SMOLOV (BASE MESOCYCLE) – PERSONAL REVIEW
During the time when I was first starting out in powerlifting, I’d look towards finding the next 8-12 week program that I could run for PRs. When I was new to powerlifting, my strategy for gains took a short term approach – run program A, test maxes, run program B, etc. This actually worked for awhile, and I took my competition squat from 365 to 425 pounds within 6 months doing so. A week after the meet where I squatted 425, I decided to run the Base Mesocycle portion of the Smolov program for 3 weeks. Oh joy.
WHAT IS SMOLOV?
Popularized by Pavel Tsatsouline via Powerlifting USA and on the Dragondoor.com article, a Russian fellow by the name of S. Y. Smolov designed a 13 week program for powerliftes to boost their squatting strength & peak for a competition in doing so. The general schema looked something like:
- Introductory microcycle -2 weeks
- Base mesocycle -4 weeks
- Switching -2 weeks
- Intense mesocycle -4 weeks
- Taper -1 week
To save you some time, I will cut the crap and just say right now that most people opt to solely run the Base Mesocycle. So, let me cut to the chase and show you what this entails:
BASE MESOCYCLE – (1 REP MAX % X REPS X SETS)
The Base Mesocycle has you squatting 4 days a week, with no rest between Friday and Saturday. The first week is based off your current 1 rep max, with the 2nd & 3rd week adding more weight for each day. Note that for Week 3, the 30 pound increase is based on your current 1 RM – not another 30 pound increase from week 2. This program is designed to intentionally overreach & even over-train you, whereas by the time you perform a PR attempt, you’ll have peaked out.
The first two training sessions were by FAR the hardest, and most people would agree that things feel easier after the first week. Squatting until you die is something that you actually get used to, and breaking yourself into the program is the most difficult aspect of it. There is no room for failed reps on the program, and you have to perform all the sets (you can’t pretend that it’s set number 8 when it’s actually set number 5, asshole). As such, there is no maximum amount of rest time allotted – I typically took 10-15 minutes of rest between sets.
During the program, it felt more & more easy to get through the workload, and by the 3rd week I could handle volume capacities I wouldn’t ordinarily touch for training days. While I was fine with finishing all the training days, I did encounter minor tweaks in the process of running Smolov, but I was staying on top of my recovery. Contrast showers, Icy-Hot, 10 tacos for $10 at Taco Bell – I did everything I could to keep up with Smolov.
When I went into the gym for my PR attempt, I actually ended up hitting a 30 pound PR of 455 lbs. And add to that – my legs put on a noticeable amount of mass, and I ended up weighing 6 pounds more than I started. In retrospect, this could have just been extra blood volume and glycogen retention – but in my mind back then, it was quality gains made. So, I know the program works and numerous others have said the same thing as well. Some people have even gained upwards of 50-70 pounds on their squat from the Base Mesocycle, which sounds insane but is true.
I was still drug-free when I started Smolov, and couldn’t do anything other than squat while running the program. Even if I had been on a gram of test, I don’t think I would’ve done any additional training aside from the Base Mesocycle itself. After finishing the Base Mesocycle, I decided that I didn’t want to neglect my bench & deadlift further and resumed a more conventional training routine. My bench felt weaker after having squatted so much in 3 weeks, and my shoulders were beat. My deadlift stayed about the same and didn’t get any benefit from Smolov. Many others feel this way about how the program treated their bench & deadlift, and for that reason I am intentionally leaving out the rest of the Smolov program out of this post.
Would I run this program again? Hell, no. Like all things, a crazy program might work once, but its effectiveness will gradually decrease with repeated use. That, and Smolov is simply too much on the tendons & muscles to be a sustainable training program. IT’S MEANT TO BE OVERREACHING AND OVER-TRAIN YOU. It doesn’t make sense to run yourself down to the ground all the time for progress – powerlifting doesn’t work that way. If you want to be good at powerlifting, find a programming method that can be run in a sustainable way for a long period of time and master your understanding of its methodology. Don’t be the guy who hops from program to program every 4 weeks. While doing so will work when you’re starting out, you will stall past a certain point.
Would I recommend this program for you? If you can understand the notion of what I’ve just said about programming, and are ready to run Smolov just once – sure, give it a go and see how much you can gain off of it. I don’t recommend this program for “intermediate” or “advanced” lifters, unlike what the original source material advocates. If I ran this program with my current squat, I already know I would collapse in a pool of blood and die from the workload. It’s simply too much when you’re squatting an excess of 500 pounds raw. For guys who can’t squat twice their bodyweight just yet, Smolov is a viable option for a 4 week program. For ladies, I think this program is fine to run if your squat is right around at your bodyweight. Women tend to have an easier time tolerating more volume in training, and I would hypothesize that they would respond very well to Smolov’s Base Mesocycle.
If you decide to pursue running Smolov, forget about tracking your macros and eat as much as you can. Recovery is everything! Stay safe and take care of yourselves while going full Soviet at the gym, my friends.