Do you want to bench 400lbs in just 4 weeks?
When I was much younger and in college I was pretty good at bench press. In fact one day at the gym with most of Gold's gym watching I benched 420lbs for 2 reps and nearly shut the place down. As I get older I find myself trying to do things I used to be able to do. Call it a mid-life crisis if you will, but I call it reclaiming my youth. Because of this attitude I decided I would set a goal to bench 400lbs again before I turn 40. On this quest to 400 I found a strength program called Smolov and Smolov Jr. I chose Smolov Jr. as my first strength cycle to see how close it would take me.
Smolov Jr. Is a mini version of a strength program called Smolov. Smolov Squat Routine is a weight training program for squats which originates from Russia, and named after its creator, Sergey Smolov “the Russian Master of Sports”. The Smolov Squat Routine is a Russian program broken down into phases, consisting of a total of 13 weeks. It is considered one of the most difficult squat routines around, consisting of high frequency and high volume. Throughout the program, Smolov demands three to four days per week, with some weeks squatting back to back days. Strength gains have been noted between 50-130 pounds. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smolov_Squat_Routine).
According to Smolovjr.com, "Smolov Jr. is an abbreviated version of the Smolov squatting protocol. It is also very often used for bench press. For many of you, this 4-day per week regimen will include some of the toughest sets you’ve ever attempted. However, if you stick with it and add weight intelligently, you should make great progress on your lifts." (Smoovjr.com)
The Smolov Jr. Protocol is as follows:
Smolov Jr. is a 4 day per week program that extends over a period of 3 weeks. Each week the same repetition scheme is repeated.
Day 1 6/6
Day 2 7/5
Day 3 8/4
Day 4 10/3
The weights used on each day are based on your one rep max according to the table below. Each week, depending on how the previous week went, you will add weight according to the table.
Week Day 1-6 x 6 Day 2- 7 x 5 Day 3- 8 x 4 Day 4- 10 x 3
1 70% 75% 80% 85%
2 70% + 5 to 10lbs 75% + 5 to 10lbs 80% + 5 to 10lbs 85% + 5 to 10lbs
3 70% + 10 to 20lbs (over week 1) 75% + 10 to 20lbs 80% + 10 to 20lbs 85% + 10 to 20lbs
Let me just say after a couple of weeks of Smolov Jr. I was thinking it should be called "young guys strength program" rather than Smolov Jr, due to the amount of volume and load. It was very difficult for me to recover sufficiently to handle the volume. I started doing my two light days back to back and then giving myself a day of rest between the heavy days. This seemed to work better but I still found myself with aches and pains. When I go to the end of Week 2 I actually strained my right peck and ended up taking off several days before resuming my loads. During week 3 I felt pretty good and was cranking through my sets, but I could still feel my peck strain and started to feel a bit of elbow pain. During my last day of week 3 my sets were supposed to be 10 x 3 @ 320lbs. I was amped and blew through the first 8 sets without much difficulty. In fact I was feeling so good, I wasn't even using a spotter (which is stupid by the way). On set number 9 I felt my peck strain again so I stopped immediately and didn't finish the last set. This strained peck had me very worried. I know people who have torn their peck and it is not pretty from a pain point and when it finally recovers it always looks a little strange and I happen to like the way my chest looks as is. I was also very anxious to test the next week to see how close SmolovJr. brought me to my goal of 400lbs. I decided to give my peck another week of rest before I attempted my test. A week later I decided it was time to test the ammo. I took a very long warm up. I wanted to make sure I was very warm but didn't want to wear my strained peck out if was still a little iffy. My warm up and sets were as follows:
3 minutes of Jump Rope
Set 1 - 1 x 15 @ 45#
Set 2 - 1 x 10 @ 95#
Set 3 - 1 x 5 @ 135#
Set 4 - 1 X 5 @ 185#
Set 5 - 1 X 5 @ 225#
Set 6 - 1 X 5 @ 275#
Set 7 - 1 X 3 @ 315#
Once I completed my warm up I was feeling very warm and my peck was still feeling good. So I went for working singles of the following:
Set 1 - 1 x 1 @ 335#
Set 2 - 1 x 1 @ 355#
Set 3 - 1 x 1 @ 375#
Set 4 - 1 x 1 @ 385#
Set 5 - 1 x 1 @ 390#
Set 6 - 1 x 1 @ 400# (FAIL)
On set 4, I felt my peck strain again, but it wasn't as bad as before. The smart thing to do would have been to stop at that point, but I had put in so much work and I wanted to continue, so I told my spotter to be ready and watch me close. Set 5 was 390lbs and it came up pretty smoothly and didn't seem to bother my peck like the previous rep. (You can watch it here. https://youtu.be/bbVIDMZvA44) For my last set I decided to go for 400lbs and put the baby to bed. I felt good through the bottom of the lift and about 3/4 of the way up the upward momentum on the bar stopped and the bar started to slowly start heading back to earth when my spotter grabbed it. The lift was so close! I would have probably lifted 399lbs but the big 400 was just too much for me (You can watch the attempt here https://youtu.be/DhLoA6U-W5E)! I was disappointed, but very excited that my bench had increased by more that 30lbs! Which I will take any day. If you want to tackle Smolov Jr. you can download an awesome calculator from Smolovjr.com
SmolovJr. was a very effective strength program, but I feel like at my age it is too much volume for my body. It is very effective at getting you really strong in a short amount of time, but I am still nursing elbow pain which has negatively impacted my overall training. There are other strength programs out there that produce smaller gains in the same time frame, but are very easy to complete and don't beat you up as badly as SmolovJr. My favorite slower strength program is Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 program which typically produces a 5lb increase on upper body lifts and 10lb increase on lower body lifts during a 4 week strength cycle. You can read more about this program at jimwendler.com.
The gist of Wendler's 5/3/1 program is focusing on big muscle lifts, small incremental gains, and frequently hitting PR's. Jim's theory is you don't need to lift your 1 rep max to get stronger. Each week you workout with different percentages of your 1 rep max similar to SmolovJr. However, you will calculate all of your percentages off a baseline weight that is 90% of your true 1 rep max. This means during each 4 week strength cycle you will never lift more that 15% of your true 1 rep max, and like clock work you will get 5 - 10lbs stronger every 4 weeks. I tell my members that it is almost a sneaky way to get stronger.
To wrap things up, if you are young and testosterone-laden you may want to give SmolovJr. a try and make some big gains in a short amount of time. If you are a little bit older like me or prone to injury you make want to check out Wendler 5/3/1. Happy Lifting and Train Hard Lift Big!
Ammon Woods: Owner/ Crossfit Level-1 Coach, CrossFit Coaches Prep Certificate, USAW Level 1, NASM-CPT, Transformation Specialist
Ammon is a native from Mesa, AZ who grew up playing all sports but excelled in swimming and basketball. Ammon’s love of sport and fitness drew him to the weight room at a young age where he became fascinated with the human body and the changes and adaptation that can be achieved through training. Ammon was introduced to CrossFit while living in KY and fell in love with the workout style and sport. Ammon’s experience and love of CrossFit drove him to attain his CrossFit Level-1 certificate.
Ammon is the owner of THE CELL Gym, in Mesa, AZ where he specializes in Total Body Transformations, helping people lose hundreds of pounds all over the world. Ammon’s life goal is to help as many people as possible achieve their fitness goals and live healthier, happier lives