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December 29, 2020 11 min read

The road to fitness is long and, arguably, never-ending. If you stop chasing your goals and cultivating the lifestyle required to stay in shape, you’ll likely lose the results you’ve worked so hard to chisel out of your body. By that same token, you can’t just rush into developing a stronger frame half-cocked. The PHUL workout is about combining muscle gain and strength training to give you a solid foundation from which you can start packing out incredible gains quickly and effectively.

A Closer Look

The PHUL (power hypertrophy upper lower) workout is sort of what it sounds like. It’s an attempt to target as many of your muscle groups as possible while alternating between power days and exploiting the hypertrophic state of your muscles after enduring high-intensity resistance exercises to bulk up quickly and increase your strength overall. The PHUL workout combines primarily compound exercises with a couple of isolation movements to really ensure you’re getting the most out of each of your days.

The PHUL workout is relatively simple, you’re not going to need any terribly specialized tools, and it doesn’t take a genius to remember the pneumonic hidden in the name of the workout. 

Let’s take a zoomed-out look at the PHUL workout, what exercises you should be adding to your routine, and some other aspects of the workout that will be important to your success if you decide that this one is for you. 

So, How Do I Do This?

The PHUL workout is a 4-day split training program. You’re basically bouncing back and forth between your upper body and lower body, each day will be either a power day or a hypertrophy day, and you’re going to want to make sure you’re taking your rest days seriously. This only works because you’re working to maximize the effects of your body’s natural processes, and part of that is resting to rebuild your muscles bigger and better so you can take on the next week with even more power than the last. Your routine over the course of a week will look some like this:

  • Day 1: Upper body power 
  • Day 2: Lower body power 
  • Day 3: Recovery day
  • Day 4: Lower body hypertrophy
  • Day 5: Upper body hypertrophy
  • Day 6: Recovery day
  • Day 7: Recovery day

You’ve probably noticed a couple of things by looking at this, right? First, each area of your body is hit twice a week. This frequency is one of the keystones of the PHUL workout. You’re basically just combining the best of two worlds. Most people in the gym are looking to have something to show for all of their work, and this gives you exactly that. You’ll be coming back week after week and pushing yourself harder and harder on your power days by loading up on weight and most likely setting new personal records, and surprising yourself with how strong you’ve become, especially if you’re just starting on your journey.

Powering Up

Your power days are the days you’ll be packing on a great deal of weight, and these are the days you’re going to be seeing new personal bests. It’s the days you’re going to be seeing the barbell, lots and lots of plates, and low reps. 

Man benchpressing

Upper Body Power

Bench Press: The bench press is a classic. It’s simple, effective, and targets your pecs and shoulders. If you’re trying to get that nice cut look, you could do worse than chiseling out a tight upper body by packing on the weight here.

  • Get on a bench, and line your eyes up with the bar
  • Grab the bar with a comfortable grip with your hands a touch wider than shoulder-width apart
  • Straighten your arms to get the bar off the rack 
  • Lower the bar to your chest 
  • Press the bar back up until your arms are straight

Overhead Press: The overhead press is great for your chest, shoulders, and your traps. This one might be a little daunting when you’re just starting out. You might feel like you’re going to tip over or drop the weights, but if you start with an amount of weight that you’re comfortable with, you’ll be shoving those bars skyward with the best of them.

  • Start with the bar on your front shoulders, with your hands just outside of your shoulder
  • Press the bar deliberately up over your head, you’ll find your balance over your shoulder and around the middle of your feet
    • Make sure you’re keeping your back straight, not poking your head forward and throwing the weight way behind your back
  • Once your weight is up above your head, lock your elbows and shrug your shoulders straight up 
  • Reverse your movements to bring the weights back down to your shoulders, and repeat for a set

Skullcrusher: you’re not actually going to be crushing your skull with this one, in case you were worried. Skull crushers are a tricep exercise that has you bringing a barbell or a pair of dumbbells down towards the top of your head. Honestly, it’s tough to even crush your skull if you’re doing these right.

  • Lie down, either on a bench or on the floor with your feet planted firmly on the ground
  • Hold either two dumbbells with your palms facing each other or a barbell in your hands about shoulder-width apart
  • Start with your arms fully extended, and angled so that your weight isn’t in line with gravity. You’re not going to be doing the right amount of work if your weight and arms are in a straight line (this also has the added benefit of keeping the weights from coming down towards your head
  • Bend your arms at the elbows, and bring the weight down towards your temples
  • Pause there for a second, and then bring the weights back up overhead

Man with weights

Lower Body Power

Deadlifts: Deadlifts are one of the best exercises for taking advantage of compound movements for your power days. They’re also great for your lower back if you get your form right. 

  • Stand with the barbell above the middle of your feet
  • Bend over and grab the bar at about shoulder-width
    • There are plenty of different grips if you find your grip strength is keeping you from reaching your deadlift potential
  • Before you lift make sure that your back is straight, don’t bow or arch your spine, because you’re about to engage your lower back
  • Stand up straight with the weights, don’t allow the weight to swing away from your body, when you start lifting your shins should just about touch the bar
  • Bring the weights back down and complete your reps

Leg Press: leg presses are like bench presses but for your legs. Pretty simple. 

  • Get yourself on a leg press machine. Make sure your butt is flat against the seat, and keep your head on the seatback the entire time. You’re going to be pressing a lot of weight eventually, and your form is going to be one of the things keeping you from being embarrassed and struggling while you’re down there.
  • Brace your abs and push the platform away from you until your legs are fully extended
  • Pause at the top, and bring the weight back towards your body slowly

Calf Raises: calf raises are probably the least glamorous exercise on this list. It looks like you’re just sort of tip-toeing around your workout, but in reality, these are a super targeted isolation exercise. You might start without weights if you’re struggling, but eventually, you’re going to want to throw a barbell on your shoulders and really beef them up.

  • Stand up straight, don’t put your feet too far apart from each other. Just find a nice natural standing position
  • Push up through the balls of your feet until you’re on your toes
  • Lower yourself slowly back down to your heels, and repeat
    • When you’re ready to take your power days more seriously get yourself by a squat rack, and line a barbell across your shoulders on your back, and do the same.

Exercises don't come much simpler than the calf raise. Stand up straight, then push through the balls of your feet and raise your heel until you are standing on your toes. Then lower slowly back to the start. For this reason, calf raises are just about the easiest exercise to slip into your day-to-day life.

Hyper... What?

Hypertrophy is the process by which your body builds more muscle. It doesn’t come from nowhere, and lifting weights doesn’t magically make you ripped. It’s all about what your body does after you’re done lifting the weights.

When you’re working out you’re inflicting microtrauma on your body. Microtrauma from exercise is deliberate and manageable. You’re not going out to the gym and pushing your body so hard that you can’t get out of bed the next day, and that’s important. By creating these little tears here and there you trigger your body’s natural desire to fix itself.

This is why diet is such an important part of your workout. They say abs start in the kitchen, and so does everything else. Your body needs building blocks. This is anabolism. That’s the process in your body of creating molecules out of smaller components. When you’re hitting the gym and carefully crafting a workout routine, you’re literally building a better body. Keep this in mind, and the PHUL workout plan will yield more and more muscle mass. 

Man lifting weights

Upper Body Hypertrophy Exercises


Dumbbell Row:

  • Get a bench and a dumbbell, you’ll only need one because your offhand will be supporting your body while you do this row.
  • Put your knee and your offhand on the bench, supporting yourself so your upperbody is straight and parallel with the ground
  • Reach down for your dumbbell, and hold it with your arm extended
  • Bring the weight up towards your chest. Focus on your back and shoulder muscles for this one
  • Repeat your reps, switch sides, and do it again.

Cable Tricep Extension: the cable tricep extension is like an inverted skull crusher or cable row in a lot of ways.

  • Get yourself situated by the cable machine. You’re going to want the weird y-shaped rope for this one. Select your weight with the pin and let’s get started.
  • Grab the rope, keep your elbows tucked by your side, brace your abs, and keep your back straight
  • Push straight down towards the ground until your arms are fully extended, try not to bend forward or flare your elbows out
  • Exhale and slowly return to your starting position. Don’t drop the weights or you’ll be cheating yourself out of some good progress

Lateral Raises: it’s easy to think these are for your lats, but lats aren’t short for lateral, they’re your latissimus dorsi.

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and let’s get cracking
  • Start with both of them down by your side. Keep your back straight and engage your core.
  • Bring the weights up and out until your arms are out in a T-pose
  • Don’t use your traps to shrug the weights up, and down throw them out to the side to take advantage of momentum. Hypertrophy exercises are all about maintaining tension on your muscles and overcoming weight with your body, so if you want to build muscle try not to cheat with momentum during your hypertrophy workout.
  • Try going slowly with this one and maintaining a constant speed.

Lower Body Hypertrophy Exercises

Front Squat: Your very first front squats are probably going to feel awkward, you’re basically completely reversing what you’re used to with a standard squat. 

  • Front squats start at the rack just like the back squat, but we’re going to be approaching from… well, from the front.
  • Get your weight across your shoulders, but using your chest rather than your back. Keep your hands close to your shoulders as well. Find something comfortable 
  • Everything else about the front squat is the same as the back squat. Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  • When you come down with the weight, make sure you’re not leaning forward or bending your knees out past your toes.
  • The weight being on the front rather than your back is going to engage an entirely different set of muscles than you’re probably used to if all you’ve done are back squats. Don’t be alarmed, that means it’s working.

Barbell Lunge: It’s the lunge, but spicy

  • Start by the squat rack, and get some weights across your shoulders on your back.
  • From a standing position take a large step forward with one leg
  • Lower your knee on your back foot to the ground while you keep your front shin as straight as possible
  • Once you’re down towards the ground, push yourself back up into your starting position.
  • Remember to follow through all the way with these actions, shallow or cheap reps aren’t going to give you quite the results you want. 

These obviously aren’t the only exercises you can do for the PHUL. There are things like the bent-over row or variants like the incline barbell bench press that you can incorporate to target slightly different muscle groups. Barbell curls are great for isolation since all of your compound movements are liable to miss a spot here or there. Lifters new to the PHUL workout routine will find themselves pleasantly challenged the entire time. 

Okay, But What About My Abs?

Astute readers will notice we haven’t talked about targeting your abs. That’s a problem if you’re aiming to bulk up your entire body, seeing as they’re a part of it. There’s a simple solution here, and it’s pretty elegant- Just slot them in wherever you want. 

Some folks will advise that you tuck some ab exercises into your rest days. If you feel like that’s antithetical to the spirit of a rest day, then you can make abs part of your warm-ups or your cooldown. The PHUL workout is a framework for success, not a rigid do or die prescription. After a week or two of getting used to the PHUL workout, you’ll figure out where you can most comfortably fit your ab workout in, and you’ll be all set. This goes the same for cardio and whatever else you feel like you should be working in.

As long as you don’t turn any of your recovery days into training days you can really do whatever you want to supplement the few areas the PHUL misses. 

Recover, Recover, Recover

The PHUL workout is all about increasing your strength and building muscle, and that can’t happen without taking the time to recover. You’re trying to work all of the muscles in your body, and you’re going to be punishing them while you’re in the gym, and if you don’t take the time to really recover and allow yourself to build back the tissue you’ve torn, then you’re wasting your time.

Recovery is just as important as working out. There are plenty of strategies for utilizing your recovery days effectively. Don’t think of them as off days, they’re more like maintenance days. If your body is a machine your food is the fuel, and your recovery day is the oil change. Bodybuilders will be the first to tell you that you’re going to be spinning your wheels without recovery days.

Drink water! Break out that foam roller! Take a warm bath! Massage the groups you targeted! Anything to get that blood flowing and give yourself the chance to really encourage muscle growth. 

Plus if you’re really applying yourself on the lower body days, then you’re going to want every single tool on your belt to keep yourself from getting trapped on the toilet.

Talk About a Mouthphul

The PHUL workout is simple, and you’ll never forget what it entails because it’s all in the name. With a steady routine of alternating between power workouts and inducing hypertrophy on your upper and lower body, you’ll be growing muscle and seeing results pretty quickly by sticking with this routine. 

The PHUL workout is a full-body experience, it’s not easy, but it’s an excellent way to start bodybuilding. You’re not going to be wishing away body fat with some miracle pill or packing on muscle with only your mind. You’re going to the gym four times a week, pushing yourself as safely and honestly as you can, and feeding your body efficiently. However, dedication to this framework is an excellent way to work towards your goals. It combines power and growth and encourages you to become the best physical version of yourself possible.