Warning: lots of people attempt and do not or cannot finish Smolov. It’s an intense program designed for those who have been lifting a while. It requires maticulous form to avoid injury. Do not attempt to do this as a novice or without a coach.
It’s been a while since my last strength post. Since then there have been a lot of changes in our life, from the release of a 3rd book and our first ever book tour to switching my coaches and training location. In fact, I’ll be posting about our home gym (House of Gainz) soon, but today’s post is all about my routine.
It was sometime over the holidays when Matt and I were watching a re-run of Extreme Weight Loss and I realized that I had been slacking off on training. Yes, it was hard to make time. But there I was, watching TV instead of lifting weights. And so, my journey to pick a program began.
Inspired by Megan Gallagher, a local weightlifting competitor I’d met at a StrongMan competition who had done several squatting programs, I decided that Smolov was the right program for me. Ironically, Heidi Powell (the wife of the trainer on EWL) also started doing Smolov around the same time – I didn’t know that though! Her motivation wasn’t something I had thought about, until I realized it was happening to me!
Why did I decide on Smolov?
It was really simple. Honestly, I was coming out of a funk. Lifting had lost a bit of it’s luster for me and I was frustrated. Every time I went into the gym I wasn’t able to lift as much as I was before the release of Real Life Paleo, when I had been training so consistently. Thus, it made me not want to go back to the gym (even though I knew that wasn’t going to help things improve). At home there weren’t buddies to hang with, our home gym was in shambles, and in general it was just a bit depressing. The idea of taking on too many things at once was overwhelming. Some of the other programs I’d looked at and wanted to do (like Jen Sinkler’s 6 weeks to StrongMan) had too many components and I knew I’d have a hard time jumping back in all at once. So, I went with the KISS motto and found that Smolov’s brilliant, simple spreadsheet laid it all out for me in a way that made me think “OK, it’s totally doable for me to simply squat several times a week.”
I needed to work on static movements. Most people come to StrongMan after years in other sports, especially powerlifting. But I had come from a mere 6 months of CrossFit. When I started training StrongMan, it became apparent that a lot of my technical movements (like clean and press) were not optimal form. Because I had never built a base of strength from the classic static movements (press, bench press, back squat, deadlift, clean & press) my strength was supremely deficient to the moving events (yoke, stones, farmer’s carry, tire flips). I wanted to work on improving form and efficiency from static movements. Smolov said it would improve a lot of those movements, not just the squat itself.
I wanted to correct my quad dominance. The term quadzilla was made for me, and that strength carried over to actually hinder several movements that needed my hamstrings to engage and dominate instead. My deadlifts were especially affected. It also had created some unbalanced tightness in my legs that I was over-using my quads, plaguing me with knee pain and other muscle soreness last year. Taking time off of lifting had resolved that pain, and I wanted to come back into training having corrected it so the issue wouldn’t resurface.
Matt said he would do it with me. I mentioned earlier that I was feeling a bit lonely in the home gym. I missed having workout buddies, and the conversation and laughter that came with that experience. While it was amazing to have a home gym I could use at anytime, which allowed for me to have dinner with the kids and workout after they were in bed, it came at a price. When I was evaluating plans, Matt specifically mentioned that of them Smolov was pretty much the only one he’d feel comfortable enough to do with me. That sealed the deal!
However, what I didn’t do.
Pretty much anything else. Once I got my mojo back I wanted to do so many other things, but the program specifically forbids any other leg movements. So while all the strong people I knew were working on deadlifts, yoke, log clean & press, stones, and all the heavy things… I kept squatting. I’d warm up or finish with some activities I turned into a bit of cardio, like jumping rope or burpees; but overall there wasn’t much done other than squatting (true to power lifter mentality, but not at all how I’m used to training StrongMan). I did do a strict press day once a week, just to keep up my upper body strength, but I ensured that it was strict (no legs) so that I wasn’t affecting the programming.
There were three times I did other leg activities during Smolov (I picked up and carried a fire hydrant, lifted a heavy stone and pulled a truck) and I felt it quite a bit in the following week! I ended up having to push planned lift days around in order to take some recovery time because my back and legs had expended energy on something else, which means the 100% Smolov demands couldn’t be delivered. It certainly taught me a lot about my own body’s limit’s when pushing to the max!
Expect a miracle. Some people said they added over 100lbs to their back squat with the program. I think those people weren’t properly measuring their 1 rep max to start with. I mean, it’s a great program with a lot of heavy volume that should add a decent percentage to your overall max; but, there are two scenarios here a) you’re a junior lifter and that would be too much weight too quickly or b) you’re an experience, long-term lifter who – if you’re measuring your 1RM correctly to start and train regularly – shouldn’t be able to add that much because your body isn’t allowing beginner gains anymore. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. But for me, my goals were more realistic – I wanted to put 3 plates on the bar: 315lbs. By the end of 2015 I wanted to have a 350lb back squat, the closer Smolov got me the better – but I didn’t expect to go from 285 to 350 in 6 weeks. Especially considering 285 was my pre-book tour 1RM, meaning my current 1RM was probably something more like 260lbs.
Hang out on all the boards becoming obsessed with the program. Smolov has a cult following, and I just kind of avoided it. I used it as short-term programming and didn’t buy-in to the community. I’m a StrongWoman, this was a means to an end for me and diving into the depths of the internet would have likely caused me to derail from my true long-term goals.
Plan to do it long-term. I’m not a power-lifter, in StrongMan the back squat is not a competition movement. My main goals were those above, and that means I didn’t need to nor plan to do it beyond the base. I simply wanted to have something simple to get me inspired to do other things more. And that, it did!
Think of this as a weight loss plan. My motivation for weight training is not driven by weight loss. I’m always in search of improving my health, and reducing fat would be great. But increasing muscle mass, improving bone density, improving metabolic function, and regulating hormones are all health improvements that result from women lifting heavy weight. I want those things, and gosh darnit what I really want is to be strong! That requires eating a significant amount of food, specifically protein and carbohydrate, to build the muscle and replenish glycogen after long, heavy sets. I talk about how I fuel myself in this post.
Booty. For the first time in my life, I no longer have flat butt syndrome. I mean, even when I was 100lbs heavier I had NO butt. I took these after weight loss photos and you can see how the definition in my thighs and butt have changed (except I’m not signing up for any more underwear photos anytime in the near future). I’ve come to appreciate that the muscle group on the gluteus maximus, lateral glutes, and hamstring/quads/IT band (thighs) play in health and general strength and am super duper excited about growing those muscles!
Hamstrings for days. No, seriously. I watched this video of myself and could see an entirely new muscle group on my person. I’ve had several friends and family members confirm the thigh improvement when I insisted they “feel this!” I’m hoping this will mean better activation of those muscles translated to other movements, for example deadlift but also essentially all moving events, to improve those numbers but also prevent injury from over-use of my quads (like I was doing before).
Triceps. I don’t know this exact mechanism and couldn’t find an explanation to link to off a quick search. But, something in the way I’m holding the bar (perhaps just flexing it alone) has created improvement in my triceps. I mentioned above I have done very little else other than squat, certainly nothing that would build muscle, yet my triceps are more defined (bigger) since I started Smolov. Go figure!
Lower back. The sport is incredibly back intensive, from stones, to yoke, to deadlift – it’s used more in StrongMan than any other sport than I can think of. While I’m naturally disposed to easily build upper back strength, I was having a hard time engaging and building those lower back muscles. Because the back squat requires the engagement and movement in that lower back area, it’s been great for building that strength. I’m thinking this will translate very well into atlas stones.
The whole family is motivated. I can’t describe the joy it brings to have the enthusiasm of all the boys joining me for lifting. Finn is an awesome cheerleader and loves to join me whenever I work out. He actually asked for a kids’ weight lifting set for his birthday! Having the home gym, plus the actual motivation, has allowed us more quality time together while we also get healthy. Worth every penny of the investment and time it took to put it together!
I’d be lying if I said that sometimes I didn’t want to squat. I pouted, threw temper tantrums and resorted to bribery in trying to persuade Matt to do *wink wink* other things *nudge nudge* with me instead. But being the absolute best partner ever, who argued we could do those things AFTER we squatted… we squatted. Together. We missed a few days when I got the norovirus, but otherwise we didn’t miss days. I even squatted when traveling the last leg of the book tour.
And despite the fact that I really wanted to do lots of other stuff with Jen Sinkler, I squatted. In fact, because I stuck to my programming, she actually helped my form and got me squatting better!
I’m looking forward to get back to regular training because I do miss the metabolic conditioning I used to incorporate into my training. The first week of Smolov I was all gung-ho on metcon and pressing after or on my off-days, and a few times I did. But usually, all I wanted to do when I was done was sit down and eat a lot of food, or as Jen Sinkler says, “feed the squats” that’s because over the course of 6 weeks I squatted 119,485 lbs. That’s 59.74 TONS. My last night of Smolov alone I squatted 8,100 lbs. for 10 sets of 3 reps at 270 lbs.
Overall my goal is a 350lb back squat before 2015… in 2014 I hit a 1RM of 285. And now, I’m starting 2015 with a 1RM of 330lbs – THREE HUNDRED AND THIRTY POUNDS. I’d say that 350 goal by 2016 is definitely achievable! Smolov suggests that at the end of your Base Cycle you retest your 1RM for 25-45lbs over your starting 1RM. I hit 325 for separately twice before hitting 330 for an ugly rep, so I maxed out that suggestion. I also PR’d my deadlift from the last off-the-floor lift I’d done months prior for 25lb increase to my 1RM deadlift. Without doing a single deadlift for months! And that was after I’d been squatting for hours.
Now that I’ve figured out the routine (home gym on weekday evenings, Friday night open gym at House of Gainz with friends and food, and Sunday StrongMan at The Edge) I’m confident I won’t find myself in another rut anytime soon! I won’t be doing the 2nd cycle of Smolov because I’m not a power lifter, I’m a StrongWoman. I’m ready to get moving with heavy weights again. Bring on the tires, yokes, logs and deadlifts! I was thinking about doing T Nation’s 12 Weeks to a Better Deadlift (because who doesn’t want to look good in a spandex 3D Tron costume?!) but I’m actually looking into getting a custom plan to help me work my specific goals with the exact equipment I have access to on certain days. In general, next up will be working that deadlift and press ♥
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