January 12, 2021 10 min read
You’re looking to become a powerlifter, or maybe you’re looking to build more muscle. Whatever it is, you don’t want to immediately plateau after starting a new routine.
The best way to continually work towards results is to start with a solid foundation and a proven routine. You build muscle and gain strength by encouraging and harnessing your body and its natural processes, and that’s what Dr. Layne Norton and the PHAT workout are all about.
Layne Norton is a pro natural bodybuilder and has been training longer for literally the majority of his life. He dipped his toe into the water in high-school, and since that day he’s won 7 different bodybuilding titles along with 6 powerlifting titles. His passion for the sport is nothing short of total enamoration.
It’d be impressive enough if his journey ended with him toiling in the gym towards his next inevitable powerlifting victory, but that wasn’t enough for him. He went on to start his own lifestyle brand, full of workout advice and handcrafted workout routines designed to get the most out of anybody that’s serious about powerlifting and bulking up for the sake of becoming the best version of themselves.
Still not enough for you? How about the Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Illinois to back up all of the big talk. He’s walked the walk, and then took years to dissect the exact mechanics of doing all of that walking. If you don’t think the guy knows what it takes to throw together an effective workout, then you can read his dissertation on the critical factors of determining protein quantity and quality of a complete meal to initiate muscle protein synthesis.
If that’s not the kind of resume that would earn a little bit of credibility, then we’re not quite sure what would.
Let’s take a look at what Dr. Bodybuilder has in store for us. The PHAT training program is honestly pretty simple. PHAT here stands for “power hypertrophy adaptive training” and those are the component parts that you’re going to be working on to build muscle and increase your single rep max(1RM). The PHAT workout is a 5-day PPL (push, pull, legs) routine, meaning that you’re going to be hitting every single part of your body throughout the week. In fact, this one has you hitting your upper and lower body multiple times a week.
Your power days are the first two days of your routine. These days you’re going to be packing on the weights. These are low rep, high weight days. The goal on power days is to increase the amount of weight you can lift. Studies have found that the best way to get your one-rep max up with through high volume training with short one to three minute rests in between sets. Norton’s PHAT program takes that to heart, by dedicating two full days to high volume lower rep work. Get the barbells and the squat racks ready, because you’re going to be hitting them hard.
After a rest day, you’ll be diving straight into hypertrophy training. This half of the week has you lifting less weight and aiming for more high-intensity weight lifting. You’ll be lifting around sixty percent of your maxes, and aiming to get in as many reps as possible where applicable. This kind of training is all about pushing your muscles to their limits so that you come into next week’s training with more muscle mass to acclimate to lifting heavier weights.
The PHAT workout program is all about working hard in order to harness the natural processes of your body. You’re working them in tandem in order to achieve better and more impressive results week after week.
It also aims to allow flexibility. This is adaptive training after all. That doesn’t refer just to your muscles adapting to the training load you’re taking on. It’s also adaptive in its flexibility. Let’s look at your typical week:
You can see here that you have the room to do any sort of workout as long as you’re getting your pushes, pulls, and legs fully covered. This plan isn’t about strictly assigning the same dozen exercises to every single person that takes it on. Additionally, you’ll be switching these things up every two to three weeks to fully cover the range of motion on all of your muscle groups. This is a routine focused on working on your overall strength, so you’ll really only be getting the most out of it when you’re switching things up.
You’ll notice that the PHAT program focuses on compound movements. You’re going to be doing a lot of deadlifts and bench presses. This means that while it aims for efficiency, you may be prone to creating blind spots in your routine.
Charting your progress and keeping a careful eye on which muscle groups your exercises target each week is going to be an indispensable tool, but all of the compound exercises in the world can’t realistically cover every single muscle in your body without contorting yourself in weird dangerous ways.
This is where assistance exercises come in. The PHAT workout program creates space for you to slot in assistance exercises during your routine. These are any range of isolation exercises so you can target problem areas and increase your lifting effectiveness. If you notice that you’re struggling with grip strength and it’s screwing with your 1RM, this would be the time to work in some towel hangs or pull-ups.
We’ve thrown around a lot of jargon, but big words don’t just make your muscles bigger. What do you need to know about this routine to get the most out of it?
Strength Training: Strength training is all about training your muscles not work against you. Throughout your day your body is breaking down carbs for energy or busting open fat cells when you’ve worked through the readily available carbohydrates. One of the by-products of this is lactic acid. Usually, you work it out of your system about as fast (or faster) than you produce it, but when you’re working out your body naturally has higher demands for energy. When lactic acid builds up in your body it makes your muscles feel weaker.
When you’re strength training, you’re forcing your body to adapt to your new energy demands. You create more efficient storage methods when you undergo hypertrophy, and you build more efficient lean muscle capable of lifting more muscle. In the most simple terms, lifting weight helps you lift more weight. Of course, you probably know that by now, but understanding the process more intimately will give you a more clear picture of where you should be aiming your efforts.
Hypertrophy is the hero at the end of the day. Adapting to the presence and disposal of lactic acid isn’t the only thing that aids your muscle growth. You’re also going to want more muscle and larger fibers working together to get you lifting those weights more effectively (and looking good doesn’t hurt).
The process of hyper isn’t a mysterious one. If you want more muscle, you’ve got to give your body a reason to make more muscle. That’s why your hypertrophy days have you lifting a decent amount of weight and aiming for higher reps. As you get to the end of your sets, you’re going to be feeling the burn. That pain you’re pushing through is the pain of literally overcoming your own limitations.
When you lift heavy weights for a long time your body endures microtraumas, these are tiny tears in your muscle that you have to rebuild. Your body rebuilds them bigger than they were before and adds in more storage space for energy, instead of adding free-floating glycerol to your fat cells. Hypertrophy is why it’s so important to stock up on protein after you hit the gym. You want raw material for your body to use when you’re building muscle. If your diet is all out of wack, then you’re not going to be making any progress any time soon.
The PHAT Program is great. As long as you stick to it, track your progress, and keep yourself honest about your limits, you’ll start seeing results in a few weeks. Take these nine tips with you on your way down the road to getting swole:
Don’t Work Yourself to Failure: At least your first two weeks. If you work yourself to failure early on, you’ll have to pay the mental toll of going through a deload early on. That can be demoralizing, especially when you’re working on getting your strength up.
Working to near failure is almost as effective as working to failure, anyway, so you’ve got more reason to keep yourself working within realistic rep ranges than trying to overload yourself as soon as you start this new routine.
Warm Up: Warming up is one of the most important things you can do wherever you step into the gym. Encouraging blood flow to the parts of your body you’re going to be pushing to the limits and keeping your body limber are the most basic aspects of preventing injury.
This routine will have you lifting a lot of weight basically every single day of the week, so your opportunities for injury are high if you’re careless about your form or you neglect to warm up. Your warm-up would be an excellent place to get in your assistance exercises in.
Don’t Neglect Your Assistance Exercises: If you feel like you can get away without them, you’re setting yourself up for failure. There are some parts of your body that are just hard to hit without isolating them, and doing some skull crushers to work on your triceps, for example, will give you greater stability when you’re lowing the bar during a chest press, or heaving through most of your overhead press.
Compound exercises are great for working on several muscle groups at once, but you can improve your performance during these compound movements by targeting your weak points.
Stretch: Building muscle is great and all, but if you can’t bend over to start your deadlifts, you’re not going to get very far. If you’ve ever eaten a bad steak you know that muscle is tough. Adding more and more muscle to your body is going to have your body pulling every which way at all times. This is why proper form and working your extensors and your flexors is important. You don’t want to pull your kneecaps to the side by squatting poorly for months, but it’s also important to stay limber.
You need to keep your muscles loose when you’re going about your daily life. Stiff muscles are going to rain hell on your spine and joints if you aren’t actively stretching before and after your workouts.
Get Some Cardio In: Cardio isn’t going to steal your muscles from you. You’re not going to be losing out on precious gym time if you get some cardio in.
Your cardiovascular system is the railroad of life inside of your body. Going for a short run on your rest days is going to improve your cardiovascular health, and when you can more effectively get blood and oxygen to your starving muscles during your last set of preacher curls, you’re going to be so thankful for that jog.
Explosive Movements: On your hypertrophy days, explosive movements are going to be your best friend. You want to overcome the weights without relying on momentum to keep yourself building muscle.
Chains are great for explosive motions during hypertrophy days. If your chains are strong enough, you’ll have an easier time starting your movements, and as you move your weights towards or away from your body, they’ll add more weight, forcing you to keep tension on your muscles.
Watch What You Eat: Diet is what makes or breaks a lot of training programs. All of the leg extensions in the world aren’t going to help you if you don’t have the protein to rebuild your foundation after you’ve torn it down.
If you don’t want to waste your time in the gym there are a couple of things you should always keep an eye on, and diet is number one. Keep yourself well-stocked in the protein department, don’t overdo it on the carbs, and aim for keeping a lean rotation without cutting out fat altogether.
Meal prep is a lifesaver, so if you’re looking for something to do on your rest days, maybe prep some meals so you don’t have to wrestle with what you should have for lunch every single day.
Don’t Be Afraid to Modify: Remember this is a highly adaptable training program. If you’re having trouble maintaining symmetrical muscle growth, then switch your barbell presses for dumbbell presses. If you feel like your standing calf raises aren’t getting the job done, then swap in some seated calf raises. If you did leg presses two weeks in a row, don’t forget to change up your routine and add in some leg curls. Slot in an incline variant of any of your exercises to target slightly different regions of the same muscle groups.
The goal isn’t to prescribe exact exercises, it’s about getting in a full regimen of push, pull, and leg movements.
Deload if You Plateau: There’s no shame in hitting a plateau. The best thing you can do if you feel like you’re not going any higher is starting a deloading phase and work your way back up and through your previous one rep max.
The great thing about the PHAT workout is that it’s designed to work for basically anybody. If you’re looking to build muscle and top your previous 1RM then this is an excellent workout for you.
Of course, there’s no such thing as a one size fits all workout routine. This five-day split has a pair of recovery periods built into it, but that may not be enough for somebody that’s just beginning their fitness journey. If you’re a beginning lifter, and you really have your heart set on this one, you might want to look into the many PHAT Workout Program hacks.
If you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum, this may not be intense enough for you. If you’re trying to hit the upper echelons of strongman training you might need something more focused on hitting and increasing 1RMs.
But if you’re anywhere in the middle and trying to see some real increases in your performance and tangible visual progress, you’ll be right at home in the PHAT camp.