I completed the Russian Squat Routine twice. Once from March to May of 2019, and next from May to July of 2020. Over the course of the first program, I increased my squat from 365lbs (165kg) to 435lbs (197kg), and over the course of the second program, I increased from 486lbs (220kg) to 526lbs (239kg). The program is simple, punch in your 1RM to this calculator and follow the schedule.
I was an active kid growing up, but no formal intense weight training (besides once in a while on the soccer team in HS). I lifted casually in college, but did mostly upper body work and isolation movements. I gained weight for several years until I was uncomfortably large and my doctor gave me a stern warning about what would happen if I didn’t change things. I didn’t listen until two years later during a life transition where work was very chill and I was able to spend more time in the gym, and take it seriously. My wife and I invested in a nice gym membership, with personal training. For 6 months I did basic weight training, and mostly focused on losing weight while staying active and building up basic strength. I did not squat with a bar on my back until January 2019, when we moved and I joined a crossfit gym near our new apartment. I’ve had strong legs from random sports and biking as a kid, as well as being a bigger “husky” guy for a lot of my life, so after about a month or two I hit a squat double at 320lbs (145kg), just to give an idea for baseline strength.
I’m 6’2” (188cm) and in 2019 weighed in at 215lbs (97kg) and in 2020, 245lbs (111kg)
When testing my 1RM, I hit 365, and then failed 385. But I felt like I was strong enough, but that my balance was off when I missed the rep, so when setting the numbers for the program, I punched in 385, because the program promised 405 as the final new 1RM. That’s four big 45lb plates, and so I was excited to finally hit that big milestone, since all of the “big boys” at my gym could squat above that weight. I ran this program on top of doing crossfit every single day, which means a strength component and a “WOD”, and I would stay after to squat. I was also cutting weight for the first half of the program. I was very tired, and had never done this kind of volume. By the time the second day of the third week came along and I had to do 6x6 at 308lbs (140kg), it was tough, but manageable. It was around that time that I hit my lowest weight on my cut at 212lbs (96kg), and decided to start eating again. Wow, that really changed things. I also decided to squat before class instead of after, and that made things easier (duh). I remember that the 5x5 was two red 25kg plates and a yellow 15kg plate, and that was the hardest day, where I had to grind through the last set and I think I shouted my way up the final rep or two. The rest of the program was not very challenging. I was nervous about 4 plates, but the final day of the program coincided with a “guys night” where we tested our “crossfit total” and I put up 405 after building up and smashed it! Then I stepped over to where the “big boys” were squatting and jumped in to hit 425, and 435, and then fail 455.
I was extremely satisfied with this program, because I kept the schedule while also attending class every single day, and improving many of my other lifts and cardio capacity, and being at the exact body weight I was hoping for at each part of the cycle. This was also my first 2x bodyweight squat, which was an incredible feeling. At the end, I felt that my squat stance was very strong and stable, and that my other lifts were feeling the benefit. This was extremely advantageous for a sport like crossfit, where the squat stance is extremely common in the general programming scheme.
I had been focusing much more on olympic lifting and cutting out the “crossfit” elements of my workouts after getting in touch with a coach in Summer 2019 who coached a kid who was going to junior nationals. My new gym after I moved (yes, again) had a lot more knowledge about body proportions and coaches a lot more than just the Olympic lifts, so he helped me with optimizing my stance and understanding my body proportions. In February I hit 486lbs but then missed 500, but I felt like it was close enough that I set it as my 1RM for the program since it was also a few months ago and I’ve progressed since then. I’m completing this program with a DIY squat rack made from 2x4s and cement in some buckets. I lift in the courtyard outside my apartment and children gather to watch and annoy the crap out of me (although they are cute when they are not screaming).
From the very beginning I could tell this program would be much different than last year. Hitting 400lbs for 6x2 and building to 6x6 by the third week was brutal, despite how smooth my 3rd set looks on film. I had to be completely dialed in for every part of the squat. I ordered squat university’s “Squat Bible” and read it during the first half of the program and each day I tried to focus on the different cues. I tried to do most of the first half of the program beltless (pioneer 13mm thick 4’ wide belt) but on the fourth set of the 6x6 day of week 3 I got spooked when a rep or two was more grindy than I anticipated, so I threw on the belt and finished out the set more confidently.
I was worried about the 5x5 day at 425 and even more worried about the 4x4 at 450, because when I hit my PR of 486, it was the first time I had squatted above 435 from the year before. I had done a lot of volume around 365 and a set of 10 at 405, and a widow maker set of 26 at 315 (where I earned my flair) for an r/weightroomcontests challenge but not much above four plates.
The 5x5 was tough, but smooth. I was demolished after that day though and had to move the 4x4 from Friday to Saturday giving myself an extra day to recover. It was my first departure from the MWF schedule I had kept the so far. Then after the 4x4 at 450 I don’t think I have ever been as sore and sensitive after a workout. It was the first day where I didn’t do my normal Olympic lifting programming after the squat session. Keep in mind, the only reps I have ever hit above 435 were the 440, 460, then 486 to PR in February. So this is 16 reps in one session. So much volume and I was completely fried. I hit my next session on Tuesday instead of Wednesday and moved the 3x3 at 475 to Friday, which became Saturday. The 475 was a little more grindy, but still manageable. I wasn’t close to failing, but I was definitely slow through the middle of the rep.
If I thought the 4x4 day was bad, the 3x3 @ 475 aftermath was way worse. I was tired and unfocused the whole weekend. I was just trying to eat and get enough protein to refuel my body but everything was incredibly sore. It makes sense, because 475 is 10lbs off of my tested 1 rep max, and I hit it for 9 reps. I was starting to feel afraid of 500 and of 526.
I waited until Tuesday to hit the easy day for another 6x2 and it was just a bad squat day. I felt clunky, my butt still hurt from Saturday, and my calves felt this really deep soreness that I couldn’t figure out how to stretch or do active recovery on. I was looking forward to the end of the program at this point. Friday comes along and I push to Saturday again. I build up to 500 and I’m feeling great. The whole week was tough mentally and emotionally with life, and I was losing confidence about this set, but as the warm yo progressed the confidence melted away and I was getting excited. I hit the 2x2 with confidence (side by side video of the sets) and without too much of a grind in the reps, and I could tell that 526 would happen for sure.
Again, I was demolished from the set and my accompanying clean and jerk and snatch work and it took me until Tuesday again to do the light set.
Then the fateful day arrived to build up to my last set. I had planned out exactly how I would build up, down to the exact details of how to load the plates so I wouldn’t have to do math constantly while building up. I had my get pumped playlist and I built up to it and… smashed it. I actually couldn’t believe how smooth it felt and how quickly it came up.
Afterward, I tried for 553 (I got greedy) and I missed the rep. But not by too much! I think if I wasn’t sore as hell and crushed by the weight of all the decisions and conversations I’m involved with recently I probably would have stood it up. In total, I extended the program to 8 weeks instead of 6 as is the original design to give myself more rest.
After having run the program as a true beginner who at the time only squatted to barely parallel and now as an early intermediate level lifter who squats true ass to grass depth, I am satisfied with the program and with my results. I busted 400 last year, 500 this year, so maybe I’ll try Smolov next year and go for 600? Who knows. Right now my squat is officially higher than my tested deadlift (507lbs) so I need to get back to pulling and correct some of my imbalances, which I look forward to. If you’re still reading, thanks for joining me in the journey, and I’m thankful for this community and honored to have you (yes you!) to lift with as virtual gym buddies!