Heavy lifting: an advanced strength workout

What if you’re already pretty good at lifting weights? Fitness First strength coach Will Berkman and powerlifter Bree Wyatt show you how to get even better.

This workout is for an athlete looking to develop strength like a powerlifter. More advanced lifters need more specialised training, and so exercise selection has narrowed and become more specific to the competition lifts.

The rate of strength progression also slows in advanced lifters. It may not be feasible to add 2-5kg/week to lifts that are already hard. The time to recover from a given session also lengthens. As such, blocks typically start with submaximal loads and include more varied loading schemes, including some easier days to allow recovery and longer progression.

This also allows more clean repetitions with less technical decay, which becomes critical when transitioning to heavier loads. In a 4 week block, typically week 1 will be relatively easy, weeks 2 and 3 progressively harder, and week 4 will be a deload. If week 1 looks hard on paper, it’s probably too aggressive and you should reduce the load.

Trainees should eke progress out of simple schemes like the Strength 101 Program before transitioning to this type of approach, or continue to alternate the two, until their lifts reach near a 2x bodyweight squat, 1.5x bodyweight bench, 2.5x bodyweight deadlift for an average sized male, or a 1.5x bodyweight squat, 1x bodyweight bench, 2x bodyweight deadlift for a female. Yes, this is a program for serious lifters!

The program

Day 1:
Squat 4×5 @ 80% or approx 8RM
CGBP 4×3 @ 85% or approx 5RM
DB row 4×6-10
Face pull/skullcrusher 3×8-12

Day 2:
Deadlift 4×4 @ 80% or approx 8RM
Bench 2×3 @ 85% or approx 5RM, 3×4 @ 80% or approx 8RM
DB bench 3×6-10
Bulgarian split squat/hamstring curl 3×6-10
Pallof press 3×8-12

Day 3:
Front squat 4×2 @ 80% or approx 8RM
Bench 4×2 @ 80% or approx 8RM
Neutral grip pullup 4×6-10
Rear delt fly/skullcrusher/DB bicep curl 3×8-12

Day 4:
Squat 3×2 @ 85% or approx 5RM
CGBP 4×5 @ 80% or approx 8RM
Deadlift 6×2 @ 75% or approx 10RM
Side plank 3x30sec

1. Neutral grip pull up

Grip the parallel bars with your palms facing each other, hanging at full stretch. Pull your shoulders down and together to begin the movement. Reach your chest up as you pull your elbows down towards your waist, finishing as your chest reaches the bar, with your shoulders squeezed tightly together.

2. Deadlift

Set your stance about shoulder width apart, with the bar over your midfoot. Take a grip with long, straight arms and set your hips back with your back flat. Your armpits should be directly over the bar and your shins close to vertical. Brace and pull the slack out of the bar. Push through your heels and stand up, bringing your hips to the bar to finish the lift.

3. Squat

Squeeze your shoulder blades together before unracking the bar. Set your stance and distribute your weight evenly across your feet. Take a big belly breath and brace tight. Let your hips move back as you bend your knees, reversing once you can’t descend further comfortably. Push back into the bar as you stand up. The bar should stay directly over your midfoot.

4. Bench

Squeeze your shoulder blades together before unracking the bar. Take a breath before lowering the weight. Reach your chest up to the bar — you should touch it at the base of your sternum, or close to. Drive the bar up and towards your face, thinking of pulling the bar apart in your hands. Your wrists and elbows should stay stacked throughout the movement.

5. Front squat

Rest the bar in your palm or forefingers and drive your elbows up high in front of you. The bar should sit on the meat of your shoulder. Drive your elbows high and your chest up as you descend to maintain an upright posture. Your knees should move forward and your hips down between them. Maintain this posture as you drive up, keeping the bar over your midfoot.

6. DB row

Place one arm and one knee along a bench, with your opposite leg on the floor for support. Holding a dumbbell in one hand, reach long to the ground beneath your shoulder. Pull your shoulders together and draw the dumbbell up in an arc towards your waist. Your forearm should remain perpendicular to the ground.

7. DB press

Set your shoulder blades together before raising the dumbbells to your shoulders. Holding this posture, push the dumbbells up and together until your arms are locked and they come to rest over your shoulder joint. Lower each rep to in-line with your armpit, keeping your wrists and elbows stacked throughout the lift.

8. Close grip bench press (CGBP)

Perform as per bench press, using a narrower grip, just outside shoulder width. Tuck your elbows to your sides as you descend and touch the bar lower on your chest, then keep them tucked as you press the bar back to its starting position.


  • The starting percentages are based off a conservative maximum ( one that you could hit most days cleanly). If you’re  using your true 1RM, reduce them all by 5%.
  • If the numbers do not match the suggested repetition maximum, for example if the program says 2 reps at a 5 rep max and you don’t think you would have three reps left in the tank on set one, it is too heavy. All loads should increase 1-2.5% each week. If a set approached failure, repeat the same load the following week and week 4 should be a deload.
  • All accessory work should be performed to 1-2 reps short of failure.

Want to know more about athlete-level strength training? Read Will Berkman’s advice on specificity, overloading, recovery, variation and structure on the next page. 

Will Berkman is a personal trainer at Fitness First Bondi Platinum and Willoughby and is an Australian Powerlifting representative. Will holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science and is currently completing a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Phone: 0403 989 842
Email: bill_werkman@hotmail.com
Instagram: @w.berkmanpt

Bree Wyatt is a personal trainer from Bondi Platinum. She was an Australian representative at the Asia/Oceania Powerlifting Championships in December 2016, where she received bronze for deadlift. Bree is passionate about getting people stronger and healthier, especially those who are new to the gym environment.
Email: chickswithguns@tpg.com.au
Phone: 0402 462 722
Facebook: chickswithgunspt

Photography: Lee McCluskey
Videography: Nathan Ford