Should Beginners Do Smolov For Powerlifting Training?
February 12th 2020
As a beginner nowadays, you are bombarded with tons of free programs online and one of them that caught your eye is Smolov and Smolov Jr.
Smolov is a program that boasts that it can help you increase your squat by 100 lbs 3 months.
It is a squatting program founded by Master of Sport Science, Sergey Smolov. There is a bench press and squat variation too called Smolov jr.
These programs are designed to greatly improve your squat, or bench in a short amount of time.
They are HIGH in intensity, volume, and frequency so they should only be run by more advanced lifters who can already perform the lifts with proper form.
Because of how intense the program is, it is intended to be run as a shock program, which means that it is not something that should be done multiple times a year.
To give an example of what I mean by how intense this program is, during the squat program, you are not allowed to do any deadlifting and you cannot be doing it while on a caloric deficit.
If you ignore these warnings, your chance of injury increases drastically.
But it’s not like you even have a choice because of how intense the program is, you’ll naturally stop deadlifting because of fatigue, and eat a caloric surplus in order to replenish your energy.
Again, the purpose of smolov is to make massive short-term gains on your squat or bench.
Today, we will discuss how the program is organized, as well as answer some of the common questions beginners have when considering the program.
To start off, the program itself is divided into 5 blocks:
- Introductory Phase
- Base Phase
- Switching Phase
- Intense Phase
- Peak Phase
The introductory phase lasts for 2 weeks and has you squatting 3 times a week.
The purpose of this phase is to get your body acclimated to the high frequency of squatting you will be doing in the later stages.
This stage might be skipped for those who are already used to squatting at high frequencies, but for those who are running the program for the first time, you should complete this stage.
During the base phase, you will be squatting four times per week for three weeks.
This phase is high in volume and has you performing more than 30 working reps each workout.
In addition, for each week, you are expected to add another 10-20 lbs on top of what you did the previous week.
The aim of this part of the cycle is to increase hypertrophy and your overall work capacity. This lays the foundation for the later phases in the program.
Performing over 30 working reps per workout requires a lot of time squatting.
The switching phase is a break between the high-volume base phase and the high intensity phase that is next in the training cycle.
This allows the lifter a much-needed recovery and deload after the previous grueling workouts.
It focuses on performing the squat at a higher speed.
This phase lasts for 2 weeks, and you’ll wish that it lasted much longer.
During the intense phase you are squatting 3 times per week, but with high intensity.
The goal of this phase is to increase your overall strength.
You will be squatting around 80% of your 1RM for every workout.
In fact, during week one, you will be performing 54 lifts over 80%.
In week 4, you have 48 lifts over 90%.
You will be training to near failure with each set. By the time you are done with the 4th week, you would have trained past failure.
At this point the program is complete, you should be ready for your competition with hopefully no injuries, and a 100 lb increase in your squat.
As you can see, this program is… intense.
Actually, intense is an understatement.
This program is not for the lighthearted. It is hard, painful, and grueling will require immense mental fortitude in order to finish.
However, the rewards are plenty. Being able to achieve 2 years of gains in 3 months is every lifter’s dream.
Now that you know what the smolov powerlifting program entails, is it good for beginners who are just getting started into powerlifting? And who should follow the smolov powerlifting program?
Should a beginner follow the smolov program for powerlifting?
Although being able to improve your squat by 100 lb in 3 months sounds great, you must also take into account the wear and tear the program could put on your body.
By squatting at such high intensities with high volume and frequency, you are at a much greater risk of injury compared to somebody following a normal powerlifting program with appropriate levels of intensity, volume, and frequency.
With that being said, the smolov programs are definitely not for beginners.
Beginners should focus on being able to squat with proper form, and by increasing their squat gradually over the long run.
By running smolov, without even having the proper form, is a recipe for injury.
Instead, beginners should follow programs that develop long-lasting strength so that they may be stronger without an increased chance of injury.
There is no real reason why somebody wants to gain this high amount of strength in such a short amount of time.
Most people following this program are short-sighted because they are trying to make 2 years of gains in 3 months.
This works in the short-term but because of the high-intensity, and the high risk of injury, improving strength slowly is a wiser approach.
In addition, another factor to keep in mind is that even after running the program, you are most likely to lose your strength gains.
This is because once you stop the high-intensity training, your lifts will be weaker once you get back to training at an appropriate intensity.
So, what beginners should run is something more suitable for their level like Starting Strength.
But how do you know if that program works?
I ran it and can vouch for it. Here is a detailed view of how I ran this program twice, with all my training numbers and timestamps straight from my training log.
Who should follow the smolov powerlifting program?
Quite frankly, the only people that should follow the smolov powerlifting program are people who have a squat (or bench in the case of smolov jr.) that is significantly behind all their other lifts.
This is because the smolov program only has you squatting. You are not supposed to perform the deadlift during the 13 weeks.
As a result, your squat might shoot up, but your deadlift is sure to suffer.
That’s why the program is most ideal for those who already have a strong deadlift, but with a squat that is really lacking.
This program might also be ideal for those who are trying to reach a lifetime squat PR and only care about the numbers, not whether they retain the strength or not.
Another benefit of actually doing smolov is when you are stuck on a very long plateau.
Maybe for the last 6 months, you have been trying 3-4 different things and you cannot seem to set any PRs.
I am not mentioning any beginner lifters here; they should stick to their program.
This is generally for people who have been training for years.
One reason why Smolov is great for people stuck at their plateaus is that this program is very extreme.
High frequency, high volume, and eventually high intensity as well.
All programs usually take a balanced approach for longevity but not Smolov.
Do you want to progress at the fastest rate possible? Here it is.
The secondary point of view to plateaus
To truly be an educated lifter, you need to hear both sides and question them.
Do not trust blindly. You need to think logically.
Some people need to go through long droughts of not hitting any PRs because it is necessary for them to get to the next level that way.
Sounds counter-intuitive right? Why would I be stuck training the same numbers over and over again for months, maybe even years?
Building mental strength, learning more about technique other than spiking up your adrenaline.
Other than just diving into a tough program that will wreck your body, question it first.
Remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Over 100lbs in my squat in as little as 3 months? Yeah right.
Probably the only time you had progressed that quickly was when you were a beginner.
So, imagine that now? Super hard to believe.
Overall, what am I trying to say?
Grind through your plateaus and see if you can learn anything beyond just setting training PRs.
You might find it enlightening if you take a step back and see training for more than just pumping iron.
What are some unspoken truths that beginners should know before starting smolov powerlifting program?
This program is a way for people to prove how tough they are rather than to improve their actual strength.
This program is not something that even intermediate powerlifters should follow (unless if they have the problem I mentioned before, which is not very likely) because the program has you sacrifice your bench and deadlift for your squat.
This could lead to worse performance during powerlifting meets when the sum of your performance is what matters the most.
This program is long, hard, gruel, and will only lead to short-term gains.
With that being said, if you are more interested in developing long-term gains, follow a normal program that you are able to run for the long-term in the gym.
Even if you get the same gains in 2 years as someone who has run smolov in 3 months, I will assure you that your back will be much healthier, your stress hormone will be much lower, and you will be a stronger individual at the end of the day.
Powerlifting is a sport that requires grit, mental willpower, and persistence.
There are no shortcuts to success. There are no magical programs that can get you to the top level in a short amount of time.
In order to reach long-lasting success, you must slowly build your way up.
Smolov is not a great program when you consider all the research done today on how to identify and create an effective program for long term strength gains.
But neither was lifting stones and heavy rocks back in the day. Our ancestors simply did not have anything else available to train with.
And sometimes, what you need in life is someone to kick your butt so that you learn from that.
If Smolov’s marketing convinced you to try it, by all means, go for it. Just be aware of the risks and try to minimize them.
Before the internet times, no one would criticize you about doing any program.
In the end, what matters is the results.
So, for those looking to do Smolov, make sure you have a goal at the end of the program and reflect critically about the experience.
Good luck and be safe while lifting.