Written by Lindsay Kent, ISSA Professor, Master Trainer and owner of Equilibrium Bodylab
Photography by Paul Buceta
Discover the time-honored technique that does it all.
Burning unwanted body fat while simultaneously avoiding muscle loss is a coveted combination in the world of training — one that can be tricky to achieve without the right program. But there is one method of training that provides the perfect storm of calorie-blasting compound movements, resulting in both improved body composition and muscle maintenance. We’re talking about PHA training.
If you’re looking for a trendy weight loss technique, this ain’t it. In fact, PHA, or Peripheral Heart Action training, is pretty old school, utilizing some of exercise science’s best practices for achieving a workout that can accomplish both your fat loss and muscle maintenance goals. But there’s just one catch: you’ll have to put forth continuous effort with almost no rest periods to reap the maximum benefits. Still interested? Read on to find out how it works and why it’s been used by some of the world’s most notable bodybuilders. Then, try it for yourself using the program below.
PHA training was developed in the 1940s by revered exercise physiologist Arthur Steinhaus. But this effective technique wasn’t brought to the forefront of fitness until the 1960s, when bodybuilding legend Bob Gajda used it to win not only Mr. America, but also Mr. Universe, defeating Arnold Schwarzenegger.
So what makes it so unique? PHA training focuses on avoiding blood pooling, a common side effect of body-split workouts (such as chest and back), in which blood accumulates in isolated areas of the body. Instead, PHA keeps the blood pumping throughout the entire body by supersetting upper and lower body exercises. If that sounds brutal, it is. This type of circuit training is extremely taxing on your cardiovascular system, but the rewards are well worth it.
PHA workouts burn a ton of calories and boost your metabolic rate. The exercise selection uses compound movements versus isolation exercises, which means your workouts will be centered on the big, fat-burning muscles of the chest, legs and back. Bonus: by focusing on compound, or multi-joint exercises, and multiple planes of movement, you’ll also enhance your body’s athletic performance and muscle mechanics.
Another advantage of compound movements is that they innervate a larger spectrum of muscle fibers, increasing strength and overall performance, while producing enough lactic acid to stimulate growth hormone, which is necessary for muscle-building and fat loss. The major advantage that PHA provides is the prevention of lactic acid buildup, thanks to the peripheral exercises, decreasing the onset of fatigue significantly. PHA training also allows for plenty of variety in terms of exercises, keeping your workouts diverse, and certainly never boring. And finally, due to the nature of high intensity and minimal rest periods, these workouts will improve your cardiovascular training with much less of a time commitment than clocking hours each week on the treadmill.
Dumbbell Bench Press
Set up: Lie on a flat bench holding a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height with elbows bent at 90 degrees, palms facing out.
Action: Keeping your shoulders back, press the dumbbells straight up, locking out your arms at the top. Pause, then slowly lower back down and repeat.
Weighted Sumo Squat
Set up: Place a loaded barbell across your upper back and lift it off the rack. Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart and toes turned out slightly.
Action: Push your hips back then down, tracking your knees over your toes. Lower until your hips are just below knee level, then drive through your heels and return to standing. Repeat.
Kneeling Cable Lat Pulldown
Set up: Begin on your knees in the center of a cable apparatus, holding a handle attached to high pulleys in each hand above your head with palms facing forward (A).
Action: Retract your shoulder blades and pull your elbows down towards your torso until the handles are shoulder-height (B). Slowly raise your arms back up to the starting position and repeat for all reps.
Set up: Load a prowler with weight plates and stand behind it at one end of the turf. Place your hands low on the handles as to put more focus on your legs and glutes. Keep your arms straight.
Action: Drive through the ground and start moving forward, focusing on using your glutes to power the movement.
Set up: Get into a high plank position with your feet elevated on a bench behind you.
Action: Bend your elbows to lower your upper body towards the ground. Extend your arms to press back up to the starting position and repeat.
Set up: Begin kneeling on a mat holding a medicine ball in front of you in both hands in front of your chest (A).
Action: Keeping your upper body stationary, bring your left foot onto the mat (B), then your right, so you are now in a low squat (C). Immediately return your left knee to the mat, then the right. Continue for all reps, then repeat on the other side (beginning with the right).