Another Russian Super Cycle:
Add up to 100 Pounds to Your Squat in Thirteen Weeks
by Pavel Tsatsouline, Master of Sports
NOTE: Set and rep instructions in this article are the reverse of the way they are written in the U.S. In Russia, the number of reps is given first, followed by the number of sets. Thus "3x10" in this article indicates that the trainee would perform 10 sets of 3 reps each.
In case you got all starry eyed and bushy tailed having read the title beware that you cannot get something for nothing. Either of the two four week loading blocks of the thirteen week Russian cycle pack more work than most American squatters do in a year, no joke. You shall gain but you shall pay with sweat, blood, and vomit, Comrade.
The super cycle was designed by Master of Sports S. Y. Smolov and stacks like this:
1. Layoff or maintenance training
2. Introductory microcycle -2 weeks
3. Base mesocycle -4 weeks
4. Switching -2 weeks
5. Intense mesocycle -4 weeks
6. Taper -1 week
The Introductory Microcycle
The introductory microcycle shall bring you up to 90% of your personal best squat in just a week and shall prepare you for the horrors to come.
Every day is a Halloween during the next four weeks. It is worth it; the base mesocycle delivers a 10-30kg gain for big boys and 5-7,5kg for lighter lifters.
The 'switching' two-week stretch is dedicated to plyometric and compensatory acceleration training. The idea is to stimulate your nervous system with a different type of stimuli and thus make it more responsive to another round of slow and heavy training. You shall also appreciate the chance to lick your wounds after the base mesocycle.
The intense mesocycle is another cruel and unusual stretch of four weeks. It is good for another 15-20kg squat gain.
Finally you shall taper with what you could have interpreted as an overtraining program before you embarked on the Russian cycle but now will gratefully accept as a vacation.
Week thirteen: enter the platform and dominate.
If you are starting Smolov's super cycle after a major layoff perform the following two-week introductory microcycle. The Russian lifter and author shows how you can reach 90% of your peak condition in just three days:
Day 1 65%x8x3, 70%x5, 75%x2x2, 80%x1
Day 2 65%x8x3, 70%x5, 75%x2x2, 80%x1
Day 3 70%x5x4, 75%x3, 80%x2x2, 90%x1
The percentages are based on your best suitless squat right before the layoff, not on an estimated current or projected max.
Whatever stage of the cycle you are in, Smolov advises to include what Russian Olympic lifters know as a protyazhka, or a long pull, in your warmup. A protyazhka is a snatch without any knee dip whatsoever. Smolov plugs it in a time tested combo: a snatch grip long pull x 3-5 reps + a wide grip press behind the neck x 3-5 reps + a squat with the bar on the shoulders x 3-5 reps. I believe that you would do even better if you ditch back squats in favor of overhead squats. The latter are great for developing SQ specific flexibility and enforcing a good technique the hard way. Smolov's warm-up calls for four to five sets of the above combo.
The next three days of the first intro week spend doing lunges with the emphasis on maximal stretching of the thighs.
During week two squat every other day with 80-85% weights. You must be able to work up to one set of five in that percentage range by the end of the second intro week.
Smolov insists on including explosive drills into your introductory microcycle: jumps over various obstacles, broad jumps, jump- ups on a pommel horse, etc. The Russian expert advises that you stay away from depth jumps though; intense plyos can be murder on your knees at your current level of conditioning.
"Abandon hope all ye' who enter here." The inscription on the gates of hell in Dante's Inferno could be applied to the four- week base cycle without a shade of exaggeration. It is a Russian program so you would be naïve to expect hitting the squat rack on Monday and dedicating the rest of the week to assistance work at McDonalds. You shall squat four times a week, Comrade, whether you like it or not. And in case you are planning on working up to a top set of five or whatever, you've got another thing coming. Expect loading schedules such as seven fives with 80% weights and ten triples with 85% 1RM!
Week # Monday Wednesday Friday Saturday
1 70%x9x4 75%x7x5 80%x5x7 85%x3x10
2 (70%+10kg)x9x4 (75%+10kg)x7x5 (80%+10kg)x5x7 (85%+10kg)x3x10
3 (70%+15kg)x9x4 (75%+15kg)x7x5 (80%+15kg)x5x7 (85%+15kg)x3x10
4 Rest Rest Prikida
(work up to a near max single)
(work up to a near
You must have gotten tired just reading the matrix, haven't you?
This is an off-season program so the percentages are based on your current 1RM without a suit. If you do not know what it is make an estimate. If you do not have kilo plates add twice the recommended number in pounds, e.g. 30 pounds instead of 15kg. Put up your weights at a slow or moderate tempo, dynamic efforts do not belong in this phase.
In the last session you are supposed to work up to a near max to get an idea of where you are at. The original program does not call for a supersuit but you may choose to wear it during the final, trial, session if you have no problem going for a PR in gear after a long stretch of raw or semi-raw training.
If you do not like the fact that you simulate a contest on a day other than a Saturday you may push the training days one forward: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. You may even decide to enter a relatively unimportant meet on the day of the prikidka and post very conservative attempts.
The mad Commie who dreamed up this anti- Constitutional cycle promises that once you have survived these four weeks your legs will turn into car jacks. But no matter how inspired you are by the gains, you are to immediately back off after completing the last workout of the base cycle! The regimen pushes you to the limit of your strength and recovery and carrying it on longer than a month guarantees the mother of all overtraining.
A so-called 'switching' semi-mesocycle is now in order to let the body and mind recover before taking on the pre- competition cycle. With the exception of negative squats recommended once or twice a week, all lifts and exercises are now performed with maximum explosion. Series of various jumps and hops, deep squat jumps with a light barbell, etc. are on the Party approved list. So are leg presses with compensatory acceleration and similar drills. Exploding from the sticking point in the squat is another fine exercise for the switching period. "The motto of the switching program is speed, and speed again," explains S. Smolov. For a change of pace as much as anything else.
Following the two-week switching phase the Russian coach instructs the lifter to start another four-week loading cycle. It was designed by weightlifting and powerlifting coach I. M. Feduleyev from Moscow and is responsible for preparing eight nationally ranked lifters in record times. It is good for another 15-20kg on your squat in just a month if you have the balls to take it on. Here is Feduleyev's program in all its Communist glory:
Week # 1
Monday 65%x3 75%x4 85%x4x3 85%x5
Wednesday 60%x3 70%x3 80%x4 90%x3, 85%x5x2
Saturday 65%x4 70%x4 80%x4x5
Week # 2
Monday 60%x4 70%x4 80%x4 90%x3, 90%x4x2
Wednesday 65%x3 75%x3 85%x3 90%x3x3, 95%x3
Saturday 65%x3 75%x3 85%x4 90%x5x4
Week # 3
Monday 60%x3 70%x3 80%x3 90%x5x5
Wednesday 60%x3 70%x3 80%x3 95%x3x2
Saturday 65%x3 75%x3 85%x3 95%x3x4
Week # 4
Monday 70%x3 80%x4 90%x5x5
Wednesday 70%x3 80%x3 95%x3x4
Saturday 75%x3 90%x4 80%x4x3
In case you got excited that the loading cycle number two calls for 'only' three squat sessions a week, you must have wilted as soon as you have read the numbers. Feduleyev's regimen calls for an inhumanely high number of squats in the 81-90% intensity zone: 134 lifts or a whopping 44% of the total load. You are going to top off with three sets of four reps at 95% of your current -not projected -max, and these numbers mean two things. First, you are going to get unbelievably strong, and second, there will be many moments when you shall wish you had stuck to your stamp collecting.
Lift at a medium tempo. The choice of equipment is up to you but full contest gear is encouraged.
The cycle is designed for a lifter hardened by high volume/ high intensity training and you are supposed to completely recover between workouts. Note that every week the Wednesday session calls for the greatest load, which is why it earns two days of rest. If you are not in a good enough shape to handle such a macho work load and you feel very tired by the end of week two merciful coach Feduleyev shall let you reduce the weight by 5-7% in all sets without cutting back on the sets or repetitions.
The above cycles have built great strength, now you are facing the tricky task of peaking it when it counts. Once you are a week away from the meet Smolov recommends the following week-long podvodka or taper. Wear full contest gear naturally.
Monday 70%x3, 80%x3, 90%x5x2, 95%x4x3
Wednesday 75%x4, 85%x4x4
The Russian coach promises that the high load in the beginning of the week shall not negatively affect you. That may not be the case with a lifter unaccustomed to Russian style high volume/high intensity/high frequency training. Especially since Smolov's plan is charted out for a Sunday meet, an unheard of thing in the U.S. Consider skipping the Monday session and pushing the Wednesday session a day back:
Tuesday 75%x4, 85%x5
If you choose to follow Smolov's peaking plan to the letter push all the sessions one day back to peak on Saturday:
Sunday 70%x3, 80%x3, 90%x5x2, 95%x4x3
Tuesday 75%x4, 85%x4x4
You will have to reschedule the four weeks of the preceding four week cycle accordingly: train on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays instead of on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays so you will have a day off between the last session of the loading cycle and the first of the peaking one. And if you opt for your pet peaking schedule Smolov will not take it personally. Peaking is an art as much as it is a science.
Give this Russian super cycle a shot if you have what it takes. Comrade Smolov promises that you shall show a result that shall surprise you. Report your gains on dragondoor.com training forum.
Pavel Tsatsouline is a former Soviet Special Forces instructor, currently a Subject Matter Expert (S.M.E.) to the US Marine Corps Martial Arts Program and the US Department of Energy nuclear security teams.
Pavel has authored a number of books including Power to the People!, Bullet-Proof Abs, and The Russian Kettlebell Challenge. They are available from dragondoor.com where you will also find Pavel's free online newsletter, articles, and a forum.
Copyright 2001 Advanced Fitness Solutions, Inc.
This article first appeared in Powerlifting USA magazine. Call (800) 448-7693 to subscribe.
Glossary of Terms
Loading blocks - training cycle
Super cycle - a long training cycle composed of shorter, but different styles, of training cycles
Microcycle - a very short training cycle, usually lasting one to two weeks.
Introductory Microcycle - a very short cycle consisting of fairly light work that might include perfecting form and getting the body ready for the training to come.
Mesocycle - a long training cycle, usually lasting four to six weeks Base mesocycle - a long training cycle used to develop initial strength, consisting of heavy weight work Intense mesocycle - a long training cycle where the trainee would go "all out" at every workout
Switching - in this article it refers to a short cycle that gives the body a rest between two heavy training cycles. Exercises are done for speed and agility.
Taper - This is a one-week active rest period before the competition. It gives the muscles a chance to repair themselves so they will be in prime condition the day of the competition.
Percentages - These are shown in the article as "70%x5x3" or ""65%x8x3" This means that the trainee should perform a given exercise at 70 percent of 1 rep maximum for 3 sets of 5 reps each. Remember this pertains to this article only. Other articles on Dolfzine that indicate "5x3" would mean 5 sets of 3 reps. See the Note at the beginning of this article for further clarification.
One Rep Maximum - Often written "1RM" or "1 rep max", this means the most amount of weight, or heaviest load, a person can lift for one repetition. It is not advised that anyone but advanced athletes attempt this. Even then, there are tables that will convert 10 reps at 100 pounds to 1 rep at ??? Competitive powerlifters are aware of this figure for each exercise; it changes as one becomes stronger. It also changes if supportive lifting suits are used.
Support Gear, Full Contest Gear - Powerlifters wear squat suits, deadlift suits and bench press suits. There is a lot of controversy over these as providing unfair advantage. However, they also protect joints. Powerlifters can also wear weight belts, wrist straps and knee straps. All of this equipment is optional. Some people prefer to lift "raw" (no support gear) or "NNN" (no wraps, no suit, no belt).
Supersuit - A suit worn when performing squats during a competition.
Long Pull (protyazhka) - this is a very advanced move that combines some Olympic Lifting techniques. It's not for beginners or people who have not been properly coached.
Overhead squats - An Olympic Lift that consists of holding a bar at arm's length overhead while doing a free-form squat. It requires coaching to perform properly.
Lunges - This exercise will be described in detail in "Squat Alternatives, Part 3".
Loading - The amount of weight used, i.e. the "load."
Tempo - The amount of time it takes to perform one rep. Medium tempo for a squat would be approximately 3 seconds to go from the standing position to the bottom position, a pause of about 1 second at the bottom, 3 seconds to ascend, and a pause of 1 or 2 seconds at the top before beginning the next rep. For instructional purposes this would be written "3132". If there were to be no pause at the bottom, it would be written "3X32" or "3032." Tempo can be anything you want. You could squat for "5X12" which would mean a very slow descent and explosive rise. Or you could do "5362" which would mean a slow descent, a hold at the bottom (ouch!), a slow ascent and a slight breather at the top.
Peaking - Reaching the zenith of your levels of strength and readiness. Bodybuilders "peak" for competitions; that's when they've lost a lot of bodyfat and their muscles really show. For powerlifters, it means they may have had to lose some fat to enter a specific weight class, but they are also at maximum strength levels.