Program Review: P.H.A.T.

Program Review: P.H.A.T.

My year of powerbuilding continues. After doing Brandon Campbell?s P.H.U.L., I?ve moved on to Layne Norton?s P.H.A.T. (Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training). I did thirteen weeks of the program, six weeks at full volume, one deload week and then six more weeks cranked up.

P.H.A.T. marks the first time in my program training history I did a five day a week program and I had no idea how hard it would be to add that extra day a week to my programming. Missed days were, sadly, a pretty regularly occurrence. However, unlike my experience with P.H.U.L., I didn?t feel like there were any needless days in this routine. Somehow, with more days and more volume, Norton managed to make a program where everything seems virtal.

I?ll be comparing P.H.A.T. to P.H.U.L. quite a bit here. They are the two powerbuilding programs dujour of the moment and they are the first two non-Jim Wendler programs I?ve done in two and a half years. Like P.H.U.L., there is some powerlifting, so it makes sense to talk 1 rep maxes (1RM) a bit, but again I decided not to truly test them. With P.H.A.T. being the first program I?ve done ever that did not have deadlifts nor a barbell overhead press in it, I really didn?t think a 1RM test would be worth much compared to more training.

With all that said, P.H.A.T. reminded me a bit more of a Wendler program than P.H.U.L., there was main work, and then there was supplemental work, on all the big compound lifts that P.H.A.T. features: bench press, barbell row and back squat. This supplemental stuff was even run off a percentage of the working weight of the main lifts. So, this was a comfort zone for me and maybe would have made a better transition for me out of Wendler Land than P.H.U.L. was.

What is Power Hypertrophy Upper Lower?

Norton is both a powerlifter and body builder. He?s competed at high levels in both sports (yes, bodybuidling is a sport) and thinks there is more overlap between the two sports than perhaps most people think. Especially body builders, who think that heavy weight, low rep sets don?t do much for building muscle mass. But there are a fair amount of powerlifters who are so myopically focused on 1RM numbers that they eschew any sort of additional work. There?s the school of if you want a bigger bench, then bench more and don?t worry about other movements.

Norton hopes to bring these two worlds together in P.H.A.T., noting in his write up that classic bodybuilders have long used powerlifting to help them increase capacity. And once work capacity is higher, then hypertrophy work adds even more muscle mass. Or so Norton claims anyway. He?s probably right because he used P.H.A.T. to great success himself before sharing it with the world.

The result is there there are the two types of splits we saw in P.H.U.L.: one between power days and hypertrophy days, and then splits for working different parts of the body on different days. Where P.H.A.T. pulls away is a bit more focus on upper body work. This makes sense since show muscles for men are largely all upper body. While stick legs and a flat ass aren?t desirable for conventionally for men, these are hardly a focus when talking aesthetics.

To fit in this focus on upper muscles, P.H.A.T. goes five days a week. Two power days are split between ?upper? and ?lower.? While the remaining three days are hypertrophy days, only one is lower, while the other two hit specific parts of upper: arms and chest one day, shoulders and back the other.

The result, in my opinion, is the best of both worlds sort of feel that I think powerbuilding programs should hit.

My Lifting Background Up to This Point

I have been program lifting for a month shy of four years. First six months were Stronglifts 5×5, then a year of Greyskull LP (during which I injured my back and spent months in recovery, losing a lot of deadlift and squat progress). I started 5/3/1 in February of 2017, switching to Forever style programing in February of 2018.

2019 I started various powerbuilding programs.

Before that, I had been on fuckarounditis for two years of varying intensity and absolutely no progression plan in an apartment building gym similar to a hotel level gym. I spent my 20s largely an out of shape obese guy after being an athletic teenager.

Work Outside of the Gym

During this program, I continued to take a creatine supplement of 5g a day. I also continued taking a daily D3 5,000 IU vitamin supplement and Fish Oil for Omega-3 1000 mg daily.

I have eschewd calorie counting for almost a year now. I have a good idea of what goes in and out of me thanks to previously calorie counting though. So, I?m not flying blind, but I?m not bothering plugging numbers into a tracker these days.

This program has no required cardio, so my weighted vest stayed in my closet. I walk, on average, 4miles a day according to my Apple Watch. About 2.5 of those are while pushing my 40 pound toddler around in a stroller. That?s my cardio. As the weather has gotten nicer, I?ve walked more, often chasing that same toddler as he takes his scooter around the neighborhood. Because I suffer from asthma, I can?t really do anything much more demanding than that anyway, so I really didn?t reduce my cardio work too terribly much.

On days not at the gym, I continued my ab focused routine that I?ve been doing all through my 5/3/1 days. This is 15?30 minutes of ab roller, leg raises and push-ups with some stretching as well. This isn?t to get good abs for aesthetics, but a hold over from my physical therapy after I screwed up my back. My chiropractor noticed my core was very weak and was forcing too much work on my back and was probably a big contributing factor to the strain I suffered.

Impressions of the Program

Getting in five days a week is nigh impossible for me. Especially during the summer. I don?t know how similar my summer is to other family men out there, but during the summer I see a big increase in out of town trips for friends and family. And often to places without easy access to a gym. Lake houses and campsites are very common vacation destinations for me. But even outside the trips, there was always just something coming up. And after spending literal years making myself available on Saturdays for friends and family, it was difficult to suddenly shut myself off to them.

The result is a lot of missed leg hyptertrophy days. As I mentioned in my last review (of P.H.U.L.), leg hypertrophy day seems unnecessary for my body shape, where I already have massive thighs, fairly defined ass and even some decent calves. We can always be better versions of ourselves, of course, but I feel a way stronger desire to change my t-rex shape than to make my thighs even bigger. So, when those weeks came up where I knew I would miss a day, I skipped leg hypertrophy day. And, those weeks were way too often for me to probably even say I officially did P.H.A.T.

I did a version of P.H.A.T. where there?s only one leg day: leg power day. This was especially true for the second six weeks of the program. The first six weeks, I almost managed to do the program as written. Here?s my workout logs for an in-depth look:

Image for postFirst six weeksImage for postSecond six weeks

Skipping leg hypertrophy day was probably a mistake, as weeks I did were weeks I got insane DOMs, especially in my quads. Even lightly, I apparently must hit legs twice a week to keep them in shape. While my squat numbers were going up, toward the end it got tougher and tougher.

Progression-wise, I feel like my progress was better with P.H.A.T. than P.H.U.L. While some lifts had trouble moving in both programs for me (bench press, looking at you), other lifts moved in P.H.A.T. for me that didn?t in P.H.U.L. Obviously increased volume is a big reason for this. But also, I feel like lift selection in P.H.A.T. was just better at complimenting each other. Too many lifts in P.H.A.T. felt like they were on an island, the only movements of their kind in the whole program. In P.H.A.T. many lifts compliment each other with multiple muscle groups overlapping many times.

In terms of fatigue, the program was similarly intense as P.H.U.L., by the last week I was beat. Even with the deload week I did between the first six weeks and the second, I still pushed myself into some pretty high, for me, numbers by the end. It did not help that during the final week, I was on vacation at a lake. Lots of swimming, jet ski riding, boat piloting, time in the hot sun, etc. It also had a lot of bad eating and odd timing for my trips to the gym because of the trip, which overall just demolished me even more. DOMs in my biceps were there the whole final week, I failed everything about my final week squats and just generally felt like garbage.

All that out of the way, both upper hypertrophy days were crazy fun. I finally felt like I found a program that gave the proper focus to upper body aesthetics after years of not. Four different types of curls, three on arms and chest day alone, gave me the type of pump in my arms that I previously only have felt in my legs after a really good squat session. Spider curls were something I had never heard of until this program and they were a blast every week and the lift I most looked forward to. And honestly, hypertrophy leg day was pretty fun too. Unlike P.H.U.L., where leg hypertrophy day felt more like a cardio day, I did feel like P.H.A.T. is actually working on muscle building and strength.

While, to my eyes, aesthetic improvement wasn?t much over the thirteen weeks I did this, my wife has commented about how I ?have muscles now and that?s new.? However, it?s almost all in my lats, shoulders and delts along with some general chest and back improvement. Basically, my arms are just hard at gaining mass and that?s just something I personally have to work on. But I grew in, overall, aesthetically pleasing ways even if I didn?t totally fix my t-rex body shape.

While P.H.A.T. has a large variety of lifts and keeps each individual day moving, often only two sets of any given lift, the same thing thing every week for months eventually got a little old. I missed the change up on 5/3/1 a bit, where I sets and reps are switched up and you maybe challenged in a different way. It was especially taxing on my bench, which just refused to move over two plates for 3×5. So, I did the same weight, reps and sets and for months and that was generally just boring veering on disheartening.

One thing I would change about this program is the ?supplemental? (or speed work, as Norton calls it) barbell work on hypertrophy days. Norton has these done as a percentage of the work done on power days at 6×3 rather than 3×5. I would start them at the 65% ? 70%, but I would increase it regularly then like any lift rather than leaving it tied to the power day weight every week. Because my bench rarely increased on power days, I rarely increased my weight on hypertrophy days. It was the literal definition of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If the hypertrophy days were increasing on their own, that may have helped my power days.

I also wondering if supersetting some of the program would have helped too. Especially arm work chest and arms hypertrophy days. Doing three different types of curls in a row and then three types of triceps lifts in a row right after seems like it may have been better mixed together. In general, the order of the lifts feel like it could be revised just in terms of equipment used. Going from the dumbbell benches, to the cable machines, and then back to the benches seems like poor planning. Why not just get everything that needs a bench done at once? Sometimes this might break up what muscles are being worked, but often times it doesn?t, so it really makes no sense to me except to make me wipe down equipment more often.

The different days also take very different amounts of time. Shoulders and back day can be done in 45 minutes, by far the shortest day. Seems like it a good day to add deadlifts, but that is a power exercise primarily. Doing deadlifts with high reps has the potential for fatigue to kill form. On the other hand, leg days along with chest and arm day sometimes ticked up around 80 minutes, nearly twice as long. I feel like the program could be more thoughtful of time in that way and be more consistent.

But these are minor ideas that might even be specific to my gym and its layout.

Conclusion

P.H.A.T. is exactly what I was looking for when I started thinking about doing some powerbuilding. It?s got a great selection of lifts, good focus on power while still not ignoring that in the end, we all wanna look good naked. I could see it getting old after a while, but it?s great as a change of pace program that can introduce some new concepts and lifting philosophy.

However, it is time demanding. Five days a week feels like so much more time at the gym than four days a week and it was incredibly tough for me to get it done in and around the rest of my life, and especially once summer and trips out of town really started up, it was impossible for me. Be aware of how much this program is asking out of your life.

Overall: Recommended

This program has it all. Highly recommended to any lifter that feels comfortable doing all the different movements and figuring out loading on their own. As an intermediate lifter, I appreciated this program quite a bit. Don?t know if advanced lifters would like something quite this prescriptive, but if you don?t mind being told exactly what to do every day, it?s quite good.

Next for me is a quick deload week to make sure I recover. My biceps still feel sore days after I finished the program. Then I move on a to a Push-Pull-Legs program. PPL programs are getting pretty popular these days and I?d like to try one myself. Coolcicada made a PPL routine that starts with some power movements at the beginning of each day and then moves into hypertrophy after. So, we?re still doing the great powerbuilding year of 2019, but also getting in another style of lifting that I haven?t had much experience with.

But I do feel the call of 5/3/1 Boring But Big. My first review of BBB remains the popular thing I?ve written on this website and was my first non-beginner program. BBB is considered a powerbuilding program to boot. So, while PPL is next, I think I?ve got enough time left in the year to hit that too.

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