PH3: Layne Norton's Power And Hypertrophy Trainer, Program Overview
The big three lifts are your keys to a new world of strength and size. Here's what you need to do—and not do—to get the most out of Layne Norton's groundbreaking PH3 program!
Main | Program Overview | Nutrition & Supps | One Rep Max | Taper Week | Get Started
Squat, bench, and deadlift: the big three. They were the standards of strength before you were here, and they will be after you're gone. No one has been able to replace them. Think you've outgrown them? You're wrong.
Go big on the big three, and you will get big—period. The muscle will come. The body you want will come: dense, balanced, and strong.
I've created a new, scientific take on the fundamentals. It has the perfect balance of intensity, recovery, muscle growth, and performance nutrition to make you a master of the barbell. Just do the work and watch your numbers rise.
Layne Norton's Ph3 Trainer Program Overview
Watch the video - 12:22
A lot of people think about strength and size in very strict categories and physiques. When they hear the word "powerlifter," they think about fat guys squatting really heavy. "Bodybuilder" to a powerlifter often brings to mind a pretty boy lifting light weights.
I'm here to say that it doesn't have to be that way. You can have both strength and size. I've been equally committed to both over the last decade, during which I've competed both as a natural bodybuilder and as a powerlifter. I've even set some world records with my big lifts, while also getting my PhD in nutritional sciences, performing research, and starting my career as a physique coach.
I've taken all of this varied experience and poured it into PH3, my 13-week program. PH3 stands for power, hypertrophy, and the three big lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift. The goal of this program is to gain a significant amount of muscle mass, but also get significantly stronger. We're going to combine bodybuilding and powerlifting to bring you the best of both worlds.
Bigger Numbers, Bigger You
This program is for advanced lifters who want to maximize their strength and their muscle mass. It's centered around the big three lifts, because those lifts recruit so many muscle fibers. But that's not all. You're going to be doing accessory work to fill in the gaps left by the squat, bench press, and deadlift. I want to make sure you have a complete, rounded physique. I've also included blood flow restriction training to add extra volume without beating you up too much.
As advanced lifters, we understand that gaining muscle is a very slow process—you're not going to put on 10 pounds of lean muscle mass in just 13 weeks. However, you can expect to see positive changes in your physique and gain a significant amount of strength.
I'm providing you with daily nutrition, training, and supplementation, as well as video tutorials on how to perform the main lifts, test your one-rep max, organize your "taper" week, and perform blood flow restriction training.
PH3: The Basics
BFR may sound dangerous, but research indicates that it's completely safe when done correctly. The most important thing is to not wrap too tightly. If you're in pain before the exercise starts, or you feel any numbness or tingling, the wraps are too tight. It's normal to be in discomfort during the exercise, but you shouldn't be in pain beforehand. When utilizing BFR, select a weight that's about 20 percent of your one-rep max. Don't go as heavy as you can! You want high reps and volume here, not weight.
Wrap to about a 7/10 tightness level on your legs and 9/10 on arms. Keep in mind that you don't want to occlude blood flow entirely. You want to get blood into the working muscle without letting in leave. If you're ever in pain before the exercise or can't finish the reps, the wraps are probably too tight or the weight is too heavy.
PH3 is a 13-week training program consisting of three four-week training blocks, as well as an additional 13th week as a taper. I've constructed it around the idea of daily undulating periodization, which in advanced lifters has been shown to be superior to other forms of periodization. You'll also be tested several times throughout the program in a unique way, and your percentages will evolve along with your physique.
- Weeks 1-4: Accumulation phase
- Weeks 5-8: Transition phase
- Weeks 9-12: Intensity/overreaching phase
- Week 13: Taper and test week
The first four weeks are an accumulation phase, during which you'll accumulate volume. The rep ranges will be a bit higher, so you'll be able to get a lot of volume in a short amount of time. Weeks 5-8 are an intermediate or transition block. You'll go a little lower rep, but you'll still get enough reps in to get a good amount of volume. Weeks 9-12 are an intensity block. The reps will be lower, and the weights will be heavier. This is readying you for your test at the end of the program and getting you to your maximal strength.
During the intensity block, you'll build into an overreaching week. During the final week or two, your performance will likely begin to dip because the weights are so heavy and the workouts are so intense. But this is actually a good thing. By tapering in Week 13, you'll see a rubber-band effect. Your strength will snap back, and you'll see even better gains than you would have just by progressing linearly.
Your training will be the same for every week on this program.
- Day 1: Squat, bench press, deadlift (light day)
- Day 2: Upper-body hypertrophy day
- Day 3: Squat, bench press, lower-body accessory work
- Day 4: Rest
- Day 5: Deadlift, bench press (heavy day, rep test), upper-body accessory work
- Day 6: Squat (heavy day, rep test), lower-body accessory work
- Day 7: Rest
Throughout Phases 1, 2, and 3, this basic arrangement stays the same.
I want you to follow this program as closely as you can. However, the one thing you can adjust is the days that you perform certain lifts. Say, for example, you come in and you get your main lift finished, but you aren't able to do any accessory work. Do it on your rest day, or add it on to another day. Either way is fine.
The most important thing is to get all the lifts in during the week, even if you had to do days back to back. Sure, it's not optimal, but it's better than not completing the lifts.
Who Is PH3 for?
As I mentioned before, this program is for advanced lifters only. If you're a beginner, or you're not ready for this program and you try it, you will find yourself in over your head very quickly, and you may get injured. I don't recommend this for beginners, or even intermediate lifters.
So what is advanced? Personally, I define advanced as people with a Wilks score above 350. The Wilks Coefficient is a well-established equation that takes body weight into account, giving you a measurement of relative strength. For a 175-pound man, a 350 Wilks score would be an 1150-pound total on the three big lifts, or something like 350/400/400 on the squat, bench, and deadlift.
Admittedly, that's a pretty lofty standard. So I'll soften it a bit and say that you should have at least:
- A double-bodyweight deadlift 1RM
- A double-bodyweight squat 1RM
- A 1.5-bodyweight bench press 1RM
- A Wilks score of at least 300
- Maxes that have been verified fairly recently, not "10 years ago, and it nearly killed me"
- Multiple years of experience on the big lifts, not just a few months
Wilks Coefficient Calculator
The entire program is based on working off of percentages of your one-rep max. That's why it's so important to understand what your one-rep max actually is. It's easy to do the testing wrong, so I've included a comprehensive video guide to help show you how.
If you want to improve, you need to know where you stand right now. Here are two Layne Norton-approved methods of testing your one-rep max!
If you're a strong lifter who is at or near these standards, but you aren't accustomed to hitting deads, squats, and bench presses multiple times a week, please—please!—don't jump right into the program as it's written. I know how this story ends: You'll get crushed! Instead, start off with this four-week introductory program:
PH3 Intro Program (Optional)
- Perform Weeks 1-4 (Phase 1) of PH3, but without the "plus set" rep tests on Friday and Saturday.
- Then, and only then, start the program as written.
The great thing about the program is that when you test it at the end, you can rebuild out the whole program again based on your new one-rep max. It will accommodate for that because you're lifting more weight, which means your volume is higher.
The Program That Grows With You
This 13-week program is centered around building up to a new one-rep max, but that's not the only time you'll get to see how much stronger you're becoming. I've built little tapers into the last week of each of the three blocks, where you test a "rep max" and see how many reps you can get. You'll use that to build out the numbers for the next block. So the program evolves based on how much stronger you're getting.
But don't worry, you don't need a degree in mathematics to do PH3. As you enter your test results each week, the calculator on the daily page will automatically generate your numbers for the next week. You won't have to do a single piece of math—provided you come back to Bodybuilding.com and enter in your numbers, of course!
So how to these mini tests work? One day a week, on your heaviest day, you'll what I call a "plus set." You'll take your last set on that day to failure. So for example, if you're supposed to do 4 sets of 5, you'll do as many reps as you possibly can on the fourth set.
It's important to really take these sets seriously. Rest until you're really ready to go. These plus sets serve as a weekly mini test of how you're performing. And if you don't crush it, that's OK. The calculations will take that into account and keep you where you need to be so you can try again the next week.
This is what we call "autoregulation." If you go in and you crush it one week, it wouldn't make sense to go up a set amount the following week, because it's probably too light. So if you go in and you really hit a lot of reps on your plus set of squats, maybe you'll get a big increase on your weights the next week, making it more challenging. But if you go in and you don't have a good day, that's also OK, because you're not going to go up a defined amount that's inappropriately large for the following week.
RIR, and How to Keep From Sabotaging Your Results
During the initial weeks of the program, your workouts may feel easy. Don't increase the weights above what I've laid out or add any extra work. The program builds upon itself, and fatigue will begin to accumulate, particularly if you're not accustomed to squatting and benching three times a week or deadlifting two times a week.
If you raise the weights too quickly in the first part of this program, it's really going to mess you up by the end. It will increase your potential to injure yourself as well. Additionally, keep in mind that you're doing really big compound exercises for quite a bit of volume. So if you throw a lot extra accessory work on top of that, it's just going to limit your results.
So please do the program as it's laid out. I promise you it's going to be difficult enough by the end.
Likewise, keep in mind that you're not taking your accessory work to absolute failure on this program. Failure is a valuable tool, but it's one that most people overuse. If you go to failure too often, it'll make your workouts less effective and tax your recovery unnecessarily. Failure is important, and we'll include occasional sets to failure, but for your accessory work, you'll typically stop 1-2 shy of failure. We call this "repetitions in reserve" or RIR.
So on sets where it's marked that you have "one repetition in reserve" or "1 RIR" you want to stop one rep shy of failure. For two repetitions in reserve or "2 RIR," stop two reps shy of failure. By stopping short of failure, you'll be able to handle more volume and keep yourself recovering better on your main lifts. Then, when the time comes for your plus sets on the big lifts, you'll get a more accurate picture of your true capabilities.
Get Big on the Classics
People keep trying to get away from the big three lifts over time. But if you look back at the most successful people in the history of bodybuilding, they thrived on the big three lifts. I'm thinking of people like Ronnie Coleman and Franco Columbu. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger started out as a powerlifter.
The benefits of the big three lifts are undeniable. First and foremost, you're getting a lot of bang for your buck. Per set, per rep, you're getting unparalleled recruitment of muscle fiber, because it's recruiting so many different muscles. When you walk in the gym, nobody asks you, "Hey man, how much do you leg extension?" They say, "How much do you squat? How much do you bench? How much do you deadlift?" Those are the real measures of strength—always have been, always will be.
Before you start this program, you need to have a really good idea of your one-rep max, because that's how you'll build out the program. And you need to enter it into your Bodyspace so you can track your progress. In order to determine your one-rep max, please watch the one-rep max tutorial. Then watch the training overview and nutrition and supplementation overviews.
Just like the big three lifts, this program is the total package. Give yourself your best chance to succeed and watch the numbers go up!