The powerlifting meet this past weekend was great! Our whole team did phenomenal and I set PRs on all my lifts! In preparation for this meet, I followed Layne Norton’s new powerlifting program: PH3 Trainer. I also made the recommendation for a few of my experienced powerlifting/bodybuilding clients to follow this program too in prep for this meet. Not all of my powerlifting clients followed this program, because as Layne explains it, this program is designed for advanced lifters. As you will see from my experience, I will definitely encourage anyone considering starting this program to thoroughly consider the potential rewards and risks associated with following it.
When I started the program, I was coming off of my pro bodybuilding season. I was highly calorie deficient, overtrained, and in need of putting weight back on. It just so happened that Layne put out his program just as I finished up my last show! I was very excited to start this because I knew I wanted to get back to powerlifting. The program can be found on the bodybuilding.com website or by clicking on this link:
To start the program, you need to enter your known maxes for your squat, bench and deadlift. I just used my maxes from the last USAPL meet that I did in 2015 which was about 8 months prior to starting this program (that was 300lbs on the bench, 425lbs on the squat and 530lbs on the deadlift). I probably could have done a better job at determining my maxes, and redid all my attempts, but I wanted to get the ball rolling and I knew I wasn’t too far off from those numbers. In fact, I felt like I was overestimating my numbers when I first entered them. It’s funny, that assumed overestimation quickly became an underestimation!
In the first few weeks, I felt like I was overtraining a bit because I was benching, squatting and deadlifting so often. Each week in this program, you bench and squat 3 times per week and deadlift twice per week. I was used to squatting once, maybe twice at most each week and deadlifting only once. That took awhile to get used to. I remember Wednesday’s workout was always very challenging for me because I felt so tight from doing all 3 lifts on Monday. It wasn’t until probably 6 weeks into the program that I really felt comfortable doing these lifts so often. By that point, if I wasn’t squatting or deadlifting, I felt like I really wasn’t working out!
In this program, there is one total hypertrophy (or what I would simply call “bodybuilding style” workout) day and some additional hypertrophy exercises on the other powerlifting days. It was fun to have the bloodflow restriction (BFR) training included in this program. I thought Layne brought some great credibility to BFR and I was finally able to coerce some of my hesitant clients into trying it! This definitely helped with the lower amounts of sets for bodybuilding style workouts that were a part of this program. As a natural pro bodybuilder, I have become used to training 20-25 sets per bodypart each week. In starting this program, I felt like some bodyparts were not getting as much attention because of how much volume I was used to. With that however, with the BFR training and the fact that the program did include at least a few exercises for the main bodyparts, I don’t feel like these muscles atrophied much at all. In fact, I think I see a bit more muscle development in my calves because of the regular BFR training with it.
As the program progresses, you are often tested to see how many reps you can perform with your 3 lifts. After the initial week, you are given the chance to take your last set to failure, or what’s called an “AMRAP” set (As Many Reps As Possible). Within the first few weeks I was able to do 12-16 reps with my final squat sets and often 8-12 reps with my final deadlift sets and about 5-8 reps with my final bench sets. I was setting rep PRs left and right! When I put my results into a 1 rep max calculator, I was coming up with totals that were way beyond what I ever thought possible! As you do these AMRAP tests, the PH3 program adjusts the next weeks weight based on how you did, so the program is quite adaptable. On weeks 4 and 8, you do a total rep out test of all 3 lifts. We would use 85%-87.5% of the max and do as many reps as possible. From there, the program would give you a new estimate for your maxes and recalculate your weight to use going forward.
A slight drawback to this program is that it cuts your new max off at what you can do for 7-8 reps. So if you do more than 8 reps, it’s not going to give you any more weight than if you did 8. On my first rep test, I squatted 360lbs for 15 reps and deadlifted 450lbs for 12 reps! Based on those totals, a 1RM calculator (that goes that high) tells me I can squat almost 600lbs and deadlift close to 650 (That is really not the case with me yet). However, when I enter this info into the PH3 trainer, my new maxes were only estimated at 435lbs for the squat and 540 for the deadlift which seemed very low in comparison. It wasn’t until around the 2nd rep test (8 weeks in) that I discovered the issue with the low rep estimates. So, I decided to up the amount of weight that I used for the rep test the 2nd time. I decided to squat 405lbs for my 2nd test, which I completely surprised myself and got 12 reps! I also decided to deadlift 500lbs and got 7 reps and on my bench I used 275lbs and got 6 reps. So for both the bench and deadlift, on the 2nd rep test, I felt the program now accurately calculated my new maxes. But for my squat, because I got 12 reps, I had to guesstimate what I could probably do with a higher weight to make me fail at around 7 reps. So I decided to go with 420lbs for 7 which was still a bit of an underestimation compared to what 405lbs for 12 reps show as a 1RM result, but I went with it.
Check out my 405lb squat for 12reps video here: https://www.facebook.com/jonathan.e.arnold/videos/10208649557064142/
On my final 4 weeks of the program, I really felt like I was now working really hard. Once my new numbers were entered in, I was able to get all my lifts, but I really had to push harder. Around that time, another issue starting to crop up: Injuries! Around week 9, I was beginning to get bicep tendonitis in my left arm. It was driving me crazy every time I deadlifted. It got so bad, I was wearing arm sleeves whenever I benched or deadlifted. I also began taking ibuprofen fairly often. Then, with only 2 weeks left in the program, during my final squat set, doing an AMRAP set with 435lbs I strained my right adductor when I went for a 5th repetition. It hurt so bad! I thought for sure I severed it! Thankfully though, that wasn’t the case. Although, I wasn’t able to squat at all because of the pain it caused. This got me extremely worried because of the meet that I was going to do in Worcester in just 2 weeks from that day! I was so frustrated!
After that happened, I prayed a lot, went to 4 physical therapy appointments and also got a deep tissue massage to help alleviate the pain. My physical therapist told me that my adductor was strained because of how tight my psoas and hip flexors are. She recommended if I was going to continue to follow this program and powerlift, constant stretching and flexibility training is a must! With her help, I was able to get back to squatting again, but it wasn’t until halfway through the final week that I felt like I could squat without as much pain. By that point, I was on my taper week and handling less weight than I was from the previous weeks. I was extremely nervous going into this meet because of that injury. Miraculously, in the end I ended up setting some PRs for myself anyway! I got all 3 of my squat attempts, with my final squat being 451 lbs. I believe I could go heavier than that, but I was still tentative about how my leg felt. I benched 303lbs and got that, I almost got 314lbs, but couldn’t lock out my right arm (I did lock out my left), and on my deadlift I got 556lbs. I also attempted 600lbs and got it to my knees but couldn’t get it any higher.
All in all, I definitely saw some significant improvements in my 3 lifts in a relatively short amount of time (3 months). I think coupling this program with a solid offseason bodybuilding growth diet plan really helps with making gains! With that though, PH3 did have some drawbacks. The injuries were certainly no fun. Coupling this program with an intensive stretching program, is a good idea. I also believe if the program had actual 1 rep max tests, instead of rep tests every 4 weeks, then the program would likely be a better representation of what you can handle. Since the program already has AMRAP tests in each week, which helps the program modify your lifts week to week, I think it would be better, and possibly safer to go with the real 1RM test instead of an estimate. In the future, when I do this program again, I think I will just run it that way. With that said, I definitely do recommend this program to powerlifters who are looking to up their game or simply change things up. Due to the high amount of volume in this program, just as Layne Norton suggests, I would only recommend this program to advanced lifters.
I hope you found this review helpful. For further information about the PH3 program, please refer to the PH3 site on bodybuilding.com or by clicking on the link at the top of this page.
Owner and CEO of Integrated Fitness of Dover LLC
ACE Certified Personal Trainer, NASM CES, B.S. Nutrition
“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 (NLT)