Category Archives: My Journal

My Smolov front squat training

I’ve just started the Smolov Jnr programme for front squats. I’ve not been able to do back squats for a couple of months now due to a back injury which is almost fully healed, but front squats feel fine. I’ve also been quite out of training for the last three months due to a broken finger and having my Olympic lifting room completely refurnished. I wanted a high volume training programme to build back my strength and get me used to squatting again!

I chose the Jnr programme because of the lower repetitions than the standard programme contains. Had I not had a back injury, I would have done the standard programme which I’ve done before with front squats successfully.

I will log how I get on here.

As is advised, I lowered my 1RM to 1) cope with the intensity of the programme 2) accommodate for the random see-how-I-feel-on-the-day/what-can-my-body-cope-with-today training I’ve had to do over the last 3 months.

Week 1

Day 1 – 6×6 @ 70%

First day of front squatting for a while. Felt weak in the core. Made it through. 6 reps was manageable.

Day 2 – 7×5 @ 75%

Easier.

Day 3 – 8×4 @ 80%

8 sets felt like a lot but by set four I was motivated and keen to finish! Session was fine.

Day 4 – 10×3 @ 85%

Was possibly the hardest day so far. I definitely felt tired by the last set. Abs were sore from the previous session.

Week 2

Day 1 – 6×6 @ 70% + 5kg

I was hesitant about the amount of weight to add (5kg or 2.5kg), but I went for the higher amount since I’ve been out of front squats for a long time and I need to get my strength back as soon as I can and I want to push myself. I’ve very easily been squatting this weight and obviously a lot more in the past, so it ought not to be daunting.

It was a tough-ish session, but more the reps rather than the weight or number of sets. 6 is a good number however. When I’ve done Smolov in the past, my back always feels really tired as the repetitions go up, so it’s nice to stop at 6 on this programme. 🙂

Day 2 – 7×5 @ 75% + 5kg

Good session. Weight was good, reps were good, sets were good.

Day 3 – 8×4 @ 80% + 5kg

Good session. 4 reps felt comfortable.

Day 4 – 10×3 @ 85% + 5kg

Quite tough mentally to get through. 10 sets is a lot of sets and it feels like a long session. Was pretty tired out by the end and hurried rest periods to get it all over with. 😉 From reading back over this blog post, so far I can say that the 10×3 days have felt harder than the others – but I would argue this is more to do with me being cautious and careful about my back and obviously that plays on your mind psychologically.

Week 3

Day 1 – 6×6 @ 70% + 7.5kg

Was tempted to go up by 10kg but, due to the back injury, I decided not to push it. I probably could have. This workout was appropriately challenging. Having to get through less sets is nice.

Day 2 – 7×5 @ 75% + 7.5kg

This programme – the 7×5 scheme – is by far the most manageable for me. I’m not entirely sure why but 7 sets doesn’t phase me and 5 reps is quite comfortable for front squats. I am generally used to doing 5×5 front squats at 85% of my 1RM so if you think about it like that, doing 7×5 @ 75% + 7.5kg is less weight, even with two extra sets.

Day 3 – 8×4 @ 80% + 7.5kg

Manageable. Got through these OK. Felt pretty good.

Day 4 – 10×3 @ 85% + 7.5kg

A tough session where as the sets went on the squats felt harder. Managed them though!

My conclusion is that the 10×3 was the hardest day each week. This has surprised me as when I’ve done Smolov in the past, these were the easier days. It might be because I think I’ve lost a lot of confidence and some strength since my back and finger injuries so, psychologically, I was a bit apprehensive about doing the heavier weight days. The 7×5 was the easiest day each week but I can’t tell you why other than psychologically I probably just think of it as “moderate weight, moderate sets, moderate reps.”

 

How weightlifting complements my autism

snatch bottom

Weightlifting has become my favourite thing in the world. It is the best sport for “an autistic” person. I like it because it is solitary. It is not really a team sport, although it can be if you choose it to be, the contribution from other people are not necessary. When I am lifting weights, it is just me and the barbell. The whole world disappears. Because it is not dependent on other people, it is totally within my control when I want to do it. I can do it at any time of the day, which suits my routine-driven lifestyle. If I have an unusually busy day I can easily reschedule weightlifting in order to fit it in. For example, once I even did weightlifting at 3am because I was going to be out the whole day.

Weightlifting is an inexpensive sport. You can do it in a gym (a 24 hour gym would be ideal for those who want to do it at a time to suit them with no restrictions) but I like to train at home. Once you have bought the barbell and the weight plates, in theory you are good to go. You can buy a barbell and set of weight plates for as little as £700 and they will last you a lifetime.

I like weightlifting because it is my way of meditating. It has become as essential for my daily wellbeing as someone else might prioritise meditation or going to church. The movements are very specific and controlled and breathing is carried out carefully so you could say it was relaxing.

Weightlifting is as technical as it is strength-based, which is good for someone like me or the many autistic people who have technical and mathematical minds. Even if you are very strong, you might not be able to do a Snatch or a Clean and Jerk, simply because you haven’t got the technique. You are limited or challenged as much by your ability to focus and learn the movements, as you are by your strength, if not more so.

For someone with autism who enjoys repetitive behaviours and movements, weightlifting is ideal. There are only two movements. You can study endlessly on the internet how to improve your technique. Even the Olympic athletes are continually working on their technique. Technique is never perfect.

Weightlifting is my way of relieving anxiety. I can let go of all my inhibitions and stress when I am with my barbell. It is a way of releasing excess energy, which for me is often manifested as anxiety. It’s exercise which means you get a rush of endorphins during and after, which makes you feel wonderful for the rest of the day (one reason why I like exercising in the morning!). As somebody who lives in a constant state of anxiety, it is very important for me that I have found a way to get rid of some of that. Weightlifting definitely does that.

I like how easy it is to monitor and track progress with weightlifting. Because it’s mostly numbers based, it is easy to observe how the weight on the bar changes as the days pass. Like anything, practise makes perfect, so if I’m struggling on a particular lift I will train it over and over and sure enough, if you compare the weights lifted before and after, you’d see an increase. That’s really motivating. The creative part of lifting lies not only in the execution of the lifts, but also the tailoring of the programme to meet individual goals. It is very creative deciding which exercises are to go on each day and why.

Weightlifting is typically performed in sets and reps. So, for those who enjoy repetitive movements, it is ideal. For example, if you’re performing a 5 repetition set, that means you get to do the same movement five times. And this happens day in and day out. For this reason weightlifting is not for everybody. I have even heard professional lifters say that sessions can sometimes be “same-y” and “boring.” But I like it. It’s never boring for me. And seeing progress over time makes it the most exciting thing in the world.

Having strength or a fit appearance can also do wonders for an individual’s self esteem. Not only have I got some nice muscles, it’s also pretty cool to be able to do daring things such as squat whilst holding a barbell with straight arms above my head. And not many adults I know can do handstands. Weightlifting is impressive and good for self-esteem.

I track my progress on a whiteboard. I have a long list of exercises and each has a “1 rep max” “5 rep max” and “3 rep max.” Because there is such a long list of exercises and each exercise has three potential opportunities for maxing, it is likely that every session gets a record. This is very rewarding and motivating and is good for people who are goal-orientated. You can come out of the gym feeling as though you have accomplished something every single time.

Although weightlifting is technical, I’d be inclined to say that it is both a creative art and a science. The scientist is drawn to it as though it were an experiment. It has a beginning, middle and end and it is the middle that is the experiment. The middle can be manipulated in order to achieve the end (the goals). The artist is enthralled by its elegance. If you ever watch an Olympic weightlifter move, you will see how elegantly smooth it looks.

In summary, weightlifting is my special interest. It keeps me relaxed and helps keep structure to the day. It keeps me healthy. “A healthy body is a healthy mind.” It keeps burning that fire within me to achieve by focussing on that whiteboard and getting records every session. It is a good sport to train discipline and consistency. For someone like me who likes doing the same things every day, it is the perfect opportunity to get really good at something. And to be really good at something, just one thing, gives me so much more confidence when I go outside into the big wide world.

My first go at the Smolov squat routine for front squats

What is the Smolov squat routine?

It is a routine which places emphasis on squatting and aims to increase squat strength in a period of 4-8 weeks. There is a good article on StrongLifts that explains it.

It is an intense workout routine not suitable for beginners. It should not be used all the same, maybe a few times per year as needed.

Traditionally this routine is done with back squats, but for Olympic lifters, it makes more sense to do it with front squats. To decide, just ask yourself what is your overall goal? Always question what you are doing and why. If you want to be a great Olympic lifter, use this routine with front squats.

While doing this routine, it is advised against doing any other heavy leg training as well as no deadlifting. If you do too much additional training the Smolov routine won’t work as well as it should and you won’t make the gains – which is counterproductive since the primary aim of this routine is to make huge gains on your squat!

Why I decided to do it

I am primarily an Olympic lifter. This means the focal points in my training are Snatches and Clean & Jerks. I have recently somewhat plateaued on my cleans and it is due to a weak front squat (I can’t get up out of the bottom position in the clean and have to drop the bar forward). I’ve also stopped making progress on my front squats. This routine seemed a perfect way to accelerate my front squat strength which, I am hoping, in turn will accelerate my clean strength. Right now, it is my front squat that is the limiting factor in how much I can clean.

“Base Mesocycle” Week 1

Because I am an experienced and regular squatter, I skipped the introductory microcycle and went straight into what is called the Base Mesocycle.

You base the front squat weights on your current 1 rep max of good form and this is how week 1 looks:

Monday: 70%x4x9**

Wednesday: 75%x5x7

Friday: 80%x7x5

Saturday: 85%x10x3

**weight x sets x reps

So basically I have done all these front squats (four times this week), as well as other work, leaning more toward higher rep upper body work. For example, today I did my front squats, followed by 3×12 overhand bent over rows, 3×12 underhand bent over rows and 3×10 renegade rows.

How was week 1?

Found it easy. All front squat workouts were very manageable. I had excellent form for every rep on every set. Looking forward to week 2. Week 2 is looking a lot harder! Bring it on!

Week 2

Monday: (70%+5kg)x4x9

Wednesday: (75%+5kg)x5x7

Friday: (80%+5kg)x7x5

Saturday: (85%+5kg)x10x3

I’ll write next week. 🙂

“Base Mesocycle” Week 2

I’m back having just finished week 2. Let me tell you, week 2 was a lot harder than week 1. The hardest day was probably the 7×5. It was a lot of weight and a lot of volume.  The 9 reps 4 sets of day 1 was also very hard but purely because of the number of reps! I can imagine that day 1 of week 3 is going to be near impossible.

By day 3, 7×5, form started to go. Knee began caving towards the end of each set.  I imagine if I’d taken more time between sets form would’ve been better. I took around 3-4 minutes. 5 minutes would’ve been better. I learned this lesson in time for day 4 and was sure to take my time and not rush the workout.

All the people I’ve read about, who have done Smolov, explain that they take as much time as needed between sets (10 minutes not unusual!). The point of this programme is to just make the reps. I paced myself – some reps consisted of a pause at the top to take a deep breath and then descend. You can think of each rep being like a 1 rep max so take your time and breathe!

In all honesty, the last day, the 10×3 day was the easiest day for me. Probably because I seem to be better at low rep/high load work, rather than high reps that require more endurance. Form was acceptable on this day.

A lot of people say that you should keep reps low for front squats due to the mechanics and positioning of the body, in particular the upper back, which fatigues holding the bar in this frontal position. Week 3 day 1 is going to be brutal, I just know it is!

P.S. Been foam rolling and stretching the whole body EVERY day and I think it’s helped loads. I’m sleeping really well too.

“Base Mesocycle” Week 3

I MADE IT! I’ve just finished day 4 of week 3. This week was tough. I do have some comments on the week. 🙂

Monday: (70%+5kg)x4x9

Wednesday: (75%+5kg)x5x7

Friday: (80%+5kg)x7x5

Saturday: (85%+5kg)x10x3

To start with, Monday’s session was at first extremely daunting purely at the thought of doing such a high number of repetitions. I have never, ever front squatted that many reps at that heavy a weight before. I did not believe I could do it. Fortunately, with mum standing behind me encouraging me and shouting cues, I managed this session with relative ease. Having someone beside you REALLY helps. Rest between sets was about 5 minutes.

Wednesday’s session was probably the toughest one I’ve had throughout this Smolov cycle. Just the sort of “in between” of being light/heavy and high/low reps made it the best (or worst lol) of both worlds. It was extremely difficult and I gave up after only getting six reps on set two. I was just not feeling it. It felt heavy. It felt hard. Psychologically I lacked confidence. I was on my own. I’d had a busy morning. Had to repeat the following day.

The repeat of the session was better, but still very tough. I had my coach behind me, spotting me, and giving me confidence, and as we approached set 5 I began to feel uplifted. Form wasn’t as good as usual – upper back totally caved beyond rep 3 (so 4, 5, 6, 7) and knee collapsed – but still we muddled through.

On Friday, the 7×5 was hard but not as hard as the 5×7 despite being a higher weight. I must have more fast twitch muscles, sometimes I feel my body is better accustomed to taking low rep/heavy weight work. Had someone spotting me, again, it made a huge difference. In fact, it was the make or break of the session. The biggest thing I’ve learned over this Mesocycle is the difference a good spotter can make. I don’t think I would’ve been able to do this workout alone.

The final day, the 10×3, again I had to attempt it twice. The first time I tried it I was just knackered (probably from having done the 7×5 the day before). I was unable to lift 3 times what I had lifted 5 times yesterday. I came out of the gym feeling demotivated but my coach said, “failure is fine, it’s how you deal with failure that makes success.” That made me feel a lot better and the next day, I excelled in the 10×3 workout. My mum held her palms underneath my elbows which was a great cue to keep the elbows up  – which stopped my upper back caving as well as stopping my knees caving. Today’s form was the best, despite being the heaviest weight. I was very vertical and very tight. Started off with caution at a light-tish weight for 3 reps and for the remaining 9 sets I just rocketed up the weight. On the last set, I went ALL OUT and carried on for 5 reps instead of 3, so I got a new 5RM without intending to. That felt good! 😀

BTW, depth has never been an issue with me. Depth did not suffer at all on this programme. Every rep was as deep as the first.

I’m finished with the Base Mesocycle now. I’m really pleased to have made it! We will be testing the 1RM in a few days, so I’ll update the blog again then. I’ve learned a lot from the past 3 weeks:

  • Spotters are invaluable. They can get you to lift more than you think you can
  • Do as little activity as possible outside of the gym. Physically and mentally. The Smolov is exhausting and requires all the energy for the lifting. Try not to do things that are even mentally taxing because you need a lot of mental commitment to complete this routine
  • Foam roll and stretch daily – not only does it help the muscles, it also relaxes you and helps you sleep
  • Don’t stop eating. Squats burn a huge number of calories. If you don’t eat enough or if you eat the wrong things you will find the workouts a lot harder than they could be
  • Get quality sleep. It’s self-explanatory
  • Get massaged

And with regards to front squat technique, I have learned a few things on this journey:

  • My pre-Smolov front squat technique sucked 🙂
  • I am now a lot tighter in the lats and abs
  • I have learned the importance of high elbows
  • My spotter placed their palms under my elbows which seems to fix all the problems!
  • A strong resistance band around the knees can help with knee collapse
  • Treat each rep as a 1RM – that means take your time between reps. Pause and breathe at the top if necessary
  • Take a deep breathe before the descent

1 RM testing post-Smolov

We decided to test the 1 rep max on the third day after the last day of Smolov. The two days before I trained upper body but nothing strenuous.

I’m not sure what I was expecting on testing day. I was anxious. I felt as if I was about to take a university exam! I was realistically thinking that I might achieve 5kg more than the 1 RM pre-Smolov, but I didn’t want to put a number on it in case I disappointed myself. After all, everyone says Smolov works, so if it ended up not working for me, I’d feel a total failure. 🙁

Needless to say I had NO REASON AT ALL TO WORRY! I gained a MASSIVE TWENTY TWO POINT FIVE (22.5) kg on my pre-Smolov 1 RM! That’s INSANE! A day later, I am still in total disbelief. It has not quite sunken in yet. I am on a high…

When you have to go down in weight

Feeling a bit down today. It’s been a less than ideal week, training-wise. It started on Saturday, when I attempted Week 14 of my programme, and was unable to lift the same weights I’d lifted the week before. Now normally I have no problem hitting the previous week’s weights. Usually I am even able to go up by 2.5kg on each exercise.

I was also feeling unbelievably tired. Something was clearly wrong. Continue reading

When you and your coach disagree

Since my operation and later my deload week at Christmas, training has been going really well. I am still gaining strength and a few people have commented I’m looking leaner as well.

So, all’s well… or is it?

Unfortunately my strength coach and I had a slight disagreement the other day. I have been thinking lots about my lifting and my goals have now changed. Initially, my number one goal was to get stronger. Now, my number one goal is to “feel worked out after each workout” and getting stronger is secondary. Continue reading

Sprained my elbow doing Jerks

Two days ago in the gym was a bad day.

Unfortunately I sprained my elbow doing jerks! 

It was 4.30 in the morning and the temperature was -1 degrees Celcius outside. My garage was 1 degrees. I put the heater on for about 20 minutes before working out and the temperature increased to about 4 degrees. I was feeling very cold. This should’ve already been a warning. From experience I know that my muscles don’t work as well as they should in cold weather.

Anyway, I put on my hoodie, got on the rowing machine and started to warm up. After, I moved on to some warm up push presses, before beginning the main workout – 5×5 jerks and 3×3 jerks. Continue reading

I’m back on track

It’s been just over 5 weeks since my jaw operation and I’m pleased to say I am now back on track with my training  and thoroughly enjoying my workouts!

A couple of weeks ago I was still feeling very fragile in the face, but I am now able to execute the Clean and Jerk comfortably without any stress to the face/jaw area.

I have seen my strength coach two times so far since the operation and so far he has been very pleased with me. In his words, “Alis is back!” Today I had a look at my new training program which is a little different to what I had been doing previously.

The main goals of this program are to ultimately increase my strength, which will mean moving heavier weights for the Snatch and Clean and Jerk lifts. This program incorporates many derivative exercises of the Oly lifts, as well as speed movements. Continue reading

Snatches after a 4 week break

So today was the big day – I felt confident enough to return to snatches after nearly a month’s break.

Did I feel nervous? Yes – for 3 reasons:

  1. What if I had forgotten the technique? Form for the snatch is crucial.
  2. What if I accidentally hit my jaw or aggravated my face muscles?
  3. What if my strength had decreased so much that I could not even snatch the bar?

Fortunately, none of these problems materialised to anything and the whole session was a huge success. Continue reading

Finally back doing some dynamic lifts!

Today was a big step forward in my recovery workouts following my jaw operation. I felt I had really made some excellent progress today when I was comfortable enough to perform the Overhead Squat and Snatch Balance exercises. I was really happy to do them because I’m missing snatching so much; and the overhead squat and snatch balance are brilliant derivative moves of the snatch.

It’s been about 3 weeks post-surgery, since my jaw was broken. Although I’ve been training most days, I’m itching to get back to the Olympic lifts, it feels like such a long time ago since I last did them. Still, I must focus on my healing and be sure not to overdo it. The last thing I’d ever want to do is crash a heavy barbell against the chin when trying to jerk… Continue reading