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If you can make it to the other side of this program, you’ll get bigger, stronger and shredded—all at the same time.

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The words “Russian strength method” are all but synonymous with victory to those who recall the thick-limbed, barrel-chested athletes who ran roughshod over the rest of the Olympic weightlifting field for a few decades of the mid- to late-20th century. In the process of leading their athletes to dominant performances on the international stage, the revolutionary Russian strength coaches gave birth to the first hard-science programs for increasing strength—programs like the conjugate method and block periodization, which have stood the test of time and are still used regularly today.

Russia’s contributions to the world of strength and conditioning didn’t end with these programs, though. Other great ideas were spawned by other great minds, including Sergey Smolov, a Russian Master of Sports whose diabolical squat program—which calls for squatting four times a week in certain phases—was popularized in the West by Pavel Tsatsouline.

The Smolov squat program is broken into five phases: an introductory microcycle of two weeks, a four-week base cycle, a two-week switching phase, a four-week intense cycle, then a one-week taper before you finally max out. When applied correctly, most lifters can expect a strength gain of around 100 pounds on their squat—a little less or potentially more, depending on experience level.

We may have lost some of you at “squatting four times a week.” We get it. You didn’t necessarily come here for powerlifting advice. You want to look good, not walk around like a gimp for days at a time. Yet aesthetics are one of the best reasons to try this program. It’s so metabolically demanding, you’ll be able to be less strict on your diet, gain muscle, and slash body fat all at the same time.

Kyle Hunt, the former NFL tight end and current personal trainer and fitness model shown in these photos, took his squat from a very respectable 495 to an even 600 while getting leaner—and that’s despite having begun the program in phenomenal shape.

“My starting body weight was 240, and I went up to over 250,” Hunt says. “I did that while my body fat went down 2%, so the weight gain was pure muscle. I wouldn’t say I kept my diet as clean as I normally do, either, because my body needed extra calories to recover. I still ate well—lots of chicken, fish, steak, and sweet potatoes—but I ate as much as I wanted throughout the program.”

Hunt also modified the routine, as the original Smolov program only focuses on the squat. Not wanting to lose any upper-body mass or shape—although Smolov’s program doesn’t cause this—Hunt added a moderate amount of targeted moves to the mix: handstand pushups, pullups, weighted pushups, and inverted rows. During the switching cycle—a form of deloading—he added two deadlift days to keep his posterior chain strong, plus a bench day and military-press day. Don’t add extra work to what he prescribes here, as you risk burnout and muscle loss. True to its origins, Smolov training is as unforgiving as a Siberian winter.

How to Do It

Perform the 13 weeks of our modified Smolov squat program without taking time off between phases. The weight you squat is always a percentage of your one-rep max, or 1rm (see our calculator if you don’t know it); Weeks 4 and 5 add specific poundages to that percentage. Do not go heavier than prescribed—don’t add extra exercises, sets, or reps. Heavy squatting is demanding work, so you could easily experience central nervous system burnout if you push it too far. Finally, the stretch/foam roll days are not off days: foam rolling and dynamic stretches like spidermans are hugely important, as your hips, hamstrings, quads, and glutes will all need TLC to overcome chronic soreness.

1RM Calculator

If you don’t know your one-rep max for a particular lift, use this simple formula to estimate it:

Weight Lifted x Reps x .0333 + Weight Lifted = 1RM

Phase 1: Introductory Cycle

Week 1

  • Day 1 Lower Body Start
  • Day 2 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 3 Lower Body Start
  • Day 4 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 5 Lower Body Start
  • Day 6 Upper Body, Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 7 Rest Start

Week 2

  • Day 8 Lower body Start
  • Day 9 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 10 Lower Body Start
  • Day 11 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 12 Lower Body Start
  • Day 13 Upper Body Start
  • Day 14 Rest Start

Phase 2: Base Cycle

Week 3

  • Day 15 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 16 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 17 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 18 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 19 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 20 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 21 Rest Start

Week 4

  • Day 22 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 23 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 24 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 25 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 26 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 27 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 28 Rest Start

Week 5

  • Day 29 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 30 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 31 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 32 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 33 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 34 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 35 Rest Start

Week 6

Phase 3: Switching Cycle

Weeks 7 & 8

  • Day 43 Upper Body Start
  • Day 44 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 45 Upper Body Start
  • Day 46 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 47 Upper Body Start
  • Day 48 Upper Body Start
  • Day 49 Rest Start

Phase 4: Intense Cycle

Week 9

  • Day 50 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 51 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 52 Lower Body Start
  • Day 53 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 54 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 55 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 56 Rest Start

Week 10

  • Day 57 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 58 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 59 Upper and Lower Body Start
  • Day 60 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 61 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 62 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 63 Rest Start

Week 11

  • Day 64 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 65 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 66 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 67 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 68 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 69 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 70 Rest Start

Week 12

  • Day 71 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 72 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 73 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 74 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 75 Stretch/Foam Roll Start
  • Day 76 Upper & Lower Body Start
  • Day 77 Rest Start

Phase 5: Max Out/Tapering Cycle

Week 13