Alternatives to Smolov

Originally Posted on Tuesday, April 03, 2012 11:23 AM
Back in the 1990s, a friend of mine talked to me about the Russian Squat Cycle.  He said it would add pounds to your Squat if you did it correctly, and he swore by it.  But, he then added, he did the program based off a max less than what he could squat.  

*Incredulous stare*

Dude, how can a program work if you don't follow the program?  

I've also heard of many people modifying the Russian or Smolov Squat program by stretching it out and doing it over an extended time period.  But many of these people swear by the Smolov, say it works, etc.  

For Olympic Lifters, and for throwers or other athletes in power or speed sports, using a program which makes you modify your power training is less than the ideal program.  I like to train my Olympic lifts as often and as heavy as I can.  To do this, I cannot be wiped out by a Smolov Squat Cycle.  Furthermore, any program which requires you to put aside your lifting, running, jumping, or throwing so you can focus on one lift is, in my opinion, a flawed program.  And, as logic dictates, anytime you modify a program you don't, in fact, follow that program.  You may follow the spirit of the program, but the spirit and the actual are not the same. 

The spirit of these programs is volume.  Squat heavy and often.  If you don't think you can squat that day, go heavier and do more reps.  If your day at work sucked, squat heavier and do more reps.  When you do this for a few weeks, back off to just heavy and for reps.  If your wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend became a zombie and tried to eat your face this morning, just go squat heavier and for more reps.  This bold dedication is the spirit of these programs, and it works.  It doesn't work because it has a Russian name, it works because volume makes you stronger.  

Naming something, though, often takes away its power (thank you, Dumbledore, for that wonderful bit of advice).  Saying that you can do the Smolov routine often makes you able to do the Smolov because it's a written, well-structured, goal-oriented program.  When an athlete sees these goals in front of them, that athlete can strive for them, accomplish them, and then claim that achievement.  I understand the power of claiming an achievement.  The possession of an accomplished goal is vital to the development, psychologically and emotionally, of an athlete.  But if you throw, jump, or weightlift, then  shouldn't farther and heavier be the goal you want to achieve?

If doing Smolov or the Russian Squat routine interferes with your performing the lifts or your other speed practices, then what should you do instead?  Is there a program to follow which will make your legs stronger quickly while allowing you to do the speed things your sport requires?

Yes, Padawan, there is a solution.  A program which allows you to squat heavy and often, perform your speed training and olympic lifting, and which you can follow to the letter without making up BS qualifiers about your actual accomplishments.  That answer is the ladder.

This link is to Shaf's original post on Power and Bulk back in 2005, about two months after I got married.  Sally, I swear that, as a newlywed, I didn't spend my time at home looking up lifting programs.  I spent my time at work looking up lifting programs. 70s Big sent up this post about a year and half ago.  I just saw it today researching my blog post.  Oh well.  But the point of my blog post is actually that "Smolov will kill your real sport, do ladders instead".  I think 70s big merely says that "ladders will work".  So, I'm adding to the intellectual discussion about ladders and not just wasting precious intrawebz space.

To implement the ladder for a thrower or Olympic Lifter, I suggest starting with one day a week and making another 2-3 days a week sets of 5 or 3 for the squats.  I also suggest doing the ladder with Back Squats, but Front Squats are fine, too.  Any big, multi-joint exercise works well with the ladder.  I start with one day a week because the ladders I start with are 5-3-1.  We do two ladders one week, three ladders the next, then four ladders and we rest from them the fourth week. Our other squat days look like this:  3x10 at 60/70/80% and 5x3 in the FS to 80-90%. What I've seen ladders do is the following:  build work capacity; take squats up 5-10% in a month; build confidence under the bar; and increase the sales of the double baconator at the nearest Wendy's (I recommend two double baconators after ladders).  This upcoming cycle, we'll do ladders twice a week.  

Since ladders are done with weight the body can easily handle, you have the confidence in knowing you'll make a weight whenever you get under the bar.  Since the weight is heavy enough to make you work for it, you'll need to explore the depths of your psyche and, as a result, get stronger.

I also wouldn't do any of the Russian/ Smolov programs unless have hit a relative stagnation with your max lift, and can do that max lift with good form (yes, all you people out there who can squat more with bad form than you can with good form:  you need remediation. Go back to the beginning and learn from the bottom up; your pride is hurting you and holding you back).  Ladders could be done with a beginner who has good form and decent muscle balance.  I also wouldn't do the ladders for more than 4-5 weeks in a row.  Let your body recover, do relatively few squats the next week or two but keep the intensity up.  

Not all my lifters will do this.  Greg and Stephen will; Andrea and Caprice will not.  They need to learn to let their body squat properly.  They will do lots of volume.  

I've also used ladders since college in the Olympic Lifts.  I really dig them.  Whet I commonly do looks like this:  Snatch 87, 90, 93%; repeat two to three times.  Sometimes it's 80, 85, 90%.  In the clean, I don't find the ladder as effective.  Once you do a heavy clean or two, going down and coming back up isn't as effective.  Perhaps doing 80-90 then 80-90 works once in a while, but doing it in the snatch works great.  

If you're injured and cannot do the Olympic Lifts, or if you don't do any Olympic lifts and  don;t throw, give the Russian or Smolov a shot.  Just use your real max and follow the program.  You can do it.  The program's greatest benefit is giving you confidence under the bar, not just the ability to lift more.  Here's some resources on the Russian and Smolov: Smolov jr.

Michael McKenna1 Comment