The smolov squat program is popular amongst weightlifters and powerlifters as a way to ramp up squat strength, but is it actually any good? In this complete smolov program review we’ll look at:
- Background on Smolov
- Smolov Program Overview
- Smolov Program Explanation
- Smolov Accessory Work
- Smolov Program Calculator
- Smolov Programme Progression & Periodization
- What about Your Other Training During Smolov?
- Smolov Program Spreadsheet
- Looking To Get Strong Without the Headache?
- Modifying The Smolov Squat Routine
- Smolov Squat Program: The Pros
- Smolov Squat Program: The Cons
- Smolov Squat Program Review: Does smolov work? Is Smolov Effective?
- Best Alternatives to the Smolov Program
- Smolov Squat Program Frequently Asked Questions
- Smolov Program Review Summary Infographic
- Next Steps
Let’s jump straight in.
Background on Smolov
What is the Smolov Programme?
The smolov squat program (or smolov squat routine) is named after its creator Sergey Smolov, a “Russian Master of Sport” and weightlifting coach in the 1970’s.
The smolov squat program has you squatting 3 to 4 times per week for 13 weeks, with the aim of adding serious strength to your squat
Smolov gained popularity through Pavel Tsatsouline’s books and magazine articles.
The program has gone on to become renowned as one of the hardest strength training programmes around (but stay tuned for why I think it might also be highly problematic)
Smolov Program Overview
The overall structure of the smolov squat program is a 13-week programme in which you squat 3 to 4 times per week. Here’s an overview in table format for easy reading:
Smolov Program Explanation
Looking at the absolute mess of sets, reps and percentages in the table above you might be wondering:
How Does The Smolov Program Work?
Smolov is designed so that it has 4 distinct training phases:
- Phase In: Weeks 1 and 2
- Base Cycle: Weeks 3 to 6
- Switching Phase: Weeks 7 and 8
- Intense Cycle: Weeks 9 to 12
- Taper: Week 13
Smolov Phase in
The first two weeks are planned as an introduction period to get you used to frequent heavy squatting. You will squat three times per week during this phase. In week 1 you’ll perform 22 working sets, and then in week 2, you’ll drop to performing only 3 working sets.
And no, this is not how I would recommend you start a strength training block.
Smolov Base Cycle
The base cycle has you squatting 4 times per week with moderate to high intensity and high volume. Expect 4-10 sets of 3-9 reps per workout in various arrangements.
This phase culminates in two days of testing your squat 1 rep max. The exact logic for why you test your 1rm after a volume phase, or why you test it twice, is not explained in any program notes, and this isn’t something I would recommend you do.
Smolov Switching Phase:
In this two-week phase, the smolov program gives no specific guidance, it simply instructs you to pick a few speed strength or power-type exercises and perform 3-5 sets of them. Most people simply choose to do 3-5 sets of speed squats at 50-60% 1 rep max.
The logic here is that it deloads your legs and reduces fatigue ready for the next phase, as well as building power. (Although whether or not this will transfer to your squat max is debatable.)
Smolov Intense Phase:
In this 4-week phase, you’ll be lifting mainly in the 80-95% range, with sets of 3-5 reps. These weights should be calculated from your new 1rm, which you found at the end of the base cycle.
In the last week of smolov (week 13) the idea is that volume backs off slightly, allowing you to hit a new 1 rep max in the last day of the week.
If you look at the programme, however, you’ll notice that volume in the taper week is essentially identical to weeks 12 and 11, so I would argue that it is not sufficient enough to properly reduce fatigue. If you really want to max at the end of the week, consider taking half of the prescribed sets.
Smolov Program Weekly Structure (Microcycle)
The smolov squat program has an incredibly simple weekly structure. You have 3 or 4 challenging squat workouts per week. There are no light days or medium days. All smolov workouts are overloading workouts, and all almost all smolov squats are hard, working sets.
We’ll talk a bit about how this aligns (or doesn’t) with the principles of stress, recovery and adaptation.
What days do you do Smolov?
Where possible, aim to do smolov workouts on non-consecutive days, for example:
- Day 1 – Monday
- Day 2 – Wednesday
- Day 3 – Friday
During the 4 days per week phases, try to minimise the consecutive workouts to only once per week, for example:
- Day 1 – Monday
- Day 2 – Wednesday
- Day 3 – Friday
- Day 4 – Saturday
Rest Between Sets During Smolov:
The smolov squat routine uses a strict progression structure, which means that making your reps at the prescribed weight each day is the top priority, even if that means taking longer recoveries than usual.
Research shows that 3-5 minutes of rest promotes better strength results than resting for anything less. However, for smolov resting anything up to 8 minutes is still totally acceptable to allow for full ATP recovery, especially between your last two or three sets of each workout.
Of course, this means that your squat workout will take a LONG time. That’s the trade-off.
Smolov Accessory Work
The smolov squat programme doesn’t prescribe any accessory work, and I highly recommend keeping it that way.
Yes, muscle cross-sectional area (aka muscle size) is a key factor in strength for experienced lifters, so it usually would be a good idea to add in some accessory work.
The problem is that smolov is brutal, and already incredibly difficult to recover from. Adding any other leg exercises as accessory work is just a recipe for overtraining and burnout.
So, should you do accessories with Smolov? No. I wouldn’t recommend it.
Smolov Program Calculator
Assuming you don’t want to manually work out every percentage for every workout, here’s a link to a smolov program calculator that will do it all for you.
The spreadsheet I’ve linked further down will also auto-calculate these numbers for you too.
Smolov Programme Progression & Periodization
The smolov squat program will have you progressing using two types of periodization:
- Phasic or ‘Block’ periodisation
- Daily undulating periodization
Smolov Block Periodization
Smolov uses a version of block periodisation in that each phase has a distinct focus, with different set, rep and intensity prescriptions. You can also loosely map each phase onto the following goals:
Smolov Daily Undulating Periodization
Smolov also uses daily undulating periodisation in that each training uses a slightly different rep scheme in order to provide a unique stimulus for strength development.
What about Your Other Training During Smolov?
The smolov squat program will massively interfere with your other training.
Olympic weightlifting movements and deadlifting will have to be completely removed, or reduced to almost nothing.
Upper body movements can be included at maintenance, i.e. with low volumes and moderate intensities. Yes, smolov only works your legs, but the systemic (whole-body) fatigue will be HUGE. So don’t expect the rest of your training to be great.
Smolov Program Spreadsheet
The smolov program is a nightmare t run without a proper smolov spreadsheet. To help you out, here’s a pre-formatted excel spreadsheet I found over on All Things Gym
Looking To Get Strong Without the Headache?
If you want someone to take the thinking away and ensure your long-term progress, why not consider having me design a custom strength programme for you?
You send in your details, answer questions about your training numbers, goals, training history, equipment etc, and then I craft your program custom for you.
I also throw in a check-in each month, just to make sure that everything is working well, and to make any adjustments if needed. Learn more by clicking the link.
Modifying The Smolov Squat Routine
Smolov Junior (Smolov Jr.)
If you don’t quite fancy the full 13 weeks of smolov brutality, then you might want to try smolov junior, an abbreviated 3-week version of the program.
Essentially, all you’ll do is run the base cycle from the main smolov program:
- Day 1: 4×9 @ 70%
- Day 2: 5×7 @ 75%
- Day 3: 7×5 @ 80%
- Day 4: 10×3 @ 85%
Then in week 2 of smolov jr., you’ll aim to add 5-10lb to each lift, followed by another 5-10lb increase in week 3.
Smolov for Bench
Another ‘variation’ of smolov is simply called ‘smolov for bench’ or ‘smolov jr for bench.’ All you’ll do is take the full smolov program or take smolov junior, and substitute bench presses for squats.
So you’ll do the exact same sets, reps and intensities, only with the bench press.
The only change you’ll have to make is that during the base cycle (or during smolov jr. in general) you’ll likely have to take smaller jumps week to week, as most people can’t increase their bench as much as their squat.
Should You Run Smolov For The Bench Press?
You should run smolov for bench press if more conservative approaches (i.e. texas method, 5/3/1, juggernaut) have not worked. You should also be someone who tolerates high-frequency bench pressing well, without getting any shoulder or elbow niggles.
How much does Smolov increase bench?
There are plenty of people who have run smolov jr for bench and seen increases of around 7.5-15kg. Fewer people have ran the full smolov program for bench, but some report increases of around 15-30kg.
Smolov Squat Program: The Pros
Alright so now that we’ve covered the infamous smolov squat program in detail, here’s what I like:
- Variation in set, rep and intensity structure
Smolov uses a variety of set, rep and intensity prescriptions, and arranges these using forms of block and undulating periodisation. This provides a good amount of unique stimulus for progress.
- The smolov program has plenty of conversation around it
Since smolov is reasonably well known and has been around for years, plenty of people have tried it and discussed it, which means that all you need to do is google:
– “smolov squat program reddit”
– “smolov squat routine results”
– “smolov results”
Smolov Squat Program: The Cons
Now onto the things I don’t like, and I’ll be honest, there’s a lot.
- The Total Weekly Volume Is WAY Too High For Most People
The smolov squat programme has you performing 18-26 sets of squats per week. Compare that to something like the texas method where you perform 6-9 sets, or 5/3/1 where you perform 3 main sets + 2 joker sets, and you can see that it’s triple (or more) the total workload! For most people, that’s WAY too much, and your risk of both overtraining and injury goes through the roof.
- Terrible Fatigue Management (Not Enough Recovery)
A high-volume session of heavy squats is hugely fatiguing, both to your muscular system and to your bones, joints and connective tissue. That last thing you should be doing 2 days after a huge squatting workout is another huge squatting workout. Plus to make things even worse, you’ll have to do some huge squat sessions on consecutive days. This is a massive violation of the SRA cycle, and honestly just not intelligent training.
- Very Hard to Do The Rest of Your Training Around It
Linked to points 1 and 2, you will most likely find it hard to properly train anything else other than squats. Since so much of your recovery resources, and your training time, is dedicated to squats, it can be difficult to simultaneously push your bench, deadlift, overhead press or olympic lifts.
- Objectively Poor Programming Choices
The smolov squat program makes some weird programming choices that just don’t align with modern sports science. For example, the 2-week ‘switching’ phase of random power work won’t have any real carryover to your squat. The ‘taper’ week is far too high in volume for fatigue to reduce enough to truly reveal top-end strength. And the two back-to-back days of 1rm squats in week 6 right after a high-volume phase make no sense whatsoever, as you’re not remotely primed for them.
Smolov Squat Program Review: Does smolov work? Is Smolov Effective?
In my opinion, the smolov squat program may be one of the worst squat programmes I’ve ever seen.
The volume is way too high, the intensity is way too high, and the frequency is way too high. If you were trying to write a recipe for the quickest possible way to overtrain or seriously injure an athlete, smolov is what you would come up with.
Listen up, for strength development:
“Harder does not always equal better”
You don’t earn any medals for masochism. No-one cares how tough your program is. 99% of people, very likely including you, could do half the work and achieve FAR better results, with a far lower risk of injury.
And look, I get it, I’ve been there too, we all want to improve as fast and as much as possible. But you’ve got to think about the long game. Small, consistent progress over time trumps crazy progress followed by burnout or injury.
Best Alternatives to the Smolov Program
There are plenty of solid alternatives to smolov that can get your squat moving upwards without wrecking you in the process. Some suggestions include:
Smolov vs 5/3/1
Smolov is very high in volume, frequency and intensity whereas 5/3/1 is low frequency, moderate volume and moderate to high intensity. 5/3/1 also offers far more flexibility with joker sets and accessory/assistance templates so that you can adjust your total training to best suit your own recovery abilities.
I would genuinely recommend giving 5/3/1 a proper try for six months before even considering smolov or the russian squat routine.
Programmes like smolov
If you’re set on looking for programmes like smolov, then perhaps give the russian squat routine a try first. It’s a 3 day per week high volume and high-frequency squatting program that lasts for 6 weeks. In my mind it’s right on the edge of what most lifters can tolerate. So if you want to push yourself with a program like smolov, try RSR first.
Smolov Squat Program Frequently Asked Questions
Who is the smolov squat Programme for?
The smolov squat programme is for advanced lifters who need to increase their squat, but have not responded to more conservative methods (such as juggernaut 2.0). Practically, I would not recommend smolov to most lifters.
Is the smolov squat routine for masters lifters?
The smolov squat routine is definitely not appropriate for masters lifters. The volume, intensity and frequency tend to be too much for 20-year-olds, let alone masters lifters. If you want to focus on pushing up your squat, maybe try the russian masters squat program instead.
Is Smolov a peaking program?
No, smolov is not a peaking program. Smolov only has 1 short taper week, and the volume and intensity are too high to properly reduce fatigue. You also don’t touch any heavy single or double reps in the last three weeks, which isn’t ideal for peaking.
Does Smolov build muscle?
Smolov is a poor choice for building muscle. The high-frequency, high-volume squatting might add some leg size, but the overall rep scheme is too low for optimal hypertrophy training, and there isn’t enough exercise variation for maximal muscle size development. If your main goal is bodybuilding, I recommend checking out my 4-day upper/lower split hypertrophy programme.
Do you lose strength after Smolov?
Yes, you will most likely lose strength after smolov. This is mainly due to the reduction in frequency and technical sharpness. However, you can’t run something like smolov forever, so a maintenance period is unavoidable.
Can you deadlift while doing Smolov?
No, you cannot deadlift whilst doing smolov. Your legs, central nervous system and spinal loading capacity will already be torched from the high-volume squatting. Adding deadlifts into the program is just a recipe for disaster.
How much does Smolov increase your squat?
Smolov can increase your squat from 10-100lb depending on which reports you listen to. However, I’ve noticed that most people who report huge 100lb gains are early intermediates who could have made similar progress on far simpler, easier programs. There are also hundreds of lifters who simply burn out and never finish the program.
Smolov Program Review Summary Infographic
We’ve covered a lot of info in this article, so here’s a quick TLDR summary infographic. It’s yours to do what you want with. Save it, print it, share it. It’s yours:
Alright, that’s enough reading for today, time to lift some stuff.
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‘Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc, BA
Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.
His experience includes 8+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.
Freitas de Salles, B., Simão, R., Miranda, F. et al. Rest Interval between Sets in Strength Training. Sports Med 39, 765–7