Due to a broken finger, I was really limited in what I could do. For the first couple of weeks I focused on back squats. Because my grip was the limiting factor I worked on increasing reps, rather than weight for these. I was not able to front squat at all.
As soon as I felt able (roughly 3.5 weeks after the injury) I began front squatting again. I was worried how I’d cope having not front squatted for about a month and, as expected, I was rusty. I thought, what better way to get back into front squats than by following the Smolov routine for a few weeks?
The way I saw it, it would give me a chance to work on my form (with such high volume of squatting) and gain back some of the strength I had probably lost. I still don’t feel entirely confident in lifting heavy weights using my hands, so upper body work has been limited to high rep presses. I thought that if I did Smolov, I could focus on my legs until I felt fully confident again to use my hands and grip properly.
I’ll eventually get back to heavy Olympic lifting but – in the mean time – I think all I can do is keep my front squats up and work on my technique and speed for the snatch/clean/jerk with the empty bar.
I’ve done Smolov for front squats before so it’s not new to me. As suggested everywhere, I lowered my 1RM by a little (5kg – to accommodate for not only the intense training that was to come(!) but also for the fact I’d suffered an injury and hadn’t front squatted for nearly 4 weeks prior to this).
I’ll use this post to track how each session goes and update it as I do it.
Since I am used to high volume leg training (cleans, snatches, overhead squats, back squats and front squats 6x per week) and had been back squatting frequently before starting Smolov, I didn’t do the introductory phase. I went straight to the Base Mesocycle.
Base Mesocycle – Week 1
Day 1: 4×9 @ 70%
Having not front squatted for nearly a month other than a couple of days to just get back into it/see how they felt a couple of days before I started Smolov, I considered this to be my first ‘real’ day of front squat training since my finger injury.
The squats felt a bit rusty in the upper body/grip as I haven’t been used to racking the bar. Luckily, the high number of repetitions helped me re-learn this position. At 70% of my 1RM, the weight felt manageable, but I’m not really used to doing more than 5 reps for front squats so the 9 reps made it a challenge! I think having spent a month focussing on high rep (11 or 12) back squats had increased my leg endurance. 9 wasn’t too bad on the legs, but my core and hands found it difficult.
I got through the 4×9 day ok. The first set was hardest. Rest was roughly the same between each set (4-5 minutes). I was breathing heavily between sets.
Day 2: 5×7 @ 75%
I did this the next day. I had abs DOMS (probably because I hadn’t front squatted in so long!). The abs DOMS made the first set feel hard but by set two I was used to it. Set one was harder than the others. 5 sets didn’t feel overkill (I am used to doing 5 sets of 5) but I really felt the volume of the 7 reps on this day. Rest was around 4-5 minutes per set.
This day was slightly harder than day 1. My grip/rack position is good again.
After the squats, I did some Olympic lifting for the first time since my injury – hang power cleans and hang cleans with the empty bar.
Day 3: 7×5 @ 80%
I will say that this day felt easier than the previous two. This was the third consecutive day of front squats. My abs were still sore. Rest between sets ranged from 3-5 minutes. The lower rep range felt more comfortable on my upper body. I didn’t have any problems on this day – squats felt really good! No comment on the 7 sets… you just do what you’ve got to do! I just ticked them off!
Again, I followed the squats with some hang power cleans, hang cleans and hang snatches with the bar.
Day 4: 10×3 @ 85%
Woke up with no soreness today so I was ready to go! First set felt really good. Although 10 sets seemed like a lot, I didn’t need as much rest between sets on this day as I had needed on the other days. Rest between sets was around 2-3 minutes. Took time to strongly re-focus between each rep and take a deep breath.
No problems today at all other than now feeling very worried about the 4×9 of week 2, lol.
Base Mesocycle – Week 2
Day 1: 4×9 @ 70% +5kg
I was wondering whether to add 2.5kg or 5kg. Because I am female, it is advisable to add less than what the standard Smolov calls for (which is 10kg). That 10kg increment would be far too much of a jump for me, as my 1RM is probably a lot less than what it would be for a man of a similar bodyweight.
I felt good today so I added 5kg. Remember 1) at the start I made my 1RM at least 5kg lower than I suspected it truly was and 2) that I’m recovering from an injury, so at this point I feel if I feel like I can then I should push myself as much as I can.
I was worried about doing these because 9 rep front squats are challenging on my core. These lifts were OK though. Set 1 was the hardest – but that was probably because I was daunted at the prospect of having to cope with another 3 sets! Set 2 felt better. All sets looked consistent to my spotter.
Recovery between sets was fast and I was short of my breath for about 30 seconds after each set. Rest between sets today was 2-3 minutes between sets 1 and 2 and 2 and 3 and 4 minutes between sets 3 and 4. From reading back, it seems like I’m getting fitter/more used to front squats since I was nowhere near as breathless today as I was for the previous day 1/week 1.
Visibly, this session appeared easier than the previous 10×3 session. I am not sure it was. At this point, I am finding no session harder than another. I’ll keep updating.
I did some dumbbell rows (I think dumbbells are really good rehab for my finger/hand!) and some Olympic lifting with the empty bar at the end of the session.
Day 2: 5×7 @ 75% +5kg
Was nervous about this session as the work load psychologically appeared a lot more than the day before. In my head, lifting 5kg more for one more set and just two fewer reps, sounded like a lot of work.
Sets funny enough went very well. Rest between sets one and two and two and three were 3 minutes. I took 5 minutes between sets three and four and four and five (mentally, I felt I needed this time in order to be able to complete the reps). Set four was the easiest of all of them. There was a big nervous psyching and re-focus before I did set five!
I recovered quickly between sets (breathless for around 30 seconds only).
At this point I still can’t tell you which day has been the “hardest.” In truth, they’re all very similar in terms of effort exerted – but very different too. I made a promise to myself that next time I run Smolov I’ll record results in a table with the following data: total time of set, time between sets, feeling during set, feeling after set! That should make for interesting reading. 🙂
Finished this session with strict presses and dumbbell presses (good rehab for my hand) and some bar Oly lifts.
Day 3: 7×5 @ 80% + 5kg
Today is the first time I feel I can say this has been the easiest day so far. And having looked back up this post, I can see that I thought day 3 of week 1 was quite easy too!
The 5 reps is just enough really – I think anything higher than 5 feels harder for me, even if the weight the lighter. Each set lasted the same amount of time (20 seconds) and my breathing took 45 minutes to return to normal after sets one, two, three and four and five and slightly longer after the last two sets. Time between sets was 2.5-3 minutes (so quite short really!) and I took 4-5 minutes of rest before attempting sets six and seven – this was mostly for mental preparation rather than physical. The hardest sets were two and seven.
I felt nervous before set one (as I always do) as the feel of set one is a sure sign of how the rest of the sets are going to feel. Set one was good, so I felt confident going into set two. Set two felt good, so set three felt good… etc.
Finished with pull ups (good rehab) and Olympic lifts.
Day 4: 10×3 @ 85% + 5kg
Went into this session feeling focused. As usual, the 10 sets appears daunting. Just before I racked the bar to begin set one, all I could think about was the marathon number of sets I had to get through!
Weight on the bar felt manageable throughout the workout. No set felt harder than any other, apart from set seven where I think I lost a bit of mental focus. Time of each set was around 10-15 seconds. Rest between sets started at 2 minutes after set one, three minutes for the next five and then 3.5 minutes for the last few. I’ve noticed I tend to take more rest towards the end of the session – this is because 1) I’m quite tired by then and 2) I use the time to mentally psyche to ensure I complete the sets and hence complete the workout!
The total time of this squat session was around half an hour.
Base Mesocycle – Week 3
Day 1: 4×9 @ 70% +7.5kg
I can now say, having been paying a lot more attention to how each workout has felt recently, this was a challenging, hard session. 9 reps is a lot of reps, let alone doing that four times. Three out of the four sets felt “hard”, set two felt “slightly easier.” Lower back felt stiff today.
For these, when I do a set, I am aiming for rep five. When I get to rep five, I tell myself “over half way – only four more to go.” I pause for a bit at the top and psyche myself up again in order to get through the remaining reps. The 4×9 is a mental workout, although my core really feels it too.
I find that I prefer (needed) to take more rest between sets for this session. My rest time was between 3 and 4 minutes and 4.5 minutes for the last set. Although breathing went back to normal quite quickly, I still found every set very hard.
Finished with bent over rows and Olympic lifts.