PPL vs PHUL: Differences Explained

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
January 20, 2023

Modern day lifters are often spoiled for choice when it comes to training programs - especially those of the intermediate to advanced category, wherein quite a number of different programs are available, each with their own specific purpose in mind.

Two among these are the push/pull/legs split and the power/hypertrophy/upper/lower split, seemingly similar training programs that follow the same principle of dividing workouts based on the muscular target or desired result of said workout.

To put it simply, the differences between PPL and PHUL primarily revolve around training frequency and flexibility, with PPL featuring greater variability and flexibility in terms of exercise selection, but a greater amount of training frequency, whereas PHUL is more general in its purpose and only features four workout sessions per training week.

What is PPL?

“PPL” or push/pull/legs is an intermediate to advanced level resistance training program best known for its unique method of dividing workouts by the angle of resistance involved in the exercises.

push pull legs or ppl

This often means that muscles such as the latissimus dorsi and the pectorals will be trained on entirely separate days, or that the muscles of the lower body will be trained in workout sessions that do not target the upper body to any significant extent.

Such a training split allows for up to six workout sessions to take place within a week, and a frequency of approximately 2x a week per muscle group.

Features of PPL

As was touched upon previously, PPL is unique in the fact that it separates exercises within the program by the muscular function utilized. Movements like the squat are performed during leg workouts, whereas rows and pull-ups can be done during pull days, and exercises like the bench press or military press are performed on push days.

Apart from a unique training split, PPL often features interchangeable exercises that can allow lifters with a history of injury or more specific goals in mind to customize their training as they wish.

Furthermore, it also meshes quite nicely with the “big three” compound movements, meaning that the bench press, the deadlift and the squat can be distributed through separate training days so as to allow for variable intensity to occur.

Intended Target Demographic of PPL

PPL is highly versatile, but is generally meant to be used by lifters beyond the novice stage of lifting, as the twice a week frequency featured by this program may be too little for novice lifters to maximize the “newbie gains” effect.

Advantages of PPL

The main advantage of PPL lies in its flexibility, where so long as the rather basic concept of its split is applied, it may be used for any number of training-related goals. 

Lifters seeking muscle mass growth may perform high volume sets and multiple isolation exercises, while those wishing to boost their strength will find that the 2x a week frequency of training is perfect for recovering from high intensity sets.

This, of course, requires that the lifter has some know-how about training programming, with more experienced lifters even being able to perform a 3 day variant of the PPL program.

What is PHUL?

PHUL stands for power/hypertrophy/upper/lower, referring to the specific goals of each consecutive training session. It is often referred to as a hybrid of “powerbuilder” program due to the combined inclusion of hypertrophy and strength development within the scope of its goals.

phul acronym

PHUL is considered to be novice friendly, but is best utilized by lifters who have already established the basics of resistance training within their muscles.

Much like the traditional PPL routine, PHUL will have a training frequency of 2x a week per muscle group, though with distinctly varying levels of intensity and volume involved in either training session.

Features of PHUL

PHUL features an equal focus on both strength and hypertrophy development, meaning that it is arguably quite effective for individuals who have yet to decide on what sort of fitness they wish to specify into - or those seeking a more generalist approach to resistance training.

Furthermore, PHUL will feature a greater amount of gross exercise volume per workout due to its equal training frequency to PPL despite fewer workout sessions. One can expect to perform multiple different compound exercises per PHUL workout, some of which will not necessarily even target the same plane of the body.

As such, not only will PHUL workouts require greater long-term exertion, but so too will they consume the lifter’s time, making it also a better choice than PPL for individuals that enjoy spending lengthy hours in the gym.

Intended Target Demographic of PHUL

PHUL was developed to be accessible to lifters of all types, but is at its most effective for novice lifters transitioning to the intermediate stage, or intermediate level lifters that have reached a plateau in the state of their progress.

Advantages of PHUL

The primary advantage of PHUL is in the dual-purpose of its goals, where the lifter is intended to develop both their size and strength simultaneously, leading to a general over-all development of their muscles.

Furthermore, PHUL in its traditional form features a 2x per week training frequency for each muscle group, maximizing the development possible within a single training week. 

Workout Intensity Differences of PPL and PHUL

Though PPL may be altered in such a way that each workout is considerably intense, it is best to avoid doing so due to the rather small number of muscles worked within each workout. 

This is not so much the case in PHUL, where having only 4 workouts per week equates to a certain higher level of intensity that is required so as to train the body effectively.

As such, unless one is specifically seeking out a very high level of intensity by altering PPL with a greater amount of resistance and volume, it is best to stick with PHUL - especially for intermediate or advanced level lifters whose non-muscular soft tissue will need the time off in order to recover from the heavy exercises involved.

Which Program is Best for Novices?

In actuality, neither PPL nor PHUL are ideal for novice level lifters, as they only feature a 2x per week training frequency and therefore do not maximize the rate of development possible for newbie lifters.

If one were to choose, however, PHUL is arguably the better choice, as it will feature fewer days in the gym and a greater amount of raw volume per workout - something that novices can easily recover from.

Furthermore, PPL is at its best when customized to suit the needs of the lifter performing it - something that many novice lifters are not yet knowledgeable enough to do properly. Unless they are utilizing the services of an athletic coach, it is best to stick to the more rigid exercise selection and volume plan of PHUL instead.

Which Program is Better for Muscular Hypertrophy and Bodybuilders?

Whether PPL or PHUL is better for muscular hypertrophy is a rather tricky question, since both are equally effective as tools for building muscle mass - though not in their conventional forms.

PPL Hypertrophy and Versatility

Though pure hypertrophy is not the sole purpose of a conventional PPL program, it may be modified in such a way that muscle mass development becomes the priority of each workout. 

This is achieved by increasing total volume per exercise, reducing resistance slightly, shortening rest cadence and picking exercises that exhibit a greater time under tension than those normally found in a PPL workout.

PHUL’s Hypertrophy Day

PHUL is the more obvious and novice-friendly choice for hypertrophy, as it features an entire day dedicated to hypertrophic growth - hence the “H” in “PHUL”.

However, due to the rigidity of how PHUL is structured, this may fall somewhat short for lifters of a more advanced level of experience or a greater specificity in their goals. Bodybuilders, advanced level lifters or individuals who wish to develop a certain ratio of muscles will find that PHUL’s structure and repetition ranges can be limiting.

Which Program is Better for Strength Development and Powerlifters?

Just like hypertrophy, deciding on whether PPL or PHUL is superior for strength development is more complicated than simply picking one or the other.

While PPL’s versatility is nonetheless still a deciding factor, its frequency and number of workouts per week can act as a barrier, whereas PHUL has an entire day dedicated to power - albeit an insufficient number of training sessions for such a purpose.

PPL’s Frequency and Structuring

PPL features up to six workouts per week, something that may be excessive for more advanced powerlifters due to the level of resistance of their workouts. 

While it is possible to structure PPL in such a way that recovery may be optimized, it is nonetheless not something a strength-focused lifter will wish to keep up in the long term.

PHUL’s Power Day

Despite the similar frequency between PHUL and PPL, PHUL nonetheless features only 4 workouts per week, and a considerably lower level of intensity on non-power days. While this is good for recovery, it can also mean that there is insufficient training stimulus for the more advanced strength-focused lifters.

Furthermore, the splitting of workouts based on their location on the  body rather than their function can lead to poor compatibility within workouts, such as performing the bench press, overhead press and row all on the same day - something that can cause the deltoid muscles to limit the amount of strength-based training stimulus that is produced.

The Verdict

In truth, neither PPL nor PHUL are ideal strength development programs, especially for advanced lifters or competitive powerlifters. 

Nonetheless, if one truly wishes to only stick to PPL or PHUL as their chosen strength training program, it is arguable that a modified PPL is more effective than PHUL simply due to the greater efficiency with which PPL can be structured towards.

Which Program is Better for Long-Term Training?

Because of the versatility and high number of workouts per week, PPL is comparatively less effective as a long-term workout plan than PHUL - or, at least, it is less effective when not adapted to the development of the exerciser after a certain period of time.

As a lifter progresses through their training, changes in volume, exercise selection, training methodology and programming methodology must also progress so as to maximize the efficiency with which the lifter grows.

While PHUL’s conventional form only makes use of a small number of these, it is nonetheless structured to allow long-term adherence without any significant changes in its programming. This is not so much the case with PPL, where the lifter is left to their own devices in order to choose how to customize the program as needed.

As such, it is in fact PHUL that is better for the long term - unless the lifter is knowledgeable enough to customize their own program as needed, wherein PPL is the better choice.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is PHUL Good for Fat Loss?

Not quite - PHUL only features four workout sessions per week, and not every single workout session is necessarily considered to be high in volume. This equates to PHUL arguably burning less calories than other training programs specifically meant to burn body fat.

Ideally, one can combine PHUL with another cardio-based training plan so as to maximize the amount of calories they burn within a given week, such as C25K or a number of other running plans.

Is PPL Good for Bulking?

Yes - the high frequency, customizability and function-based training split of PPL equates to a program that is excellent for lifters wishing to maximize the development brought on by a bulking phase diet.

In fact, the additional nutrition can help counter one of the main issues of PPL; accumulated fatigue, of which will be greatly reduced as the body is given adequate resources to recover with.

Is a 6 Day PPL Split Too Much?

Whether or not a 6 day PPL split is excessive will depend on the lifter’s own experience level and recovery methodology.

Novice lifters without a firm grasp of how to recover from resistance training may see better results with a less intense training program, as will very advanced weightlifters whose compound movements may be too heavy to allow for a six-workout training week.

As such, a six-day PPL split is most effective for novices under the guidance of an athletic coach, intermediate lifters or advanced lifters with enough knowledge to customize the program to their own unique needs.

In Conclusion

So, going for the more generalist PHUL, or ready to try out the numerous workouts of PPL?

Remember that your choices are not solely constrained to just one or the other, and that there are dozens of resistance training programs out there - not to mention the fact that it is entirely possible to form your own, if you know what you’re doing.

References

1. Evangelista AL, Braz TV, La Scala Teixeira CV, Rica RL, Alonso AC, Barbosa WA, Reis VM, Baker JS, Schoenfeld BJ, Bocalini DS, Greve JMD. Split or full-body workout routine: which is best to increase muscle strength and hypertrophy? Einstein (Sao Paulo). 2021 Aug 30;19:eAO5781. doi: 10.31744/einstein_journal/2021AO5781. PMID: 34468591; PMCID: PMC8372753.

2. Ralston, G.W., Kilgore, L., Wyatt, F.B. et al. Weekly Training Frequency Effects on Strength Gain: A Meta-Analysis. Sports Med - Open 4, 36 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-018-0149-9

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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