Programming Discussion: PH3 trainer

I realized that I haven’t spoken about my own journey in quite some time. I started this blog as a way to tell people what I’m doing when it comes to my sports, what I’m trying, what works, and what doesn’t, and I’ve gotten a bit away from that. So long, in fact, that I completed an entire 13 week training program without so much as mentioning it.

Shame, shame.
I am shame, and I am sorry.

The program in question was designed by a personal lifting hero of mine, a scientific mind with a major social media presence, a name with which you are definitely familiar if you’ve been reading my blog for more than, like, a post of two, Dr. Layne Norton.

 

Leading up to my last figure competition, I was absolutely itching to get back to training for powerlifting. I am very “grass is always greener,” regarding my sports- when I’m prepping for one, I always wish I was doing the other, without fail. Months in advance, I had chosen PH3 (that is Power, Hypertrophy, and the big 3) as my programming that I would use to lead up to my December powerlifting meet. Immediately following that third of one, two, three shows, I got my ass right under that barbell.

 

The program is considered to be a DUP training program, short for daily undulating periodization. This is a hell of a buzz word right now, thanks to some research by Dr. Mike Zuordos showing it to be incredibly effective- and perhaps even, dare I say, optimal for training as a natural lifter. What this means, though, is that each movement is done more than once a week- in fact, on PH3, I squat and bench three times per week and deadlift twice per week. Of course, not every session is the same- there are lighter days and heavier days, each session “undulating” in intensity, rep ranges, and percentage of your max used. Compared to a linear progression, like Strong Lifts or Starting Strength, it is quite a complex training theory, but it can be combined with other kinds of periodization such as block periodization, like PH3 does.

This program has 3 distinct phases- a 4 week volume accumulation phase, where a higher rep range, overall, is used, a 4 week transition phase, where the weights will get a little heavier and reps will come down a little bit, followed by a 4 week intensity/overreaching phase, where the weights reach into the 90% max range. If you are breaking for a meet, or going to test maxes, a 1 week taper is the utilized to recover before the big event.

 

So here’s how it went:

The program has you lifting 5 days out of 7 each week, which is not a huge deal for me, but if you haven’t been lifting with such frequency, I don’t think this is probably the program to acclimate you to it. I like to lift 4 or 5 days per week, but the volume and intensity of this program is absolutely no joke. There’s a reason this program is aimed at advanced lifters– it is hard. Layne recommends lifters have a minimum of a 350 Wilks-score before beginning this program, but to break that down into specific lifts, he recommends:

  • A double-bodyweight deadlift 1RM
  • A double-bodyweight squat 1RM
  • A 1.5-bodyweight bench press 1RM (I did not meet this qualification, but did meet the rest, including the Wilks)

Think you’re a hard ass who can just do it anyway? You’re risking injury within the first two weeks, and you’re not going to progress as quickly as you would on a more suitable program- seriously. Train for your current level. Advanced programs will be there still when you’re ready to take them on- get yourself there safely first.

 

Here’s how my training split looked, regardless of what phase I was on:
Monday: rest
Tuesday: squat, bench, deadlift (this is your lightest day of the week on each lift)
Wednesday: upper body hypertrophy
Thursday: squat, bench, leg hypertrophy
Friday: rest
Saturday: deadlift, bench, upper body hypertrophy (after the first phase, this is your AMRAP day on the last set of each big lift)
Sunday: squat, leg hypertrophy (after the first phase, this is your AMRAP day on the last set of each big lift)

While this split remained constant, the set and rep schemes changed weekly, with a set added to each big lift each week within a phase (so three sets of 7 one week, 4 sets of 7 the next, etc.), and each phase having it’s own rep scheme and percentage of max used (with the volume phase being lighter weight and reps in the 6-10 range, and intensity phase hitting the 90% range, but utilizing doubles and triples). This is where we see the daily undulating periodization combined with block periodization, and I think the combination of the two is incredibly smart and effective.

 

The program utilizes blood flow restriction training a few days each week for biceps and triceps, as well as quads and hamstrings. This allows for higher training volume at a lower intensity. You use something like 20% of your normal working weight on the BFR work, meaning it’s not hard on your joints, and doesn’t significantly damage your muscle. Pooling the blood in the occluded muscle, however, allows metabolites to accumulate in the muscle as though you were working with much heavier weights. This technique enables your body to utilize as much energy as possible to complete and recover from your big three lifts, while still seeing some hypertrophic gains. I saw significant growth in my biceps and triceps over the course of this program using it, though the effectiveness seemed to taper off towards the end. As with any training tool, BFR should be considered one tool in the toolbox, one that can be put way as it loses utility and the body adapts to the training stimulus, to be taken out again at a later date.

I'm a big fan of #bloodflowrestriction, or #BFR or #occlusion training for #biceps and triceps. The straps- quick release tourniquets for nurses from Amazon, keep the blood in your muscle. This allows you to use very low loads, which is nice on your joints and connective tissues, while accumulating metabolites like lactate in the muscle much like heavy loads would. This signals your fast twitch muscles to take over the load and signals muscle protein synthesis- which means growth!💪🏻 It is a time effective way to get a lot of training in, when combined with heavier training, which is my main reason for using it. I HATE training arms- so tedious. This leaves more time and recovery ability for my important lifts: bench, squat, and deadlift. 🤓For more info, check out @biolayne's article at https://www.biolayne.com/articles/training/blood-flow-restriction-training-the-next-generation-of-anabolic-exercise/ ➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖ #SquatRackShenanigans @nutrimartusa #nutrimartusa #teamnutrimart @fitnessmodelsdotcom #powerlifter #uspa #notstrongforagirljuststrong #powerbuilder #girlswhopowerlift #liftheavy #girlswhobodybuild #girlswithmuscle #girlswholiftheavy #ladieslifthere #chicksthatlift #rbodybuilding #xxfitness #sandiego_fitness #iifymwomen #wnbfpro #figurepro #naturalbodybuilding #wnbf #figurecompetitor #fitnessmodelsdotcom #bossbitch Shoutout to @rlgrime for this 🔥🔥🔥 #Halloween mix. Free download on @SoundCloud

A post shared by Stephanie Aurora (@squat_rack_shenanigans) on

It also uses weekly AMRAP, or As Many Reps As Possible, testing in order to adapt the program to your growing strength. You will start out by doing four working sets for a certain number of reps, then your fifth set will be AMRAP, or, to failure. If you do not meet the prescribed minimum number of reps, the percentage used to calculate your next week’s lifts on that lift will do down. If you surpass it, the percentage is increased. It is absolutely incredible to compare those numbers week to week and see your strength increase so clearly.

AMRAP sets got me feeling like...
                      AMRAP sets got me feeling like…

 

I found it pretty difficult to recover from this program initially. I increased my calories significantly, as I was constantly ravenous, and I had to really prioritize my sleep and recovery. Even my ART guy noticed my body was pretty thrashed. “What the hell have you been doing to your traps and pecs, Stephanie, you’re a mess!” Even maintaining on my own with my lacrosse balls I’m a mangled knot of a human when I walk in his door. So eat enough. Sleep enough. Get your body work done. Keep your massage/ART guy on alert.

 

I did find was that the taper, week 13, was not quite enough. Luckily, I finished the first 13 weeks of the program (12 plus taper week) about 6 weeks before my meet, so it didn’t effect my performance on meet day, but did afford me the time to adjust accordingly going into the meet. By the end of the intensity block, I was absolutely crushed. I intended to test maxes at the end of the taper week, but opted instead to skip it in favor of more rest. Had I used this to taper for a meet, I do not think I would have performed well on meet day.

 

So what about the results?

I mean, that’s what you’re here for, right? That’s what this is for: bigger numbers on your big three.

My starting numbers, on the day following winning my pro card, following three shows and an epic three months dieting down to under 9% body fat, looked like this (in pounds):

Squat: 230
Bench: 125

Deadlift: 295

My numbers (estimated using the last AMRAP session of the program as my indicator) looked like this:

Squat: 250
Bench: 140
Deadlift: 320

An average of 20 pounds added to each lift.

 I’ll leave you to decide the significance of that, coupled with the fact that I am a 5’2″ female who competes in the 123 pound weight class.

This week, specifically, I completed:

  • 4 sets of 2 deadlifts at 295, then an AMRAP fifth set for 4
  • 4 sets of 3 bench press at 120, then an AMRAP fifth set for 8, and
  • 4 sets of 3 squats at 225, then an AMRAP fifth set for 7

 

I had 6 weeks remaining between finishing the program and my meet, so I tweeted Layne Norton to ask his advice as to how to proceed into the meet (PS he answers Tweets shockingly quickly- it’s like texting him. What I’m saying is I texted Layne for programming advice and he got back to me like an hour later, so, you could say I’m kind of a big deal). He recommended a nice easy intro week, repeating week 1 using my new maxes to calculate, then jumping back to week 9, the beginning of the intensity phase, and finishing out the program as written.

screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-8-31-57-pm

Taking into account how terrible I felt finishing up last time, I modified the taper going in to my actual meet, tapering the accessory work down significantly in week 11, taking it entirely out week 12, and keeping week 13 as written. I am 12 days away from my meet now, and feeling really, really good this time around in the intensity phase, with all my squats, bench presses, and deadlifts going well, so hopefully this tactic leads to a rested and recovered body going into the meet, and big numbers on the platform. I guess we will see how it goes for real on December 3, and the Deadweight Strength Open!

 

 

Overall, I really have enjoyed this program. I’ve definitely put on some mass (thanks calories and heavy lifting!) and all of my lifts are definitely improved. If you are technically proficient in all of your lifts, meet the minimum Wilks, have been training your big three more than once per week, and can recover from the volume, I absolutely recommend giving this program a try. I would say that the first time around, probably don’t modify it. As with any program, it was written as is for a reason, and it’s worth giving it a try even if it’s unlike anything you’ve done before. Layne’s programming methodology is solid, and effective.

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