The PHUL program “happened” for a specific reason…
The last decade has seen an explosion of fitness “gurus” who claim that their “revolutionary” and “never-before-seen” workouts and programs are exactly the thing you need to get to the next level in your training.
But an iconic lifter by the name of Brandon Campbell set out to put an end to this and created a program that incorporates science and real-world training experience, giving birth to the PHUL workout.
Before moving on, know that PHUL stands for Power Hypertrophy Upper Lower.
Hypertrophy Training with PHUL Uses Strength Gains to Maximize Results
At some point in life, many of us take a look in the mirror and decide we’d look a whole lot better with some big arms and well-defined quads. When we make this decision, in reality we have simply made a commitment to packing on muscle volume through the use of a hypertrophy training program.
While the science behind this process can be complicated, the application of its principles is pretty simple. In order to achieve hypertrophy, there has to be an emphasis on progressive overload throughout a training program. Progressive overload is a structured way in which one can manipulate their body’s response to exercise by adding weight and/or volume to their workouts as they move through the stages of their program.
There are many theories on why we get bigger during training programs with the vast majority being absolutely ridiculous. We don’t possess the ability to change how many fibers our muscles have and you certainly can’t change your genetics. However, you do have the ability to increase the size of the muscle fibers you possess, allowing you to utilize the best benefits your genetic make-up offers you.
In more scientific terms, hypertrophy refers to an enlargement of muscular cells. On the other hand, hyperplasia refers to an increase in the amount of muscular cells. Hypertrophy is where a majority of results in size occur, however.
In order to achieve optimal hypertrophy, there has to be a clear-cut balance between the frequency of training, the intensity of training sessions, the type of training being done (free weights vs. machines vs. body weight), the time it takes to complete sessions, and recovery. When these domains are in unison with proper rest and nutrition, you create a recipe for rapid increases in both size and strength.
There has to be a careful link between volume and intensity to promote muscular growth and strength effectively. In other words, you want to be working out hard enough to make results, but not so hard that you can’t recover. There is a fine balance and it matters.
This optimal recipe for size and strength brings us to the PHUL workout – PHUL standing for Power, Hypertrophy, Upper Body and Lower Body. This program was devised a few years back by the popular YouTuber and fitness expert, Brandon Campbell and uses a combination of two power days and two hypertrophy days to achieve impressive increases in hypertrophy and strength during a single training cycle.
It’s perfect for powerlifters during an off season or powerlifters who simply want to optimize hypertrophy instead of just strength.
But know that this program is designed for experienced and serious lifters who are looking to start packing on size and strength quickly.
How and Why Does the PHUL Workout Give Such Rapid Results?
In simplest terms, by focusing on getting stronger, more weight can be lifted in the hypertrophy rep range. This directly leads to gaining mass quicker.
Additionally, new research has shown that training sessions cause a release of protein for up to 48 hours post workout. PHUL utilizes this principle by hitting each muscle group twice per week, opposed to the classic once-per-week philosophy of body builders. Multiple training sessions for each group promote a constant release of protein into the body causing muscles to go through sustained periods of growth.
In essence, protein synthesis is happening all the time while using the program (as long as your meal plan is also on point).
It is easy to overlook the role protein intake has on our diet. But as a lifter concerned with maximizing strength and muscle, making sure to consume enough protein—about 1 gram per pound of bodyweight—is critical. Research proves it.
Focus of the PHUL Program
As the name of the workout plan implies, each week will consist of both a power and a hypertrophy day for both the upper and lower body in a 4 day workout split. The body parts trained are grouped together as a whole opposed to the old-school and more conventional style of dividing training days into muscle groups such as back/bi’s, chest/tri’s, etc. (which is far less effective).
Power days use conventional compound movements that recruit and engage a large number of muscle fibers during the lift. The reps are left relatively low so you can focus on moving challenging weights in lifts including the bench press, overhead press, back squat, barbell row and deadlift.
Hypertrophy days focus on a higher rep scheme and target individual muscle groups more closely while still incorporating some compound movements at a lighter intensity. The days are still broken up into upper and lower body days but you can expect to be hitting chest fly’s on the same day as preacher bar curls.
The combination of single and multi-joint exercises has been proven to be effective in producing long-term benefits on body composition, muscular endurance and muscle strength. These benefits are addressed perfectly through the combination of power and hypertrophy days within the structure of PHUL.
Why Isn’t the PHUL Routine for Beginners?
When beginning any program that included compound lifts and is focused on building strength and muscle, there are three major factors that a lot of novice lifters fail to consider:
- Linear periodization is all that is needed—anything more is a waste of time for beginners who can progress rapidly with a plan like Greyskull LP or ICF 5×5.
- Compound lifts require high levels of mobility for an adequate range of motion. If compensation is occurring during the movements, injury is a high risk as is the likelihood that the reps won’t add up to real results. And compensation is likely to occur as novice lifters simply don’t have great form—they haven’t trained long enough to develop it.
- Many different muscles need to be engaged throughout the movements to maximize strength gains. In order for this to happen, it’s necessary that there is already a baseline of muscle and the ability to activate these muscles effectively while bracing throughout the movement. Take the overhead barbell press, for example. If the posterior musculature of the upper back is relaxed when performing the movement, the shoulder will be forced into an unstable position. This will take away from the function of the movement as well as its training benefits (not to mention the chance for injury).
Spinal posture is absolutely one of the most important aspects of performing multi-joint compound exercises. Novice lifters have a tendency to abandon this upright position due to a lack of overall strength, causing serious risks for injury.
- Day 1: Upper Power
- Day 2: Lower Power
- Day 3: Rest
- Day 4: Upper Hypertrophy
- Day 5: Lower Hypertrophy
- Day 6: Rest
- Day 7: Rest
Breaking Down the PHUL Routine
As you can see above, the PHUL routine uses a 7-day schedule divided into two power days and two hypertrophy days. It is recommended to start on the lower side of sets and reps at the beginning of the program and increase total volume (sets * reps) as strength increases.
Off days are key for the major muscle groups but light cardio and core/maintenance work (rotator cuff, forearms, calves) may be done on off days as long as they do not take away from the main power or hypertrophy days.
When beginning PHUL, it is important to know your 1RM for the major power lifts so you can set a base to start from. It is recommended to start at the 80%-85% range. It is easy to track progression through recording each and every workout, including exercises, sets and reps. If you do not use a training journal, you absolutely should.
The routine is built completing the lifts as scheduled. If you are lifting weights that are too heavy causing you to lose form fail at completing the reps and sets scheduled, you are going to miss out on optimal benefits from the program.
While there is some room for flexibility when doing hypertrophy workouts, it will do no good to alter power days. The programming of these lifts is designed to carefully maximize the benefits of compound movements and altering them will likely lead to muscular imbalances or lackluster results.
Any alterations to hypertrophy days should focus on changes in grip and position (preferring chin-ups to pull-ups for example) opposed over-targeting any specific muscle group.
PHUL Training Cycle
A full PHUL training program should take absolutely no less than 6 weeks but will usually last closer to 12 if not longer. The training takes place at a high intensity and is not for those who aren’t serious about committing to the program over the long run. It is designed for the boldest of lifters who are willing to do whatever it takes to maximize results.
When embarking on training plan like this one, do not get discouraged a few weeks in if the results are not what you expected. Like all training, it is a marathon and not a sprint. It takes the body time to adjust to new training demands being placed on it.
As long as diet and sleep are taken care of to ensure recovery after workouts, strength and hypertrophy increases will come.
Complete PHUL Spreadsheet
The following is a typical layout for a week of PHUL training. Remember that completing the main compound lifts (and not altering them) is one of the most important aspects of finding success in this program.
Hypertrophy lifts may be altered with caution.
|Barbell Bench||3-4||4-6||120 s|
|Incline DB Press||3-4||8-12||90 s|
|Bent Over Row||3-4||4-6||120 s|
|Strict Military Press||3-4||4-6||120 s|
|Supine EZ Bar Curls||3-4||12-15||90 s|
|Skull Crushers||3-4||12-15||90 s|
|Back Squat||3-4||4-6||120 s|
|DB Lunges||3-4||8-12||90 s|
|Hamstring Curls||3-4||8-12||90 s|
|Barbell Calf Raises||3-4||15-20||90 s|
|Incline DB Press||4||12-15||90 s|
|DB Row||4||12-15||90 s|
|DB Overhead Press||4||12-15||90 s|
|Seated Rows||4||12-15||90 s|
|Shoulder Abd.||4||12-15||90 s|
|DB Neutral Curls||4||12-15||90 s|
|Tricep Kickbacks||4||12-15||90 s|
|Front Squat||4||12-15||90 s|
|Reverse Barbell Lunges||4||12-15||90 s|
|Hamstring Curls||4||12-15||90 s|
|Calf Raises||4||12-15||90 s|
|Seated Calf raises||4||12-15||90 s|
Maximizing PHUL Workout Results
This program has proven to be effective in promoting hypertrophy but there are some common mistakes that will negate optimal results.
- It is NECESSARY to eat a lot in order to fuel this program, especially considering back-to-back power days.
- It is NECESSARY to increase sleep in order to allow for effective muscle recovery.
- It is NECESSARY to use off days as active recovery days. There should consist of mobility work, proper hydration and carb-loading for training days – especially the power days.
The benefits of the PHUL program are many when you adhere to it and ensure proper recovery (caloric intake and sleep), but can be summed up in three words: strength and size.
The Power of an Upper Lower Split
While there are many unique aspects to the PHUL program, it does follow the basic principles of a classic upper lower split workout routine. The main goal of upper lower splits is to hit both the upper body and lower body twice, using a variety of compound and isolation exercises.
Although not as conventional for bodybuilders who traditionally train each muscle group once per week, many experienced weight lifters use splits to continually make strength and hypertrophy gains. Cardio and core can (and should) be programmed in as a finisher or during off days.
Many upper lower splits make the mistake of missing certain muscle groups, especially shoulders. If you are looking to absolutely maximize results, it is important to follow programming that targets the entire body so as to avoid imbalances or the creation of weak points that may limit overall strength in different planes of movement. And if you’re looking to maximize muscle gains, skipping a muscle group is just plain dumb.
PHUL Workout: Reddit Isn’t Always the Best Place for Information
While the PHUL workout has a somewhat standardized scheduled, many weight lifters have experienced different levels of success with alterations to the regimen. This is because as long as the main scheme of two power days and two hypertrophy days is adhered to, results will be made.
When it comes to reading the Reddit powerlifting group, there are a multitude of suggestions that may do more harm than good. The following are just a sample:
- Increasing the rep scheme on power days. Power days in the PHUL workout are designed to use heavy, challenging weights at an effective volume. Increasing volume will decrease possible reps and thus mitigate benefits. And even if you can do more repetitions, allowing enough “room in the tank” for your body to recover more effectively is a much more optimal way to train—you’ll make more gains with less effort.
- Making hypertrophy days too focused on the compound lifts. Hypertrophy days should focus on movements that will target specific muscle groups and provide additional volume. Over-exerting muscles that are still recovering from earlier on in the week by doing compound lifts is a bad idea. While general muscle groups are hit twice each week, the intensity and volume is far different, initiating different physiological responses.
As always, there’s a reason the plan is designed like it is—follow it how it was designed.
A Common Complaint of PHUL on Reddit
Those new to PHUL have had varied experiences with the program. Commonly, those new to the program find difficulty with back squatting and deadlifting on the same power day.
It is not uncommon for those who are freshly introduced to powerlifting to find it difficult to train both back squats and dead lifts on the same day. Both of these lifts are highly technical and require a great deal of force production through the posterior chain, causing a great amount of fatigue and potential limitation of force production.
In either lift, regardless of which precedes the other in training sessions, the deadlift or back squat may stress the lumbar erector muscles. This excessive stress is likely to cause lumbar fatigue, making it difficult to keep good form as the lower back becomes tired.
However, with proper weight selection and an adherence to good form, combining these two exercises proves to be highly effective at increasing both strength and size. Those who have found success in the PHUL workout program understand this.
While the goal is to always avoid injury, powerlifting always poses a risk when not approached properly (mostly when too much weight is used). While the potential negative consequences of powerlifting are well established, proper technique and development cut down these risks to practically zero.
If you’re interested in the PHUL plan, it’s worth taking the time to look at the PHAT workout as well. If you are simply interested in following the PHUL plan, jump to the spreadsheet section below.
The PHAT workout program that has gained traction in recent years– PHAT standing for Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training. From the outside, this workout may seem to draw many parallels to PHUL but there are several key differences of note.
Layne Norton, a professional bodybuilder with a doctorate in nutritional sciences, devised this program early on in his career. During his first bodybuilding show, he noticed a massive weakness in leg muscle tone development when following a traditional bodybuilding template (training a muscle group once per week). In order to address his lackluster performance, he began to consider the performance of competitive powerlifters and adopted their training techniques in order to improve size.
Dr. Norton knew that strength and size had a direct correlation and incorporated pure strength training into his regimen, resulting in massive size increases. The program he developed combines conventional powerlifting with hypertrophy training. This combination is helpful for experienced weight lifters who want to break plateaus and start adding muscle mass and size to their existing frame.
Since then, research along with the real-world experience of legendary powerlifters like Jonnie Candito has proven that—in the case of natural athletes who do not use performance-enhancing substances—size and strength are highly correlated.
In other words, getting stronger will help you to lift more weight for the same amount of reps as before, causing an increase in size. And getting bigger will then allow you to lift more weight. It’s a positive cycle that leads to more muscle and more strength.
Meat and Potatoes of PHAT
The program is based off a five-day cycle that utilizes power lifts in the beginning of the week at a medium amount of volume to encourage large muscle fiber recruitment and then breaks up the rest of the week into hypertrophy days based off traditional bodybuilding techniques.
Hypertrophy days are divided into three categories in order to target specific muscle groups throughout the training week:
- Back & shoulders
- Lower body
- Chest & arms
By breaking up these target muscle groups among different days, the maximum recovery capacity (also known as the maximum recoverable volume) of each area is taken advantage of without fatiguing the muscle group through accessory contributions (biceps fatigue via dumbbell rows, for example).
PHAT is built off of the basis of “powerlifting bodybuilding” that utilizes a combination of single-joint and multi-joint exercises to build a strong, muscular physique. Due to the volume, overuse injuries common to this style of training should be considered and addressed through proper technique and a thorough warm-up.
Similar to the PHUL workout, PHAT is NOT for novice lifters.
Between the compound lifts and isolated muscle contractions, this program will overwhelm individuals who do not have several months of weight training experience. But even more so, it’s just not needed and is counterproductive. If you’re new to the gym, stick to a beginner program that utilizes linear progression.
Fundamentally, this program is ideal for bodybuilders in the offseason as it includes enough compound work to keep strength up and enough volume to maintain hypertrophy & definition.
- Day 1: Upper Power
- Day 2: Lower Power
- Day 3: Rest
- Day 4: Upper Hypertrophy
- Day 5: Lower Hypertrophy
- Day 6: Shoulder Hypertrophy
- Day 7: Rest
PHAT vs. PHUL: Comparing the Two Power Bodybuilding Plans
While both of these programs certainly possess the ability to pack on some size and help get you through a plateau in your training, it’s important to understand that they each have a specific purpose.
Before deciding which program is for you, it is important that you understand where you are in your training and what your short-term and long-term goals are.
The Key Differences
If you are looking to solely start adding strength, PHUL is the plan for you. What to do after the PHUL program depends on what your immediate and long term goals are competitively or recreationally. The rep scheme and frequency of this workout will result in about half of the total reps you would do in PHAT, allowing for a focus in heavier weight moved and less fatigue to limit potential weight moved.
While PHAT utilizes compound movements to make size increases, the additional day of training and increased exercises/reps on both power and hypertrophy days adds a lot of volume to maximize increases in size. Strength will still come with that amount of volume but you definitely need to be in a caloric surplus: a ‘Dwayne Johnson type diet’ (loads of calories).
For powerlifters especially, the 4-day upper lower split of PHAT is a great program to start up shortly after a competition to fuel early off-season strength gains. It is important that individuals ensure they do not go into a calorie deficit at any point during the program as this will greatly subtract from any strength and size gains they can make, resulting in catabolic muscle activity (a decrease in muscle).
Consuming at least 200 calories in excess of what is burned will be essential to taking advantage of the programs structure. This is known around the community as “lean bulking”.
As a competition approaches and weight maintenance becomes more of a priority, PHAT is recommended to focus on strength increases while body weight either cuts or flat lines.
For competitive bodybuilders, the opposite order is recommended (PHUL then PHAT) so that heavier weights are used far from competition as calories begin to lower (to avoid injury). For these individuals, a mild calorie deficit during PHAT in order to shed excess poundage for physique quality is much less likely to lead to injury.
While picking which program to use will come down to an individual’s goals, they do have some overlap in terms of workout structures as a whole. A key benefit is the avoidance of the traditional 5×5 structure that handicaps more advanced lifters and causes plateaus.
Both programs focus strongly on utilizing compound lifts in the beginning of the week to increase size and strength while utilizing accessory lifts for hypertrophy. Because of this structure, these programs are unique in that they serve increases in both strength and aesthetics.
In terms of time commitment, both programs are very similar with regards to minutes in the gym per workout save for the fact that PHAT has an additional hypertrophy day. If you take the time to include a proper warm-up and cool down (as you should) and don’t mess around in the gym, you can expect to be finished within an hour and thirty minutes every time.
Although this was addressed earlier and individually for each program, it cannot be emphasized enough that both PHAT and PHUL are not for beginners. These regimens are designed for experienced lifters who have already developed a strong base and understand correct form.
Strength vs. Hypertrophy: Making the Final Decision Between Using PHUL or PHAT
If gaining strength is your main goal pick PHUL.
If gaining size is your main goal, pick PHAT.
Avoiding the Layne Norton Fat Syndrome
Regardless of specific fitness goals, it can be assumed that the majority of individuals partaking in any fitness routine are keen on having a limited amount of body fat. And if you are a powerlifter you absolutely should be concerned with excess fat–it’s one of the biggest lies told.
Regardless of the amount of time-spent training, success in fat loss will always be limited if a proper dietary plan isn’t followed.
*If you haven’t already, read the ultimate guide on powerlifting nutrition and meal planning—it is a goldmine of information*
In order to individualize a dietary plan, the following series of steps need to be adhered to:
- Calculate your specific energy needs (using a METs equation is a good starting point for those without access to metabolic testing)
- Establish what it is that you can and are willing to eat regularly
- Plan out macros and micros based on specific goals
- Set up consistency in your routine
- Ensure nutrient accessibility works well with the timing of training (eating carbs around training, for example)
- Proper supplementation
After ensuring all of these factors are covered, it’s time to build a meal plan that will provide consistency and promote a lean yet strong physique.
Consistent meal plans provide constants throughout the course of training. It also makes things way easier. There’s a reason hyper-successful people like Steve Jobs wear the same clothes each day: it saves time to focus on the tasks that matter.
It also makes counting calories and macros so, so simple.
Powerlifters and bodybuilders have long argued about the best way to go about building both strength and muscle. Many bodybuilders have focused on the “pump” through utilizing high repetitions at a low weight–isolating particular muscles and exhausting them.
The three powerlifts (bench, squat and deadlift) all have an amazing capability to increase strength but not everyone is on board that they can produce a sound aesthetic and solid muscle mass as well. Many bodybuilders, however, have figured out this is flat out wrong. One perfect example is the legendary Ronnie Coleman who was known for lifting heavy weights alongside his bodybuilding training.
And he dominated the sport for almost a decade—unheard of during his time.
Through incorporating an emphasis on strength, a lifter is able to use a heavier weight for more reps. This translates directly to an increase in muscle cells (hypertrophy). If you can complete the same amount of sets and reps with a heavier weight than you used previous, you’ve grown in size—there is absolutely no denying the fact.
While using compound movements is an essential component of this style, they are not the only exercises. Accessory work for hypertrophy also takes a front-seat role to ensure that the desired physique is achieved.
For this reason, the style of training is referred to as “powerbuilding”—PHUL and PHAT are both examples of powerbuilding in action.
Strength vs. Hypertrophy: Having the Best of Both Worlds
Strength and hypertrophy are far from synonymous although they are highly correlated as explained earlier.
Fundamentally, increasing strength causes more efficient neuromuscular control. This is to say the muscles get more effective at causing contractions. This is the same reason that individuals experience rapid strength increases early on in any training program, regardless of their age.
Muscular hypertrophy on the other hand occurs as muscle cells increase in size and number. Hypertrophy is optimized through proper diet, sleep and training regimens that include large amounts of volume. Some supplements can also play an important role (protein powder, creatine, fish oil, and vitamins).
While there are several popular opinions on the exact mechanism of muscle growth, it is believed that resistance exercise increases the size of muscle fiber diameter. Many will claim that genetics are to credit for impressive physiques and this is true to an extent.
Muscle fibers are usually either Type I or Type II, with Type I being fast-twitch and Type II being slow-twitch. Targeting both is critical to maximizing increases in muscle.
While the number of fibers we have is pre-determined by genetics, we have the ability to train the fibers we do have appropriately and take advantage of the genetics we do have. Though individuals with a higher percentage of Type I fibers will have an easier time gaining impressive size through hypertrophy.
As stated continuously throughout this article, it is extremely important to understand individual goals when deciding whether strength or hypertrophy is the main goal. Fortunately, utilizing the PHUL program or the PHAT program will make the decision easier as both combine the best of strength and hypertrophy training.
It is rare to come across programs that incorporate a focus on both strength and size. But PHUL and PHAT both deliver.