How do you get stronger in the bench press as an advanced lifter?
In this post, I’ll outline an advanced bench press program and explain how and why your training should be different from the beginner’s and the intermediate’s.
- Still a beginner? Check out our beginner bench press program.
- Still at the intermediate stage? Check out our intermediate bench press program.
Before we get into the details of the training program, let’s recap our definitions of what an advanced lifter is.
How To Know if You Are a Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced
There are many ways to classify experience level, but I like the clarity of these definitions from Practical Programming:
- Beginner: Gets significantly stronger from workout to workout.
- Intermediate: Gets significantly stronger from week to week, or bi-weekly.
- Advanced: Gets significantly stronger from month to month, or longer.
By “significantly stronger”, I mean that you can add 2.5 kg (or 5 lb) and do the same number of reps, or use the same weight but do more reps.
For example: If you could lift 100 kg for five reps last week, and can lift 102.5 kg for five reps this week, then you’ve gotten significantly stronger.
- If you’re still getting stronger from workout to workout, then our beginner bench press program is right for you.
- If you’re still getting stronger from week to week, our intermediate bench press program is the answer.
But what if you don’t?
What if you’ve been training the bench press hard and consistently for a while now, and you’re struggling to make progress?
Then it’s probably time for advanced training.
How to Increase Your Bench Press Strength at the Advanced Level
When you were a beginner, you could slap on an additional, small weight plate on the barbell pretty much every workout. Every workout was “heavy” in the sense that you were always progressing and taking one step forward.
When you entered the intermediate stage, you could no longer progress every workout. You started to utilize some manner of periodization, like the wave progression heavy–light–medium that we use in our intermediate bench program.
At the advanced stage, this model still applies but on a larger scale: You still have heavy, light, and medium workouts. But now, you also start having heavy, light, and medium weeks.
Like in our advanced bench press program.
The Advanced Bench Press Program, 3 Days/Week
This training program is nine weeks long, with three workouts per week.
All in all, the advanced bench press program is written to serve as a complete training cycle, in which you’ll:
- Gain skill and proficiency in the bench press.
- Build muscle in all the necessary places, laying the foundation for long-term gains.
- End with a peak and max attempt to test your strength or for a competition.
When you’ve completed the program, you can take a deload week with only light training before you start a new cycle with a slightly heavier 1RM.
You’ll cycle between workouts using heavy, medium, and light weights:
- Monday: Heavy
- Wednesday: Medium
- Friday: Light
None of the workouts will really be low volume, however, and “light weights” also doesn’t mean the same thing as “easy”.
Here is an outline of the training week.
Download the StrengthLog app to see the % of 1RM, number of sets, and reps.
Workout 1 (Monday), Heavy
Workout 2 (Wednesday), Medium
Workout 3 (Friday), Light
Note that the weekdays are only examples. Train on whatever days you feel like, as long as you get one or two rest days in between workouts.
Accessory Exercises in the Intermediate Bench Press Program
Just like the intermediate bench press program, this program contains plenty of accessory exercises to improve your bench press. These are intended to aid your muscular development without inducing more fatigue from additional bench pressing.
In the long term, gaining more muscle mass is one of the most important factors for greater bench press strength.1
A word of advice, though: If you feel like the bench press work is all that you and your elbows and shoulders can handle, then skip the accessory exercises. Or at least dial them down a few notches.
The most important part of the program is the bench press training. The accessory work is just icing on the cake, and it won’t suit everyone. At the advanced stage, individualization is important, and you must adapt every program to suit your needs and capacity.
That said, let’s take a quick look at the accessory exercises and possible substitutes.
1. Dumbbell Chest Fly
There is a strong correlation (r=0.87) between pec muscle size and bench press 1RM, and the dumbbell chest fly is an effective exercise for growing your pecs and front delts without having to use the heavy loads of the bench press.2
Pull your shoulder blades together, keep a slight bend in your elbows, and go very light in this exercise – about 10% of your bench press 1RM per hand or even less. Don’t chase the weights, chase the muscle pump to build up your chest.
2. Barbell Lying Triceps Extension
If you (or your elbows!) don’t like this particular tricep exercise, feel free to substitute it for some other exercise.
3. Incline Dumbbell Press
On the medium day, you will be doing some incline dumbbell presses. These will work your chest and shoulders slightly differently from the bar path of the flat bench press, and many lifters feel that these are easier on the shoulders.
Don’t go overboard with the weight on these as you’re already doing three bench press workouts per week. Instead, focus on muscle contact and chasing the sweet pump.
4. Tricep Pushdown
For most people, the tricep pushdown is an elbow-friendly way to get some extra triceps work in.
Once again, the exact exercise you chose is not important, so pick one that you like, and lets you work your triceps well.
5. Dumbbell Row
To maintain some measure of balance between your pushing and pulling muscles, you’ll be doing plenty of rows in this program. The dumbbell row is an excellent alternative, but feel free to switch to another rowing exercise of your liking.
6. Lat Pulldown
The lat pulldown is the second pulling exercise you will be doing in this program, and in contrast to rows, it has a vertical line of pull that targets your lats more. In addition, the lat pulldown works your rear delts, rotator cuff, biceps, and grip.
When You Reach The End of The Advanced Bench Press Program
This program ends in a short peaking phase and a PR attempt in week nine. If you gained strength on this program and believe you could gain more from another cycle, I suggest you take a deload week with only light training before starting another cycle.
Enter your new 1RM or bump up your entered 1RM by 2.5–5 kg (5–10 lb) to get slightly heavier training weights your next time around.
What About Lower Body Training?
Follow This Program
Want to give our advanced bench press program a go?
It’s available exclusively in our workout app StrengthLog.
While this program requires a premium subscription, StrengthLog itself is entirely free. You can download it and use it as a workout tracker and general strength training app – and all basic functionality is free forever.
It even has a bunch of free programs and workouts. However, our more advanced programs (such as this one) are for premium users only.
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- Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002 Feb;86(4):327-36. The role of FFM accumulation and skeletal muscle architecture in powerlifting performance.
- J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jun;28(6):1778-82. Relationship of pectoralis major muscle size with bench press and bench throw performances.
- Front Sports Act Living. 2020; 2: 637066. A Biomechanical Analysis of Wide, Medium, and Narrow Grip Width Effects on Kinematics, Horizontal Kinetics, and Muscle Activity on the Sticking Region in Recreationally Trained Males During 1-RM Bench Pressing