How varied are your workouts? Varying the way you train and adding new challenges to your fitness program helps you continue to make gains and avoid those frustrating training plateaus. Variety also adds an element of novelty and fun.
One form of training you might not be familiar is called PHA or peripheral heart action training. This type of workout structure closely resembles circuit training but with a twist – it stimulates your muscles and cardiovascular system in a slightly different manner. PHA training was developed by Dr. Arthur Steinhaus popularized in the 1960s by Mr. Universe, Bob Gajda and is still an effective way to get a workout today.
What is Peripheral Heart Action Training?
The goal of peripheral heart action training is to maximize the amount of blood that circulates to your upper and lower body as you complete a sequence of resistance exercises. With PHA training, you alternate between upper and lower body resistance training exercises, allowing as little rest as possible between each movement. The lack of rest and recovery keeps your heart rate up, for cardiovascular and fat-burning benefits, while switching between upper and lower body exercises, maximizes blood flow to all parts of your body and reduces the build-up of lactic acid. By reducing lactic acid, you’re able to train hard without being forced to stop due to the burn.
How Do You Do a PHA Workout?
PHA training shares some commonalities with circuit training. With circuit training, you do a series of resistance exercises, sometimes with cardio exercises in between, in sequence with minimal rest between exercises. PHA operates on the same principle, but the exercises you do alternate between upper body exercises and lower body ones. By alternating back and forth, you shunt blood from your upper body to your lower body and then back again. This forces your heart to work harder, and just as importantly, reduces lactic acid build-up.
How does circuit training differ from PHA workouts? Circuit training workouts typically involve several upper or lower body exercises in a row. This traps lactic acid and waste products in the area you’re working so you fatigue more quickly and limits your performance. With PHA training, you avoid this problem and can do more work before fatiguing.
To put this workout into practice, select a series of 5 or 6 exercises to complete in sequence with little or no rest between exercises. Once you’ve selected your PHA sequence, do 10 to 12 reps of each exercise before quickly moving to the next exercise. Continue until you’ve completed the entire sequence. Repeat the same sequence of 6 exercises until you’ve finished five or six cycles. Although you should minimize rest and recovery between sequences, in the beginning, it’s okay to rest for 30 seconds to a minute between each sequence of six exercises. If you can’t complete six complete cycles when you first begin, start with three or four and work up to it.
Here’s a sample of what a PHA sequence of six exercises might look like:
Standing overhead press
Here’s another one:
Dumbbell side lunges
Chest press on stability ball
Notice how the exercises alternate back and forth between the upper and lower body? You can use dumbbells, barbells, or even kettlebells as resistance with the exercises and select different exercises every time you train in this fashion, as long as you’re alternating upper and lower body movements.
When selecting your exercises, include mostly compound exercises, those that work multiple muscle groups, since the goal is to divert large amounts of blood back and forth between the upper and lower body. Doing predominantly compound exercises will also boost your calorie burn and give you a greater metabolic effect to maximize the benefits you get from this type of workout.
To enhance the benefits, even more, add a pyramid element to PHA training. For the first sequence, choose a weight that’s 40 to 60% of your one-rep max and gradually increase the weight as you move up the sequence ladder from one to six. The objective is to challenge yourself without going to complete muscle failure. Due to the high volume you’re doing, lifting to failure won’t work well with this routine.
Make Sure You’re Conditioned before Trying this Type of Workout
Peripheral heart action training is more taxing on your cardiovascular system than the average circuit training workout, particularly if you’re working with a challenging resistance. Start out doing traditional circuit training, cardio and resistance workouts to work up a baseline level of conditioning before doing a PHA workout. Typically, peripheral heart action training increases your heart rate more than circuit training, so you’re getting multiple benefits – metabolic, cardiovascular and muscle endurance/strength.
Don’t forget to do a warm-up beforehand, and be prepared for a challenge! You’ll work hard during a peripheral heart action workout. Make sure your muscles are warm enough to avoid injuries.
Is There Research to Support the Benefits of PHA Training?
What does science say about this type of training? A study comparing PHA workouts to interval training showed PHA training boosted aerobic capacity and muscle strength and can serve as an effective substitute for high-intensity interval training. Still, there’s no need to give up HIIT training, PHA training is just another way to diversify your workout routine and challenge your muscles and cardiovascular system in a new way. You can also add a cardio exercise into a PHA sequence to enhance the cardiovascular benefits even more.
The Bottom Line
Peripheral heart action training, like circuit training and interval training, is time expedient and offers multiple benefits – fat-burning, cardiovascular, muscle endurance and strength. Just as importantly, it adds variety. So, if you’re looking for a different way to structure your workouts or have reached a plateau, give it a try.
Eur J Appl Physiol. 2015 Apr;115(4):763-73. doi: 10.1007/s00421-014-3057-9. Epub 2014 Nov 27.
“New Insights into Circuit Training” Len Kravitz Ph.D.
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