The other day, I came across something called the PHUL workout routine, which is short for power hypertrophy upper lower.
Although PHUL is something of a misnomer (for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, it should be called SHUL rather than PHUL), it’s a solid approach to setting up a training program, and can work well if you want a mixture of size and strength.
Today, I want to give you a quick overview of PHUL, take a look at the science behind it, as well as lay out a sample PHUL training program that you can use.
What is PHUL?
The PHUL workout involves training the muscles in your lower body and upper body on separate days. It’s essentially a 4-day upper/lower split where the training frequency for each muscle group is twice per week.
Two of the weekly workouts are focused on building strength, while the other two focus on hypertrophy-style training.
An upper body PHUL workout will normally hit your chest, back, shoulders, biceps and triceps, while the lower body workout works your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves.
Because exercises like squats and deadlifts fall on lower body day, these workouts will also hit your lower back.
Power Hypertrophy Upper Lower
The 4-day PHUL program involves two so-called power days, one for the lower body and one for the upper body. These workouts typically involve compound movements like the bench press, squat, deadlift and overhead press, done with heavy weights and low reps.
The other two days of the PHUL workout routine are reserved for hypertrophy workouts, where the goal is to pack on as much muscle mass as possible.
The hypertrophy workouts focus on bodybuilding-style training, which usually involves lighter weights, higher reps and more single-joint exercises.
Pinning the “hypertrophy” or “strength and power” label on a particular workout doesn’t tell the whole story. A “hypertrophy” workout will lead to some strength gains, while a “strength and power” workout will still lead to some muscle growth.
The terms are used more as labels to refer to a particular set, rep and weight configuration, rather than describing completely the physiological adaptations resulting from those workouts.
In some cases, lower reps and heavier weights (4 sets of 3-5 reps) have been shown to work just as well as higher reps and lighter weights (4 sets of 10-12 reps) when it comes to building muscle .
Lifting weights that are around 90% of your maximum will recruit large numbers of muscle fibers. And, provided you’re doing a sufficient number of sets and training hard, those fibers will be stimulated in such a way that they grow bigger over time.
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Benefits of a PHUL Workout Split
Although PHUL is a relatively new term, it describes a type of training that’s been around for a long time.
The original York Barbell Company training courses, written back in the 1930’s, included the York “Light, Medium and Heavy” Schedule – which involved training light one day, medium another day, and heavy on the other day.
That’s not a million miles away from what you’ll be doing on a PHUL training program.
With the standard 4-day PHUL workout routine, each muscle group is trained twice a week. While a lot of bodybuilders like to follow a bro split where they train each muscle group once a week, most research shows that a higher training frequency (at least twice a week) will lead to muscle being gained more quickly .
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There’s also research to show that mixing up your training can help you build muscle faster.
One study, published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, tracked a group of trained men who lifted weights three times a week using either a constant or varied training program .
The constant group used the same rep range in every workout, while the varied group rotated between heavy (2-4 reps) medium (8-12 reps) and light (20-30 reps) training days.
After eight weeks, both groups gained muscle, with no statistically significant difference in the rate of growth between the two. However, the men who switched up their training gained the most muscle.
The differences in muscle growth between the two groups were relatively small. But this was a short study, lasting only a couple of months. Over months and years, those small differences may well add up.
One of the benefits of PHUL compared to, let’s say, a typical 5×5 workout, is that you get a lot more variety in terms of exercise selection.
The squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press do work large numbers of muscles, and they’re a very efficient use of your training time.
However, if you want to maximize the development of a muscle, you’ll see better results using several exercises, rather than just one. This ensures that more of the available fibers in a given muscle are recruited and trained, which in turn will lead to a superior level of muscle development.
PHUL versus SHUL
The so-called “power” days in a lot of the PHUL workouts I’ve seen recommend 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps, with around 85-90% of your one-rep max.
But this is more of a strength-oriented workout. It should be called SHUL – strength, hypertrophy, upper, lower – rather than PHUL.
Heavy strength training can lead to an improvement in various measures of power, such as jump height and sprint speed, particularly in beginners [4, 5].
However, training sessions tagged with the “power” label typically involve faster lifting speeds, a relatively low volume of training, and submaximal effort, meaning that each set is terminated well short of muscular failure .
You don’t need heavy weights to improve power. Lighter weights and faster lifting speeds will often do a better job, and have been shown to improve power independently of changes in strength .
In short, if you want to train for power in a way that will transfer most effectively to athletic performance, there are better ways to do it than using a PHUL workout.
PHUL Workout: 4-Day Routine
With the 4-day PHUL training program, you can set up your training week in various different ways, depending on the time you have available to train.
This is the default version of the PHUL training program. You hit the upper body on Monday, lower body on Tuesday, then take Wednesday off. Thursday is upper body, Friday is lower body and you have the weekend off. Each muscle group is trained twice a week.
- Monday: Upper Body (Power Workout)
- Tuesday: Lower Body (Power Workout)
- Wednesday: Off
- Thursday: Upper Body (Hypertrophy Workout)
- Friday: Lower Body (Hypertrophy Workout)
- Saturday: Off
- Sunday: Off
The days that you train aren’t set in stone. If you miss a workout, you can move it to the following day. Skip the second lower body workout, for example, and you can just push it back to Saturday.
There’s also nothing to stop you switching the order of the PHUL workouts so that you train your lower body first.
In fact, I prefer doing my lower body workouts first. Training the legs is hard work, much harder than training the upper body. I like coming into a lower body workout fresh from a day or two of complete rest.
PHUL Workout: 3-Day Routine
You can also take the standard 4-day PHUL workout, insert an extra day of rest, and turn it into a 3-day routine. This works well if you’re busy and don’t have the time to train four days a week.
Over the course of a month, each muscle group is worked an average of 1.5 times per week rather than twice.
Monday: Upper Body (Power Workout)
Wednesday: Lower Body (Power Workout)
Friday: Upper Body (Hypertrophy Workout)
Monday: Lower Body (Hypertrophy Workout)
Wednesday: Upper Body (Power Workout)
Friday: Lower Body (Power Workout)
In week three, the upper body workout ends up back on Monday, and you start the cycle all over again.
PHUL Workout Program
Here’s one way to set up a PHUL workout program. The “power days” are a mix of strength and power work – compound movements, lower reps, heavier weights and faster lifting speeds.
The hypertrophy days, on the other hand, involve more single-joint exercises, lighter weights and higher reps. They’re focused purely on adding muscle.
Workout 1: Upper Power
WEEKS 1-4: 5 sets x 1 rep at 80% of 1-RM
WEEKS 5-8: 4 sets x 1 rep at 85% of 1-RM
WEEKS 9-12: 3 sets x 1 rep at 90% of 1-RM
- Dumbbell Bench Press 3 sets x 5-8 reps
- Pull-up OR Lat Pulldown 3 sets x 5-8 reps
- Overhead Press 4 sets x 5-8 reps
- Dumbbell Row 2 sets x 5-8 reps
Workout 2: Lower Power
WEEKS 1-4: 5 sets x 1 rep at 80% of 1-RM
WEEKS 5-8: 4 sets x 1 rep at 85% of 1-RM
WEEKS 9-12: 3 sets x 1 rep at 90% of 1-RM
- Romanian Deadlift 4 sets x 5-8 reps
- Split Squats 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Standing Calf Raise 4 sets x 5-8 reps
Workout 3: Upper Hypertrophy Day
- Incline Barbell Bench Press 4 sets x 10-15 reps
- Wide Grip Front Lat Pulldown 4 sets x 10-15 reps
- Cable Crossover 3 sets x 15-20 reps
- Seated Row 2 sets x 15-20 reps
- Lateral Raise 2 sets x 15-20 reps
- Bent Over Lateral Raise 2 sets x 15-20 reps
Workout 4: Lower Hypertrophy Day
- Leg Press 4 sets x 10-15 reps
- Leg Extension 3 sets x 15-20 reps
- Leg Curl 4 sets x 10-15 reps
- Seated Calf Raise 4 sets x 10-15 reps
You can also throw in some ab work on the lower body days, and some extra arm training on the upper body days.
On the power days, the bench press and the squat are done with fast lifting speeds. You want to focus on lowering the bar under control, then lifting it quickly.
Each rep should be clean, crisp, fast and controlled. Because you’re only doing a single rep, those sets won’t feel particularly hard.
For all the other exercises, just focus on moving the bar from point A to point B under control, using good form. There’s no need to count the number of seconds it takes to complete each rep, or use extremely slow lifting speeds.
Each rep should take around three seconds to complete – a second or so to lift the weight, and a couple of seconds to lower it.
Give yourself at least a couple of minutes rest between each set (even the single-rep sets). Even in the hypertrophy workouts, you’re better off giving yourself too much rest rather than not enough.
Most studies show that longer rest periods (2-3 minutes) work better for muscle growth and strength gains than shorter rest periods lasting 60 seconds or less [8, 9].
PHUL Workout Progressive Overload
With the “power” exercises (squat and bench press), you’ll progressively add weight over the course of 12 weeks while reducing the number of sets.
For everything else, you’re going to use the double progression method, which means adding weight to the bar only when you’re able to do a certain number of reps.
Let’s say you’re doing 4 sets of 10-15 reps. You might start out being able to do one set of 15, a set of 14, a set of 12 and a set of 10.
Over time, you focus on adding reps until you’re able to do 4 sets of 15 reps. Then, you add weight, drop back to a lower number of reps, and start the whole process all over again.
Doing 15 reps in all four sets serves as the trigger for adding weight. When you hit 15 reps, the weight goes up. If you can’t, carry on using the same weight until you do.
You’re not going to make progress in every single workout. To do so indefinitely would be impossible, and there’ll be times when you end up lifting the same amount of weight, for the same number of sets and reps you did in the previous workout.
But your focus should always be on improving your workout performance over time. You need to give your muscles a reason to get bigger, or you’ll remain stuck at the same size you are right now.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is PHUL suitable for beginners?
PHUL isn’t ideal for beginners, and is better suited to intermediate and advanced lifters.
How long does a PHUL workout take?
Including a warm-up, and assuming you’re getting adequate amounts of rest between sets, a typical PHUL workout will take around 60 minutes.
With the use of agonist-antagonist supersets, where one group of muscles has a chance to rest while you do a set for the opposing muscles, you can condense the same amount of training into a shorter period of time – somewhere in the region of 45 minutes or so.
Is PHUL better than PPL?
PHUL isn’t necessarily better than a PPL (push/pull/legs) split, they’re just different routines for different goals. If you’re able to train 5-6 days a week, and hypertrophy is your main goal, go with a PPL. If you’re only able to train 4 days a week, and you want to build strength as well as size, the PHUL workout is worth a try.
Should beginners train for strength and size?
Beginners don’t need to worry too much about whether they should train for strength or size, because both things will happen simultaneously when they start lifting weights.
There’s a link between muscular strength and size, and a training program focused on one will usually lead to an improvement in the other. This is especially true for beginners, whose muscles are highly responsive to any type of resistance training.
The average beginner is better off following a solid training program that involves training 3-4 days a week, working hard and staying consistent.
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