Progress report: 8 Weeks of PHAT
Since admitting my shortcomings as a program “designer” and checking my ego at the door on December 26, 2011, I’ve been following Layne Norton’s PHAT program with a few very small alterations. I did a four-week recap on January 18, 2012 that “refined” my program, goals, nutrition, and future. As I am halfway through week eight of the program and I have two days off from work in a row, with one also being a recovery day, I thought there was no better time than now to put up yet another in-depth analysis of my training and nutrition for the last few weeks.
With all of this “excess” time on my hands, and inspired by another log’er’s recent post, I took this round of recapping a bit more seriously: I looked over my actual work-out notebook where I write down immediate feelings, reactions, and numbers while in the gym and … I did some mathematics and found some averages. I’ve organized my “research” very much like a science experiment, comparing my initial “hypotheses” with my actually “results.”
If this were a term paper, I’d entitled it, “Personal Results: The Opposite of Bro-Science.”
No “set” schedule for eating.
Why? Because some days I really dig on some fasted training; other days I need the carb-up boost after working a full shift before hitting the gym; most power days I want to slam “fast” carbohydrates as soon as I get home and save my shake for after dinner. I’ve learned it’s all about what works best for me, not everybody else.
The Quake v. Crunch experiment is already proving this little “truth” to be somewhat false; I’ve been really responsive to pre-work out nutrition and foresee it as a mainstay in my practices until it stops being beneficial. I’ve also found myself reverting back to having a shake post-work out because I’ve become ridiculously hungry after leaving the gym and want something in my stomach as soon as possible.
Work Day macros: ~50/180/230 = ~2,090 calories.
Rest Day macros: ~80/180/115 = ~1,900 calories.
Why? Because on rest days I have a harder time getting hungry and the higher fat will help me hit my numbers. The variance in calories takes into account the calories I’m not burning from not hitting the iron. These numbers are approximations until I determine if 2,000 calories is my maintenance.
None of this actually happened. Instead, my average macros for the last ten days have been 40/130/194, with the carbohydrates being adjusted – painstakingly – to account for fiber intake. It should be noted, as well, that there are small things I do not track, such as the inclusion of any creamer in my coffee or sampling I do while at work. Regardless, this still puts my average intake at a startling low number and, thus, explains why my weight has remained static.
Daily weigh-ins to find the weekly average for more accurate tracking of weight gain/maintenance.
Note: If I ever start losing weight, I will bump up calories.
Okay, so I’ve been doing this, though, the only real fluctuations that have occurred have been on days following any alcohol consumption.
Bi-weekly measurements of biceps, waist, and hamstrings, flexed and unflexed for “truer” progress tracking.
Note: If I continue to see growth while losing weight, calories will remain the same.
Yeah, I still don’t have any measuring tape …
Moving on …
Continue PHAT but drop weight before February.
Why? Because I walked away from both of this week’s power days feeling completely zapped, mentally and physically. I know my form is starting to break down on certain lifts because I can feel myself hitting a plateau on the Big Three. I’m giving myself two more weeks to determine if this is because I’ve been tinkering with my nutrition and sleeping patterns or if it really is because my body needs some extended recovery time.
Since including pre-work out nutrition and making sure I get a minimum of seven hours of sleep every night, the “zapped” feeling I described here has disappeared. This allowed me to determine why certain lifts felt as if a plateau was imminent and what to do about it before potentially ruining my progress with an unnecessary deload. What I found was:
1.) My bench form needed some correction so, instead of taking time completely off from it, I lowered weight and am only increasing if my form is perfect for a full set of five reps.
2.) Barbell rows, even lowering weight to 70% of my maximum with perfect form, are not currently friends with my lower back. I am in the middle of a two week deload from them altogether.
3.) I should have moved traditional deads to hypertrophy days weeks ago so that I was maximizing both of my leg days without killing myself in the process.
4.) I still think I’m an idiot for not following PHAT as strictly as possible: the ratio of sets to reps is written as such for a reason – the produce results. Simple as that.
After the deload takes place, test my one rep maximums on squats, deadlifts, standing barbell shoulder press, bent over barbell rows, and bench press.
Use these numbers to determine if I will begin another 12-cycle of the PHAT program or if I am ready to try out 5/3/1 and/or Smolov Jr.
I will not be running another cycle of PHAT, at least not in the immediate future. I have also decided that once this cycle is over, I will be taking 3-4 sessions to deload and then I will be moving onto 5/3/1. This decision should have been a no-brainer but, like with most things regarding my training, I like to over-think things and draw them out. Unnecessarily.
I had been considering 5/3/1 for quite some time but PHAT appealed to me because of the volume – I like long training sessions and I like the burn that comes from them. I also thought it would be a program that would finally get me into tacking on mass without being concerned about aesthetics. Well … yes and no.
Thankfully, somebody put put things into perspective for me:
“I’m not trying to be a bodybuilder or am I after a certain “look” so I’m never gonna be bothered about visible this & the muscle popping out. I’m not in the slightest cut, im there to move the barbell & to move weight you need to gain weight. There will always be a genetic freak who looks normal & can lift heavy but you can’t use them as a bench mark. Big lifters are big guys/women.” – user: veggiesasquatch
His point, while it makes the most sense, was something that went completely over my head when it came to choosing PHAT. Yes, it’s a high volume program that leads to great strength gains but it’s a program geared towards bodybuilding, something I am, honestly, not interested in. I came to the decision quite some time ago that I want to be a powerlifter - I want to be strong year-round and I want to keep getting stronger.* In order to pursue this, I should be following a program that is designed to do just that and only that.
If that post wasn’t reinforcement enough, shortly after, another lifter I really look up to put up an exceptional analysis of the relationship between his programs, his progress, and the relationship between the two and if he were on a gaining, losing, or maintaining cycle. Of course, the conclusions he drew make the most sense: when one is gaining, one is also seeing increases in strength because of the added calories.
So, it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. If I want to get stronger, I have to actually commit to getting stronger instead of straddling the fence about it all. When I start 5/3/1, I will be continuously bumping up my calories so that the scale moves 0.5lbs a week as to keep fat gains to a minimum but to insure that I am, in fact, getting the most out of my efforts.
So, to summarize:
After this week, four weeks of PHAT left.
After those four weeks, three-to-four sessions deadloaded, focusing on stretching, active recovery, and making sure form is locked and loaded on bench, squat, deads, and overhead press.
Start 5/3/1 with a calories at 2,100.
Run 5/3/1 until I plateau; keep increasing calories until I get fat again.
*I have nothing against bodybuilding or bodybuilders. It’s just not for me. I’d much rather compete at my strongest than my leanest. However, I admire and respect every natural bodybuilder out there because the dedication, determination, and effort put into that is just as trying, taxing, admirable, and exceptional as that put forth by any raw powerlifter.