Fitness Articles

PHA: Transform Your Body with this Heart-Pumping Workout

Peripheral Heart Action Combines Cardio & Strength

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The health and fitness world can sometimes feel like a puzzle of acronyms. From WOD and AMRAP to HIIT and LISS, you may feel like you need a dictionary to navigate your way through the gym or studio. We’re always on the lookout for new workout tips and trends, so we can share them with you and explain the best way to get the most out of them, even if that means adding a new acronym to your vocabulary.
 
Lately, there's been some buzz around PHA (Peripheral Heart Action), which is a type of circuit training developed in the 1940s by Dr. Arthur Steinhaus. In a nutshell, PHA alternates between upper and lower body exercises, with a bit of core thrown into the mix. After decades of popularity among weight lifters, PHA is slowly starting to move into the mainstream.
 
While many workouts focus on hitting a target heart rate, or alternating between high and lower intensity, PHA is designed to keep the blood flowing throughout the entire body during an exercise. "The heart directs a higher blood volume to one part of the body, and then redirects blood flow to another part of the body," explains Christian Elliot, CEO of TRUE Health and Wholeness. "This trains the heart—which is a muscle, after all—while also working the limbs. It's a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness while also doing strength training."
 
In addition to providing a boost of cardio, PHA also helps keep you energized, prevents lactic acid buildup and is more effective at making changes to body composition, such as fat loss, muscle toning and weight loss. If you don't have the time or patience to spend hours in the gym, but you want significant and measurable results, PHA is worth exploring.
 
Examples of PHA Workouts
 
Maurice Williams, Certified Trainer from Move Well Fitness
 
Williams provides this example of a workout that utilizes PHA:
 
1.  Lunges with a ball
2.  Cable rows
3.  Lunges with dumbbells
4.  Ball chest presses
 
"The advantage of this form of exercise is that it's more specific to one's desired goals," Williams says. "For example, if your goal is to add muscle size and definition, then you would do 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps with a 60-second rest after you have completed your first round of exercises. You would do this kind of workout three to four times a week."
 
Williams likes the flexibility of PHA workouts, and how they allow for easy adjustments in difficulty. "One person might be able to do squats jumps followed by explosive push-ups, while someone else might need to scale back to just squats and bent knee push-ups," he says.
 
Certified Trainer Kim Schaper
 
Schaper offers the below sample workouts, which alternate between the upper and lower body.
 
1.  Squat
2.  Chest press
3.  Deadlift
4.  Bent over row
 
Or:
 
1.  Lunge
2.  Lat pull down
3.  Squat
4.  Push up
 
Schaper has her clients rest 30 seconds or so between exercises, which allows the heart rate to come down and rests the muscles so they're ready for the next set.
 
Shane "The Balance Guy" McLean, A.C.E Certified Personal Trainer
 
McLean uses variations of the PHA principle when training clients. Below are two of his PHA workouts:
 
Sprint, Push-Up & Squat Combo
  1. Mark some open space about 20 yards (24 footsteps) apart, using cones or whatever else you have handy.
  2. Sprint to one end and do one push-up, then get up and sprint down to the other end and do one squat.
  3. Add one push-up and squat with each sprint until you complete 10 of each. 
Kettlebell Swings/Medicine Ball Slam
 
Do this as a countdown superset. Complete 20 reps each of the kettlebell swings and slams back-to-back, then go down by 2 each time you perform a round until you reach 2 reps for each exercise (for example, 20-18-16-14....2). If you don’t have access to medicine balls, substitute battle rope slams.
 
Carol Frazey of The Fit School stresses the importance of using the proper form. "The most important thing to remember during a PHA workout is to concentrate on keeping the correct form during the entire session," Frazey says. "As soon as you feel the fatigue set in, make a mental note in your head or out loud to keep your form. This will give you the most benefits from the workout and reduce the risk of injury."
 
What Makes a Good Candidate for PHA?
 
"PHA training is great for people who are short on time, or who don't like doing traditional cardio exercises, but still want the same benefits of traditional cardio training," says Williams. If you only have 45 minutes to squeeze in a workout, PHA gives you the most fitness bang for your buck.
 
That said, anyone can implement this type of training into their fitness regimen. If you've been avoiding strength training out of fear or uncertainty, PHA could be a great way to test the weight waters. "PHA is especially effective for beginners who are looking to incorporate strength training in their routine," says Schaper. "As I tell my clients, strength training is one of the best exercises to reduce body fat, gain strength and have a better body composition."
 
Even those at the top of their fitness game can apply PHA to their fitness routine. "Typically I have my advanced clients go heavier in weight to increase the tension on their muscles and jack up their heart rate," Schaper says. "Then they recover, rest their leg muscles while doing a push-up and go back to the leg movement."
 
Nina Elliot, owner of TRUE Health and Wholeness, loves using PHA training methods with her child, teen and elderly clients. "Because the goal isn't to drive the muscles to fatigue, PHA is perfect for those who don't strive to be sore or enjoy the 'good hurt' that other gym goers crave," she says. "I keep the training session moving quickly, setting up stations with equipment to alternate between upper and lower body exercises. The client keeps moving, never going at maximum effort, while increasing the overall heart rate for cardiovascular benefit. They finish the session feeling invigorated and energized."

Have you ever used Peripheral Heart Action in your workouts? Are you interested in giving it a try?

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About The Author

Melissa Rudy Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.