Critical Bench 2.0 is the updated version of the original for its 10th year anniversary. It is a very focused muscle gain and strength program designed to not just improve your bench press but also avoid overtraining by addressing all other muscle groups that assist in the lift.
Mike Westerdal’s workout schedule is based on progressive overload, tiny increments to increase strength and mass over time. This review will uncover the pros and cons of this program.
Who Is Critical Bench For?
This program lives up to its name in that it is an accurate blueprint for those who want just that, improve their bench pressing.
Having said this, the plan is not restricted at all to just benching and the pecs/shoulder/triceps range. It is more like a solid powerlifting/bodybuilding blueprint that targets the whole of your body with a special emphasis on bench pressing.
The reason for it is that you need a good all-around level of strength to assist you in bench pressing, without which you would not be able to press as much, no matter how hard or how often you practice bench pressing.
Critical Bench is suitable for anyone who wants a good strength and muscle-building blueprint, not necessarily just for bench pressing, though the program regards bench press as the king of exercises and the yardstick of personal strength.
How Does Critical Bench 2.0 Work?
Critical Bench 2.0 is the latest update of a long-running program that has been around for many years. It is an expanded version of the original which includes all the training schedules from 100lb to 500lb bench press max that originally was available only individually.
This means that the program gives you access to the best individual workout charts whatever your current level of strength is.
The progressive Overload Foundation
The plan is based on the very simple and proven technique of “progressive overload” honed to the finest level. Mike Westerdal points out that for bench pressing, small regular increments are relatively easier than with other exercises as most gyms offer those tiny 2.5 lb plates for barbells, allowing for 5lb increments only.
Bench pressing is one of the main compound exercises that involve the action of several muscle groups simultaneously, making them the best choice for muscle growth and increased metabolic rate.
Surprisingly, even though the program’s target is increasing your bench press personal best, the 5-day per week workout schedule dedicated just one day to bench press.
This is because benching too often does not result in strength or muscle gains but it can actually lead to overtraining. More is not better and the program makes sure you do not end up abusing your pecs and shoulders while neglecting your other muscle groups.
The other days of the schedule are dedicated to all other muscles which assist your bench press movement. More than pecs, shoulders, and triceps, bench pressing requires your lats for stabilization and most other muscle groups as well.
The blueprint also pays a lot of attention to the mental aspect of the training, with a view to creating a no-failure-is-possible attitude before each attempt. It also teaches you how to stretch and warm up properly before pressing and how to grip the bar.
According to the author, a 50lb max bench press increment on your current best is possible with the program, but this of course can vary a lot depending on your starting level.
Going from 350lb to 400lb for an experienced lifter is one thing, going from 100lb to 150lb for a beginner is another. Whatever your increase, the Critical Bench workout schedule is structured in 10 weeks only.
And for a good reason. You must give your body a rest and a chance to recover before you attempt a new 10-week cycle. The program gives you an exact protocol for rest and recovery.
However, one important factor to point out about Critical Bench is that for best results it requires a training partner. If you train alone out of choice or circumstances, you may miss an edge on effectiveness. However, there is a list of alternative exercises and techniques you can implement on your own for the best results.
What About Diet?
The nutritional part of the program is not the priority of this program, the training is. There are some basic meal plans but that’s about it, it’s not a recipe book or a full diet blueprint for bodybuilders, it kind of assumes that you should know what it’s best for you. However, there are also some useful tips on which supplement work, if you need any.
What Are The Benefits Of Critical Bench?
There are three main advantages to this program.
Firstly, it provides a clear and simple blueprint to follow with all the workout charts laid out for you regardless of your initial strength level, all the way up to 500lb.
Secondly, though it requires discipline for the 5-day per week schedule, the workouts are short but intense so you can slot the program into your life commitments.
Thirdly, it is based on the proven principle of progressive overload for muscle and strength gains. The program relies on small but well-planned increments per workout in order to achieve steady improvements, like a long-term marathon, rather than a sprint.
Mike Westerdal’s Credentials
Mike Westerdal is a powerlifter from Florida who competes in APF and APA federations. His life revolves around powerlifting with a special focus on bench pressing, having developed over the years a workout system that is widely used to break through bench stagnation.
His attention to bench pressing as a benchmark of strength and the yardstick by which a lifter’s status and admiration are rated started back in the days of college when the first thing his coaches used to ask him was “how much he could bench”.
Through the years he went from a skinny 155lb guy with a 100lb bench max to a rock-solid 230lb powerhouse who can bench press in the region of 400lb plus.
He also has a Bachelor of Science from Central CT State University and experience as a football player and coach. He is now an “American Council on Exercise” personal trainer and regularly contributes to various muscle magazines.
What’s In The Program?
The program is entirely digital, so you can have it on your PC or smartphone immediately on purchase and it consists of 7 components, 3 main parts, and 4 bonuses.
The Main Components
The Critical Bench Program 2.0 – This is the main manual with all the theories of the program, covering also all practical aspects of training that will come while using the training logs.
Customized Training Logs 100-500 LBS – 80 workouts charts to suit all strength levels and progress all the way up, previously available only individually. The logs are very accurate and tell you exactly each and every single poundage you are expected to hit at each workout for the next 10 weeks.
Bench Press Fundamentals Online DVD – It should be called an online video library because there are no physical DVDs as such. The videos showcase some of the best names in the powerlifting business, including the author himself, in order to demonstrate the proper techniques for bench pressing. Some of the guys in the videos: Mike Westerdal (author), Clint Smith, and World Record Contender AJ Roberts.
The Critical Deload Routine – An all-important de-load routine to be done after completing the 10-week training to give your muscles, joints, and nervous system a chance to recover and repair before jumping into the next 10-week cycle.
Critical Conversations With Elite Iron Warriors – An interesting collection of some of the best tips and advice from the top powerlifters and bodybuilders whom Mike Westerdal had the chance to meet and interview over the years. There are some hidden gems here.
Critical Exercise Guide – This is a handy 226-page exercise book that could either be used together with the videos or find out alternative exercises if you cannot do one due to injury or lack of gear.
In-Depth Report On Creatine’s Usage In Sports – A complete report on creatine supplements to help you make an informed decision should you chose so.
The Bottom Line
Critical Bench 2.0 is a complete muscle-building and strength program that goes well beyond increasing your bench press potential. It works all of your body muscle groups with an emphasis on benching.
In this latest update, the program offers a complete workout schedule organized on a 10-week training plus de-load cycles which is suitable for anyone, from beginner to advanced, regardless of your starting point, as the 80 charts provided offer the correct entry point for anyone all the way up to personal best.
Jay always had a passion for fitness. A former skinny guy, he built himself 35 lb of lean muscle over the years using different training strategies, going through failures and eventually succeeding, and now wants to share his knowledge with those who value fitness as a way of life.