The Intelligent & Relentless Pursuit of Muscle™

8 Weeks to Super Bench

8 Weeks to Super Bench

November 2010, I was pissed.

My team and I did a push/pull meet. The deadlifts went well, but we also benched that day and not one of us set a PR.

Nobody slacked in the gym – my guys train hard or they don't train with me, period – but the truth is our benches had been stuck in a rut for a year or more. I'd racked my brain and tried a variety of programs, but all I was getting for my hard work was a measly five pounds here and there.

Eventually, I threw up my hands and decided it was time to try something different; something new, something even a bit radical. I remembered reading a TNation program by Christian Thibaudeau from 2005 called 8 Weeks to a Record Bench. It had stuck in my head because it sounded kind of crazy, but also cool. It was high frequency, and I usually lean towards the lower frequency end of the spectrum.

But my approaches weren't working. It was time for a change. It was time to try this program.

Crazy Eight

Coach Thibs' original program is a little complicated – I had to reread it a few times before I truly got exactly what I was supposed to do. I think it can be streamlined a bit, particularly with the help of some videos, so you can see exactly how it's supposed to go.

Also, as with many programs, often there's a desire to modify it to your schedule, so I'm going to give you some options for that. To further alleviate confusion, I'll present exactly what I did each week.

You might be wondering what kind of results you can expect from this routine. Here's what our team achieved. These lifts indicate raw, paused, competition form benches unless otherwise noted. We started the program on January 3rd, 2011.

Lifter Nov 2010
Feb 26th 2011
April 1st 2011
(in gym)
1 215
Fail on 225
230 240 +25 lbs
2 275
Fail on 287
303 315 +40 lbs
3 265
Fail on 275
303 315* +50 lbs
Tim 308** 347 365 +57 lbs

The Program

8 Weeks to Super Bench

In the original version, Coach Thibs prescribes five bench press workouts in the week. Each workout consists of one main pressing exercise and an assistance exercise. The kicker is that rather than doing these workouts Monday through Friday, you do three workouts on one day (he suggests Sunday) and then one workout on two other days of the week.

Workout 1

  Exercise Sets Weight Reps
1 Bench press One single cluster set* 90% 1RM **
2 Close-grip decline press 5   4 - 6

Workout 2

  Exercise Sets Reps
1 Bench press 5 multiple cluster set* 5
2 Seated DB military press 5 4 - 6

Workout 3

  Exercise Sets Weight Reps
1 Bench press 3 drop sets* 95%, 90%, 85%, 80% 1RM 4
2 Skullcrushers 5   4 - 6

Workouts 1-3 are completed on the same day.

Workout 4

  Exercise Sets Weight Reps
1 Pause pin press* 6 90% 1RM 3
2 Pause speed bench press** 8 - 12 40 - 50% 1RM 3

Workout 5

  Exercise Sets Weight Reps
1 Negative bench press* 3 - 6 100% 1RM 3
2 High rack press** 4   3

Workouts 4 and 5 are performed on separate days.

What we did

8 Weeks to Super Bench

I have a wife and three little kids and a more than full time job (plus three part time jobs), so the idea of spending a whole Sunday in the gym wasn't feasible for me or my training partners. Even though my Mondays are long, I do have time to be in the gym on those days, so I decided to do a Monday/Wednesday/Friday workout routine.

I was going to do two separate workouts on Monday (at 2:30 PM and 9:30 PM), and then work out on Wednesday and Friday. This worked well for me, and I think it's more realistic for most readers, although performing it as it was originally laid out is probably the best idea.

Here's what I did.

Workout 1

  Exercise Sets Weight Reps
1 Bench press* Single cluster set 90% 1RM 6 - 10
2 Close-grip decline press** 5 Ascending with one back-down set 5

Workout 2

  Exercise Sets Weight Reps
1 Bench press* 5 80% 1RM** 5
2 Seated DB military press*** 5 Ascending with one back-down set 5

Workout 3

  Exercise Sets Weight Reps
1 Bench press* 3 drop sets 95%, 90%, 85%, 80% 1RM 4
2 Skullcrushers** 5   5

Workout 4

  Exercise Sets Weight Reps
1 Pause pin press* 4 Ascending with one back-down set 3
2 Speed paused bench press** 9 40 - 50% 1RM 3

Workout 5

  Exercise Sets Weight Reps
1 Negative bench press* 4 100% 1RM 3
2 High rack press** 4 Ascending with one back-down set 3

Things I learned

Clusters really work. They're like cheating in that you get those extra heavy reps in but without destroying yourself.

There's a big difference between 30 seconds rest on the clusters (which was almost full recovery) and 10-15 seconds rest, which would get tough after a few reps.

If you want to make the 5x5 cluster set tougher, keep your hands on the bar while it's racked and go again. You'll go faster.

I found that resting 20-30 minutes (which I initially did between Workout 1 and 2) did nothing for my strength; it was ultimately just a waste of time.

I found that resting 3-5 hours, particularly if I could eat a meal or two, resulted in a surprisingly high level of recovery – sometimes I almost felt stronger on that second workout of the day.

Try to do a high carb day on the triple workout day.

If you can plan this workout to coincide with a bulking phase, you'll be better off.

An ice pack on the stomach for 2-3 minutes right before you do your big set on workout 1 can help wake you up.

This is a lot of volume; I'd suggest bringing in your grip on all or almost all bench press sets to save your shoulders the pounding. I'd warm-up with my pinkies on the ring and then move my grip in 3-4 fingers-width for the work sets. I'd rotate my grip on the speed sets (1/2 thumb, full thumb, pinky on ring – 3 sets each).

The first day I did this program my shoulders screamed at me but they seemed to adapt by the third week.

Start light. We used our second attempt paused competition bench press as our max. This is not the program to overestimate your max by even 5 or 10 lbs. Jim Wendler's rule of taking your max and subtracting 20 lbs. is wise. Go up 5 lbs. a week from that and you're still up 20 lbs. or more on your real max after two months.

Supplements help. I was taking Surge® Workout Fuel (2 scoops), and Anaconda (2 scoops) mixed with Gatorade. I did that twice on Monday (afternoon and late night workout) and then on Friday as well (Wednesday was a low carb day for me). I also took Alpha-GPC and a high quality vitamin/mineral supplement.

Save energy on the warm-ups. I reduced my warm-ups to the following: 45x5, 135x3, 185x3, 225x3, 275x1, work set.

Start light on the assistance work. Give yourself room to make jumps and only go heavy on one set or so per exercise.

Bigger guys need less volume and/or more recovery time. I had my 250-plus pound lifter do 6 reps on the single cluster, 3 reps on the 5x5, 3 sets on the drop set (instead of 4), 2 reps on the negatives (instead of 3), and often 1 less set on all assistance work.

We did this program for eight weeks, had a meet, and got good results. I then decided to push it for three more weeks, with one off week, and then a final max. On those last three weeks I reduced the volume.

You should fail little or not at all on this.

This was one of the first workouts programs, especially for upper body, that I really felt the Testosterone being released. (You can ask my wife about that J). It was great.

Lifters can hit the bench more frequently at a high intensity than I thought, and there's a big difference between 90-95% of the 1RM for singles versus 96-100% of the 1RM.

The second workout in the same day was helpful, but if you can only do one workout a day I'd set it up like this:

The drop-set day is very important; I see the single cluster and the drop-sets as being the two most important workouts, so you want to be fresh for those.

Program Negatives

It's not very balanced. Most of my lifters have good muscle balance, particularly in the upper body, because we're always blasting back, rear delts, etc., like bodybuilders. We could afford to go three months with essentially no back exercises because we started in good balance. If you don't already have good muscle balance it might be a problem.

High rate of injury. None of my lifters or I suffered any type of significant injury, but I read that some who tried the original version ran into problems. They likely didn't understand how to set up the program correctly or they overestimated their max. Coach Thibs did a great job of laying the elements together, which is tough to do in a high frequency/high intensity program for the masses.

Watch doing other stuff. We did other stuff even though it's recommended not to do so. We did legs on Tuesday and Thursday, and as someone who competes in curling competitions I did a lot of biceps stuff on Monday/Wednesday/Friday. It was okay, but I'd limit any upper body pressing to just what is prescribed here.

Know your maxes. You have to know your true max, base your percentages on that max, and make semi-conservative but regular increases in weight for this program to work the best.

Wrap Up

8 Weeks to Super Bench

Coach Christian Thibaudeau deserves all the credit for the creation of this program – I'm just dusting it off and lending my experience to it. Still, purists may frown at my actions, arguing that by making even modest tweaks to an original program I risk becoming the strength training equivalent of Dr. Frankenstein, irrevocably changing something beautiful into a mess of misguided loading parameters.

To those critics I say this, whether you follow this is up to you (hell, I hope my competitors don't read this article), but as a competitive lifter there's no greater joy than seeing stagnant numbers finally start to climb after a lengthy plateau.

This bench press program might not be for the faint of heart (or the beginner), but if you're mired deep in the bowels of a pressing purgatory, I suggest buckling down and giving it a try.