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Layne Norton is one of the biggest names in evidence-based training at the moment, and with good cause.
How many people do you know who has a doctorate in nutrition and regularly compete in bodybuilding and powerlifting competitions?
He straddles the worlds of fitness bros, and exercise science equally well, and as such has a very balanced approach to training and nutrition.
In 2008 he created the PHAT program, PHAT stands for Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training and it is designed to offer the best of power and hypertrophy training.
Often, programs that offer too many benefits suffer from a lack of direction. Like when someone wants to build mass and lose fat at the same time – they end up achieving neither (unless they’re taking a lot of performance enhancing drugs).
But PHAT has been incredibly successful, and ten years later is still being used.
But what is PHAT, and how effective is it? The purpose of this article is to talk you through its many benefits, advise you on some of its disadvantages, and help you come to your own conclusions about whether it is the right program for you or not.
Who is PHAT best suited for?
Layne Norton’s PHAT program is designed for people looking to increase muscle size and strength. This means that the reps and sets and exercise selections are based on these goals. It is not designed as a fat-loss specific workout.
The rest periods are 1-3 minutes which is good for hypertrophy and strength, but a fat-loss program will usually use shorter rest periods to increase intensity.
That doesn’t mean that an overweight person following this program won’t see fat loss though. Nor does it mean that it can’t be used for that.
The program is definitely NOT suitable for complete beginners though. In fact, it’s probably not a good idea for anyone who hasn’t trained in a few months.
The program involves heavy weights and low reps on exercises such as the barbell squat. If you aren’t familiar with this exercise you could be in danger of injury.
While women could get a lot of benefits out of following the PHAT program. It is not unfair to say that the majority of women train for fat loss and toning.
Make sure that if you are embarking on this program you are aware that the goal is hypertrophy and increased power.
What does the PHAT program involve?
The idea behind PHAT is to combine heavy weights and low reps for certain exercises (usually compound lifts such as bench press, deadlifts, barbell squats, etc) and low weights with high reps for other exercises.
This combination of rep ranges leads to greater hypertrophy and also allows increases in strength and power.
The training program has five lifting days and two days off each week.
There is “Upper Body Power”, “Lower Body Power”, rest, “Back and Shoulders Hypertrophy”, “Lower Body Hypertrophy”, “Chest and Arms Hypertrophy” and a second rest day. But you can mix this up slightly to fit your schedule.
This program is probably going to feel a bit over the top at first, with a lot of volume. However, Layne says that after the initial four weeks the volume will feel a lot more achievable as your body adapts.
Layne advises rotating your power movements every 2-3 weeks. This will reduce injury risk and keep the program from becoming too repetitive. You’re not making huge changes to the design, just swapping barbell bent over rows for T-bar rows (as an example).
A typical power day (in this case Upper Body) would look something like this:
- Pulling Movement (bent over row) low reps/heavy weight
- Assistance Pulling Movement (Pull Up or Lat Pulldown) medium reps/medium weight
- Pressing Movement (bench press) low reps/heavy weight
- Assistance Pressing Movement (Dips) medium reps/medium weight
- Auxiliary Movement (Bicep curls) medium reps/medium weight
- Auxiliary Movement (Tricep pushdown) medium reps/medium weight
As you can see this day has a lot of exercises in, and the volume is quite substantial.
It combines push and pull movements for the upper body, and avoids any shoulder exercises. These are added into the Hypertrophy Back & Shoulders day which involve medium weights and medium to high rep sets.
This is a good idea because heavy shoulders and heavy chest in one day could potentially lead to an injury or overtraining.
What are the benefits of PHAT?
This is a well thought out program that is pretty simple to understand. It also involves enough variety to keep it interesting without chopping and changing constantly.
You will see strength gains in your big lifts such as the deadlift and barbell squat, while you’ll see hypertrophy too. Most programs would only offer one or the other.
You are given a lot more creative freedom with PHAT than you are with most online coaching plans. Layne is giving you a set of guidelines and an example workout that you can follow.
As long as your exercises stay within the spirit of the plan it doesn’t really matter what you do. Don’t like an exercise? Replace it.
Any downsides to PHAT?
As mentioned before this is an intense program. Layne makes no apologies for that but because of that, it is not recommended for beginners. Is that a downside? Well yes and no.
On the one hand, who is more likely to be looking for a workout program? The 6-year veteran or the brand new gym goer? On the other hand, a brand new gym goer doesn’t really need something as effective as this. They could get amazing strength gains from a set of 5kg dumbbells and an exercise bench.
One potential downside is the amount of volume contained within each session. Particularly the power sessions.
Many followers complained of how long they needed to spend in the gym to complete it, and how tired they felt after each session.
Then again, due to the ability to edit it to suit your needs, this isn’t a big issue. Just remove an exercise, or replace a difficult exercise with a slightly easier one.
The first few weeks are going to be a baptism of fire for some lifters, but what new programs aren’t?
Is PHAT for you?
If you have been lifting for a while, and have a lot of knowledge about technique, form, and tempo, then PHAT could be for you.
If you are in good shape already and want to step things up a notch then it is definitely a good idea.
Your goals need to be based around building muscle as this is the ultimate aim of the program, with increased strength and power as a secondary aim.
If you are looking to be as strong as possible, then you might want to follow a program which prioritises that such as 5×5 or something similar.
If your goals are based around power then the hypertrophy sessions are unnecessary and would be a waste of time. Likewise, if you are looking to improve sporting performance, this is not the program for you.
The Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training program has been around for about ten years now, and it is still incredibly popular.
There’s clearly something in it that attracts people in the first place, and it also clearly delivers good results for people who go through with it. That’s not going to be everyone though. Some people will never the idea of squatting ridiculously heavy weights for 3-4 reps.
That sort of training requires a lot of determination and a lot of confidence in your technique and ability to handle heavy weights.
Not everyone will be able to do this, particularly older lifters, or brand new lifters.
You feel that Layne has created a program that he himself enjoys and that many of his followers would enjoy. But not something that your typical gym goer would love.
We would not be surprised if the dropout rate for PHAT was quite high, because after three sessions your body feels very beat up. Not everyone enters a gym with the express intention to leave every ounce of sweat on the gym floor. However PHAT demands that you do just that.
A highly intense, difficult, workout that will separate the highly motivated from everyone else.
If you have the ability to work harder than you’ve ever worked before, then this is definitely the program for you. If you are looking for something that doesn’t leave you reaching for the smelling salts then there are other, less intense programs out there that might be more suitable for you. The problem is that they probably don’t create as good a result as PHAT does.
As with any training program, adequate rest, nutrition and supplementation will go a long way to helping you achieve your goals.
Make sure you get at least 7 hours of quality sleep every day, make sure you are consuming the nutrients you need to grow (this article will help) and make sure you are taking a proven muscle building supplement.