PH3 Powerlifting Program Review: Pros, Cons, Does It Work?

ph3 powerlifting program review

The PH3 Program is one of the dozens (if not hundreds) of programs available on Bodybuilding.com with a single monthly subscription. Written by USAPL/IPF champ Layne Norton, Ph.D., this program seeks to provide the already-strong lifter with the tools to get “freaky strong.” 

But while that description may seem great for some, there are a few others we feel probably won’t be a great fit for this program either.  

Let’s dive into those types of lifters now before getting into the full review of the PH3 Program. 

Why PH3 May Not Be For You

Above all, there are two types of lifters that really aren’t a fit for this program.

  • The Lifter with Specific Needs
  • The “Long-Term Program” Lifter

The Lifter with Specific Needs

This program is a template (surprise, surprise), and not a very flexible one at that. While the audience is very specifically narrowed to strong people who want to get really strong, that still leaves a pretty broad approach to a group of people that, in most cases, have very specific needs in order to get stronger. 

Let’s face it, the stronger you get, the harder it is to get stronger. There’s a reason they say the 2.5lb plates are the heaviest in the gym – when you’re already strong, adding 5lbs to your lift can take a year or more! 

For that reason, a lifter in that position is usually in need of some very specific training and focus in order to break through that barrier. This program, while focused on lifters with a developed base of strength and muscle, fails to deliver on the ability to tailor it to individual needs. 

If you are already strong and in need of help to break through to the next level, and you know you need more than just general help and increased volume, keep looking, cause you won’t find it here. 

The “Long-Term Program” Lifter

You can only run this program so many times. It’s not going to provide the same results over and over again for years to come.

There are some programs that are much more flexible that allow for ongoing reliance on it, but that’s not the goal of this program. At best, I’d say you can run this program 2-3 times while updating your 1RM on each lift before you’d start spinning your wheels and seeing minimal progress. 

For anyone looking to get a program that they can rely on for a good amount of time that will adjust for their ability to progress and occasionally stall, keep shopping. 

Another Program Option To Consider

Before diving into the full review of the PH3 Program powerlifting program, I want to share that…

We’ve created a training app with dozens of powerlifting programs that suits different goals.  

You can find programs based on: 

  • Ability level (beginner to advanced)
  • Weak point training (programs focused on lockout of the deadlift, the bottom of the squat, etc.)
  • Age-based training (junior to master aged programs)
  • Unique training splits (everything from 3-6 day training splits)
  •  Competition readiness (peaking programs for a powerlifting)  

You can check out our programs HERE

Once you join our membership and download the app, you gain full access to all programs.  

Not only that, you get access to a private community of lifters, all training with the same programs, where you can ask questions, post training videos, and get feedback & support.

Let’s now dive into the full review of PH3 Program.

Overview of PH3 Powerlifting Program

About The Creator

This program was authored by Layne Norton, PhD. According to his bio on Bodybuilding.com, he is “a scientist, pro natural bodybuilder, raw elite powerlifter, and physique coach, among other things. He received his BS in Biochemistry, and his PhD in Nutritional Sciences.”

As we’ve seen with many of the educational experts in the strength and conditioning space, Layne has a great set of experiential accolades to support what he knows from academia. Bodybuilding.com cites that Layne currently holds the IPF and USAPL national and world records for squat and the USAPL national record for deadlift. 

In short, he talks the talk and walks the walk.

Who The Program Was Intended For?

In the author’s terms, this program is designed “to help someone who is already strong get freaky strong.” 

My overall impression is that this program is designed not for competitive powerlifters specifically, but rather anyone with an established muscle/strength background trying to get stronger and build muscle use the lifts that happen to be used in the sport of powerlifting. 

While a competitive powerlifter may certainly enjoy this program and find value in it, it is much more fitted for the mainstream audience, rather than the niche athlete. 

Let’s get into exactly why, as a lot of this is made clear from the program goals. 

Goals of The Program

According to the title and branding of the program (PH3 stands for Power, Hypertrophy, 3 lifts), it’s designed for those who want to both get stronger and build muscle using the “big 3,” or the squat, bench press, and deadlift. 

As we dive into the program details, I’ll point out where it addresses both the hypertrophy and the power goals, so I can safely say the name does match the content – it’s definitely focused on using the squat, bench press, and deadlift to get you stronger and build muscle at the same time. 

Workout Details

With the PH3 program, you can expect to work out five days a week from week one to week 13, with three “rep test” weeks spaced out that incorporate an additional rest day. 

The program has rest days written into it, so you know exactly where the program wants you to take breaks to recover before moving on to the next workout, though I imagine you’d be fine shaking that up if you had to. 

Each workout is written to be about an hour long, maybe more depending on your rest time between sets. 

The shortest workouts (by total exercises) are your first workout, which has you perform sets of the squat, bench press, and deadlift all in the same day (often called an SBD day). The longest workouts (by total exercises) are your upper body hypertrophy days, which include eight unique exercises. 

These two workouts would likely last the same amount of time, as the combined squat, bench, deadlift day will require more warm up and rest between sets, while the upper body hypertrophy day can be done with much less rest time between sets. 

On that note, the workout split is as follows:

  • Day 1 – Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift
  • Day 2 – Upper Body Hypertrophy
  • Day 3 – Squat, Bench, Lower Body
  • Day 4 – Rest
  • Day 5 – Deadlift, Bench Press
  • Day 6 – Squat, Lower Body 
  • Day 7 – Rest

Do You Need Any Prerequisites Before Starting This Program?

The overview notes of the program make it clear this is not intended for beginners. 

According to the site’s notes, “Layne has very specific standards about who is strong enough to handle this program, which you can see in the Training Guidelines. But the quick version is that if you’re not at a smooth double-bodyweight deadlift, squat, and 1.5-bodyweight bench press, then…other programs might help you get there so you can return to this program later.”

So really the prerequisites are that you know your form and technique well, you are already pretty strong, and want to get stronger. 

PH3 Program Variables: What To Expect

what to expect in ph3 program variables

Across the world of powerlifting programs, I’ve narrowed down my favorite criteria for measuring each program. Let’s go through PH3 in each category and see what you can expect. 

Periodization

This program is a 13-week program, with “rep tests” in weeks 4 and 8, and a max out in week 13. Outside of that, it pretty closely follows a 4-week periodization model of increasing intensity and volume, while using an undulating model to keep hypertrophy, strength, and power work all constant week to week. 

For example, each week has an element of high reps (10 or more reps) with accessory exercises (exercises other than the squat, bench, and deadlift), some mid-range work with moderate weight and moderate reps (4-9 reps), and sets of heavy weight for lower reps (2-3 reps) across the squat, bench press, and deadlift. There’s no “hypertrophy block” that ends after the first few weeks, you just always have it baked into your workouts with the high rep and mid-range work. 

On top of that, you’ll still see changes in the first four weeks compared to the second four weeks compared to the final four weeks in the prescribed load to use for those rep ranges, as well as fluctuations in total volume. 

Simply put, your mid-range work will go from 72.5% of max for sets of 9 the first four weeks to 75% for sets of 8 in the next 4 weeks to 77.5% for sets of 7 in the final four weeks. 

Your heavy sets will go from 82.5% of max for sets of 4, to 85% for sets of 3, to 87.5% for sets of 2 before maxing out the final week. 

This is a textbook example of “linear progression” where each block increases by 2.5% at set increments. 

Specificity

This program delivers on its promise to use the three power lifts as the focus of the program. The only day of the week that doesn’t explicitly focus on the squat, bench, or deadlift is the upper body hypertrophy day, but that workout certainly supports the bench press by adding muscle to help you move more weight and address weaknesses. 

Finally, the program builds to a max out day across those three lifts, making the end goal tie in with the daily routine – having a stronger squat, bench press, and deadlift than you had before. 

Volume

Volume is high in this program, and rightly so, as it is targeted at lifters who are already strong and want to get stronger. When you’ve reached that level of adaptation, it requires more volume to actually get the stimulus to make a change in your body and performance, so the volume is appropriately high. 

Just look at the notes we made on periodization above – you’ve got 3 weeks of sets of 9’s before a rep test week, then 3 weeks of 8’s before another test week, then 3 weeks of 7’s before another test week. I’m tired just typing that out!

Then you gotta show up two more days those same weeks and use heavier weight to do sets of four, three, and two reps on the same timeline as the progression above. 

Each week, you will do a lot of volume. But that’s what we’re here for, right?

Intensity

The intensity in this program really comes in the mid-range days when you’re doing the aforementioned sets of 9’s, 8’s and 7’s. It’s also served to you conventionally with the sets of 4’s, 3’s and 2’s later in the week with heavier loads in the 80-85% range. 

The interesting thing to me is how the persistence of the mid-range work goes right up to the final week before testing. That last week, you’ve got 5×7 on all three lifts on Monday. Then hit your upper body volume work Tuesday, before coming back to 4×6 on squat and bench Wednesday. Catch your breath Thursday, because Friday you’re back to 6×2 on the bench and deadlift, then the same for squats on Saturday. 

In all my experience, this should be a big positive to the lifter following this program, as the best programs will be most intense in the final week before peaking. Norton doesn’t shy away from that grand finale here. 

Overload

You can piece some of this together from our analysis of volume and periodization, but the overload is a linear progression over the 13 weeks. 

Week to week, you’ll see one additional set added at the same load, and every 4 weeks you’ll see the load increase by 2.5%. 

There’s nothing crazy or creative going on here, but it follows conventional approaches to keeping the load or volume moving up throughout the program to get the body to adapt and get stronger. 

Fatigue Management

Fatigue management is actually handled pretty well here, as far as a templated program goes, because the intense days are spread out and rest days are separating the workload evenly.

For example, the first recommended rest day separates your mid-range work from your heavy work, and the heavy work is split into two days (one for deadlift and bench, the other for squats alone). 

Finally, the rep test weeks include an additional rest day, and the rep test day itself is an abbreviated workout compared to what you’d usually do that day, so you have some nice checkpoints throughout the program to catch your breath without losing progress.

Individual Differences

I don’t see many ways to adapt this program to the individual differences of lifters, unfortunately. While the user interface on the bodybuilding.com site is super easy to use and very accessible once you get into it, that simplicity leaves little flexibility to really customize the program. 

As much as this program says it’s for intermediate or advanced lifters to get even stronger than they are now, it surprises me there’s not more room for customization. 

I find the biggest need to address individual differences comes the more advanced you get in the sport. Generalities are oftentimes better suited for beginners, as they are in need of a broad range of development, while advanced lifters are held back by very specific needs or deficiencies. 

In this program, you won’t find the ability to swap out accessories or track extra exercises you choose to throw in there. 

The only element I can see for individualization comes in the rep test days. Norton provides a guide (a basic RPE scale) with instructions for how to adjust your estimated 1RM. So if your week 4 rep test on bench press went so well you got 9 reps with 80% of your estimated 1RM, you are instructed to add 2-3% to your 1RM for the next block of the program. If you got five reps or fewer, you leave the estimated 1RM the same as you move to the next block. 

By including these rep tests in weeks 4 and 8, an individual who is struggling will be able to dial their load percentage down a notch and not throw the whole program away, while a lifter who is cruising past their expected performance will be able to increase their load percentage and continue to be challenged. 

That being said, it’s only a minor element of flexibility in an otherwise rigid program.

4 Benefits of PH3 Powerlifting Program

benefits of ph3 powerlifting program

There are a few things we really like about this program, and it’s no surprise, considering Layne Norton is about as legit as they come. 

  • It’s super easy to use
  • It serves the intended audience
  • It’s intense
  • It relies on proven methods

It’s Super Easy to Use

I gotta hand it to bodybuilding.com on this one – compared to all the other programs we’ve used, this one ranks high on the ease of use scale. 

This may seem like an unimportant factor – why not just rank the quality of the content? Well the answer is that we’ve seen some excellent content buried in hundreds of pages of ebooks that just isn’t easy to access and use. And if you can’t start running the program easily, then what good is the content?

The PH3 Program is very organized and laid out, with weekly workout views to keep you focused on the here-and-now. With Training Guides and instructional videos, it leaves the user with very few questions throughout the process of running it from start to finish. 

It Serves the Intended Audience

We’ve seen programs claim to cater to one audience, but then fail to deliver in the actual content. That’s not the case here with PH3. It states that it’s intended to get strong people stronger, and the methodology meets that callout. 

Just look at the volume each week – that kind of workload is usually what most strong people need to actually break through and get even stronger. Combining the high-rep work with the mid-range work and the low-rep, heavy sets is certainly the kind of thing that will serve the intended audience with the promised results. 

It’s Intense

Intensity is the name of the game in strength. The longer I’m in the sport, the more I read and learn, the more I am convinced that intensity is the king of all factors in strength training. If your workout is any good, then it’s intense, and the PH3 program nails that. 

We broke it down above, but by that final week, you’ve got an intense workload to get through, which primes your body for the challenge of performing your 1RM on each lift the following week. 

Since the goal of the program is to get stronger, this program understands the assignment to put the lifter through the ringer of intensity to realize that goal. 

It Relies on Proven Methods

You may look at my notes on the progression/periodization and say “hey, he just bumps up the load by 2.5% every 4 weeks, how complicated is that? This program must be a waste!” But the truth is, that kind of progression works. It’s worked for years and continues to work over and over again for lifters who are consistent in their training. 

We’ve seen lots of programs that have zero merit outside of the name that’s selling it or the brand behind it. We’ve seen plenty that are based on garbage ideas. Where PH3 stands out is that it doesn’t need flashy pseudo science or slick marketing (though I get the creeping suspicion the PH3 title was an attempt at following the P90X naming conventions to grab some extra attention, but we’ll blame that on some Bodybuilding.com exec). It uses what’s proven and what’s worked for so many others to get you results. 

3 Cons of PH3 Powerlifting Program

Hey, no program is perfect, and every one of them has its flaws. PH3 is no exception, so I narrowed down what we hate most about it (aside from the name, which I addressed above, but will continue to roll my eyes at).

  • It isn’t flexible
  • It applies to a very specific audience
  • There’s no peak

It Isn’t Flexible

This is our biggest complaint about any template, but even some templates leave room to add your own favorite exercises or drop in accessories to help you with a specific area. But not the PH3 program. 

There’s none of that here. No “enter your favorite upper back exercise” no pick list to choose which squat variation you want to include this time. Nothing. 

We’ve touched on this a few times, but since this program is targeted at lifters who are already strong, it’s surprising that it’s as rigid as it is, since strong lifters usually need specific things to get even stronger. 

We know powerlifters aren’t usually flexible (with the exception of all those European 60kg women who bench like they have no skeleton), but that doesn’t mean your program shouldn’t be. 

It Applies to a Very Specific Audience

If you are not an “advanced lifter with an established base of strength who wants to maximize their strength and muscle mass,” then this program is not for you. Period. 

While you may find some advantage in that (if you are exactly who this program is for and in no need of personal customization), it definitely takes away from the opportunity of all others looking for a solid program. 

Not only that, but even if the program fits you today, it won’t fit you for long after you do it once or twice and the results aren’t as significant as they were before.

There’s No Peak

I’ve raved about how I love the level of intensity this program ends on. That’s exactly the kind of thing you need to end that last training block on to have your muscles, CNS, and mind ready to max out. But after that, there’s no peaking phase to transition the lifter to perform successful max outs. 

In my experience, your body needs more time to recover than a few days before maxing. That’s what the peak is all about – harnessing the adaptation you’ve experienced, while allowing your body to recover from the accumulated fatigue so you can max out for one rep without leaving anything to chance. I wrote a whole piece on it, check it out. 

Granted, every lifter is different. Some do well to take a couple days and go right into their max out. But most of us do better with some form of a peak to rest and recover while performing low-rep, high intensity sets for a week or two (or four, in some cases) before being ready to throw down and do our best. 

Without the inclusion of a peaking phase, I have to think a lifter running this program without assistance won’t see as good of results or realize their true capabilities when they max out. 

Who Is the PH3 Training Program For?

who is the ph3 training program for

The program itself makes no excuses about who this program is for: “this program isn’t designed to help someone get strong. It’s designed to help someone who is already strong get freaky strong.”

Even within that group, there are two types who will really, really love this program.

  • The budget intermediate lifter
  • The intermediate lifter stuck in a plateau

The Budget Intermediate Lifter

Honestly, the most impressive thing for me is the fact that the bodybuilding.com subscription gets you access to as much content as it does. The PH3 program is just one of a crazy amount of programs you can choose from. 

Economically, a subscription here would give you years of programs you can work through for every step of the journey. So if you’re the intermediate/advanced lifter looking to get stronger now, while having a resource you can use to find a better suited program later once you’ve done this one, then you’re in a great spot here. 

The Intermediate Lifter Stuck in a Plateau

You just might be the exact lifter this program is tailored for – the intermediate lifter looking to go from average to above average. 

I said earlier that generalities often serve beginners more than advanced lifters, and I mean that. However, I think much of that still applies to intermediate lifters. 

What I mean by that is this: you can certainly find a very specific exercise that you like that helps one muscle or technique cue. Or you can do a specific stretching routine or follow a specific weekly split that you think is the magic bullet. But as an intermediate lifter, you are still in need of a lot of general things that just need to be done over and over again with increasing load and intensity, rather than incorporating a reverse-band cambered bar box squat to a padded box below parallel with 10% chain weight beltless in knee wraps. 

So even though this program lacks the ability to alter your accessories or pick lift variations that will benefit you, the lifts that it DOES recommend and the program it runs you through will still benefit you more than the absence of those other things will inhibit or hurt you. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, I think this is a good program. Although the marketing is targeted at intermediate lifters trying to get stronger, my overall feeling is that it offers an awful lot of the stuff that is conventionally useful to beginners. 

The only piece of it that really seems to be tailored at the “already strong” audience is that it doesn’t try to teach you the basics, and the high volume week to week is certainly appropriate to create a stimulus necessary for adaptation at that level. 

But outside of that, it feels like a beginner program. I wouldn’t have any hesitations running a similar program with a beginner, assuming they had a coach to guide them through technique cues. 

I give it a solid 4 out of 5. 

That may seem high for as many critiques as I have, but my critiques are more with the fact that they try to exclude beginners when I think beginners could benefit a lot from a program like this. I think the formatting, content, periodization, and overall usability of the program make it a great option for anyone wanting to get stronger and build muscle with the big three, without getting into competing for formal powerlifting. 

If you’re looking for a program alternative, definitely check out our training app HERE

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About The Author

Adam Gardner

Adam Gardner is a proud resident of Utah, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He has been competing in powerlifting since 2016 in both the USPA and the APF. For the past three years, he and his wife, Merrili, have coached beginning lifters to learn the fundamentals of powerlifting and compete in their first powerlifting competitions.Adam Gardner is a proud resident of Utah, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He has been competing in powerlifting since 2016 in both the USPA and the APF. For the past three years, he and his wife, Merrili, have coached beginning lifters to learn the fundamentals of powerlifting and compete in their first powerlifting competitions.