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PHA Training

By Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS

Charles Dickens once said, “The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.” The pain of Peripheral Heart Action Training (PHA Training) is nothing compared to the results it produces.

PHA training is basically circuit training on steroids, and it was a favorite cutting strategy of bodybuilders in the 1960s. No, we’re not talking pink dumbbells or the circuit training at your local Curves, this is flat-assed heavy pig iron—with an extreme conditioning component.

Circuit Training

It has always baffled me that circuit training is done primarily on machines sitting down. One of the main objectives of fat-loss–based circuit training is to burn calories, but sitting down on machines that do the work of your stabilizer muscles defeats the purpose: The exercises are much less metabolically demanding, meaning you burn less calories.

Let’s take a look at what circuit training should really do.

PHA History

Bodybuilding circuit training was popularized to the masses in the 1960s by Bob Gajda, a Mr. Universe and Mr. America winner. The idea is to keep blood circulating through the body during the entire workout. This is done by attacking the smaller muscles around the heart first, then moving outward. This system is vigorous and requires continued, intense exercise for a prolonged period of time without any rest. That’s what makes this program so intense.

PHA training requires that you primarily use compound movements. The goal is to “shunt” blood up and down the body, which this is extremely taxing on the cardiovascular system, but the benefits are obvious: a reduction in body fat and, of course, improved metabolic rate.

Because each bodypart covered in each sequence is getting adequate rest between each circuit, strength will be conserved allowing close to maximal strength to be exhibited on the next bout. Even though your heart will likely beat at over 150 beats per minute throughout the entire workout, this doesn’t give you license to lower your weights; if you have the intestinal fortitude, you should still be able to lift heavy on the rested bodypart.

PHA Circuit Training

Click on chart to make bigger and print

Variable Manipulation

We know that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, so we’re throwing PHA training in the mix to shake things up. I recommend sticking with exercises for the circuits for 3-4 weeks is a row. Each week, however, as you adapt, we need to make the workouts more intense.

Follow these parameters to increase intensity weekly:

  • Increase the numbers of reps you have done with the same weight previously,
  • Increase the number of sequences (within the same time frame),
  • Increase weight on the bar, add bands or chains, or do the workouts more often.

Limit Strength

As a MuscleMag reader, you know that big lifts produce the biggest results! Traditional circuit training totally bamboozles any sort of hope in gaining or even maintaining limit strength. Not with PHA training where the mantra of go heavy or go home holds true. The difference is we are talking about free weight compound movements, not the leg spread machine.

Free-weight compound exercises are the most energy-demanding movements in the weight room. These are simply multi-joint movements that necessitate several different muscle groups to work together to the lift the weight; examples are pull-ups, overhead press, dips, squats, deadlifts and bench presses.

These movements burn more fuel because they involve more muscles and allow heavier weights to be used. Want proof of what’s harder? Go do a max set of 20 in the deadlift—then try the same thing with triceps pushdowns.

Heavy free weight multi-joint exercises furthermore serve as a catalyst to the production of good hormones like testosterone and growth hormone. Even if in a “cutting “ phase, compound free weight movements cannot be placed in a subservient role—they are your base.

Compound movements have to be the main stay of PHA training.  As long as you are in good shape, you still have to train heavy.

Final Thoughts

PHA training is for advanced trainees with a sufficient limit strength base and conditioning levels.

Before illegal anabolic drugs hijacked many sound training principles and systems, PHA training helped construct many championship-caliber, lean and muscular physiques.

It’s not more popular because personal trainers would have terrible client retention rates because of the sheer pain clients experience. No famous personal trainer or Internet personality makes money because you do PHA training. PHA training benefits just you.

Time to hit the Pig Iron!

Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS, trains some of the strongest and most muscular athletes in the world in person at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and via the Internet. He is the co-author of Amazon # 1 selling book, Jailhouse Strong. To learn more about Josh Bryant or to sign up for his free training tips newsletter, visit