Peripheral Heart Action (PHA) Training - The "Super" Gym Circuit?

Peripheral Heart Action (PHA) Training - The "Super" Gym Circuit?

When it comes to training goals, most people would tell you they want to gain muscle and lose fat. This goal is the holy grail of programming.

Who doesn't want to lose fat and gain muscle?

Related - How to Gain Muscle Mass Fast

To those with a few years of training experience though, it is well known that increasing muscle mass and decreasing body fat are two conflicting goals. In order to increase muscle mass, one must be in a caloric surplus (eating more calories than their body burns). On the other hand, to decrease body fat, one must be in a caloric deficit (eating fewer calories than their body burns).

Most people fall into the trap of increasing their workout intensity by turning to low weight, high reps, and minimal rest in order to decrease body fat. Unfortunately, this does not help our goal of increasing muscle mass and decreasing body fat.

A much more realistic expectation is to decrease body fat and maintain muscle mass (which in my opinion is truly the holy grail of fat loss). In the above example, yes, you will likely see significant weight loss… Notice how I didn't say fat loss?

The problem with this approach is you are giving your body no reason to maintain your hard earned muscle with the use of low loads and high repetitions. So how exactly can you decrease body fat and preserve the muscle mass you currently have? This is where Peripheral Heart Action training comes into play.

What is Peripheral Heart Action Training?

Peripheral Heart Action (also known as PHA) training is a form of circuit training that was brought to the masses in the 1960's by the then Mr. America and Mr. Universe Bob Gajda (one of only three men to defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger in competition).

Developed by Dr. Arthur Steinhaus, the thought process behind PHA training was to keep blood circulating throughout the body during the entire duration of the workout. By training opposing muscle groups, local lactic acid build up was avoided while still allowing for continuous training to occur.

High intensity and minimal rest times were absolutes when it came to PHA training. This allowed for maximized body fat loss with minimal muscle mass loss.

How Do I Set Up a PHA Workout?

PHA training is simple to set up. You will choose two upper body exercises, two lower body exercises, and a core exercise. Normally, higher repetition ranges are prescribed for lower body exercises (10-20), mid repetition range for upper body (6-12), and core training is usually higher as well (15-25). Personally, I prefer to do 2 strength oriented circuits and two hypertrophy oriented circuits.

The strength circuits will use 4-6 reps for lower body, 5-8 reps for upper body, and 12-15 reps for core. The hypertrophy circuits will use 8-12 reps for lower body, 10-15 reps for upper body, and 15-20 reps for core.

  • Strength Circuit Set Up – Upper/Lower/Upper/Lower Accessory/Core
  • Hypertrophy Circuit Set Up – Upper/Lower/Upper/Lower/Core

You will repeat each circuit twice with minimal rest between exercises (5-30 seconds) and 30-60 seconds between each set of the circuit. Rest between the different circuits is usually however long it takes you to set up the next 5 exercises (1-2 minutes). If you're a beginner, do yourself a favor start the program with the longer rest duration and slowly progress yourself to less rest over 4 weeks.

Make it a point of focus to rest as minimal as you can tolerate. You don’t want to lose your pump and the goal is to keep all muscle groups getting a continuous blood flow through the entire workout.

If you have access to a heart rate monitor, resting until around 70-75% of your max heart rate is a good starting point for rest. Use PHA workout for 4-8 weeks and then return to strength/hypertrophy-focused training.

When to Apply a PHA Workout?

PHA workouts are best used when your main goal is to decrease body fat. I would recommend that it be performed 3-4 times per week and set up two different routines to alternate between.

Choose weights/loads that will allow the workout to be repeatable. Never miss reps and always perform the movements with a fast concentric (lifting) and a controlled eccentric (lowering). For example, if bench press calls for 8 reps then choose a weight you can lift for 10-12 reps.

This is a mistake I've made myself in the past along with countless other trainees and you are much better off going on the lighter side than trying to max out every single workout. Remember, we’re trying to maintain muscle mass and strength, not break records on bench press or gain 10 pounds of muscle.

Example PHA workout

CIRCUIT A

  • A1. Barbell Floor Press x6
  • A2. Goblet Squat x5
  • A3. Barbell Bent Over Row x6
  • A4. Glute Ham Raise x5
  • A5. Physio Ball Elbow Push x12

5-30 seconds rest between exercises (or as little as possible). Perform the circuit two times.

CIRCUIT B

  • B1. Dumbbell Military Press x5
  • B2. Barbell Back Squat x6
  • B3. Neutral Grip Chin Up or Lat Pulldown x5
  • B4. Dumbbell RDL x6
  • B5. Leg Lower x8 each

    No rest between exercises within the circuit (or as little as possible). Perform the circuit two times.

    CIRCUIT C

  • C1. DB Curl x15
  • C2. Alternating Reverse Lunge to Step Up x16
  • C3. Triceps Press down x15
  • C4. 1 Arm1 Leg Dumbbell RDL x8 each
  • C5. Hanging Knee Raises x15
  • No rest between exercises within the circuit (or as little as possible). Perform the circuit two times.

    CIRCUIT D

  • D1. 1 Arm Dumbbell Row x15 each
  • D2. Reverse Hyper-extension x12
  • D3. Dips x15
  • D4. Leg Press x12
  • D5. Ab Wheel x15
  • No rest between exercises within the circuit (or as little as possible). Perform the circuit two times.

    Conclusion

    PHA training is a great way to lose fat and maintain muscle and strength. The keys are to have repeatable workouts (choose the right weight!), decrease rest between exercises, sets, and circuits each week, and never fail or miss reps.

    Pair the above with a sound nutrition program and high-quality dietary supplements and you are guaranteed to make some remarkable and noticeable to changes to your physique in that time.

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