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Old 03-12-2010, 03:34 PM   #1
Mark Fenner
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Default Some thoughts on Pavel's Smolov

Hi folks,

I wanted to post some thoughts that resulted from running through Pavel's "friendly" version of the Smolov squat routine.

The original program calls for three weeks of squatting at four sessions a week; one week of taper and test; and two weeks of a "switching phase". You can then peak (or, go back into a high volume phase). In the three volume weeks, you do sessions of 4 of 9, 5 of 7, 7 of 5, and 10 of 3. Session to session you do a simple linear progression (70% -> 85%). Week to week you do a linear progression (about +5% week 2, +8% week 3). For details, use google and see the ontariostrongman site and Pavel's "Beyond Bodybuilding".


Pavel's version makes a very simple modification: instead of doing 4 sessions/week for three weeks (12 total sessions) you do the same work spread over 2 sessions/week for six weeks. This modification takes you from about 140 lifts per week to around 70). My own scheduling worked fairly well but between my "week 2" and "week 3" (workouts 8 and 9), I was teaching on skis for 5 of 9 days. I decided to take the week "off" of leg work (heh!). So, the volume portion of my "Smolov" was spread of seven total weeks.

"week 1" in quotes refers to the first four workouts; similarly for "week 2" and "week 3".

A number of thoughts:

(1) Reading about Smolov, I saw many people saying "I felt great in 'week 1'". I'll second this: I ended up doing my two Smolov days and two kettlebell days for the two weeks that made up my "week 1". However, you'll notice, I DON'T have those in later "weeks". For the Pavel-Smolov, it probably matters a lot less (you have more built in recovery time anyway); for the real deal Smolov, you'd be crazy or ... not in need of my advice.

(2) I did keep a pretty thorough warmup the whole time. You can see my recent post on serratus anterior work for some of it. Also, I did goblet squats, bootstrappers, and contract-relax hip flexor stretches. Lastly and potentially more importantly for you, I did lots of planks (in the warm up). I was skeptical when I heard Dan John talking about them in his warm-up DVD (see it for the other stuff, as well) but ... here's my main impression: would you rather
start by stressing your (possibly beat up) body with lots of motion or with tension without motion? The planks get the tension really going (and the anti-rotation, anti-crunch, anti-extension stuff ... i.e., anti-motion).

I do my planks like this (all in the low "forearm" position): 15 seconds all fours, 15 seconds arm up, 15 seconds arm/opp leg up, 15 seconds all fours, 15 other arm up, 15 other arm/leg up, 15 all fours. I call them 4-3-2 planks (although it is really 4-3-2-4-3-2-4).

(3) My formal lifting was smolov squat, smolov bench, and assorted pull-ups, chin-ups, and neutral grip chins. I'm a big fan on neutral grips: the put the arm in a non-stressed alignment (helpful for beat up shoulders). Some days, I just said "no" to the pull ups. But, in general, I tried to do about 50 bodyweight and/or 20 weighted vertical pulls a week. Typically, the vertical pulls were alternated with
squats, benches, or both.

(4) Having done the six week version, I would like to do a three week version (if nothing else, to check it off my sheet). If I do it soon, it will be late April/early May. Whenever I do it, I will "respect the squat" and do nothing else (besides thorough warmups and mobility work).

(5) I went conservative on the 1RM estimation. I had been off for about a month due to Christmas and an academic gym calendar. To make up for this, I used somewhat bigger steps for my "week 3". Instead of the +5% then +8%, I did about +5% and +10%.

(6) The hardest days were the frist two "4 of 9" days. The only rep I missed the whole period was rep 36 of the first day. On "week 2" "4 of 9", I wrote: "good god, dying"! Along the way, I figured out that I needed more warmup sets. But, I always kepts the reps really low. After some light stuff at 95 and 135, I typically did singles. If I felt I needed more I took a brief rest and did ... another single at
that weight.

Just about every first set of bench press (at the work weight) felt like crap. By about 1/2 way through the sets, I got into a groove.

(7) Both the sq and bench improved during each session. The first bench was almost always very difficult; sets 2,3,4 improved ... 5,6,7 stable or fading .... the later sets required increasing concentration and tightness.

(8) I used lots of motivational tricks to keep squatting: sets of five? My son's name has five letter ... E-T-H-A-N ... you can't fail if you are spelling your boy's name . I dedicated alot of sets to a friend who is currently deployed in Afghanistan. Sure not going to let him down. Sets of 3? Wife's initials. And the fact that she's working just as hard as I am ... I mean really even if it's her 1RM
and my sets across weight .... I don't want them _that_ close.

(9) I was doing a fair amount of skiing; the kind-fluffy Smolov worked out ok, but remember that I used conservative weights. I didn't push my skiing very hard and when i did my legs gassed out pretty quickly. But, I was skiing very aggressively. The bigger issues was overall fatigue and motivation ... it got hard to get up and go. I was definitely pushing my recovery window.

(10) Be prepared to buy new pants. Fortunately, all my jeans are relaxed fit. Seriously, there isn't much slack in them any more. My wife just shakes her head at my thigh measurement (that is, the tree trunks): it's ridiculously close to her waist.

(11) I did deal with several colds during the six weeks (or just some that wouldn't go away). Was it the Smolov or working with grade schoolers on many days of the week? Probably both.

Last but not least, I've seen almost no concrete recommendations as to what to do in the switching phase. Here's what I'm looking at (untested, but I'm in the middle of it):

Two workouts a week for three weeks (I/II are done in workout I or II, not both):

Slalom Jumps 2 of 20 2 of 30 2 of 30
Power Skipping 2 of 40y 2 of 40y 1 of 40y

(I) Broad Jump 2 of 5 3 of 5 1 of 5
(II) Jump to Box 2 of 5 3 of 5 1 of 5

(I) Knee to chest 2 of 8 2 of 8 1 of 6
(II) Drop off box 1 of 5 2 of 5 1 of 3

(I) Jump Sq @ 30% 3 of 6 4 of 6 1 of 6
(II) Rep. Lunge Jmp 2 of 6 3 of 6 1 of 6

3-5 sets of 2 in the 70-80% range for technique practice. More towards 70% on squats, more towards 80% on bench. I'm a motor idiot: I admit it. Three weeks with no squatting, and I'll loose too much of the motor learning on technique.

One glaring question: are the percents of new or old? Well, I don't know the new. And it won't be the new until I squat it. The old is too old. Fortunately, the point of this stuff is speed and pratice: the percent doesn't matter too much. If your movements are quick and snappy, then you're doing ok. So, I guess that means "round down".

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Old 03-12-2010, 07:55 PM   #2
Alex Bond
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Thanks for the feedback! This two day a week Pavel-Smolov seems a lot more doable for people with jobs and families and such that mean less than perfect recovery.
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Old 03-13-2010, 06:35 AM   #3
Allen Yeh
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What was your starting squat number and what was the ending? Where you doing A2G or below parallel?

Very thorough post, thanks for all the information.
"And for crying out loud. Don't go into the pain cave. I can't stress this enough. Your Totem Animal won't be in there to help you. You'll be on your own. The Pain Cave is for cowards.
Pain is your companion, don't go hide from it."
-Kelly Starrett
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Old 03-13-2010, 02:33 PM   #4
Mark Fenner
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Originally Posted by Allen Yeh View Post
What was your starting squat number and what was the ending? Where you doing A2G or below parallel?

Very thorough post, thanks for all the information.
Let me start with the raw data. All my squats aim to be powerlifting legal (hip crease below top of knee). A comment from a student (a football player) who didn't recognize me: "I looked over and wondered who you were. I said ... that dude's going DEEP". I got a smile out of that one. I save my ATG work for goblet squats and front squats.

My lifting weights (on squat) were:
"week 1": 185/195/205/215
"week 2": 195/205/215/225
"week 3": 205/215/225/235

bench had the same weekly and different week-to-week progression:
135->165; 145->175; 150->180

I performed each and every rep, except the last rep of squat on day 1.

You'll notice the bench increase was a bit smaller week 2 -> week 3. I was using a higher overall percentage of bench.

..... drum roll .... The dirt everyone wants to know: what were the maxes? Well, flipping through my log book, I tweaked my back on deadlifts (really, cleans and deads ARE different) on Nov. 20. So, I hadn't done any heavy lifting since. Going back further, I see an easy single at 280 on Nov. 16; Sept. 23 a double at 295. My best lifting day in the last year was May 1 at the end of Cressey's Maximum Strength, Phase 3. I squatted a double at 305 and hit a set of 5 rack pulls at 500 (my best lift ever).

Given all that, when I started, I figure I could have squatted 295 with serious effort and 315 with something pointed at my head. My starting weight of 185 was conservative (and it still led to one failed rep). I think it is the weight I would have used had my paper max been 265. In my opinion, it worked out quite well to use that weight. My choice of weight was influenced by considering 7 of 5 @ 225 (ugh!). The actual 7 of 5 workout went very well.

Bench max: feel free to snicker. I see a double at 185 on Nov. 9 (I did about four weeks of benching in October). Prior to that I see a pin press at 220 (end of Cressey MS). Lifetime max is 215. I was very content using a higher percentage because (1) pressing twice a week, my body actually learns/remembers how to do it and (2) it's less taxing over all because of my inefficiency and my weakness.

As to the ending numbers: that story remains to be told. The original Smolov has three weeks and then taper+test in week 4. I finished my six weeks, last week. I rolled immediately into the two week switching phase (which I'm doing over three weeks). I'm on the road this week, with just a kettlebell for a friend (well, my family too ). The week of Mar. 21, I'll be tapering off the switch and testing squat-bench maxes on Mar. 26 or 27. Humm, I may work the 27th, so that might have to wait until Mar 29 or 31.

I certainly don't believe I'll see the "50 pound" gains that you might over the compressed (and one lift focused cycle). However, my setups and grooves are much better and if I could hit that elusive 225 bench (would be a lifetime PR) and a squat somewhat over 320 (345? please, let it be so ). 320's my lifetime squat best.

Longer range plans are to do about six weeks of working deadlifts into the mix and getting ready to do my first powerlifting meeting in May/June/July. I want to have adequate time to keep my back + hip healthy on the deadlift build up. Not sure on the meet, but I have the calendar.

Since I brought it up, the Cressey MS programs are quite good. Not sure if I wrote about them here. Punch line: they will get you strong, but they won't grease the groove of a lift .... except deadlift. For other lifts, you'll need to do a bit of practice to convert the "raw strength" to "lift skill".

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Old 03-14-2010, 07:03 PM   #5
Don Stevenson
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Good review of Smolov-Lite

I've done smolov a few times over the last few years including a base cycle late last year before I went on holidays.

For most people I think the full program is too hard unless you've got your recovery absolutely dialed in. I tried it once and it nearly killed me! Keep in mind that the original program was designed for professional Russian powerlifters who were probably not working day to day and who more than likely had plenty of help in the anabolic field.

A couple of ways I've cooked the program.

1. Pavels 6 week version is good, especially if you want to work other stuff like some deadlifts or Olympic lifts into your program.

2. 3 workouts a week over 4 weeks instead of 4 over 3. I couple this with a decrease in volume to 3x9, 4x7, 5x5, 6x3 and it still seems to work fine without grinding me into the ground.

When I was squatting 135kg back in 2006 I used 5kg jumps from week to week.

When I was squatting 165kg in 2008 I used a 10kg then 5 kg jumps and last year based on a 200kg 1RM I used 10 and 10kg jumps so my cycle looked like this

week 1 - 140kg 3x9, 150kg 4x7, 160kg 5x5
week 2 - 170kg 6x3, 150kg 3x9, 160kg 4x7
week 3 - 170kg 5x5, 180kg 6x3, 160kg 3x9
week 4 - 170kg 4x7, 180kg 5x5, 190kg 6x3

I think every workout on this cycle was a max effort and on about 1/3rd of the workouts i missed the last rep on one set (but never more than that)

End result was an increase in 1RM from 200 to 208kg with a near miss at 215kg. Proper peaking would probably have given me the 215 but i ran out of time before i went on holidays and now i'm back to working up to heavy squats again.
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Old 03-26-2010, 08:37 PM   #6
Dave Paton
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I read through a couple of times and didn't see it.....so can you post the actual %s and set/rep scheme for the "Smolov lite"? Thanks.

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Old 03-27-2010, 06:00 PM   #7
Mark Fenner
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Originally Posted by Dave Paton View Post
I read through a couple of times and didn't see it.....so can you post the actual %s and set/rep scheme for the "Smolov lite"? Thanks.

As stated in Beyond Bodybuilding, pgs. 21 - 25

Two workouts per week:
Wk I: 4 of 9 @ 70%, 5 of 7 @ 75%
Wk II: 7 of 5 @ 80%, 10 of 3 @ 85%

To the original percents, add some weight in the next two weeks:
Wk III & IV: add 10 lbs. if max < 300; add 20 lbs. if max > 300

To the original percents, add some weight for the last two weeks:
Wk V & VI: add 15 lbs if max < 300; add 30 lbs. if max > 300

You might also be interested in "Smolov Jr.": http://wkak.net/SmolovFAQ.htm


PS I -am- still working on a full out max test. I did a tough but "no psyche, no metal music, no kicking the trash can" double at 305 on Monday. I'd call it "cold focus". I did/do have to work on skis this weekend, so I didn't push it towards the end of the week. I'm looking for an all out max in two weeks from yesterday.
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Old 03-28-2010, 08:44 PM   #8
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Old 04-06-2010, 11:16 AM   #9
Mark Fenner
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Further updates. This is the fifth week since the end of my Pavel-Smolov progression. Here's a recap of what I actually did for lower body:

Wk 1: Two days of Few squats + Plyo bouncy stuff
Wk 2: Some KBing and a day of hill spring/KB/rock carry+squat/tire flip/tire hopping
Wk 3: (After the workout early in the week, I still had a barbell allergy that wouldn't go away. Just couldn't get back in the gym yet.
  1. Worked up to a no psyche 2@305.
  2. Some hill sprints.
  3. A moderate uphill hike.
Wk 4:
  1. Worked up to a psyched 2@315. Followed with some rack pulls.
  2. Several hill sprints.
  3. Bunch of easy'ish doubles (@255). Bunch of less easy sn grip DLs.
Wk 5: (today) Got a nice amped up 1@335. Did some backoff sets. Did some rack pulls and step ups. Definitely have more physical capacity but need to apply it to the squat.

With some care (no getting greedy) and attention to building up to it, I think I can get 365 within 4-6 weeks. Everything so far (recently) has been without a belt. I may move to a belt when I push above the 335 ... but, I think I will decide that later. It may be that I can get 365 beltless, backoff a bit and practice with the belt for a few weeks and see where that gets me (over and above the 365 mark).

My plan is for a two weeks of Pavel-Smolov based off of a 320 max (it will give me days of about 225, 240, 255, 270 ... possibly -10 lbs across the board, there). That's a substantial jump up from the P-S start 10 weeks ago (185, 195, 205, 215). After those two weeks, I'll see what comes next. I don't like thinking quite that short term, but I need to see how I respond to the volume at higher load.

My rationale for running this progression is (1) lots of reps with heavier weights (practice effect, volume effect), (2) dance with the girl that your brought -- it's been working well, too early to quit!, (3) it fits nicely with an alternation between volume and intensity phases.

I'm thrilled that my left shoulder has been VERY well behaved through this entire assault on my squat. I mean -- REALLY thrilled.

One of the repeated lessons of Sheiko, Smolov, etc. is that a lot of volume with moderate weights (70-80% + a bit) can drive up your max.

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Old 04-20-2010, 03:05 PM   #10
Mark Fenner
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A final update on this line of thought:

I finished up the two week "mini-Smolov" progression (Apr 9 - 20). SQ weights were 225, 240, 255, 275. BP weights were 155, 165, 175, 185. Compare these to my first two weeks (Jan 19 - 29): SQ (185, 195, 205, 215) and BP (135, 145, 155, 165). Is that great progress for 14 weeks? I'm sure happy with it. My squat groove is good though my shoulder started acting up these last two weeks. I have a lot of confidence that if I hone technique with less fatigue, my squat will continue up for a bit. Stay tuned!

Doing set after set really allows you to be critical with your technique and the repeatability of your lifts. You have enough run throughs to really notice all the pieces -- legs pointed evenly, hips back + knees not too far forward, good depth, hip shoot + good morning?, ab tension, good arch, etc. Bench has its own list.

Surprisingly, in the last two weeks, the limiting factor was systemic effects, not localized soreness or failure. Part of this is the fact that I was doing double duty sessions: ~30 minute warm up (not intense), then about 45-60 minutes squatting, then 45-60 minutes benching. By the end of squats today, I was bone tired. My notebook has an "omfg" in it. I wanted to curl up and take a nap -- but I probably could have kept squatting.

Where this really hit was in the bench. Between keeping my upper back tight for squats and with an eye towards the shoulder tweaks, I used a lot of upper body energy before having to get tight for the bench presses. And, of course, I wanted to be napping. Literally, out of 10 sets of bench press today, it wasn't until set 9 that I hit a groove: mainly because I was so focused on upper back tightness that I was missing good abdomen tightness. Seriously folks, getting that tight air turns a struggle into ... forgive me ... a breeze.

Which brings up another lesson: a full breath lock (Valsalva) works. But, when you do it for 3-5+ reps, you turn more than red -- we're talking purple. At that point, you start wondering ... hummm. So, today I focused on better breath control: sipping air, keeping ab tension, and getting the right timing with the movement. This has all been done before, but it fell to the back burner at some point.

Back to the systemic hit: the last two workouts, I did a grand total of one set of pull ups. Going through the full program, I was doing anywhere from 30-70 a week. That just wasn't going to happen. On the flip side, I was able to do 3 of the last 4 workouts without tunes for the squatting. That's a significant difference for me. The last two weeks I've also entered a new dimension in terms of eating: as in 1-2 extra meals a day. Those two burritos for dinner? A good appetizer. Honey, bring a steak back from the bar at the steakhouse. Ok.

I definitely had a compromise by doing bench after squat. Either alternating which one came first, day to day --or-- doing alternating sets would have balanced out the fatigue. But, I was content to be focused on squats. Certainly, doing them on separate days would have been more ideal. But, life, health, and fitness are all about trade-offs. Part of my inspiration to explore this training was a two trips to the gym per week schedule.

Some survival thoughts:

systemic stuff:
more water
more calories (healthy fats: avocado, nuts, coconut, cocoa <-- nice)
more protein
probiotics (kefir, yogurt + cultures)
more fish oil (yikes! my liquid bottle seems to have sprung a hole)
more sleep (naps? if the gods allow)

"keep the lows low" walks (restrain the hill sprints!)
"keep the lows low" band, dbs
"keep the lows low" play with your son (i.e., maybe you don't put the weight vest on before tag and hockey)
core: "keep the lows low" KB yoga, planking

local stuff:
more stretching
practicing real movement (not weightlifting movement)
tension through the range of motion in tight joints
foam rolling
reduce tone in knotted muscles (erectors, traps, rhomboid, teres minor, infraspinatus)
activate the forgetful muscles
shake out tension
spinal flossing (light, short levers)

on the rep-by-rep level:
tightness for your own protection (over tighten)
find the right breath/ab control to amplify your strength
chest up (erectors)
shoulders open (back -- pinch shoulder blades, slide down -- anti-shrug, rotate up -- serratus)
shake off tension between sets

My final note in my log book today: "UNCLE". That's enough Smolov for now. My volume is going way, way down. I think higher frequency with minimal volumes is next up (at least for squat and bench) -- I can wiggle in more gym visits now.

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