Peripheral Heart Action (PHA) Training: What It is and How To Do It

Walk into any gym, and you’ll see two camps of people; the weight trainers and the cardio crowd. While there are a few who seamlessly drift between the two, most gym goers stick to one camp or the other. If you’re a weight trainer who hates the very idea of stepping onto a treadmill or cross-trainer, you’ve got the challenge of how to get rid of excess weight and improve your cardio fitness.

A solution that you’ve probably never heard of is Peripheral Heart Action or PHA training. In this article, we’ll unpack PHA training, explaining its benefits for weight trainers and providing 2 sample workouts to get you started.

Peripheral Heart Action Training was developed in the 1960s by a former Mr. America named Bob Gajda. Bob was after a system of weight training that would do the following:

  • Burn off body fat
  • Maintain muscle mass and strength
  • Improve cardiovascular (heart and lung) fitness

Bob developed PHA as a form of weight training that sees you moving from one major body part to another in quick succession. Unlike circuit training, where the exercises are randomly ordered, with PHA training you go from an upper body to a lower body exercise. The purpose is to force the body to pump blood from one part of the body to the next, making the heart work as hard as possible. At the same time, you’ll be working the muscles with relatively high reps.

PHA involves switching between exercises as quickly as possible to keep the heart in the cardio zone. Rather than doing multiple sets for one body part before moving to the next, you do one set and then move to another exercise. The idea is to provide continuous blood flow throughout the entire body while taking little to no rest between sets.

PHA is great for hardcore weight trainers because it makes use of the compound exercises that they are already doing. It is an extremely challenging form of training that will maximally task your cardiovascular system. It will also build both muscular and cardiovascular endurance while burning off body fat, especially when paired with a reduced caloric intake.

PHA training has been used by many top level athletes to get ripped while preserving their muscle mass, including the late, great Bruce Lee.

Because you move quickly through a series of exercises, PHA training is a form of circuit training. There are, however, a couple of significant differences.

PHA training does not intersperse a resistance exercise with a cardio exercise as is normally the case with a circuit program. So, rather than going from a weight training move like barbell curls to a cardio one like running on the spot, you go from one weight training exercise to another.

With PHA training your selection of weight training exercises is also different than with circuit training. The exercise choice with PHA is compound moves that require the most energy to perform. Examples are the bench press, squats, and deadlifts.

A workout you may like:

There are a number of ways to do PHA training. One of the most popular is to do three rounds of a group of 4-5 exercises followed by a short rest. You then do three rounds of another group of 4-5 exercises. It is best to use compound as opposed to isolation exercises as they burn more calories and elicit greater blood flow.

Here is an example of a 4-week PHA Program …

  • Squats - 15 reps
  • Bench Press - 15 reps
  • Military Press - 15 reps
  • Reverse Crunches - 15 reps
  • Barbell Rows - 15 reps

Perform three rounds of this circuit with the absolute minimum of rest between exercises. Rest for no more than 60 seconds between circuits. This will be very demanding on your cardio system. If it’s too hard, reduce it down to just two sets and then rebuild to 3 sets over time. Lower the weights on your exercises to allow you to get your rep count without failing on the third set. That will probably require using 40-50 percent of your normal weight.

  • Incline Dumbbell Press - 15 reps
  • Leg Press - 15 reps
  • Chin Ups - 10-15 reps
  • Calf Raises - 15 reps
  • Lying Triceps Extension - 15 reps
  • Stiff-Legged Deadlifts - 20 reps

Your PHA workouts should be done on alternate days three days per week (i.e. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday). Another option is to cut back to two PHA sessions per week and do two traditional weight training sessions as well. Many people prefer this 50:50 approach as it allows them to work on both fat loss and strength/muscle gain at the same time.

If you decide to do a PHA twice per week with two conventional weight training sessions, your conventional workouts should consist of half-body splits. On one of the days, work your chest, back, and arms. On the other, hit your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and shoulders. Perform 6-8 sets per body part with reps in the 6-12 rep range.

  • Warm up with a few minutes of light cardio, such as burpees or jumping jacks to get your heart prepared for the work ahead and to elevate your body temperature.
  • Focus on compound rather than isolation exercises to maximally stimulate the heart and lungs.
  • Cut your normal weight back by 50-60 percent so that you don’t fail when doing 3 sets in quick succession.
  • Use a rep range of between 15 and 20 reps.
  • Do not train to muscular failure (reduce weight if you have to).
  • After the workout, cool down by walking around for a few minutes to allow your heart rate to return to normal.
  • Promote recovery after your workout with a shake that has a 50:50 carb/protein content.
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Steve Theunissen is a freelance writer living in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is a former gym owner and personal trainer and is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness and fat loss. Steve also writes history books with a focus on the history of warfare. He is married and has two daughters.

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