Smolov: What Is It & Is It Still A Good Program In 2022?

Smolov: What is it & is it still a good program

Anyone who has spent long enough training for strength will inevitably come across an infamous program called the Smolov program. Those who claim to have done and enjoyed the Smolov program are often labeled as masochists.

But what is Smolov and is it still a good program? Smolov is a high-intensity and high-volume squat program that originated in Russia. It is broken up into 5 phases and requires you to squat 3-4 days per week. The program lasts for 13 weeks in total. There are very few accessory movements included, and it’s difficult to do other training outside of it.

Due to the high amount of squat volume, Smolov should only be done by advanced to elite lifters or athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs. There are better program options for the majority of athletes (including a less intense version of Smolov called Smolov Jr.) that do not have such a high risk for injury.

In this article, I will go through exactly what the Smolov squat program is, how it works, and the pros and cons of this program. I’ll also review the Smolov Jr. program and ultimately help you decide whether either of these are programs you want to pursue.

What Is Smolov?

Smolov is a percentage-based squat program that was developed in Russia by Sergey Smolov, who is called the “Russian Master of Sports.” The program only contains prescriptions for squats with no recommendation for any other major lower body exercises.

It is considered one of the most brutal, if not the most brutal, training programs for squats that exist. It is only recommended for elite athletes and demands squatting 3 to 4 sessions per week. 

As one of the most extreme programs available, it is widely known to be one that carries a high risk for injury, particularly if you are not physically ready to do it. It is a program that requires careful attention to recovery, training priority for the squat, and good squat technique.

As much as it is known to be a squat program, it is also known to be used by powerlifters to improve their bench press. Smolov also comes in a different form called Smolov Jr, where the program prescription is managed in a way that makes it more doable.

How Does The Smolov Program Work?

How does the smolov program work?

Smolov relies on the implementation of different periodization models that are laid out over 13 weeks. It also relies on intentional overreaching and aggressive deloading or tapering to drive gains.

Intentional or functional overreaching refers to the idea that you purposefully stress the athlete out to the point that their fatigue builds up and brings their performance down temporarily. The aggressive deload refers to sharply bringing the training stress down to allow fatigue to dissipate and gains to occur.

Periodization is simply manipulating the training variables over time so that it is structured in phases. These phases will last different time periods. The purpose of periodization in this situation is to systematically push training hard during certain durations, and then pull back so gains can be made.

Smolov relies on a combination of daily undulating periodization as well as block periodization. 

Daily undulating periodization refers to how the volume and intensity of the sessions change on a daily basis throughout the week. This exposes the lifter to different rep ranges and intensities, which pushes them to work through a variety of different stimuli.

Some days will be focused on heavy weights, which is important for strength gains. Some days will be focused on higher reps, which will be good for work capacity.

Block periodization refers to the organization of the overall training program into smaller training blocks. Within each block of weeks, there is a specific purpose that dictates how intense the aspect of those sessions will be.

The main Smolov program lasts for 13 weeks and is broken down into 5 main blocks, which are:

  1. Phase In Cycle
  2. Base Mesocycle
  3. Switching Cycle
  4. Intensity Mesocycle
  5. Taper Week

Let’s break down and discuss these blocks!

Phase In Cycle

Smolov Program Phase In Cycle

The phase in block is a two-week introductory period with the primary goal of slowly ramping up training intensity and volume. The reason why this block exists is to physically prepare you for the onslaught of the notorious base mesocycle next.

Here is the phase in cycle:

Week 1

Day 1 – Monday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 3 x 8 @ 65%, 1 x 5 @ 70%, 2 x 2 @ 75%, 1 x 1 @80%

Day 2 – Tuesday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 3 x 8 @ 65%, 1 x 5 @ 70%, 2 x 2 @ 75%, 1 x 1 @80%

Day 3 – Wednesday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 4 x 5 @ 70%, 1 x 3 @ 75%, 2 x 2 @ 80%, 1 x 1 @90%

Day 4 – Thursday

  • Leg and Hip Stretches

Day 5 – Friday

  •  Leg and Hip Stretches

Day 6 – Saturday

  • Leg and Hip Stretches

Day 7 – Sunday 

  • Rest

The squats are performed back to back in the first three days of the week. They contain some volume on lower intensity weights but pyramids up to some low-volume, high-intensity loads. The high-volume reps are meant to increase your work capacity, while the high-intensity reps keep exposure to heavy loads so you do not become unaccustomed to them.

The rest of the week focuses on stretching and maintaining your mobility. Lunges and other split squat variations are recommended movements to maintain mobility.

Week 2

Day 1 – Monday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 1 x 5 @ 80%

Day 2 – Tuesday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 1 x 5 @ 82.5%

Day 3 – Wednesday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 1 x 5 @ 85%

Day 4 – Thursday

  • Leg and Hip Stretches

Day 5 – Friday

  •  Leg and Hip Stretches

Day 6 – Saturday

  • Leg and Hip Stretches

Day 7 – Sunday 

  • Rest

The second week reduces the volume a bit but exposes you to a top set of higher percentages to ready you for the base mesocycle. The lower volume will reduce fatigue so you’re more prepared for higher workloads in subsequent weeks.

Base Mesocycle

Smolov Program Base Mesocycle

The base mesocycle is the most infamous portion of the Smolov program due to the combination of its high volume and high-intensity working sets throughout the week.

The week starts off with low intensity and high reps and then ends with high intensity and low reps. You are performing between 30 to 36 reps during each session and can expect very slow reps by the end of each set.

The total number of reps throughout each week is an astounding 136 reps. The loading is progressed from week 1 to week 2 by 20lbs, and from week 2 to week 3 with an additional 10lbs.

After 3 weeks of back-to-back high-volume training, there is a strict deload where you work towards a new 1RM twice at the end of the week.

Week 3

Day 1 – Monday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 4 x 9 @ 70%

Day 2 – Tuesday

  • Rest

Day 3 – Wednesday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 5 x 7 @ 75%

Day 4 – Thursday

  • Rest

Day 5 – Friday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 7 x 5 @ 80%

Day 6 – Saturday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 10 x 3 @ 85%

Day 7 – Sunday 

  • Rest

Week 4

Day 1 – Monday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 4 x 9 @ 70% + 20lb

Day 2 – Tuesday

  • Rest

Day 3 – Wednesday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 5 x 7 @ 75% + 20lb

Day 4 – Thursday

  • Rest

Day 5 – Friday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 7 x 5 @ 80% + 20lb

Day 6 – Saturday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 10 x 3 @ 85% + 20lb

Day 7 – Sunday 

  • Rest

Week 5

Day 1 – Monday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 4 x 9 @ 70% + 30lb

Day 2 – Tuesday

  • Rest

Day 3 – Wednesday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 5 x 7 @ 75% + 30lb

Day 4 – Thursday

  • Rest

Day 5 – Friday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 7 x 5 @ 80% + 30lb

Day 6 – Saturday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 10 x 3 @ 85% + 30lb

Day 7 – Sunday 

  • Rest

Week 6

Day 1 – Monday

  • Rest

Day 2 – Tuesday

  • Rest

Day 3 – Wednesday

  • Rest

Day 4 – Thursday

  • Rest

Day 5 – Friday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats Work Up To 1 Rep Maximum

Day 6 – Saturday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats Work Up To 1 Rep Maximum

Day 7 – Sunday 

  • Rest

Switching Cycle

Smolov Program Switching Cycle

The switching cycle will transition you out of the high-volume workload and give you time to recuperate with low volume and low-intensity work. The switching cycle lasts for 2 weeks before you attempt the intensity mesocycle.

There are no prescribed sets or reps during this cycle, and you work around what you are motivated to do, but the program recommends working to no more than 60% of your new 1 rep max.

There is also a suggestion that squat negatives be implemented in this block, where a supramaximal load that is greater than your new 1RM is used. Squat negatives are a squat variation in which you lower the weight to the safety pins in a squat rack and then step out from under the bar. You do not stand the weight back up once it hits the pins.

Intensity Mesocycle

Smolov Program Intensity Mesocycle

The intensity cycle consists of much higher intensities of lifting. For that reason, the block is also markedly lower in training frequency as well as training volume, i.e. total reps and total sets.

The purpose of this is to translate all the work that was done in the base mesocycle into maximal strength.

Week 9

Day 1 – Monday

Day 2 – Tuesday

  • Rest

Day 3 – Wednesday

Day 4 – Thursday

  • Rest

Day 5 – Friday

  • Rest

Day 6 – Saturday

Day 7 – Sunday 

  • Rest

Week 10

Day 1 – Monday

Day 2 – Tuesday

  • Rest

Day 3 – Wednesday

Day 4 – Thursday

  • Rest

Day 5 – Friday

  • Rest

Day 6 – Saturday

Day 7 – Sunday 

  • Rest

Week 11

Day 1 – Monday

Day 2 – Tuesday

  • Rest

Day 3 – Wednesday

Day 4 – Thursday

  • Rest

Day 5 – Friday

  • Rest

Day 6 – Saturday

Day 7 – Sunday 

  • Rest

Week 12

Day 1 – Monday

Day 2 – Tuesday

  • Rest

Day 3 – Wednesday

Day 4 – Thursday

  • Rest

Day 5 – Friday

  • Rest

Day 6 – Saturday

Day 7 – Sunday 

  • Rest

Taper Week

Smolov Program  Taper Week

The taper week is where there is a massive drop in work so that the body can fully recover as much as possible. This is to allow the adaptations to occur where your new strength levels can be tested by the end of the week.

Week 13

Day 1 – Monday

Day 2 – Tuesday

  • Rest

Day 3 – Wednesday

Day 4 – Thursday

  • Rest

Day 5 – Friday

  • Rest

Day 6 – Saturday

  • Rest

Day 7 – Sunday 

  • Warm Up
  • Squat Test 1RM

What Is Smolov Jr.?

What Is Smolov Jr?

Smolov Jr. is an alternative variant to the Smolov program. The program is a revision of the base mesocycle that is infamously difficult. The intensity prescribed in Smolov Jr. is the same as the main Smolov program, but the rep scheme has been changed.

This variation of the program came about as people started to find that following the main Smolov program was unrealistic. People have also used Smolov Jr. for lifts other than the squat, namely the bench press.

How Does The Smolov Jr. Program Work?

The Smolov Jr. program works the same way as the base mesocycle of the main Smolov program. The manipulation of the rep scheme has been managed in a way that the training sets are at further proximity to repetition failure. Training too close to failure builds up intra-session fatigue and increases risk of injury.

On top of the manipulated rep scheme, the linear progression in the subsequent weeks is lower than the original Smolov program. So the progressive overload is more conservative.

Week 1

Day 1 – Monday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 6 x 6 @ 70%

Day 2 – Tuesday

  • Rest

Day 3 – Wednesday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 5 x 7 @ 75%

Day 4 – Thursday

  • Rest

Day 5 – Friday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 8 x 4 @ 80%

Day 6 – Saturday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 10 x 3 @ 85%

Day 7 – Sunday 

  • Rest

Week 2

Day 1 – Monday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 6 x 6 @ 70% + 10lb

Day 2 – Tuesday

  • Rest

Day 3 – Wednesday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 5 x 7 @ 75% + 10lb

Day 4 – Thursday

  • Rest

Day 5 – Friday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 8 x 4 @ 80% + 10lb

Day 6 – Saturday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 10 x 3 @ 85% + 10lb

Day 7 – Sunday 

  • Rest

Week 3

Day 1 – Monday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 6 x 6 @ 70% + 20lb

Day 2 – Tuesday

  • Rest

Day 3 – Wednesday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 5 x 7 @ 75% + 20lb

Day 4 – Thursday

  • Rest

Day 5 – Friday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 8 x 4 @ 80% + 20lb

Day 6 – Saturday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats 10 x 3 @ 85% + 20lb

Day 7 – Sunday 

  • Rest

Week 4

Day 1 – Monday

  • Rest

Day 2 – Tuesday

  • Rest

Day 3 – Wednesday

  • Rest

Day 4 – Thursday

  • Rest

Day 5 – Friday

  • Warm Up
  • Squats Work Up To 1 Rep Maximum

Day 6 – Saturday

  • Rest

Day 7 – Sunday 

  • Rest

Benefits Of The Smolov Program (2 Benefits)

benefits of the smolov program (2 benefits)

There are 2 benefits of the Smolov program:

  • Huge gains in the squat
  • Challenges you mentally

Huge Gains in the Squat

As a general rule, the more training that you do while still recovering properly, the more gains you can get. But eventually, you’ll reach a point where you get diminishing returns.

The Smolov program ensures that you are pushed to the limit so that when you recover, you get an explosive gain in strength as an outcome.

Challenges You Mentally

Smolov will also mentally test your tenacity and commitment to the program since every session is brutally hard.

This brutal challenge is what many people who do Smolov see as a valuable tool to build their character, resilience, and tolerance to pain.

Drawbacks Of The Smolov Program (5 Drawbacks)

There are 5 major drawbacks of the Smolov program:

  • Unsustainable difficulty
  • High risk of injury
  • High risk of burnout
  • Too much exercise specificity
  • Does not address weaknesses

Unsustainable Difficulty

It is common to see the successes that people experience if they manage to complete the whole Smolov program. However, what a lot of people do not talk about is how unsustainable it is.

For most people, training needs to be enjoyable, and the sheer difficulty of the program really puts them off from attempting it. Many people do not actually have a lifestyle outside of training to help them manage, recover, and survive the program.

High Risk of Injury

Due to the sheer volume specifically on the higher intensity days, the Smolov program is actually inappropriate for a lot of lifters. Lifting hard sets under severe fatigue risks losing concentration and causing an injury. 

Learn more about preventing injuries in How To Avoid A Powerlifting Injury (Complete Guide).

High Risk of Burnout

The high difficulty of the program can cause overtraining, of which common symptoms are anxiety and depression. Along with this, overtraining can lead to a lack of concentration and enthusiasm when it comes to training. 

These symptoms are major contributors to the experience of burnout. This can negatively affect life satisfaction and commitment to the program.

Too Much Exercise Specificity

Due to the sheer volume of work prescribed for just one lift, there is little to no scope to engage in other lower body exercises. Anecdotally, many people do not even do any other exercise outside of squatting when they run Smolov.

Too much exercise specificity where you only concentrate on one exercise will mean that weaknesses in other lifts will slowly start to develop. You’ll potentially get bored from only doing squats, too.

Does Not Address Weaknesses

As well as weaknesses slowly creeping through, pre-existing weaknesses cannot be addressed when training just one exercise variation for the lower body. You need to have almost no flaws in your technique or physical weak points when doing Smolov.

Who Should Do The Smolov Program

who should do the smolov program

There are 3 main categories of athletes that can safely attempt the Smolov program:

  • High-level powerlifters
  • High-level Olympic weightlifters
  • High-level strongman competitors

High-Level Powerlifters

High-level powerlifters with multiple years of experience and training capacity may be able to execute the Smolov program. 

An example of a high-level powerlifter who has executed the Smolov program to win their national championships is the British 74kg lifter, Dylan Nelson:

High-level powerlifters will benefit from higher levels of specificity and higher levels of training volume to continually make gains.

High-Level Olympic Weightlifters

Elite Olympic weightlifters will need a very strong squat, which a program like Smolov might help with. In fact, most people believe that the Smolov program originated from the world of Olympic weightlifting.

High-Level Strongman Competitors

Strongman competitors are no different when it comes to needing to build a strong squat. They fundamentally need to have strong legs and a high work capacity to help them train for all of the events that are tested in a strongman competition.

Wondering what the difference is between strongman and powerlifting? Check out Powerlifting vs Strongman: 12 Differences.

Who Should Not Do The Smolov Program 

who should not do the smolov program

Here is a list of people who should not do the Smolov program:

  • Beginners or intermediates
  • Athletes with less than perfect technique or asymmetries
  • Athletes with pre-existing injuries

Beginners or Intermediates

Beginners and intermediates will not have the work capacity to be able to safely execute this program. There are plenty of other appropriate programs to help them bring their squat up, such as the Greyskull LP program

Running a program like Smolov that requires a huge time commitment, dialed-in nutrition, and proper recovery can also be overwhelming for beginners, which can turn them off from training consistently.

Athletes With Less Than Perfect Technique or Asymmetries

If your technique is not at a good standard, the sheer difficulty of the sets in Smolov will exacerbate this and even risk causing injuries later on.

This is especially true if you have any asymmetry such as preferring to load the weight into one hip, which can cause lifters to lean to one side during the squat. This can risk lower back, hip, or knee problems.

Athletes With Pre-existing Injuries

If you have current or pre-existing injuries, those injured regions will have a compromised level of work capacity.

A big predictor of future injury is past injury since strained muscles and joints tend not to recover back to where they were before. Because of the high intensity of the Smolov program, athletes who have been injured before can risk re-injuring themselves if they attempt to follow it.

Is Smolov Still A Good Program?

Smolov has been around for decades, which leads to many people wondering if it’s still a good program to follow.

This is actually not a good program for the vast majority of lifters, especially those who do not use performance-enhancing drugs. There has been plenty more research in the field of strength and conditioning for sports to back up best practices for managing stress and fatigue in training to minimize the risk of injury. 

Most people realize now that the best lifters who have survived their training journies the longest are the ones who get the least amount of major injuries. A program like Smolov would be asking for trouble since it risks major injuries that can set you back significantly in your training.

Should You Run Smolov For The Bench Press?

A common question amongst individuals who are interested in running Smolov is whether it can be used for other lifts, specifically the bench press.

You should not run Smolov for the bench press. There are many accounts of lifters suffering from shoulder and pec injuries while attempting to perform this program for the bench press. Many people have claimed that the lack of variation has made this program unpleasantly boring, too.

7 Pro Tips To Doing The Smolov Squat Program

7 Pro Tips To Doing The Smolov Squat Program

If you do decide to run Smolov, here are 7 tips to keep in mind:

  • Allow bodyweight to increase
  • Maximize sleep
  • Minimize work and life stress
  • Warm up carefully
  • Don’t use your best 1RM
  • Supplement your diet
  • Use a belt, knee sleeves, and wrist wraps

1. Allow Bodyweight to Increase

There is a good chance that the Smolov program will have a strong stimulus for muscle mass around the legs and hips. This will consequently increase your overall body weight, so it is important that your nutrition is at a level that allows you to naturally gain body weight.

Even though your weight will likely increase if you run Smolov, you can still eat enough calories without gaining an excessive amount of fat. We cover this in detail in Will Powerlifting Make You Fat? (No, Here’s Why).

2. Maximize Sleep

Research has shown that sleep is essential for training recovery, as good sleep improves physical and mental performance and mitigates injury risk.

There is also evidence to show that athletes who do hard training need even more sleep than the average individual, with most athletes needing more than 8 hours of sleep each night.

3. Minimize Work and Life stress

For some people, work and daily life are the biggest stressors in their lives. For others, training is the biggest stressor in their lives.

Regardless of where you are, the Smolov program is an extremely high stressor, and it is important to realize that you have a finite capacity to deal with and recover from the sum of all stressors combined.

4. Warm Up Carefully

A carefully designed and executed warm-up will maximize training performance and minimize injury risk. This will include effectively warming up the temperature of your muscles and putting yourself in good joint positions that best prepare you to squat heavy and deep.

For tips on how to create a good warm-up routine before squatting, check out How To Warm Up For Squats (Mobility, Dynamic Stretching, & Activation).

5. Don’t Use Your Best 1RM

For most people who can survive Smolov, it is also best advised that you do not use your actual 1 rep max and instead take a percentage off of it before plugging your weights into the program.

For example, if your squat 1RM is 500lbs, you may want to base the prescribed weights off of a training max of 90%, which would be 450lbs.

This is to ensure that you can realistically perform the prescribed percentages from week to week.

6. Supplement Your Diet

Evidence-based supplementation can be a beneficial element of being able to complete your Smolov training. It can also be the key to keeping your work capacity and energy levels up during each session.

Supplements such as creatine monohydrate are highly useful for doing high reps of heavy lifting. Research shows that lifters who supplement with creatine are able to handle more training volume. The general recommendation is to take 5g of creatine per day, ideally right after your workout, though the exact timing doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

7. Use A Belt, Knee Sleeves, and Wrist Wraps

Using a belt, knee sleeves, and wrist wraps can help you lift better and potentially protect some of the more vulnerable joints in your body, particularly your knees, hips, spine, and wrists.

This gear can all come in handy when following a high-volume program like Smolov to make all of the heavy lifting a bit more comfortable on your body. None of these things will make you completely invulnerable to injury, but they can improve your ability to handle more training volume.

Best Alternatives To The Smolov Program

The Texas Method

The Texas method is a famous strength program suitable for intermediate lifters. It’s also a program used both by Olympic weightlifters and powerlifters to get stronger. 

This program also has high levels of specificity in terms of squat variations, i.e. you do not deviate from regular back squatting. But it has a much more manageable level of volume, making it a better option for lifters who cannot commit to the demands of the Smolov program.

The Bulgarian Method

The Bulgarian method for squatting is a protocol where squats are performed on a daily basis.

This is also one of the more extreme programs or protocols that exist due to its high intensity, but its overall levels of volume are much lower than Smolov.

Candito Powerlifting Program

The Candito powerlifting program is an intermediate powerlifting program that focuses on the squat, bench, and deadlift.

It is moderate in both volume and intensity overall and is a much more manageable program compared to Smolov or the Bulgarian method.

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Final Thoughts

Professionally, I would never really recommend Smolov to be an appropriate program for anyone. The reason why I conclude this is because beginners and intermediates can benefit from most template programs that exist in the market. 

For higher-level or elite lifters, to whom this program is geared towards, there is an inherent need for things to be more individualized. As well, the risk of injuries from such a program will cause huge setbacks. Therefore, it really is not a good program for anyone who is at least drug-free.


About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach

Norman Cheung

Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com