Double-Eight Strength-Building Program

A new strength-training program developed at the South Shore YMCA has had great success in helping clients overcome strength plateaus.

UNTIL ALMOST 1950, weight training was considered an undesirable and dangerous physical activity, especially for athletes. Although a small number of weightlifters and body builders exercised with barbells and dumbbells, this type of training was not accepted by physicians, physical education teachers or coaches.

In the late 1940s, Dr. Thomas DeLorme and his Boston team of orthopedic surgeons were experiencing difficulties rehabilitating World War II veterans, so they tried a radically new medical approach: They developed and implemented a strength-building program that proved highly successful for their seriously injured patients.

Known as the DeLorme-Watkins protocol, this strength-training program consisted of three progressive exercise sets based on the participant's 10-repetition maximum (10 RM) weightload. For example, say that the heaviest resistance a person can bench press is 100 pounds. The first set requires 10 repetitions with 50 percent of their 10RM weightload (50 pounds). This is a low-effort exercise bout that serves as a first-level warm-up. After resting for two minutes, the second set requires 10 repetitions with 75 percent of their 10RM weightload (75 pounds). This is a moderate-effort exercise bout that serves as a second-level warm-up. After resting for two minutes, the final set requires as many repetitions as possible with a 10RM weightload (100 pounds). This is a high-effort exercise bout that provides a strength-building stimulus for the contributing muscle groups.

Although quite conservative and time-consuming, the DeLorme-Watkins protocol has proved to be as effective (or moreso) than any other strength-training system that we at the South Shore YMCAhave researched with youth or adults. It was the industry standard for more than 20 years, and deservedly so.

In 1970, Arthur Jones invented Nautilus cam-driven weightstack machines, and established a recommended strength-training protocol to be used with his equipment. Fully aware of the excellent results attained with the DeLorme-Watkins program, Jones decided to eliminate the two progressive warm-up sets, and perform only the high-effort set for more time-efficient training. He also chose to use an eight- to 12-repetition range rather than the 10- to 15-repetition range, thereby working with relatively heavier weightloads.

Using Jones' one set of eight to 12 repetitions training protocol, most exercisers could complete a 12-station circuit of Nautilus machines within 25 minutes. As effective as it was time-efficient, Jones' single-set strength-training program has been the best-known exercise protocol for the past 35 years.

Regardless of the training protocol used, most participants eventually encounter a strength plateau. To facilitate further progress, many exercisers engage high-intensity strength-training techniques, such as breakdown repetitions, assisted repetitions, slow-speed repetitions or pre-exhaustion sets. We have conducted numerous studies on these high-intensity exercise procedures, and found each to be productive for overcoming strength plateaus, and for achieving further muscle development.

Double-eight exercise program

We recently experimented with a new strength-training protocol that has proven even more effective for gaining strength and adding muscle. Called the Double-Eight Program, this protocol is a relatively time-efficient combination of the DeLorme-Watkins method and the Jones system. It has been exceptionally well-received by our participants, and the results have exceeded those of our other high-intensity training studies.

The Double-Eight Program is based on the subject's eight-repetition maximum (8RM) weightload, which is typically completed with approximately 80 percent of maximum weightload. Each exercise repetition is performed in about six seconds (a two-second lifting phase and a four-second lowering phase), through a relatively full range of joint movement.

Set one.The first set begins with eight repetitions at 50 percent of the 8RM weightload, similar to the DeLorme-Watkins protocol. Although this is a relatively light warm-up set, it activates the neuromuscular system in preparation for a relatively heavy follow-up set. Due to the low effort required for the first set, lifters rest only 60 seconds before performing the second set.

Set two. The second set is performed with the 8RM weightload, and lifters perform as many repetitions as possible. Exercisers almost always complete more repetitions with their 8RM weightload when they first perform a preparatory set with 50 percent of their 8RM weightload. Like Jones' program, this program eliminates the second warm-up set with 75 percent of the 8RM weightload. Consequently, the time requirement for the light exercise set (50 seconds), recovery period (60 seconds) and heavy exercise set (50 to 60 seconds) is less than three minutes. If lifters complete eight multi-muscle exercises per workout, the total training time (including a one-minute recovery between exercises) is about 30 minutes.

Progression. To enhance performance improvement, exercisers can increase the 8RM weightload whenever nine repetitions can be completed in good form. To emphasize gradual progression, they generally add only 2.5 to 5 pounds of resistance to the previous weightload. In many cases, our participants increase their exercise weightloads every training session.

Frequency. Although brief, the Double-Eight Program is so physically demanding that our participants only perform two workouts per week (typically Mondays and Fridays). This provides ample time for muscle recovery and remodeling, and reduces the risk of overtraining.

Exercises. For our program, we prefer a push-pull routine, pairing opposing muscle groups on successive exercises. Our standard eight-exercise program is presented in Table 1. As you will note, these are all multi-joint exercises that involve several major muscle groups.


Our first two groups of Double-Eight Program participants trained twice a week for a period of eight weeks. As shown in Table 2, this program produced excellent results in the areas of body composition, weightstack exercises and bodyweight exercises. On average, the 23 subjects increased their lean (muscle) weight by about 3 pounds, decreased their fat weight by almost 3 pounds, increased their leg press weightloads by about 40 percent, increased their chest press weightloads by about 30 percent, improved their chin-up performance by almost three repetitions and improved their bar-dip performance by six repetitions. As an indication of their consistent progression, you will note that the participants increased their leg press weightloads by 80 pounds in 16 training sessions (twice a week for eight weeks), averaging 5 pounds more resistance every workout.

Summary and application

The Double-Eight Program is a basic and brief strength-training protocol that features a low-effort preparatory set with 50 percent of the 8RM weightload, followed by a high-effort stimulus set with the 8RM weightload. We recommend a 60-second recovery period between the successive sets, as well as between the different exercises. We have had excellent results with this structured and supervised 30-minute high-intensity training program. Our participants' favorable response to the Double-Eight Program may be related to the following factors:
l. A limited number of exercises, each of which involve several major muscle groups.
2. An alternating sequence of pushing and pulling exercises.
3. Neuromuscular facilitation of the prime-mover muscles, resulting from the preparatory, low-effort exercise set.
4. A focus on one high-effort set of each exercise.
5. One-one-one training sessions with encouraging instructors.
If your clients are currently encountering a strength plateau, give the Double-Eight Program a try for the next few weeks. Like us, you may find that this simple modification of the DeLorme-Watkins and Jones training protocols provides a productive stimulus for further strength development.

Table 1. Strength-Training Programs for Advanced Exercisers

Leg press Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus 8 reps. with 50% 8 RM weightload 8 reps. with 8 RM weightload
Chest press Pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, triceps 8 reps. with 50%8RM weightload 8 reps. with 8 RM weightload
Pulldown Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoids, biceps 8 reps.with 50%8RM weightload 8 reps.with 8 RM weightload
Incline press Pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, triceps 8 reps.with 50%8RM weightload 8 reps. with 8 RM weightload
Seated row Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoids, biceps 8 reps.with 50%8RM weightload 8 reps.with 8 RM weightload
Shoulder Deltoids, upper trapezius, triceps 8 reps.with 50%8RM weightload 8 reps. with 8 RM weightload
Chin-up Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoids, biceps 8 easy repswith assistance 8 hard reps. with or
without assistance
Bar-dip Pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, triceps 8 easy reps with assistance 8 hard reps. with or
without assistance

Table 2. Results of Strength-Training Program with Advanced Exercisers

Lean weight 126.4 lbs. 129.8 lbs. +3.4 lbs*
Fat weight 32.9 lbs. 30.4 lbs. ­2.5 lbs.*
Leg press 209.0 lbs. 289.0 lbs. +80.0 lbs.*
Chest press 93.1 lbs. 120.0 lbs. +26.9 lbs.*
Chin-ups 4.4 reps 7.2 reps +2.8 reps*
Bar-dips 7.5 reps 13.5 reps +6.0 reps*

* statistically significant change (p < 0.05) (23 participants)

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