Layne Norton’s PHAT (Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training) Program: A Review

I decided to give Layne Norton’s PHAT Training Program a try starting back in September. A lot of things about the program appealed to me. Read on to find out my thoughts on the program, the end results, and more.

As I mentioned above, a few things about the PHAT (Power Adaptive Hypertrophy Training) program appealed to me:

  • The frequency (5 times per week) – I enjoy going to the gym, and I like training at least 4-5 times per week. You can make great gains by training only 2-3 times per week too, but I like going more and I find my gains are best when I am hitting each muscle at least twice per week.
  • I have been “bulking” (trying to add size) concurrently with this program, and having a hypertrophy focus tied in nicely with that.
  • That being said, I also don’t want to lose any strength, which is what differentiates this program from others. While you do three days per week of classic hypertrophy training, there are two days that focus on strength, power, and explosiveness.

Here is the link to the program, and I’ll share the important parts below.

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.”

Very well said. Nothing can replace lifting heavy weights. Doing 100 reps on the leg press can’t replicate doing a few very heavy squats (with solid form, of course).

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

I used this schedule. Wednesday and Sunday were my “rest” days, which tied in nicely as I have soccer on Tuesday nights. I would do my lower body power on Monday’s to keep my legs relatively fresh for soccer.

I did absolutely zero cardio outside of soccer – as mentioned above, I have been trying to put size on. I guess I’d qualify as a “hard-gainer” – it isn’t easy for me to add muscle. I dedicated myself to eating a ton of relatively healthy food.

On my power days, I focused on squats for my lower body and some variation of pull up and bench press for my upper body days.

The biggest difference with training was going through workouts without sweating much. I am used to mixing in intervals, short rest times, and full body circuits to get the blood pumping – it was quite different taking a few minutes of rest time between each set. Again, different goals, different focus.

There is a lot more information about the program above – Norton is quite thorough in explaining the ins and outs of it.

Concurrent Bulking

I have never done a focused, legitimate bulk before. I don’t really think bulking and cutting is a sustainable long term strategy to gain muscle (I’d rather focus on eating good food and working out consistently over the long term), but I was curious and wanted to do some self-experimentation.

Here is a good read on bulking and cutting – the whys and the why nots – from JCD Fitness.

I’d personally put more of the calories around my training and eat a little bit less on the off days*. But that’s a personal preference and no one says you have to do it this way. Just don’t make drastic swings in your intake. For instance, don’t consume 5000 kcal on your training days and 1500 on your off days.

I know that seems extreme but it’s been done and in my view, it’s just not practical.

*I always place more calories around training and eat a bit less on off days. This way, I can take advantage of the partitioning effects a solid workout can yield. This may also help keep fat gain at bay for those who strive for more leaner gains (see links below).

In eight weeks, I have gained 16 points (started at 180, now at 196). I am a shade under 6-1, and can definitely carry around 190+ pounds without it slowing me down much. I didn’t really change my workouts all that much aside from cutting out cardio, but I increased my food intake considerably.

Here are some general strategies I followed: 

  • I used a mass gainer – again, supplements are best when they are just supplementing your diet of healthy and whole foods. It is easy to gulp down three big shakes per day, and this was a way of getting another 1000 calories in the system.
  • I ate an incredible amount of food on days I lifted heavy. Healthy carbs, too. Yams, quinoa, brown rice – I ate all three of these in mass quantities. Carbs are worth keeping an eye on if you want to lose weight or fat, but if you want to gain weight, they are essential – especially if you are active and working out a lot.
  • I didn’t worry about when I was eating too much. I generally have a big breakfast, a shake after working out, and a huge dinner. But sometimes I wouldn’t eat for much of the afternoon, while on other days I would have a big lunch. As long as the calories added up at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter.
  • I counted calories – a bit. Every two weeks I would count calories one day just to make sure I was on track (I tried to eat 4500-5000 calories per day on days I was lifting weights, and 2000-2500 on days off).

My review of PHAT

I tend to switch up my training programs every eight-to-12 weeks, for a few reasons. One, the human body is very efficient at lifting weights – if you apply the same force/exercise/routine time after time, your body is going to require less and less effort to complete it.

And two, it makes going to the gym more interesting if you are trying new exercises or routines. Fitness doesn’t have an end date – you aren’t going to suddenly say “I am as fit as I want to be” one day and stop lifting weights – so along the way, it is important to keep yourself engaged in it with goals, both short and long term.

  • I enjoyed this program a lot. It was a lot of lifting (five days of weights) and a lot of volume (I hadn’t done reps above 12 in a long, long time). But it was something different, and my body definitely responded.
  • I didn’t lose much strength on any of my big lifts. I credit the explosive work and the power days for this.
  • I stretched and foam rolled a lot. Especially on my days off. Working out three days in a row, even if you are taxing different muscles, is hard on the body. Prehabilitation is just as, if not more, important than rehabilitation.

This program is pretty customizable, too. You don’t have to be bulking or wanting to add size by doing it – you could simply want to work out, gain some muscle, and get a bit stronger, too. You can add cardio after your sessions or on your off days (make sure you have one day per week completely off, though).

 A Snapshot of a Day of Eating

8:00AM Breakfast – four poached eggs, two strips of bacon, and a shake (two scoops protein powder, 1/2 cup coconut milk, 1/2 cup frozen berries, 1/2 vegetables, some peanut butter for flavor)

11:00AM Snack – shake (two scoops mass gainer, frozen fruit, one banana, one apple, some vegetables – kale or spinach, usually)

1:00PM Lunch – usually leftovers from night before (chili, chicken with quinoa, canned salmon sandwich, lunch usually changed from day to day)

4:00PM Snack – handful of almonds, shake #2 (same as before)

6:00PM Dinner – my biggest meal - two servings of muscle-building chili, two sweet potatoes, with a side of Greek yogurt and muesli 

8:30PM – this meal would come right after training – typically shake #3

10:00PM – leftovers, whatever food I can scrounge up.

On days I didn’t eat as much, I’d cut one of the shakes out. Eating like this would be tough to sustain over the long term, and I wouldn’t want the accompanying body fat gains, either. I ate pretty healthy, for the most part (I reintroduced bread into my diet and ate a lot more carbohydrates than usual).