some people run this by itself on a fairly regular basis.
As you can see, the base cycle increases the training frequency from 3 to 4 times per week. That means you’re already squatting 4 times per week. Heavy squatting at that – by the middle of week 2, you’re already squatting 7 sets of 5 with 80% of your training max, plus 10kg!
The base cycle really is what it says it is – the base upon which you build a massive jump in squat power.
To find out who to best modify the Smolov Squat program base cycle to make it more long-term, check out our customizing section below.
The Switching Cycle
Then comes the “switching phase”. This is basically a de-load, except you train using explosive movements and squat variations rather than the standard squat.
The idea here is to give the body a chance to recover form the heavy loads of the base cycle, preparing it for the onslaught to come.
The switching phase also gets the body primed to start lifting maximal loads. Explosive lifting gets you exerting medium to high levels of force, but with light weights. So you are still training to exert maximum force on the bar, but you aren’t subjecting your muscles or joints to the same heavy loads.
Once the switching phase is over, you should feel somewhat recovered from the base cycle and ready to dive into the intensity cycle.
The Intensity Cycle
|9||1||1 x 3@ 65%, 1 x 4@ 75%, 3 x 4@ 85%, 1 x 5@ 85%|
|9||2||1 x 3@ 60%, 1 x 3@ 70%, 1 x 4@ 80%, 1 x 3@ 90%, 2 x 5@ 85%|
|9||3||1 x 4@ 65%, 1 x 4@ 70%, 5 x 4@ 80%|
|10||1||1 x 4@ 60%, 1 x 4@70%, 1 x 4@ 80%, 1 x 3@90%, 2 x 4@ 90%|
|10||2||1 x 3@ 65%, 1 x 3@ 75%, 1 x 3@ 85%, 3 x 3@ 90%, 1 x 3@ 95%|
|10||3||1 x 3@ 65%, 1 x 3@ 75%, 1 x 4@ 85%, 4 x 5@ 90%|
|11||1||1 x 3@ 60%, 1 x 3@ 70%, 1 x 3@ 80%, 5 x 5@ 90%|
|11||2||1 x 3@ 60%, 1 x 3@ 70%, 1 x 3@ 80%, 2 x 3@ 95%|
|11||3||1 x 3@ 65%, 1 x 3@ 75%, 1 x 3@ 85%, 4 x 3@ 95%|
|12||1||1 x 3@ 70%, 1 x 4@ 80%, 5 x 5@ 90%|
|12||2||1 x 3@ 70%, 1 x 3@ 80%, 4 x 3@ 95%|
|12||3||1 x 3@ 75%, 1 x 4@ 90%, 3 x 4@ 95%|
The intensity cycle is the pure “peaking” part of the Smolov Squat routine. This is what will really set you up to make a significant jump in PB numbers. But as with all things, to see significant progress you need to put in some serious work. And the Smolov intensity phase is nothing but work. Hard, gruelling, painful, repetitive work.
A quick look at the number should be enough for you to realise just how insanely tough this cycle is – the first week has you lifting 80% of your training max over 40 times and 90% of your 1RM for a triple.
That’s just week 1.
By week 4 you are supposed to be squatting 95% of your 1RM for a total of 24 reps. That’s on top of 55 total reps above 80% of your 1RM.
We don’t know of a more intense squat program than this. The Smolov Squat program pushes the workload to the limit of what it is possible to recover from. Make no mistake, we don’t buy into the whole “don’t over-train” thing. It’s very difficult for most lifters to over-train.
But this kind of volume and intensity is practically impossible for most people to fully recover from.
Running through this phase is brutal. It is gruelling. You will want to quit. You’ll feel exhausted, demotivated, maybe even downright depressed. Your testosterone levels will be crashing, and your weight will stall no matter what you eat.
But if you can get through it without injury and with relatively good success (hitting most of your reps and numbers each week), then the gains you see when it comes to your powerlifting meet will be worth it. We promise.
|13||1||1 x 3@ 70%, 1 x 3@ 80%, 2 x 5@ 90%, 3 x 4@ 95%|
|13||2||1 x 4@ 75%, 4 x 4@ 85%|
|13||3||Build to 1RM|
Week 5 of the intensity phase is a bit of a de-load week again. Here you hit some (now seemingly very light) sets of 4. You test your 1RM during this week too; if you have a show, you might want to hit your old 1RM to see how it feels, then go for a big 30lb PR on show day.
Who Is Smolov Squat Program For?
The Smolov Squat routine is a powerlifting program. More specifically, it is a peaking program.
So Smolov is not a regular, linear progression training program. It is not designed to be run continuously. Nor is it supposed to even be run on a regular basis – this is a once in a while routine to throw some serious weight on to your squat 1RM.
Smolov is not used by powerlifters numerous times. Most guys run it twice, maybe three times in the run-up to shows. Once they’ve finished it, they’ll try a different peaking program next time. It is a super-high volume, high intensity program.
Each time you run it you will get diminished results – the body quickly gets used to shocks like the Smolov Squat routine, so you need to switch things up. This isn’t true of standard programs built on progressive overload. This is only true of peaking programs like Smolov.
If you’re a serious powerlifter, then Smolov is a great way to add some serious weight to your squat before a show.
It would be a fantastic program for an Olympic weightlifter, CrossFit athlete, or any one else who needs to develop a lot of explosive power in the legs for a given contest.
Strongmen can benefit enormously from running the Smolov Squat program. However, it is far from optimal for strongman training – there’s no way you can deadlift while running Smolov and dynamic event practice is out the window. But if you’re having a good, long 2-year off-season and want to bring up your squat, Smolov is a good way to get used to handling very heavy loads for reps.
Who Is Smolov Squat Program Not For?
The Smolov Squat routine is a specialist powerlifting program. It is designed for people in very specific circumstances. It was explicitly designed for a category of athletes who are experienced squatters, who have a specific contest to prep for, and who have experience peaking for a single lift.
Chances are, you don’t fall into that category.
If you’re looking to make good, steady, continuous progress in your lifts, then peaking programs like the Smolov Squat routine is not for you.
If you are just looking to pack on some serious size, then this is absolutely the wrong program for you! We’ve seen guys eating everything in sight and drinking weight gain shakes and still not put on any weight running this program. They put 15kg on their squat in 13 weeks, but only about 0.5kg of bodyweight.
The SMolov Squat program is not for you if you are not an experienced squatter.
It is not right for you if you want to focus on multiple muscle groups at once. We have never seen any amateurs properly carry out the Smolov Squat program and maintain a decent bench press, overhead press, or deadlift. These things have to take a back seat during this peaking program.
Customizing – How To Tailor The Smolov Squat Routine To Your Needs
Some powerlifters will balk at this, but we believe that the Smolov Squat program can be easily tweaked to meet your needs.
Of course, if you are using the Smolov Squat routine to peak for a squat 1RM lift, then don’t change it. It’s perfect as it is for that purpose!
But if you want to incorporate some aspects of the routine into your regular training, it is possible to do so.
First of all, you could try running the base mesocycle by itself. Once you’ve done so, take a week to de-load, then run it again. After 3 cycles of the base mesocycle, take a 2 week de-load where you squat with lighter weights for higher reps. Get lots of stretching in, and plenty of light isolation work. Get your muscles full of blood and let your joints recover.
If you found the base cycle works for you, then you could try progressively adding more and more weight, and eventually dropping 1 rep per cycle. So instead of 4×9 on Day 1, you do 4 x 8. You could keep dropping reps until you hit 4×7 on Day 1, 5×5 on Day 2, 7×3 on Day 3, and 10 singles on Day 4.
You could even drop a day that doesn’t fit in with your training goals. Instead of the 10×3 day, you could do some light accessory stuff like lunges or good mornings. You could even just drop a day altogether – 4 days of squatting per week is a lot.
If we were going to try to use Smolov to consistently put weight on the bar while still training for a balanced, complete physique, we would drop the fourth day altogether and reduce the reps on each day by 2. We would also reduce the loads you are working with to 65%, 70%, and 75% on the first week.
After each cycle, you’d test your max and recalculate loads from there.
That still amounts to a massive workload, and it allows you to make more consistent progress over the long-term.
Tips For A Successful Smolov Squat Program
Here is a collection of tips we’ve learned over the years for having a successful 13 weeks on Smolov:
- Eat, eat, and eat some more – This program does not work well with dieting
- Stretch – After each session, have a gentle walk to stretch your legs
- Drink water – You need to consciously make an effort to drink more water while running this program; we recommend an extra 500ml per day at least, ideally an extra litre
- Don’t add accessory work – You really don’t need to be doing leg extensions or lunges while running the Smolov Squat program
- Don’t run multiple programs at once – Some people like to combine Smolov with Smolov Jr (the benching program), which invariably leads to burnout, injury, or both
- Use supplements – We strongly recommend using anything that you need to in order to stay fit and healthy while running the Smolov Squat program; creatine, easy digest protein, and a sleep stack are all advised
Intense programs like Smolov can absolutely plummet your testosterone levels. We therefore recommend taking a natural testosterone booster while running this program. Using a test booster will help support healthy testosterone levels, which means better recovery, higher energy levels, and a fully functioning libido.
We can’t stress just how taxing this powerlifting routine is on the body. But as with all big sacrifices, the rewards can be immense.
Let us know how you found Smolov Squat program in the comments! Did it work well for you? Have you tried augmenting it to suit your needs? What kind of gains did you see?