Smolov Jr for Bench: How to add 15kg to your 1RM in 3 weeks
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|
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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:
– Additionally, Harrison just ran full smolov for his squat and added 35kg to his 1RM, but we can talk about another time!