Have you ever wanted to get stronger and increase your squat numbers? Invest six weeks and add significant weight to your squat by trying the Smolov Squat Cycle. In this article I will explain exactly what it is, how it works and the results, thoughts and issues that arose from putting myself through this infamous strength cycle.
Why did I decide to do it?
When I injured my elbow while doing some gymnastics (to be honest, the injury was from my Judo days) I wanted to find an alternative way to keep on training. After a conversation with some of the coaches at my local Box Spree CrossFit in Berlin I decided I would focus on improving my squat, something I have never really done. At the time I squatted 130kg for five, so I assumed my 1Rep Max would be a bit over 140 kg.
I am not quite sure when and where I had first heard about the Smolov Squat Cycle, but it was stuck in my head. I started to search for more details on the internet.
What is The Smolov Squat Cycle Routine?
Sergey Smolov is known as “The Russian Master of Sport” and developed the 13 week Squat Program. It was popularized by Pavel Tsatsouline when he published it in a 2001 issue of Powerlifting USA.¹
The whole cycle consists of 13 weeks of squatting, sometimes with additional work as well. It is broken down into several smaller cycles or phases. Below you can find the exact structure of the program and what you need to do in order to complete it. Below that I have added all my notes, thoughts and feelings on the experience.
2 weeks to prepare the body for the things to come. You squat three times per week:
- Monday – 3×8@65%, 1×5@70%, 2×2@75%, 1×1@80%
- Tuesday – 3×8@65%, 1×5@70%, 2×2@75%, 1×1@80%
- Wednesday – 4×5@70%, 1×3@75%, 2×2@80%, 1×1@90%
- Monday – 1×5@80%
- Tuesday – 1×email@example.com%
- Wednesday – 1×5@85%
This takes place over 4 weeks.
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- Monday – 4×9@70%
- Wednesday – 5×7@75%
- Friday – 7×5@80%
- Saturday – 10×3@85%
- Monday – 4×9@70% add 20 pounds (10 kilos) from week 3
- Wednesday – 5×7@75% add 20 pounds (10 kilos) from week 3
- Friday – 7×5@80% add 20 pounds (10 kilos) from week 3
- Saturday – 10×3@85% add 20 pounds (10 kilos) from week 3
- Monday – 4×9@70% add 30 pounds (20 kilos) from week 3
- Wednesday – 5×7@75% add 30 pounds (20 kilos) from week 3
- Friday – 7×5@80% add 30 pounds (20 kilos) from week 3
- Saturday – 10×3@85% add 30 pounds (20 kilos) from week 3
- Monday – Rest
- Wednesday – Rest
- Friday – Build to 1 rep max
- Saturday – Build to 1 rep max
Transition block (2 weeks).
- Monday – Squat Negative x1@105%
- Wednesday – Power Clean 8×3@60%
- Friday – Box Squat 12×2@60%
- Monday – Squat Negative x1@110%
- Wednesday – Power Clean 8×3@65%
- Friday – Box Squat 12×2@65%
Finally 3kg over my double bodyweight in back squat…. "Easy" 141 kg /310# PR.. . . FIRST rule when you hit a PR that you ask somebody else if it was the right weight… Especially if you are getting used to using pounds ?? . Second rule you must put Metallica on when you squat ✊? . . @niketraining #niketraining #justdoit #nike @mission6nutrition #OnAMission #Mission6 @FitAID #teamFitAID #FitAID #jaw #jawsome #jawgrips #jawambassador @compexusa #compexusa #musclestim @gingerreykjavik #harfaktory #cfsudurnes #dismakeup #crossfit @jaw_global
Transmutation block (5 weeks).
- Monday – 3@65%, 4@75%, 3×4@85%, 5@85%
- Wednesday – 3@60%, 3@70%, 4@80%, 3@90%, 2×5@85%
- Friday – 4@65%, 4@70%, 5×4@80%
- Monday – 4@60%, 4@70%, 4@80%, 3@90%, 2×4@90%
- Wednesday – 3@65%, 3@75%, 3@85%, 3×3@90%, 3@95%
- Friday – 3@65%, 3@75%, 4@85%, 4×5@90%
- Monday – 3@60%, 3@70%, 3@80%, 5×5@90%
- Wednesday – 3@60%, 3@70%, 3@80%, 2×3@95%
- Friday – 3@65%, 3@75%, 3@85%, 4×3@95%
- Monday – 3@70%, 4@80%, 5×5@90%
- Wednesday – 3@70%, 3@80%, 4×3@95%
- Friday – 3@75%, 4@90%, 3×4@95%
Tuesday – 4@75%, 4×4@85%
Sunday – Test 1 rep max
My experience of The Smolov Squat Cycle
Figuring out that I would not want to commit to the complete 13 weeks of the cycle I decided to do the Introductory Phase and the ‚Base Phase‘. You can find several versions of this cycle containing hand-stand push-ups and other upper-body exercises, but since my elbow was injured I focused only on squatting. To compensate for the lack of training for these muscle-groups I tried to follow the advice by Ed Coan (if you do not know him, google him! You will learn a lot about strength and lifting!) and always press the barbell up while squatting. I definitely have not noticed a loss in muscle-mass in the shoulders due to this isometric hold.
The Introductory Phase really helps you to get into the right mindset for the the training
There are several excel spreadsheets online that can help you determine the correct amount of weight for every set. When I first looked at these numbers I really was a bit intimidated, especially with the four sets of nine with 120 kilos coming up in Week 5 (around 85% of my former 1RM). So the Introductory Phase really helps you to build up confidence in shifting around this amount of weight.
Thus said, the amount of weight and the sheer volume of squatting four times per week did not allow me to do any other kind of weight training. I still went to do Judo, because my body is used to training weights and Judo on the same day (weights in the morning, Judo in the evening). If you are well-conditioned you may also get away with doing one or two crossfit sessions per week but I definitely cannot recommend it. If you omit your usual work out and activities for six weeks it won´t have any major impact on your skills. And sometimes a break is all you need to improve.
Being someone who does not like to rely on gear I started the whole cycle without any additional equipment. Due to the high-volume with heavy-weights I started to put on a belt in the third week overall and additional knee-sleeves (3mm) in the fourth to help me feel more confident with the crushing weights. Especially the first session every week with nine reps for four sets often left me out of breath. Do not underestimate how much of a strain this much weight for your cardio-vascular system is, but also do not underestimate how much weight you can move during these sets.
Issues and recovery
At the end of the fifth week my IT-band (outer part of the quad) started to hurt very much. I am not quite sure if this is due to my close stance, high-bar squatting or that my legs just weren’t used to this high volume of squats. But I really had to do a lot of soft-tissue work and stretching to be able to complete the ‚Base-Phase‘. So if you try this cycle, make sure that your recovery is on point.
After one week off to rid myself of the pain, I tested my 1RM: 160 Kilos! So only six weeks of intense squatting helped me to add 20 kilo to the squat‚ the “King of strength Exercises”!
Want to find out more about barbell strength programs that might be good for you? Check these out: