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Advanced training methods for hypertrophy – Peripheral Heart Action Training

Hadyn Luke posted this on Tuesday 27th of February 2018 Hadyn Luke 27/02/2018

Tags: Training methods

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In the latest in our series on Advanced training methods for hypertrophy (see our blog: The Science of Hypertrophy), we are looking into the methods and benefits of Peripheral Heart Action Training.

This follows on from our blogs on German Volume Training, Escalating Density Training and Drop Sets – all of which provide different ways to help body builders and gym-goers increase muscle mass and/or become stronger and more powerful.

What is Peripheral Heart Action Training?

Circuit training is one of the most popular methods used by personal trainers and fitness professionals to help their clients stay in shape. Peripheral Heart Action Training (PHA) combines circuit training and metabolic conditioning in a resistance and aerobic-based work out.

The training programme requires the subject to perform three compound exercises, which work groups of muscles in different parts of the body, alternating between different extremities of the body. This is followed by a cardio exercise.

The aim should be to have a minimal rest time between the exercises and to reduce this further over time.

While standard circuits will result in “feeling the burn”, where blood is specifically pumped into one area of the body, the objective of PHA is to keep blood flowing across the whole of the body, all the way through the workout session, reducing the build-up of lactic acid but allowing high intensity activity to be maintained.

Studies have shown PHA is particularly effective in increasing cardiovascular fitness and strengthening muscle.

Who is it suitable for?

PHA can be a good option for those starting their route into fitness, as they won’t be put off by feeling the burn. It’s a good technique for building muscle and burning fat, and popular with those who want a fast, effective training session, as a programme can easily be completed in 35-45 minutes.

Anyone familiar with basic gym circuits could potentially use PHA, but for the best results, consult a personal trainer, who will be able to devise an appropriate training schedule, monitor the results and adjust the programme as you progress.

Who devised Peripheral Heart Action Training?

It was developed by an American, Dr Arthur Steinhaus, a Professor of Physiology and writer on fitness, who also advised the US Navy on fitness and rehabilitation during the Second World War. His writings on PHA began in the 1940s and were picked up by the bodybuilding world in the 1960s through the legendary Bob Gajda, a Mr Universe title holder.

What would be a typical PHA training session?

Because it comprises both compound exercises and aerobic exercise, there are several exercise combinations available to those wanting to carry out PHA training. The importance is in the order in which they are performed.

A circuit would usually comprise of three resistance exercises and one cardio exercise carried out over three to five rounds / sets.

For example

  • Upper body pushing exercise – eg overhead press or bench press
  • Lower body exercise – squats or lunges
  • Upper body pulling exercise – bent over row or pull ups
  • Followed by a cardio exercise – running, rowing, cycling.

Reps / work time should be according to experience, fitness level and goals. For example, a strength / power based athlete could perform 5 reps on each exercise and sprint for 20 seconds to recruit fast twitch (Type IIB) muscle fibres and utilise the ATP / CP and lactic acid system (as well as the aerobic system if you consider EPOC). Alternatively, a beginner / intermediate client looking to burn energy could perform 12-15 reps and use the x-trainer for 2 minutes, primarily using Type I fibres and aerobic system.

Rest time could start around 30 seconds between each exercise and one or two minutes between each circuit, cutting this down over time.

To progress, you could also increase the weight used or the number of reps carried out.

By working under the supervision of a personal trainer, you will be more likely to get the results you want and less likely to pick up an injury.


A tried and tested method, Peripheral Heart Action Training has the benefit of combining weight training with cardio, offering a varied programme of exercise to keep you interested and working the full body while keeping your blood pumping.

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