The Smolov Jr. strength program may have claimed the soul of more gym bros than any other program on the market. The often- underestimated program has been proven effective for seriously boosting your squat and bench press numbers.
However, it’s also a brutal experience for those not fully prepared for the challenge. It maintains such a notorious reputation by taking you to the brink of your strength, work, and mental capacities in just three short weeks. The returns? Many, many pounds added to your barbell — if you can handle it.
This is the Smolov Jr. powerlifting program, unmasked.
- Smolov Jr. Program Overview
- Why It Works
- What You’ll Need for Smolov Jr.
- Who Should Do Smolov Jr.
- Who Shouldn’t Do Smolov Jr.
- Smolov vs. Smolov Jr.
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Smolov proper is a 13-week specialty program designed with maximum intensity in mind — with the promise of some serious strength gains if you make it to the other side.
Conversely, Smolov Jr. is a three-week abbreviated version of the full Smolov program that can be applied to both the squat and the bench press, but isn’t generally advised as appropriate for your deadlift.
Smolov Jr. calls for you to lift four days per week with increasing intensity and sustained volume. Commonly, an increase in intensity is followed in tow by a decrease in volume. Smolov cranks one up while maintaining the other, forcing adaptation over the course of a three week concentrated block.
|Week||Day 1: 6 x 6||Day 2: 7 x 5||Day 3: 8 x 4||Day 4: 10 x 3|
|2||70%1RM (+5-10 pounds)||75%1RM (+5-10 pounds)||80%1RM (+5-10 pounds)||85%1RM (+5-10 pounds)|
|3||70%1RM (+10-20 pounds)||75%1RM (+10-20 pounds)||80%1RM (+10-20 pounds)||85%1RM (+10-20 pounds)|
Note: The notation above is [sets] x [reps].
Given the extreme emphasis on intensity and volume of the lift in question, it’s commonly advised to do very few additional exercises while running the Smolov Jr. program. The high rep ranges also indicate that Smolov Jr. may not necessarily be appropriate for the deadlift since your workouts might become a bit too cardio-oriented.
Smolov Jr. works for several key reasons. It’s going to get your training laser beam focused, cranks you into the higher-intensity brackets of resistance training, and it also properly takes advantage of the concept of overreaching.
Whichever iteration of Smolov Jr. you run, you’re likely only going to be getting away with training one major lift — period. For three weeks you’ll be focused on high-frequency squatting or bench pressing.
By virtue of this increased frequency of the targeted lift, you’ll have a better chance to refine your technique in that movement. Squatting or bench pressing four days a week should help iron out the major kinks in your technique through sheer repeated exposure.
Although it is a double-edged sword, Smolov Jr. definitely brings the intensity. Strength training tends to provide benefits in a fairly broad range of loading prescriptions.
Smolov Jr. definitely leans into the higher percentages on that continuum for the majority of the program, absolutely guaranteeing that you see results, at least in the short term.
Functional overreaching is a training concept that pushes the athlete into a state of intensity, volume, or both that is generally unsustainable for the long term.
In the case of Smolov Jr., three weeks of concentrated high-intensity and high-volume training should push you right to the brink of what you can handle in the gym.
The benefit of overreaching properly is that you’re poised to compensate from exceeding your limits briefly. As such, you’re liable to see a larger return on your investment than you would if you’d taken it easier. (2)
Smolov Jr. is fairly straightforward. Its focus on one major lift (either the squat or the bench press) really streamlines your equipment needs. However, given the training parameters assigned to each workout, you’ll definitely be looking to dedicate some time in the gym for this one.
Smolov Jr. is also notorious for challenging your discipline. Beyond that, the largest consideration for running Smolov Jr. is how well you’ll be able to recover.
Lining up a squat rack, barbell, and plates are your first priority. You can do Smolov Jr. for the bench press on a stand alone bench or with an adjustable bench moved into the squat rack for safety, especially if you don’t work with a spotter by default (you’ll probably need one).
Outside of the mandatory rack-and-bar situation, the program is as any other you can do in the gym. Have a solid weightlifting belt, shoes, knee sleeves, wrist wraps, or other reliable lifting equipment at the ready. However you normally gear up for heavy lifting is how you should be approaching the entirety of Smolov Jr.
Finally, having a training partner or spotter around is not a bad idea. Both your squat and bench press program will accumulate a ton of fatigue, so keep yourself safe by training under the supervision of a spotter as often as you can.
You can take one look at the template for Smolov Jr. and know you’re in for a lengthy workout. Resistance training for strength and muscle-building tends to benefit from longer rest periods, (3) and when you’re training at such a high intensity, you’ll be taking full advantage of that phenomenon.
With the longest workout involving 10 working sets, including a respectable warm-up and cool-down as necessary, you’re in for training sessions that may last two hours or more. Block off your time accordingly.
One of the biggest pitfalls you can stumble into while working with Smolov Jr. is improvising or going off-program. The program strictly calls for minimal if not zero accessory lifts. The rationale being that the combination of intensity and volume in the already-taxing barbell lifts leaves little energy for any additional work.
Further, “just” a few additional sets of isolation exercises may amount to enough fatigue that it impacts your ability to complete the next session. Better you aim low with your volume, do the program exactly as it is written, and save the cable curls for your next training block.
One of the most demanding parts of Smolov Jr. is the absolute requirement to be on top of your recovery between workouts. Functional overreaching can be extremely beneficial, but it can also flirt with overtraining syndrome.
If you don’t adequately rest between sessions, you likely will not receive a net-positive outcome for your lifts and in some cases you may even see prolonged reductions in performance. (2) Monitoring sleep, nutrition, and stress accumulation outside of your workouts will be extremely important for the three weeks of Smolov Jr.
Given the extreme specificity of the loading ranges, lifters looking to get bullish strong are the biggest audience of Smolov Jr. Powerlifters should be particularly keen to try this program.
Powerlifters specialize in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Accumulating the greatest Total between these three lifts is how you win in competition, so plugging either the squat or press into Smolov Jr. can be a useful way to elevate your performance.
Smolov Jr. is familiar territory for powerlifters — after all, it’s nothing but high intensity barbell training — so it’s worth exploring if you’re willing to put in the effort.
You don’t necessarily need to be a powerlifter to run the gamut of Smolov Jr. (though you’re likely to see the biggest return on your time and energy if you are). That said, it can be fun to, once in a while, run a really demanding program as a means of testing your grit and willpower.
In that way, Smolov Jr. is actually a great candidate for thrill-seekers and athletic masochists. If HIIT is your preferred form of cardio, or you have a bizarre fascination with 20-rep squats, Smolov Jr. is right up your alley.
Smolov Jr. is a specialty program that exists in a small pocket of the broader resistance training world. Most people probably shouldn’t dabble in it for fun.
(Almost) Everyone Else
There’s no escaping the fact that Smolov Jr. is a program best suited for intermediate to advanced strength athletes. The express intent of the program is to overreach on the bench press or squat to see a big spike in performance. The value Smolov Jr. presents to the average gymgoer does not necessarily warrant the effort, or the risk.
Powerlifters and other high-performance strength athletes that may squat or bench press regularly in their training may benefit, but such a highly-specific overreaching program won’t be relevant for many goals the average lifter has, aside from a stronger squat or bench press. Still, there are other means of getting strong.
The long-form and default Smolov program is designed to take you through 13 weeks of intensive training, usually for the squat, and consists of four weekly training sessions. If you were to run Smolov itself, you’d be looking at:
- Two weeks of acclimation, to help you get used to frequent heavy lifting.
- A four-week base cycle to add intensity.
- Two weeks to transition toward a more dynamic, low-rep style of squatting.
- A four-week block reducing your frequency to three times per week but greatly upping the intensity and load.
- A peaking week that builds towards a new max-effort attempt at the end.
Smolov Jr. concentrates these principles into three shorter and more abbreviated weeks. By doing so, you remove the gradual exposure to high-intensity training. Less time to acclimate means that sessions will be harder on your mind and body.
Where Smolov itself is a marathon, Smolov Jr. is a sprint — you’re undeniably going to make serious gains (should you persevere and make it to the end of the program), but Smolov Jr. is far from a sustainable (or repeatable) approach to programming. Use it at your own discretion if you’re in dire need of a short-term strength boost.
The Big Picture
There’s something alluring about finding a “forbidden fruit” in the strength training world — a program that’s known to challenge the very constitution of a lifter’s spirit. Even non-competitive gymgoers who just have a penchant for getting strong could dabble with Smolov Jr., but the juice may not be worth the squeeze.
With sound rationale and programming, a smart, patient lifter can make some seriously fast gains with this three week torture rack of a program – but make sure that you’re in the right position to actually benefit. Smolov Jr. is a double edged sword – gains for some, pain for all, and overtraining always lurking on the horizon.
1. American College of Sports Medicine (2009). American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 41(3), 687–708.
2. Bell, L., Ruddock, A., Maden-Wilkinson, T., & Rogerson, D. (2020). Overreaching and overtraining in strength sports and resistance training: A scoping review. Journal of sports sciences, 38(16), 1897–1912.
3. Schoenfeld, B. J., Pope, Z. K., Benik, F. M., Hester, G. M., Sellers, J., Nooner, J. L., Schnaiter, J. A., Bond-Williams, K. E., Carter, A. S., Ross, C. L., Just, B. L., Henselmans, M., & Krieger, J. W. (2016). Longer Interset Rest Periods Enhance Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 30(7), 1805–1812.
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