You’ve probably evaluated a different fitness routines when looking for one that’s best for you, fits with your lifestyle and your goals.
PHUL and PPL are both popular routines for increasing strength and muscle hypertrophy (size) and it seems you’ve narrowed it down to these two routines. Firstly, let me be the first to say; great choice!
I’ve personally used both (and tweaked versions of each) with great results.
Let’s help you make your final decision.
- The PHUL workout is a great tool for the intermediate-advanced lifter who enjoy the variety between strength training and higher volume training. If you only have 4 days a week to train and prefer a schedule of fixed days, this is the routine for you.
- The PPL program is a 5-6 day lifting routine suited for an experienced lifter who wants to primarily build muscle mass (but can also be easily tweaked to include strength and power components), wants a more focussed and segmented upper body routine. You don’t mind your workouts and rest days rotating from week to week.
- Both routines tick the boxes for a scientifically sound training routine to build muscle for a natural lifter. They both work…Period!
After reading this PHUL vs PPL article, seeing the pros, the cons and some sample plans, you’ll hopefully be able to better decide between PHUL vs. PPL.
Let’s get into it!
PHUL Workout Overview
PHUL stands for “Power Hypertrophy Upper Lower.” It divides your full-body training week into four key workouts: two for your upper body and two for your lower body.
The lower and upper body power is typically the first two workouts since they typically include compound movements.
With lighter weight and greater reps, the two hypertrophy days come later in the week.
You might want more or fewer rest days. The important part is the order of workouts.
You can switch upper and lower body workouts when doing power workouts and hypertrophy workouts.
- You can do strength training and hypertrophy training at the same time with PHUL.
- It targets each muscle group two days a week.
- It isn’t flexible. You can’t change the two power workouts and two hypertrophy workouts.
- Upper workouts can mean longer in the gym since they target every muscle group.
PPL Workout Overview
PPL stands for Push, Pull, Lower. A PPL split divides your training week into body part segments according to which muscles push or pull during a certain activity.
A push workout routine focuses on movements that employ the chest, shoulders, and triceps to target your upper body’s “pushing” muscles.
Pulling exercises target the biceps and back. On a pull muscles day, you’ll perform pull-ups, rows, and bicep curls.
Finally, lower body movements are the sole focus of leg workouts.
- Targets muscle groups twice per week.
- Good for people who have a weaker upper body and want more focussed upper body workouts
- It provides flexibility for your training objective.
- Needs 5-6 days in the gym to be optimally effective
- It might become monotonous.
- It doesn’t control how intense you are.
What Is the PHUL Routine?
Four days of training each week make up aPower Hypertrophy Upper Lower (PHUL)workout routine.
For the upper body workouts, there will be a power day and a hypertrophy training day; the same will be true for the lower body.
It ensures that each muscle group receives muscle size and strength training, working twice a week.
A Sample PHUL Routine
You must adhere to two rules: never exercise the same body area on consecutive days, and try not to train for more than two days straight (though bending this rule isn’t the end of the world)
Once you’ve planned your days and exercises, I’d recommend sticking to this routine for as long as you’re progressing, whether that’s for at least 3 months or 18 months!
There’s no reason to switch it up if you’re still making progress and switching routines too soon is one of the biggest mistakes lifters can make, especially since there are so many options and tweaks you can make to progress…more on this later.
How Your Week MIGHT Look On the PHUL WORKOUT program
For a PHUL workout routine, the ideal schedule split will resemble this:
- Monday – Upper Body (Power)
- Tuesday – Lower Body (Power)
- Wednesday – Rest
- Thursday – (Hypertrophy) Upper
- Friday – (Hypertrophy) Lower
- Saturday & Sunday – Rest Days
Upper Body Power
|Incline Bench Press||3-4||6-10|
|Bent-Over Barbell Row||3-4||3-6|
|Dumbbell Shoulder Press||3-4||6-10|
|Close-Grip Chest Press||2-3||6-10|
|Barbell Skull Crushers||2-3||6-10|
Lower Body Power
|Barbell Calf Raises||5||10-15|
|Calf Press (on leg press machine)||5||10-15|
Upper Body Hypertrophy Training
A good example of a workout for your upper body hypertrophy day would be:
|Dumbbell Bench Press||3-4||8-12|
|Single-Arm Dumbbell Row||3-4||8-12|
|Wide Grip Barbell Pullovers||3-4||8-12|
|Lateral Dumbbell Raise||3-4||8-12|
|Barbell Preacher Curls||3-4||8-12|
|Incline Dumbbell Curls||3-4||8-12|
|Cable Tricep Press||3-4||8-12|
|Overhead Dumbbell Extensions||3-4||8-12|
Lower Body Hypertrophy Training
|Front Barbell Squat||3-4||8-12|
|Seated Calf Raise||3-4||8-12|
|Single-Leg Dumbbell Calf Raise||3-4||10-15|
What Is the PPL Routine?
The PPL split divides your workouts into a single lower-body day and two upper-body days – one workout that pushes weight away from you and one pulls weight toward you.
A common 6-day PPL routine setup requires you to exercise for three days straight and then take one rest day before doing it again.
This will mean your rest day isn’t on a fixed day and some weeks you’ll be in the gym for 6 days and others 5 days.
This may put some people off using the push pull legs routine who have a set schedule and enjoy familiarity and a set structure in their weeks.
A Sample PPL Routine
A PPL split for a week might resemble the following:
- Monday – Push
- Tuesday – Pull
- Wednesday – Legs
- Thursday – REST
- Friday – Push
- Saturday – Pull
- Sunday – Legs
Monday – Push
|DB Overhead Press||4||10|
|Chest Press Machine||4||10|
|Tricep Cable Pushdown||4||12|
|Overhead Tricep Cable Extension||4||12|
Tuesday – Pull
|Bent over BB Row||4||10|
|Chest Supported DB Row||4||10|
|Lat Pulldown or Alternative||4||10|
|Standing BB Curl||4||12|
|Alternating DB Curl||4||8|
Wednesday – Legs
|Barbell Lunges in place||4||10|
|Stiff leg deadlift||4||10|
|Lying hamstring curl||3||AMRAP|
Thursday – Push
|Incline Bench Press||4||10|
|BB Overhead Press||4||8|
|BB Skull Crushers||4||12|
Friday – Pull
|Single arm DB Row||4||10|
|Cable BB Curls||4||12|
|Underhand Tricep Pulldown||4||10|
|DB Lateral Raise||4||8|
|DB Front Raise||4||12|
Saturday – Legs
|DB Split Squats||4||10|
So, now that you’ve seen some sample routines for both, let’s answer the million dollar question…
PHUL vs PPL: Which One Is Best for You?
For this comparison, a 4-day workout PHUL routine will be compared with a 6-day workout PPL plan.
Let’s look at all the different factors that might help you make a decision and which workout comes out on top for each category:
Ideal for Maximum Muscle Mass
They will both build muscle effectively and BOTH routines tick the right boxes for what makes an scientifically effective workout routine to build muscle. (2)
PPL is the workout program to do if you are more advanced and want to maximize your gains in upper body muscle mass by further splitting them up into more concentrated work loads across more workouts.
Compared to PPL programs, the PHUL program also performs well for muscle gain if you are an intermediate lifter with no obvious upper body weak areas and can maintain intensity across all of your upper body parts within your upper workouts.
The other obvious reason to choose the PHUL program is that you can only train 4 x a week.
The only thing that may give PPL a slight edge in this category is that the power/strength workouts in PHUL are the focus of half of your workouts.
This may make reaching an optimal volume for muscle growth more difficult with PHUL than the PPL split (due to the lower rep work in PHUL power days)
Winner: PPL (for more advanced trainees with more days to train)
Winner: PHUL (for intermediate/advanced trainees with fewer days to train)
Best for Power and Strength
You can tweak the PPL program by frontloading power and strength exercises on your workout days.
This will help with increasing strength and muscle size. You can do this by changing the reps of your first multi-joint, compound exercises to 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps.
The PHUL program is likely to be more successful for the goal of power and strength, since you have two whole workouts dedicated to this practice.
But if you’re adamant you want to use PPL and strength still matters to you, making those small tweaks I suggested above will certainly close the gap.
There would be a negligible strength difference in my opinion.
Winner: PHUL (But can tweak PPL to be more strength-centric too)
Best for Your Skill Level
While I suggest PPL for advanced lifters, mostly because of the higher training volume and training frequency, I actually think the PHUL program could be more challenging on your skill level.
With PHUL’s dedicated power workouts, you need to ensure you have built a foundation of being able to perform multi-joint, compound exercises safely and correctly with lighter weights.
PPL doesn’t necessarily require there to be exercises geared towards power within the workouts.
The PHUL program is a great routine to progress to if you’ve just finished a basic full body program (and gotten a basic grasp of all the compound exercises for your entire body) or a standard Upper/Lower workout split.
I’m going to give the edge to PPL here as it isn’t dependent on a high level of skill, unless you’ve added strength/power exercises to it.
(requires less skill straight out of the box)
Best for Weight Loss
Neither is the best workout routine for weight loss, but that’s just because that’s not the main purpose of a weight lifting routine (though, of course, it can help – keep reading…more on this a bit further down!)
A weight lifting program is, however, still essential during a weight/fat loss phase as it helps you to retain your lean muscle tissue while you drop body fat.
Workout frequency, along with more sets and reps (training volume), is essentially why I’ll give the nod to PPL for weight loss in the gym.
Simply because you’re burning an extra 2 workout days worth of calories in the gym. You’re looking at around 200-500 extra calories per 60 minute workout.
PPL is thus declared the weight loss category champion, but it doesn’t really matter in all honesty.
Simply put, a PPL workout plan that requires you to work out six times per week will likely result in you burning more calories than a PHUL plan that only requires you to work out four times.
But I wouldn’t choose PPL for this reason alone.
You could make up for those extra 400-1000 calories burned a week by simply dropping 125 calories a day from your diet. That’s like half a chocolate bar.
(But who cares)
Best for Building a Balanced Physique
PPL is most definitely an effective exercise plan if you want to concentrate on any weak, underdeveloped upper body muscles.
Building muscle and functional strength in the upper and lower body is a benefit of both PPL and PHUL.
PHUL plans may cause fatigue to the muscles that are towards the end of your workout sessions. Especially body parts like shoulders and arms, that will have taken a beating from chest and back exercises already.
It’s a weakness but one way around this is to not train the same muscle group first on both days of your upper day.
Example: Day 1: do chest first
Day 2: do shoulders or back first
If you struggle with fatigue of particular upper body muscles at the end of your workouts, then the PPL is a clear winner for you as it splits the upper body up further into pushing and pulling.
(but again, no real world difference)
Best for Your Schedule
It is understandable that many people find it challenging to maintain PPL over the long term when considering the rigors of a PPL schedule and the absence of more than one rest day.
PHUL is far more accommodating for schedules because it requires 4 weekly sessions.
PPL calls for 5-6 workouts per week, which makes it more challenging to maintain.
Remember, the most important thing is to pick the one that allows you to Lift N Live!
Okay, now let’s put it all together and talk about the scenarios where one program would be more suitable than the other.
Hopefully, you will fall into one of these two buckets and it will make your choice easier, if you haven’t already decided by now…
Who Should Use the PHUL Training Program?
Consider a PHUL Split If…
- You Want to Give Muscle Mass and Strength Equal Priority: PHUL tries to gives you the best of both worlds. If you want to be stronger, look better, and feel healthy.
- You Like Alternating Heavy and Light Days: If you enjoy both the pump of higher reps and the adrenaline rush of moving as heavy a weight as possible, PHUL has you covered.
- You Want a Fixed Schedule: The PHUL split is a terrific option if you are the lifter who likes to set it and forget it. Your workout is scheduled on the same day each week; turn up, put in the work, and leave.
- You only Have 4 Days a Week to Train: No explanation needed. The PHUL workout is a 4-day a week routine
Who Should Use the PPL Training Program?
Here are the reasons why PPL might be best for you..
Consider a PPL Split If…
- You Prefer Shorter, More Frequent Workouts: Up
- You Like to Make Decisions About Your Programs: The PPL offers even more versatility that you may customize and influence to match you overall and day-to-day than the PHUL, which still offers a good deal of that flexibility.
The muscle building and fat loss outcomes you can achieve for both types of training protocols are similar.
Seriously, I wouldn’t take any “results” or transformations seriously that claim to be BECAUSE OF one training program over another (though, I’ll show you some anyway in the next section, which will only further highlight my point).
That goes for both PHUL and PPL.
Why? The training program you use just creates the opportunity and environment for your muscles to grow. What you do outside of the gym mostly fuels that growth.
My point is, any type of scientifically sound training routine will help you achieve results, and both PHUL and PPL routines tick those boxes.
Here’s a video example of how I looked following a combined PPLUL (a combination of push/pull/legs/upper/lower body routine):
Anyway, people seem to like seeing results and transformations, so I’ll show you mine and my client’s transformations, having used variations of both routines, steroid-free and using no banned performance enhancing drugs (it’s important to state this, since so many transformations omit the fact that the athlete was enhanced – I simply don’t train enhanced athletes or take steroids myself).
Again, take both sets of images with a pinch of salt. The results weren’t BECAUSE I used one program or the other. They both work.
They just fit mine or my client’s lifestyle and situation at the time..
PHUL Workout Program Results
These were some client’s I worked with who could only train 3-4 x per week, so they received an Upper Body Lower Body workout variation with PHUL elements added. (Higher stress strength days and lower stress “hypertrophy” days)
You’ll notice here that the routine works for both men and women, and can also be used for a muscle gain and a fat loss phase. Or, in Jordan’s case, complete body recomposition!
NOTE: Complete body recomposition (building muscle and dropping fat at the same time) is only really possible for a natural if you’re fairly new to the gym or have had a long period off from the gym.
PPL Workout Program Results
The PPL program is a popular choice among my clients (I no longer take on clients) for the flexibility, body part segmentation and exercise variety it provides.
I like it too! The image of me above, shows a 6 year period of training where I switched between PPL and PHUL along the way, depending on my schedule at the time.
I even combined the two programs together at one point, doing PPLUL over 5 days a week.
This worked really well for me, and I’ll discuss why and how I tweaked my routine in another post.
Both programs mean you train all muscle groups twice weekly, which much of the research shows is more beneficial for muscle growth for natural athletes.
How to Progress When Doing These Workout Routines
As a natural weightlifter who does the PHUL or PPL split, take note of the following ways to progress, along with some extra tips for maximum performance:
- Increase reps: start from the lower end of the range. For example, if the range is 8-12 reps, start with 8 reps until you can perform all of your sets for 8, then increase it to 9 or 10 reps, then repeat until you can…
- Increase the weight once you can complete your maximum number of reps for EVERY set. When you increase your weight, start from the bottom range of your reps again.
- Rest Periods: Take a three-minute or more rest period between each set for multi-joint compound exercises and two minutes rest for single joint/isolation exercises. The most important thing for performing your next set well is adequate rest (1)
- Deload for one week every four to six weeks (cutting your working weights lifted in half for every exercise is the easiest way e.g. if you bench 200lbs, that week you’d do 100lbs)
- Train to failure only in your final set and even then, it’s not even necessarily required according to a systematic review and meta-analysis by Brad Schoenfeld (2), but I like to
- DON’T SWITCH ROUTINES TOO SOON: this seems counter intuitive but don’t be that guy or gal who switches it up every 4-6 weeks. That’s barely enough time for one progress cycle. Stick with it for a minimum of 3 months to 18 months or more if you are still seeing progress and enjoy the routine.
- Switch Exercises: You may replace some compound or isolation exercises (if you don’t have access to specific equipment) but follow the training regimen as closely as possible without changing any of the major lifts’ sets or reps. Only switch exercises otherwise if you’ve maxed out your progress. (Can’t increase reps with current weight)
- Active Recovery (optional): Utilize your rest day for active recoveries, such as mobility exercises, stretches, and brief bouts of cardio.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Let’s now examine the most often-asked questions about the PHUL vs. PPL training and other relevant topics.
Is the PHUL Workout Good?
Yes, the PHUL workout approach is effective at building muscle and strength.
It is a scientifically sound and evidence-based plan to building muscle.
Is PHUL or PHAT Better?
Is an apple or orange better? Both the PHAT and PHUL routine get the job done, depending on how frequently you can get to the gym.
The PHAT program stands for Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training and offers similar principles to the PHUL program. It’s a 5-day workout with 2 rest days.
PHAT and PHUL workouts produce effective results. Pick the one that fits your lifestyle and/or personality.
Try the PHUL workout routine if you’re looking for a gym program that can be done in a 4 day workout.
Try the Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training protocol if you have 5 days to train.
The ideal exercise program is not always the one designed to add the most muscle; they will mostly ALL do that and PHUL and PPL both do (3)
Rather, it is the one that fits your lifestyle, enjoyment, experience level and schedule.
PHUL vs. PPL is kind of a misnomer. The truth is, it doesn’t matter since they’re both effective.
The best workout plans for you will be the ones that you can adhere to and be consistent with. If that’s PPL, great. If that’s PHUL, fantastic.
If it’s something else that is evidence based? Also fine!
You’re searching for something that’s tailored to your needs and long-term objectives.
I hope this breakdown has helped you choose between PPL vs PHUL.
(1) J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Mar;30(3):710-6. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001142.
Effect of Different Interset Rest Intervals on Performance of Single and Multijoint Exercises With Near-Maximal Loads
(2) J Sport Health Sci. 2022 Mar;11(2):202-211. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2021.01.007. Epub 2021 Jan 23. Effects of resistance training performed to repetition failure or non-failure on muscular strength and hypertrophy: A systematic review and meta-analysis
(3) J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2015 Mar;55(3):164-78. Epub 2014 Jul 7.
Recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: resistance and cardiovascular training