Smolov Jr for Bench: How to add 15kg to your 1RM in 3 weeks

by PropaneFitness · 32 comments

The following is a guest post from forum member Harrison, a competitive powerlifter and weightlifter who added 15kg to his bench in 3 weeks. I (Yusef) have added some of my own notes at the end of my experience with Smolov Jr as well. 

The bench press has always been the worst lift for me, and after seeing two incredibly scrawny bros benching 90kg with traditional “its all you” discourse, this had to change. I was also planning to do my first meet in about two months time and the thought of benching anything less than 100kg was simply embarrassing. So after around 6 months of not benching I started again and within a few weeks I maxed out with swole Propane Editor Ben spotting me. I did 85kg OK, and 90kg didn’t budge.


I wanted to get this lift up as fast as possible, and being familiar with the idea that if you want to get good at something you have to do it more Smolov Jr seemed to fit the criteria:

  • Potential for a big jump in your 1rm
  • A challenging program (and bad-ass because its Russian)
  • Benching 4 times a week


Needless to say, I was up for this, so I made a spreadsheet using this resource http://wkak.net/SmolovFAQ.htm plugged in my very poor 85kg 1rm and went for it. Here are my numbers for the three weeks:

(all weights in kg and sets x reps format)

Week 1 Week 2 +5KG Week 3 +7.5KG
Monday 6x6x60         (70%) 6x6x65 6x6x67.5
Wednesday 7x5x65         (75%) 7x5x70 7x5x75
Friday 8x4x67.5     (80%) 8x4x72.5 8x4x77.5
Sunday 10x3x72.5   (85%) 10x3x77.5 10x3x80
The first thing that might stand out is doing 5kg less than my max for ten triples in three weeks. It is doable. The first week is taken from percentages of your one rep max (70%, 75%, 80%, 85% for M W F S respectively), then in the second week you simply add 5kg to all of these lifts. In the third week you either add 5kg again (+10kg total), or you add another 2.5kg (+7.5kg total). In the second week I missed reps all over the place and it was very tough – in hindsight this was because my eating and sleeping suffered not because of the weights, so my 3rd week of +7.5kg rather than +10kg was easier than it should have been.At the end of the third week my 10x3x80kg felt fairly good. I maxed out the next week and ground out an ugly bum off the bench 100kg. I swear this rep took about 5 seconds to lockout the last inch.It was a true 1rm.The rep scheme 10×3 is commonly used with 85% of your 1rm (for Olympic lifters squat programming in particular) so if you do this program I believe taking the weight you did for 10×3 in week 3 and dividing by 0.85 will give you a projected max that you should be able to do. This will serve as a good guide what to go for. This is why I told Yusef to aim for 120kg in his training log on the forum(102.5/0.85 = 120). Lo and behold he got 120kg!This is the reason I believe my third week was too easy, my 10×3 was at 80% (80kg and I maxed at 100kg the next week). I attribute this to noobie gains, because I started with a low bench, it will go up faster and easier than someone who starts with 100kg or more.With this style of training there are a few things to bear in mind:

  1. Failed reps here and there don’t mean shit


You are training this lift 4 times a week for 3 weeks. It is the volume and intensity from this program that drives up your lifts. I believe the rep schemes are very clever and push you just the right amount each session. I know John Broz has said the rep schemes on this kind of program do not matter and to an extent I agree – this is why occasional failed reps are unimportant – but, each sessions leads into the next and thinking in week 3 ‘well, I did 7×5 of that so I will be able to do 8×4 of the next weight’ is a real confidence boost.

 

  1. Disregard form, Acquire kg’s


Although you will be working very hard on your bench form and set up – and over the 3 weeks of this program you will find your technique becomes truly honed in due to very regular practice – if getting that last rep or set means your bum coming off the bench or wriggling as you struggle to lockout the bar on the last set of ten triples then do it. Don’t stop a rep because you couldn’t maintain form on it. With this in mind 80-90% OF YOUR REPS WILL BE DONE WITH GOOD FORM. That’s in capitals so you don’t read this paragraph as an excuse to have awful form on bench.

 

  1. Look after your shoulders:


“Good luck with your shoulder destroying goals in 2011.” – MongSquat after realizing I was benching 4x a week on the forum.

Benching four times a week will take its toll on your shoulders. I did the following every bench session (ok not every session but over 80% I would say).

  • Take a resistance band and tie it to the squat rack about two feet above your head. Take hold of the band so your arm is 45 degrees from your head. Turn away from the band but push your whole body forward from the hips, don’t lean forward. This will stretch the upper chest (pec minor especially). 2mins each side. (if you don’t have a band, just hold the squat rack – the distraction (the band gently pulling your joint apart) from the band is really good though.
  • Lower the band tied to the rack to just above shoulder height and do the same thing but this time the focus is on the mid lower chest (pec major focus). 2 mins each side
  • Get a tennis ball or pvc cricket ball or hockey ball or even a golf ball if you are a masochistic nutcase and do two things. Work the chest and shoulders against a wall/on the floor. Lean your back on a wall, stretch your arms out in front of you, protracting your shoulder blades, and put the ball between your upper back and the wall. Say hello to pain but goodbye to trap and rhomboid tightness that will undoubtedly accumulate over the program (trap tightness induced headaches were standard for me over the 3 weeks).


Doing the above got me through the program with only mild shoulder pain and aches. I would strongly recommend anyone considering Smolov Jr for bench to follow this procedure as zealously as they follow the program itself – even if you look like an idiot doing these things. The bench is very taxing on your shoulders and the first step to minimizing these issues is learning solid technique, the second is stretching and soft tissue work like I have detailed here. You must also balance benching with rowing/pullups but this is not covered in the scope of this write-up as it is fundamental to any weightlifting programming.

  1. Don’t overdo any assistance work


If this is your first time running smolov jr for bench, I would advise not doing any assistance work for bench, none at all. You have to really understand your own limits, especially in terms of recovery, to add any extra chest or tricep work on this program. You will also find because you are benching so often, your weak points will be brutalized by just the main exercise – for myself this was my traps, and I believe they were brought up more than my chest/shoulders by benching four times a week.
It is fine to do smolov jr for bench in conjunction with squat and deadlift, I would say it is preferable to split them into an am and pm session if you can, but many times I did both (bench first though) in one session. I would include at least one rowing movement and one pullup/chinup movement per week to balance against benching. Light face pulls are a good idea, but don’t go heavy on them here, you don’t want to tire out the secondary muscles.

 

  1. Prioritize bench


You are going to commit four days a week and a lot of effort to benching, don’t kid yourself and make sure you get the most possible progress out of it. What does this mean:

  • Eat above maintenance, you will be doing more volume and thus need more calories. It would be a good 3 weeks to gain a bit of weight but it is not necessary. Just don’t under eat and impede your recovery. Trying to lose weight in a calorie deficit alongside this program would be Fu…oolhardy (to phrase it lightly and not include too many profanities)
  • Do bench first in a session with more than one big lift in
  • Focus especially on the 10×3 session every week, this is the important one
  • Now that food is covered, get enough sleep

 

If you work hard on this program very good gains are possible:
Myself: 85kg to 100kg, +15kg
Yusef: 110kg to 120kg, +10kg
Both in just 3 weeks.

Other advice I would offer to anyone doing the program is that unless the second week is absolutely ball breaking and you feel run down and soul-crushed opt for another +5kg in the last week. If you made all the reps in the second week and it was a bit hard, you will manage the +5kg in the last week, even if you think you cannot.

I went on to convert that bum-off-the-bench touch-chest-and-go ugly grind of 100kg to this, paused bum on bench in a BPC Novice comp a few weeks later:

To put this in perspective squat was 165kg and deadlift 185kg at a bw of 90kg, not very good, but an ok start. And thankfully, not too embarrassing!

HERES THE LINK TO PRETTY SPREADSHEET

Notes on using the (American-friendly one size fits all) spreadsheet:

Just plug in your current 1rm, select kg or lbs from the drop down menu.
The numbers for your first two weeks will be displayed.

Once you have chosen the correct measurement (kg or lbs) in the first menu the 2nd drop down menu will display the correct options for +7.5kg/+15lbs and +10kg/+20lbs.

I would do the first two weeks, and then consider your third week.

The workouts should be done with the Sunday and Monday workouts on consecutive days. I discovered why to do this the hard way. The easiest workout should follow the day after the hardest session, anything else is much harder than this combination.

Aside: if you have a bigger bench say around 140kg plus and you are a more experienced lifter you may wish to play with your starting max to produce some reasonable numbers and focus on what you want out of the program. 140kg to 150kg would be a reasonable goal. For a predicted 150kg you need 127.5kg for 10×3, so either play with your starting max or use +5kg then +7.5kg in the second week.

Yusef’s Additional Notes
 - Harrison has really covered everything in more detail than I could hope to. I ran this for three weeks while fasting on alternate days (6000kcal on feeding days, so eating roughly maintenance) and still gained some size and 1 inch on my chest.

- I added 10kg to my 1RM.

- Assistance: I did the bench pressing and 10-20 minutes of shoulder and rear-delt prehab assistance work as noted here in Ben’s shoulder-health article. That was it, nothing else like squats or deadlifts. I would personally advise this option, you won’t lose any strength in that time on those lifts.

 

Although bodyfat is higher than I’d like at the moment, this was the visual difference over the three weeks:

Smolov Jr Bench (3 weeks before and after, + 1 inch on chest)

 

 

- Additionally, Harrison just ran full smolov for his squat and added 35kg to his 1RM, but we can talk about another time!

Related posts:

Comments

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Skyler Baker January 30, 2012 at 3:16 pm

I saw the picture and went dude, big gains for 3 little weeks.

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PropaneFitness January 30, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Thanks Skyler! Are you thinking of trying the program?

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Sbaker56 January 30, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Yep, I did the first day today actually, my bench is 195lbs, and the most stubborn lift, its pretty even with my other lifts currently, but it hasn’t gone up in months, and since I can’t squat heavy, I want to at least bench heavy.

Only thing im not real certain on is back work, what kind of back work did you end up doing? I would love to end up with a 225lb bench as well, but even being 210+ would make me happy as some guys run it twice.

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Yusef January 31, 2012 at 4:30 am

Don’t run smolov jr twice back to back. You’ll most likely hit your 100kg at the end of the 3 weeks. For back work just make sure it doesn’t interfere with recovery, I would do some hypertrophy work: face pulls, lat pulldowns, rear delt work only.

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Harrison January 31, 2012 at 5:26 am

Regarding back work, I did chins and rows. Like I said in the article I got a lot of upper back/lat work from benching, so I don’t believe its worth adding assistance 1st time through. Like yusef said just take it easy on anything that you do, id suggest doing like 3×10 for stuff like that, even if the tenth reps are hard you will recover easily from it. If i work in lower rep ranges I tend to work harder, this doesn’t follow for everyone as you can make 3×10 hard, but in my head 3×10 says take it easy whereas 3×5 I would attempt to do the heaviest weight possible. Try and make the assistance more recuperative than anything, i.e. light face pulls.

with a 90kg bench I would just do normal back work without pasting it, you should easily get 100kg, up to 105kg if you do it well.

I don’t see a huge problem with running it twice in 8 weeks for a 90 kg bench, unless you have shoulder issues. Just a bit crazy, not insane.

Think of all the idiots who train bench every time they go to the gym for years. which coincidentally makes them disproportionately good at bench

If I did the above id go 3 weeks s jr, 2 weeks heavy back focus, start s jr again with predicted and moderated max test after this run through

foam roll / soft tissue work insane amounts.

pray for bulk.

you probably won’t feel like running it twice anyway, its quite a large commitment.

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Sbaker56 January 31, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Twice would only be if I fell well short of 225lbs of course, Ive seen a 12 year old bench 225, and another skinny guy get close to 260, so I think I have it in me.

Currently I am thinking facepulls 4 days a week, and dumbbell rows 3 days a week? I can’t do chins currently as I have a forearm injury, supination bugs it. Once that quits, I’m thinking rows 2 times a week, and chins on the other 2 days?

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ben May 29, 2013 at 11:30 am

bs, no 13 year old let alone 12 year old has benched 225 liar

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Ken Craig August 17, 2013 at 9:21 am

There’s a Youtube video of 14 year old girl benching 240. I think some “large for their age” males at 12 or 13 could do the same. High school kids in Texas are squatting over 700 regularly. A big strong 12-13 year old nowadays could probably bench more than 225.

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PropaneFitness August 23, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Cool story bro

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Yusef January 31, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Sounds good, I wouldn’t do chins anyway during smolov jr.

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Sbaker56 February 11, 2012 at 2:23 pm

So I am on day 4 of the 2nd week, and I failed on the 3rd rep of the 7th set, and so I did some shoulder health stuff, and went in, I figured I screwed myself, but then i saw you said you were failing reps a lot the 2nd week, so maybe I have a chance, If I add 5lbs next week, will I still be able to salvage this?

I haven’t failed until today.

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Yusef February 11, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I didn’t miss any reps in the 2nd week, but if it was only one missed one then don’t worry about it. What were 8th, 9th and 10th set like?

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Sbaker56 February 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm

This is probably bad, but i couldn’t get anymore, after i fail, I’m done, I rested 5 minutes, got it for a rep, and knew id fail if I tried it again.

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Yusef February 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm

In that case pound the food this week!

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Sbaker56 February 11, 2012 at 4:30 pm

I plan to eat as much as I can, just worried i won’t manage next Saturday, having the two hardest days back to back is rough.

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Harrison February 13, 2012 at 1:56 am

you will adapt as it happens, if you take +2.5kg in the last week with adequate sleep and food you’ll be fine.
if you fail reps just take more rest and come back at them
don’t think you’re done and you can’t get anymore, take like 5-10minutes (or more) break between each, focus on form and keeping tight guarantee you will get more reps. remember to lift the butt if you have to.
really focus on the last 10×3 session

increasing numbers when it matters is all that matters – Donny Shankle

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Harrison February 13, 2012 at 2:01 am

have you got a log?

start one and post more info there and ill read it and ask questions later (about assistance, diet, bw, etc)

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Vik May 3, 2012 at 5:51 am

great progress guys. I am thinking to incorporate Smolov Jr for my Bench or Press but any advice on how I can fit this into my current routine which I am currently doing 3 times a week M/W/F or do I start something new to ensure I’m getting enough recovery?

A
ATG Squat s
Bench Press
Barbell Rows
Weighted Chins

B
Front Squat
Press
Deadlifts
Weighted Dips

appreciate your advice, Vik

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PropaneFitness May 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Hi Vik. I’d suggest you take the advice in the article and drop your other stuff, doing smolov jr as written. Trying to mesh programs will cause you to crash and burn, making no progress.

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Daniel November 23, 2012 at 8:57 am

6000 Calories/day? Thats not even humanly possible

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PropaneFitness December 7, 2012 at 2:26 pm

6000kcal every *other* day. But even eating that much every day is certainly possible, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

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Danny February 17, 2013 at 8:01 am

I run Smolva In October for bench added 10kg to bench went from 100kg to 110kg , then had weeks off then done smolva again added another 10kg to my bench from 110kg to 120kg now been off smolva for 6 weeks i have started it again hoping for a 130kg bench. Do back work 2x a week rows , chin ups , rear delt work aswell also up calorie intake and should do fine i also waited 3 days before i maxed out each time

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PropaneFitness February 17, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Don’t do it a third time if you like your shoulders!

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Danny February 17, 2013 at 8:03 am

^^ I Have had 6-8 weeks of each time

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Danny February 18, 2013 at 3:22 am

Shoulders are fine , i even extended the 2nd time to 5 weeks and shoulders were still fine to see if i gained anymore from it , i have had a few months off each time i have run it its not be back to back

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PropaneFitness February 18, 2013 at 3:42 am

Regardless – just because they feel fine now doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to repeat this program. I would spend some time doing some mobility work and balancing out your back + shoulders before trying Marc’s pressing template, or Armstrong program if you’re set on doing something quite specialised

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Danny February 24, 2013 at 9:45 am

to late haha im half way through my 3rd smolva , i plan to max out in 2 weeks at a 130kg bench , i have been doing lots of back work

1st Cycle in october from 100kg to 110kg then had 7 weeks off
2nd Cycle in December from 110kg to 120kg then had 6 week off

Now on 3rd Cycle in Febuary

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Danny March 9, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Oct = 100kg to 110kg

Dec = 110kg to 120kg

Febuary = 120kg to 130kg

I Had 6-8 weeks off each time the last cycle was the hardest only because i never used 95% of my max and worked off that because i was just curious on how it would work without using 95% of my max. I could esily build up to a 150kg – 160kg my the end of the 2013 :)

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Brian July 29, 2013 at 10:13 am

Great write-up! I gave this a shot and got my bench from 200lbs to 215 and my squat from 285 to 315lbs! Thanks!

Oh, and by the way, I found this online calculator for Smolov. For me it was a bit easier to use than the spreadsheet… really easy to pull up on my phone at the gym.

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PropaneFitness July 30, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Nice one brian, glad to hear it

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Pena November 27, 2013 at 3:37 pm

does it matter if i take 3 days break between week 1 and 2?

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PropaneFitness December 3, 2013 at 3:11 am

That’s fine Pena

Please continue discussion on the forum: link

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