PHAT: Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training

Dr. Layne Norton
PhD Nutritional Sciences
BS Biochemistry

   There are some fundamental arguments in bodybuilding.  I’m talking about the ones
you see ALL THE TIME.  How much protein should I take in?  What kind of split should I
use? How often should I workout?  What’s the best rep range for growth?  What’s the
best volume for growth?  Most people try to make these issues out to be black and white
to solidify their stances and often fail to acknowledge that these issues are not black
and white and there is a substantial gray area.  Take the arguments regarding rep
ranges for example.  How often have you heard you should ONLY train in ‘X’ rep range
because it is the best one for growth.  Then two days later you see an article
interviewing a 300 lb behemoth who trains in a different rep range but also looks insane,
so who are you to believe?  Recently, there has been a bit of negative bodybuilding
press regarding lifting in lower rep ranges with heavier weights.  Some researchers and
bodybuilders would have you believe that low rep high weight training might be next to
useless for bodybuilding.  But I think powerlifters could teach bodybuilders a thing or two
in some cases.  Konstantin Konstantinovs, Brandon Cass, Shawn Frankl, Matt
Krockzaleski, and Sam Byrd could easily be stage ready with a few months of dieting
and do very well.  Stan Efferding and Johnnie Jackson both hold world records in
powerlifting and compete as IFBB professional bodybuilders.  Many of the bodybuilders
from the classic era built their base with powerlifting including Arnold Schwarzenegger
and Franco Columbo.  Ronnie Coleman, arguably the greatest bodybuilder ever to live
never competed in powerlifting but was no stranger to heavy weights.  Part of what
made his DVD “The Unbelievable so legendary and well… unbelievable was the workout
footage of him deadlifting and squatting over 800 lbs and front squatting 600 lbs for
reps!  Certainly higher rep ‘pump’ style training has its place for a bodybuilder’s arsenal,
no doubt.  But so does heavy power training.  

   As a person who has competed in both powerlifting and bodybuilding I can tell you
that the heavy movements absolutely made me a better bodybuilder.  For the longest
time my legs were a huge weak point.  At my first show my thighs barely measured over
21”.  They were absolutely pathetic and I heard about it from EVERYONE especially on
the forums.  I was called ‘chicken legs’ frequently and it was so frustrating.  I was working
them out really hard and following the advice of so called ‘bodybuilding experts’ making
sure to train with maximum intensity 1x/week but getting plenty of rest to make sure I
wasn’t ‘overtraining.’  I was told I did not need to squat or deadlift to get my legs to grow
and that was fine by me because squats hurt and I would’ve rather not done them.  After
a few years of spinning my wheels (pun intended) a friend convinced me to take up a
hybrid style routine where I did heavy work (squats, deadlifts, presses) mixed with lighter
hypertrophy ‘pump’ work.  Against everything I had read I started working out all my
body parts 2x/week.  This would go on to become the basic template for what would
evolve into PHAT (Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training), a form of non-linear
periodization training.  Low and behold my legs grew more in 4 months than they had in
the previous 4 years.  At my following show they came in just over 24”, still very small by
bodybuilding standards, but a significant improvement over recent years.  Two years
later I won my natural pro card and they topped out over 25” following the same training
I had been doing, they were getting better, but still not nearly good enough to hang with
the best.  

   One basic concept that convinced me it was important to use heavy weights was that
it just made sense to me when I tried to find skinny people who squatted or deadlifted
super heavy weights.  Come to find out it’s hard to have chicken legs and have a really
good squat.  I told myself “I am going to squat 500 lbs for reps because there is no way I’
ll be able to do that with skinny legs.”  I’m sure there are people out there who squat
over 500 lbs for reps and do not have impressive leg development, but I certainly haven’
t met them yet.   So I set out on a quest to squat 500 lbs and deadlift over 600 lbs.  Over
time I adapted my routine to incorporate more and more pure powerlifting movements
and what I found astonished me.  I started using bands and chains to help get stronger
and I did box squats, speed squats, deficit deadlifts, and rack pulls.  All movements I had
never even heard of when I started bodybuilding.  The result?  As we sit today my thighs
measure over 28” at the largest part and in addition to that my back has grown
immensely.  I also own the current AAPF American raw squat and deadlift records at 568
and 700 lbs respectively in the 220 lb weight class.  I recently squatted 525 lbs for a
triple and 505 lbs for 5 reps.  I placed top 5 in my first 4 natural pro shows including the
IFPA Pro Natural World Championships and I won the heavyweight class at the IFPA
International!  At every show the judges commented on how drastically my legs and
back had improved from when I won my pro card.  My legs may never be the best
onstage because of their shape and structure, but moving heavy iron made them much
better and confirmed my initial theory that I would not be able to squat 500 lbs for reps
with twig legs.

   Now you may or may not ever deadlift 700 lbs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make
drastic improvements in your physique by incorporating aspects of power training mixed
with hypertrophy.  Probably the most important thing heavy training can do is increase
your overall capacity for muscular growth through significant strength gains.  Training
with lower reps and heavier weights is going to stimulate far greater increases in
strength than training with light weights for higher reps.  But how is that anabolic?  I’m
sure you are thinking “I am a bodybuilder; I don’t care how much I lift!”  But by increasing
your strength you will increase the amount of weight you will be able to lift when you
train with a higher rep, ‘bodybuilding style’ training which will increase your potential for
growth.  For example, if one trained only straight high reps (15-20 reps) on an exercise
you may end up plateauing at a squat of 300 lbs for 15 reps (not necessarily, just an
example).   If that same individual incorporated heavy training into their regiment
however, perhaps they get strong enough that they can squat 400 lbs for 15 reps.  Who
do you think will have the greatest potential to increase their mass over the long haul?  
Most likely it will be the person using more weight if all other variables are equal
because they will be able to create more overload and greater muscle damage, evoking
a greater growth response.  So while pure bodybuilding style training may give you more
growth over the short term, a combination of heavy weights for low reps and light weight
for high reps over the long term is going to provide more muscle by increasing your
growth potential!  

   So while pure bodybuilding style training may give you more growth over the short
term, a combination of power and hypertrophy training over the long term is going to
provide more muscle by increasing your growth potential!  This is the basis for PHAT.  
There are several dozen forms of the PHAT program but the basic premise is the same.  
Each muscle gets worked 2x/week.  The first 2 days of the week are split into upper and
lower body power days.   This is followed by a rest day.  Then 3 days of traditional
hypertrophy orientated bodybuilding training.  An example of the split would be:

Day 1: Upper Body Power
Day 2: Lower Body Power
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Back and Shoulders Hypertrophy
Day 5: Lower Body Hypertrophy
Day 6: Chest and Arms Hypertrophy
Day 7: Rest