A Smolov Retrospective — How I Lost Fat and Added 50+lbs to my Squat.

Like everyone, my knees ache every morning in the shower. And not like everyone, one of my goals is to qualify for the olympic weightlifting American Open Series. I have to get my squat up. So I decided to run the Smolov Squat Routine and doing it partially ketogenic.

In February, my shoulder couldn’t take the clean and jerk. I needed a break. And being at 16% body fat isn’t beautiful — this led my decision to cut weight through clean eating and running. Chicken, broccoli, and brown rice combined with midnight runs helped kick started my training. I lost weight and improved my cardiovascular. Rotating between the same few meals every weeks works for weight loss. 
This subset is a good start: {chicken, beef, salmon} + {broccoli, spinach, kale} + {brown rice, sweet potato, gluten free oatmeal}

Xiaojun Lu performing a clean and jerk at London 2012.

Early May, I plateau at 14% body fat and went full ketogenic for the next four months. Everyone acts like low-carb is end of the world. It really isn’t bad. And once I got my electrolyte supplementation on point to — I never felt better. I ❤️ keto. The appetite suppression works. I’m a low-carb advocate. However, I do have a suspicion keto reduced my elevated prolactin levels helping me feel good.

Late May, my running partner with a Masters in machine learning didn’t win the H-1B visa lottery. He got kicked out of the US. I felt now would be a good time to put running on pause and prepare for the next olympic weightlifting meet. I had to get my squat up. My max squat tested at 315lb ass-to-grass. It’s not enough.

Enter Smolov, the Russian Squat Routine. Smolov is broken down into five cycles. Expected squat gains are 40–100lb depending your size. I’m 5’6 and last year my weight fluctuated between 163–182lb. I was expected to gain 44–61lb on my squat from Smolov.

Timeline — Automated tracking of my body fat percentage.

Introduction Microcycle (Week 1 — 2)

I calculated the microcycle and base mesocycle against my one rep max of 315lb and ran both cycles while ketogenic. I struggled with the microcycle and it wasn’t because I was ketogenic; I wasn’t ready for the volume of squatting. It was a major wake up call I haven’t been training hard enough, but I guess that’s the point of it.

Base Mesocycle (Week 3 — 6)

Never run Smolov in keto unless you’re a masochist. This wasn’t the first time I ran keto with heavy training, but this was the first time I thought about if it was worth it. Like I could be playing PUBG and drinking Mountain Dew. Instead I was miserable. My knees hurt. My back hurt. The lack of glycogen, the dehydration, the food timing; all made a significant difference. I started physically burning out before mentally. I knew if I closed my eyes on training days, I’d pass out. The squat volume is that crazy. But fuck, I felt great. I was down to 12.5% body fat and struggling to keto bulk. The most effective recomp ever. At the end, I tested my new squat max at 345lb.

Switching Cycle (Week 7–8)

Telling myself I’m “carb-loading” on wine and paella.

I practiced speed squats, jump squats, and box jumps when I could. I ended up stopping keto and serious training because I was on vacation. I was in Barcelona and Mallorca — Drinking too much wine and “carb-loading” on paella. My vacation and the switching phase timing aligned in convenience. I had way too much fun. Reality hits two weeks later and I’m back debugging JIRAs and squatting.

Intense Mesocycle (Week 9–12)

I calculated the intense mesocycle at my new one rep max of 345lb. And I kept bombing all my lifts on week 9. Likely because I didn’t train properly during the switching phase. I had to recalculate weeks 9–13 at 335lb and used a belt to assist my underdeveloped core. My core was bottlenecking and the belt made all the difference. I now found the intense mesocycle more forgiving and enjoyed the reduced squatting volume (at the tradeoff for intensity).

Taper Cycle (Week 13)

The taper week calculations.

A light taper week. Saturday, I hit a new max of 365lb ass-to-grass easy. My favorite day. The last 13 weeks really sucked, but I can’t complain with a 50lb increase in my squat and a lean mass gain of 5.5lb.

Lean mass trend — A gain of 5.5lb from Smolov.

Smolov Takeaways

  • Being mentally exhausted isn’t the same as physically exhausted. You’d be surprised how far you can go when you don’t feel like it. There were so many days I felt like shit with little sleep and I managed to complete the routine when I normally would have skipped the gym.
  • Identify bottlenecks on failed lifts. I kept hitting the same sticking point and realized my core was giving out every failed lift. The belt helped assisted my core throughout the routine and now I train my core with accessory lifts.
  • If you don’t have a routine, you aren’t training. Don’t go to the gym with nothing planned because you will end up sandbagging lifts.
  • It’s hard to bulk on keto. I’ve never had a problem binge eating except on a HFLC diet.
  • Would I do it again despite all the pain and suffering? Hell yeah. The results don’t lie.

Tools and Gear

  • TrendWeight — To calculate the moving and future average of my day to day weight in the spirit of The Hacker’s Diet. I prefer this graph more than Fitbit and Withings.
  • Withings Body Cardio — Every morning I wake up, pee, and weigh myself on this scale. It syncs my weight, BF %, and more wirelessly to the cloud.
  • Smolov Calculator — Print it out and bookmark it on your phone.
  • Adipowers or Romaleos — You need a proper pair of olympic squat shoes. This is required.
  • Rehband Knee Sleeves — Rehband is the gold standard for knee sleeves and approved for competition. This will significantly reduce knee pain.
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