The Complete Guide to the Brutal Yet Effective Smolov Squat Program

The Complete Guide to the Brutal Yet Effective Smolov Squat Program

The Smolov squat program is an intense, demanding, and highly effective squat routine explicitly designed to help intermediate and advanced lifters build tremendous lower body strength and muscle mass quickly.

Created by Russian powerlifting mastermind Sergey Smolov in the 1980s, the Smolov squat routine is a 13-week program divided into multiple phases:

Cycles of Smolov
  • Phase in – 2 weeks
  • Base cycle – 4 weeks
  • Switching phase – 2 weeks
  • Intense cycle – 4 weeks
  • Taper week

The main goals of Smolov are to:

  • Rapidly increase your 1RM (one-rep max) squat by up to 60-100 lbs
  • Build substantial quad and leg muscle through extreme volume
  • Utilize methods like heavy squats (up to 95% 1RM), dynamic effort lifting, and band/chain work

The program involves very heavy training loads, high squatting frequency (up to 4x/week), and advanced lifting techniques. It’s considered one of the most brutal yet effective sports performance programs ever developed. Smolov requires meticulous programmingproper recovery, and unwavering dedication.

Smolov can take your squat to the next level and pack dense muscle onto your quads, hamstrings, and glutes when followed correctly. This guide will walk you through exactly how to succeed with this legendary routine.

Overview of the 13-Week Program

Alright, buckle up because we’re about to break down the wild rollercoaster ride that is Smolov squat programming. Are you ready to get this squat party started?

The full Smolov squat routine is 13 weeks of intensely focused lower body torture, uh, I mean training. It’s made up of a few key sections:

  • Phase in (2 weeks)
  • Base cycle (4 weeks)
  • Switching phase (2 weeks)
  • Intense cycle (4 weeks)
  • Taper week

Let’s overview what goes down in each phase:

The phase-in is all about getting your legs warmed up to the heavy lifting that’s about to come. We ease in with sets of 8-10 reps at 65-70% of your 1RM to get the joints and tendons ready to rumble.

Then comes the base cycle, where we ramp up both the weights and volume. You’ll squat four days a week, working up to 10 sets of 3 reps at 85% 1RM. This is where we build your strength base – so be prepared to eat everything in sight to support your recovering muscles!

After that torture, the switching phase gives your poor, beaten-down legs a break. Here, The focus is lighter, speedier lifts to help re-sensitize your fast-twitch muscles. Think 50-60% 1RM and focus on exploding up.

Then it’s back to the heavy stuff with the intense cycle – the peak of Smolov’s brutality. You max out at 95% 1RM for multiple sets of 3-5 reps three days a week. This phase will push your strength to the limit!

Finally, the taper week lets you test your mettle with a fresh 1RM test before winding down. You made it!

To put it bluntly, Smolov is an advanced, demanding routine that’s not for the faint of heart. But if you push through each phase, then recover and eat correctly, you can expect PR gains of 30-100lbs on your max squat and legs thick as tree trunks!

You might also like this other Russian Squat Program.

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of what each phase actually looks like…

Phase In

The two-week phase-in is all about slowly preparing your legs for the relentless heavy lifting of Smolov. Consider it the training wheels before you start flying on two wheels.

We keep the weights moderate here – around 65-80% of your calculated 1RM – focusing on higher rep ranges in the 6-10 zone. The main goals are to:

  • Gently strengthen tendons/ligaments
  • Improve technique and form
  • Acclimate joints and muscles to frequent squatting

You’ll be squatting three times per week, with a simple progression from week 1 to 2:

Week 1

  • Day 1: 3 x 8 @ 65% 1RM, 1 x 5 @ 70% 1RM, 2 x 2 @ 75% 1RM, 1 x 1 @ 80% 1RM
  • Day 2: Same as Day 1
  • Day 3: 4 x 5 @ 70% 1RM, 1 x 3 @ 75% 1RM, 2 x 2 @ 80% 1RM, 1 x 1 @ 90% 1RM

Week 2

  • Day 1: 1 x 5 @ 80% 1RM
  • Day 2: 1 x 5 @ 82.5% 1RM
  • Day 3: 1 x 5 @ 85% 1RM

Time to dip your toes into the water before diving in head first!

Base Cycle

I hope you’re well hydrated, carbed up, and ready for some beautiful brutality because the 4-week base cycle is here!

This phase marks the start of Smolov’s signature high-frequency squatting – 4 days per week of very heavy loading. The goal is to build an unshakeable strength base through sheer volume and intensity.

You’ll work up to 4 sets of 9 reps at 70% 1RM all the way to 10 sets of 3 reps at 85% 1RM – all while continuously increasing the weight each week based on your recovery and ability to complete reps.

Here’s a sample base cycle progression:

Week 1

  • Day 1: 4 x 9 @ 70% 1RM
  • Day 2: 5 x 7 @ 75% 1RM
  • Day 3: 7 x 5 @ 80% 1RM
  • Day 4: 10 x 3 @ 85% 1RM

Week 2

  • Add 10-20 lbs to each day based on performance

Week 3

  • Add another 10-20 lbs to each day

Week 4

  • In the final week of the base, add any remaining weight

As you can see, this phase is all about pushing your limits through high volume at high intensities. Don’t be afraid to increase weights week to week incrementally, but also don’t sacrifice form or risk injury by progressing too aggressively.

Time your rest periods intelligently, eat plenty of protein, and prepare your foam roller – the base cycle is no joke! But stick through it, and your legs will transform before your eyes.

Switching Phase

Congratulations, you survived the base cycle gauntlet! Now it’s time for active rest with the 2-week switching phase.

The goals here are to:

  • Give your legs some relief from heavy loading
  • Re-sensitize your fast-twitch muscle fibers
  • Focus on speed and power

You’ll reduce the weight to 50-60% of your new 1RM and focus on explosive speed out of the hole. Really fire those quads and glutes and jump out of the bottom!

We also introduce new techniques like:

  • Box squats – sit back into a box, pause, and explode up
  • Band/chain resistance – add accommodating resistance
  • Dynamic effort – constant tension and maximal speed

This switch from pure grinding strength to speed and power recruits different muscle fibers and improves performance. Consider adding plyometric exercises as well, like vertical jumps.

The lifting volume also drops during this phase to let your body recover. The switching phase provides a deload and variation to prime you for…

Intense Cycle

Brace yourself – the 4-week intense cycle is Smolov’s crowning achievement of lower body pain and misery.

You thought the base cycle was tough? That was just a warm-up. Now, we take intensity to the max with lifts up to 95% 1RM multiple times a week.

The lifting frequency drops to 3 days per week, but the weights shoot up to meet your newfound strength. It’s common to feel like you’ve hit a brick wall by the third rep of these near-maximal lifts. Dig deep!

Here’s a sample intense cycle:

Week 1

  • Day 1: Ramp up to 1 x 5 @ 85% 1RM
  • Day 2: Ramp up to 1 x 3 @ 90% 1RM
  • Day 3: 5 x 4 @ 80% 1RM

Week 2

  • Continue ramping weights, sets, and reps

Week 3

  • Peak weights, keep volume high

Week 4

  • Deload slightly while still training heavy

The intense cycle will push your strength gains into overdrive. Stick with it, fuel and rest properly, and you’ll smash PRs left and right while building boulder-like legs. Let’s finish this!

Taper Week

It’s the final week, the taper week! It’s time to test your 1RM and show off your new squat prowess.

Volume drops way down as you shake off fatigue and prime your nervous system. Your lifts will feel snappy and explosive after the intense cycle overload.

You’ll hit openers between 70-80% 1RM before ramping up to daily 1RM attempts. Don’t rush this process – take sufficient rest between lifts.

It’s better to be conservative on your early attempts and save energy for your final record shots. Proper technique becomes even more critical when pushing true one-rep maxes. Dial in your form.

Trust your programming, believe in the work, and the PRs will come. Smolov delivers results – now go get your new max!

Smolov Variations

While the traditional Smolov program is brutally effective for advanced lifters, there are a few popular variations that improve accessibility:

  • Smolov Jr. – A lower volume version that condenses each phase into three weeks. It’s better for newer or less seasoned lifters.
  • Smolov for bench/press – Applies the same principles to the bench press, overhead press, and other lifts.
  • Modified Smolov – Keeps the structure but reduces intensity through lower max percentages. This provides an off-ramp if the program becomes too demanding.

The framework and periodization of Smolov can be adapted to many different ability levels and lifts. Hard work transcends the specifics!

Adjust as needed, but remember – you get out of Smolov what you put into it. Embrace the intensity to see maximum strength and size gains quickly.

The Russian Bear demands discipline. Show up consistently, lift smart, recover properly, and Smolov will reward you in return.

Making the Most of Smolov

Alright, we’ve covered the core structure and progression of Smolov squats. Now, let’s talk about how to wrap some extra muscle-building goodness around that strong foundation.

Smolov might focus on one main lift, but there are many ways to enhance your results through intelligent programming of accessory exercisesnutritionrecovery, and gear.

Implementing some of these strategies can mean the difference between surviving Smolov and truly thriving on it. Let’s optimize!

Accessory Exercises

As brutal as Smolov squatting may be, only doing squats will leave potential muscle growth on the table.

That’s why it’s wise to add some accessory exercises to provide additional stimulus:

  • Posterior chain work like stiff-legged deadlifts, good mornings, and hamstring curls hit the back of your legs. Squats alone can create imbalances – so train the whole package!
  • Single-leg movements like lunges, Bulgarian split squats, and rear-foot elevated splits also provide unilateral focus. Again, cross your T’s and dot your I’s!
  • Core and low back exercises like planks, Pallof presses, and supermans strengthen the muscles that stabilize you under heavy loads. A strong core lets you safely squat more weight.
  • Plyometrics like box jumps and vertical leaps maintain power and explosiveness to complement heavy strength work.

The options are endless – just pick 1-2 targeted accessories after your main squat sessions. Listen to your body, work around achy joints, and fill training gaps.

Remember, Smolov squats are the cake… accessories are the frosting and sprinkles!


I hope you’re hungry because the intense physical demands of Smolov require A+ nutrition to recover and adapt.

Here are some dietary tips for success:

  • Increase overall calorie intake, especially on lifting days – those extra squats burn a ton of fuel! But don’t overdo it either – controlled surplus is the goal.
  • Up your protein intake to support muscle repair and growth. Shoot for 1-1.5 grams per pound of body weight daily. Time some protein around workouts.
  • Eat plenty of complex carbs like oats, rice, quinoa, and sweet potatoes to provide energy for brutal workouts.
  • Increase healthy fats from sources like nuts, oils, fish, and avocado to maximize hormones.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! And remember your electrolytes.
  • Take creatine to boost strength and performance in the gym.

Feed yourself like the beast you are becoming! Nutrition makes up half the muscle-building equation. Fuel your gains properly.


You can’t spend all that time crushing squats without also recovering properly. Here are some tips:

  • Sleep! Shoot for 7-9 hours per night so your body can repair itself.
  • Utilize active recovery techniques like light cardio, stretching, foam rolling, and massage guns on non-lifting days. Get the blood flowing.
  • Take ice baths and contrast showers to reduce inflammation and soreness in your legs.
  • Consider supplements like glucosamine and fish oil to lubricate your joints under heavy loads.
  • Manage overall stress levels and avoid life-sapping activities during this demanding program. Conserve energy.
  • Listen to your body very closely and be cautious with nagging pains – take a day off if needed. Injury prevention is critical.

Mastering recovery allows you to sustain consistency and progress on brutal programs like Smolov. Learn to love your foam roller!


You’ve covered standard squat gear – trusty belt, battle-tested shoes, chalked-up hands. But here are a couple of specialty items to consider:

  • Knee sleeves provide compression and help keep joints happy under extremely heavy loads. They are especially helpful for older lifters.
  • Wrist wraps take pressure off wrists when supporting big weights across your back. Again, these are beneficial for joint health.
  • safety squat bar changes the loading angle and can relieve shoulder and elbow strain. It also provides variety.
  • Microplates let you progress in smaller weight increments each week. Fine-tune your lifts.

Don’t go too crazy buying specialty equipment you may not need. But, some select supplemental gear can assist joints and ligaments through demanding training. Protect your knees!


Smolov is certainly not for everyone straight out of the gate. Here are possible modifications based on your specific situation:

  • If coming back from injury, start very conservatively and potentially run a modified Smolov with lower percentages.
  • Newer lifters can build work capacity with Smolov Jr. before tackling the full monty version.
  • Reduce squat frequency to 3x per week if recovery is an issue initially. Or lower the max percentages across the board.
  • Struggling on the base cycle? Pause and repeat a week if needed until you adapt to the volume. No shame!
  • If the intense cycle beats you up too much, take an extra rest day or pull back intensity levels as needed.

The coaches who created Smolov had one goal – maximize strength and size gains. Don’t get hung up on strict programming if it breaks you. The principles matter most!

Train hard, recover smart, listen to your body, and Smolov will transform you. Just be smart about optimizing it for YOU.


By this point, your legs are probably fried just thinking about Smolov. I get it.

So, let’s wrap up this monster guide with answers to some frequently asked questions about the program:

What are the main goals of Smolov?

Simply put, Smolov wants to pack on huge full-body muscle and take your squat strength to new extremes quickly.

We’re talking 20-60+ pound 1RM gains through a relentless focus on one main lift. Enjoy widening your whole lower body into an oak tree trunk!

How long is the full program?

The traditional Smolov squat routine is 13 total weeks. That breaks down into phases focusing on strength acclimation, volume accumulation, peaking intensity, and finally realizing gains.

It’s an extended journey – pack your protein powder and knee sleeves for the long haul!

What’s the difference between the base cycle and the intense cycle?

The 4-week base cycle builds your strength base through increasingly heavy volume – up to 10 sets of 3 reps at 85% 1RM.

The later intense cycle converts that base into peak strength with low rep sets at 90-95% 1RM – extremely taxing lifts!

How quickly should I progress weights each week?

There is no universal prescription – you must listen to your body. In general, aim to add 10-20 lbs per lift per week during the base cycle if recovery is solid.

But don’t rush progression if you’re struggling to complete reps. Smolov rewards those who balance intensity and recovery.

Can I add accessory exercises like plyometrics?

Absolutely! Isolation movements, plyos, and core work make excellent accessory exercises between squat days.

Just focus on muscle groups that aren’t brutally taxed by squats – like the posterior chain and arms. Listen to your body.

What should I do if I fail sets?

First, check your ego and drop weight 10-20 lbs if needed to complete reps with good form. Don’t grind out compromised reps.

You can also repeat a failed workout later in the week before moving on. There is no shame in paddling backward to build momentum again.

How do I determine my 1RM for this program?

You have two options:

  1. Test your current 1RM directly
  2. Use a rep max calculator by plugging in recent sets of 3-5 reps at a given weight to ESTIMATE your 1RM.

Either way, be honest and conservative – it’s better to aim low than program with too high of a max!

Do I need special equipment like knee sleeves?

Knee sleeves are highly recommended to keep knees happy under heavy loads. Wrist wraps also help.

But any squat gear you already use, like a belt, shoes, etc., will suffice. Don’t buy a bunch of stuff you may not need!

How can I modify Smolov coming off an injury?

Start very light, use Smolov Jr., reduce overall volume, add rest days, and build back up slowly.

Let pain and swelling guide you – don’t rush into heavy loading too quickly after injury. Better safe than sorry!

Who should NOT attempt Smolov?

Newer lifters who need to build more strength base and technique practice. Stick to simpler progressive overload programs first.

Anyone with untreated injuries or orthopedic issues that heavy squatting could exacerbate. Get healthy first!

People who know they will not properly recover and fuel themselves – you must be very diligent.

BONUS: Will I be able to walk after Smolov?

There’s a high probability you’ll waddle like a baby giraffe the day after your first heavy session.

But you’ll adapt quickly – then it just becomes your new (extremely jacked) normal!

Smolov is a commitment like no other, but we’re in this together. Now get to work and go crush those new PRs! My legs are sore just thinking about your future success.

Sample Programs/Spreadsheets

Alright, it’s time to get this squat party started! But before jumping into the deep end, let’s look at some sample Smolov templates and spreadsheets.

pre-programmed plan takes the stress out of calculating percentages and plate-loading each workout. You can just follow along diligently. Here is the full Smolov Program Calculator.

Here are a couple of free, downloadable resources I recommend:

Expert Tips and Common Mistakes

We’ve covered a ton of squat science throughout this guide. Let’s switch gears and get some insider knowledge from the trenches.

I asked a few expert powerlifting coaches for their best Smolov tips and the most common mistakes they see. Take notes!

Expert Tips

  • Start very conservative on your max – never go higher than a training max you can triple. There’s no glory in early injuries or burnout.
  • Feel destroyed? Drop the weight, not the volume. Keep squatting frequently. Just back off intensity until you adapt.
  • Think nutrition and recovery first, lifting second. You can’t out-exercise a bad diet or lack of sleep during Smolov.
  • Add anterior core work like planks – protect your back from the frequent heavy loads.
  • Don’t rush the process. Smolov takes time and patience. The gains will come – focus on each training block.

Common Mistakes

  • Not having enough base strength – you need to prepare with simpler programming first before diving into Smolov.
  • Starting with too ambitious of a 1RM. Program off your current ability, not your inflated ego.
  • Not eating enough or recovering properly between sessions. You need surplus calories and 8+ hours of sleep.
  • Poor form and technique due to fatigue or chasing reps. Quality over quantity always.
  • Not listening to your body. Take an extra rest day or deload if you feel like death. Some fatigue is expected, but don’t push past your limits.
  • No accessory work. Squats alone lead to imbalances and overuse injuries.

There you have it – words of wisdom from the pros! Now get to the gym and make those experts proud by putting in focused work, training with integrity, and having the patience to transform your body over time.

You got this!

Start The Smolov Squat Program

We’ve made it to the end of the squat marathon – congrats! You now know Smolov inside and out.

To recap, this 13-week program will push your strength to the edge through a progression of high volume, heavy loads, and eventual peak intensities.

Each phase builds on the last to drive rapid gains:

  • Phase in – Prep your body
  • Base cycle – Build foundational strength
  • Switching phase – Unload and resensitize
  • Intense cycle – Maximize intensity
  • Taper – Realize gains

It won’t be easy. You’ll need meticulous programmingelite recovery, and relentless dedication. Expect pain, sweat, and waddling up stairs.

But for those willing to fully commit, Smolov delivers unparalleled gains in squat strength, lower body mass, and mental toughness.

So embrace the brutal path to greatness. Trust the process, envision your success, and put in the work one squat session at a time. Your tree trunk legs and iron will are waiting – go get ’em!

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