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PHA Training: What It Is and Clients That May Benefit Most

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, PHA Training: What It Is and Clients That May Benefit Most

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One benefit of being a personal trainer or coach is that you know how to use various training methods. This offers multiple options to help clients reach their fitness goals. 

Take resistance training, for instance. You can suggest exercises based on their muscle goals. Maybe they want to increase muscle mass or improve muscular strength. Or they might want to build their muscular endurance. Your recommendations will also vary based on the muscle groups they want to target. This could involve focusing primarily on upper body or lower body movements. It might also require creating a full-body program.

What if your client wants to build muscle and improve their cardiovascular fitness? Your first thought may be high intensity interval training or a circuit training workout. Yet, another option to consider is peripheral heart action training. 

What Is Peripheral Heart Action Training?

Often referred to as PHA training for short, peripheral heart action training is similar to circuit training. It involves performing five to six resistance training exercises in quick succession. And participants have no rest in between. 

However, these exercises alternate between working the upper body and lower body. Circuit training may work different muscle groups from one exercise to the next. But these exercises don’t necessarily alternate between the upper and lower body.

This resistance training style was developed in the 1940s by Dr. Arthur Steinhaus. Its goal is to promote consistent blood circulation throughout the workout session.

Scientifically Proven PHA Training Benefits

Multiple studies have been conducted to learn more about the benefits of a PHA workout. Many have found positive benefits.

For instance, a 2021 study compared the PHA method with traditional hypertrophy training. It found that PHA was more efficient at improving VO2 max. It was also more efficient for heart rate max and excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. The authors further noted that the PHA workout was completed in less time.

Other research suggests that combining PHA training with other forms of exercise is beneficial as well. One example is a 2020 study. This one combined PHA with aerobic dance. Each participant did one session of dance weekly along with two sessions of PHA training. 

At the end of six weeks, the subjects’ VO2 max improved by 2.32%. They also decreased their body composition by 1.35%. Body composition was measured by assessing both body fat and weight. This suggests that PHA training may assist with both weight loss. More specifically, it may help with fat loss.

Another PHA study combined this form of training with yoga. In this case, participants were postmenopausal women. Those practicing yoga and PHA had better ventilatory capacity than the control. They also had better C-reactive protein levels. C-reactive proteins indicate how much inflammation exists in your body.

When PHA Training May Be Preferred Over Other Exercise Methods

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is one form of exercise good for building muscle. It also improves cardiovascular health. But it isn’t right or safe for everyone. If clients aren’t in good physical shape or have joint issues, HIIT may increase their injury risk. 

Research reveals that PHA training can improve muscle strength and maximum oxygen consumption. After several training sessions, cardiovascular adaptations were noted as well. That makes this type of training a good option for people who can’t do HIIT but want similar results.

PHA training may also be preferred by clients who have limited time to get fit. Because there is no rest between exercises, this workout can be completed quicker than other exercise options. 

How to Create an Effective PHA Workout

Clients of all fitness levels can benefit from PHA training. The specific exercises used can be modified to increase or decrease intensity. That makes it good for beginners and those with more advanced fitness levels.

When creating a PHA workout for new exercisers, include exercises that build strength with light weights or no weight at all. Bodyweight exercises are good for this purpose. Start with a push-up (upper body) and move into a squat (lower body). Next, transition to triceps dips (upper body) followed by lunges (lower body).

To increase intensity for more advanced exercisers, choose more challenging movements. Another option is to incorporate the use of a dumbbell or other weights. One example is swapping out the basic lunge for a suspension strap lunge. Another is transitioning from a traditional squat to a Bulgarian split squat. 

No matter what exercises you decide to include in your client’s PHA training program, they must alternate the area of the body worked. Upper body exercises must be followed by lower body exercises. If you work the same body region back-to-back, you are doing circuit training, not PHA. This may still provide some benefits, but it lacks the full-body blood flow that is the basis of PHA training.

It’s also important to not rest between sets. A typical PHA set includes five or six strength exercises completed in progression. Doing them one after another helps build muscle while also increasing heart rate. This heart rate increase is what improves cardiovascular health. 

A Sample PHA Training Plan

If you’ve never created a PHA training plan, you may be wondering with this type of workout looks like. Here is one example to consider:

  • 5-minute warm-up (light walking or side shuffles)
  • Push-up, 15 reps
  • Squat, 15 reps
  • Triceps dip, 15 reps
  • Lunge, 15 reps
  • Overhead press, 15 reps* 
  • Leg curl, 15 reps 
  • Rest for 60-90 seconds
  • Repeat the circuit once or twice
  • 5-minute cool-down (light walking or side shuffles)

* Use a lighter dumbbell for beginners. A heavier dumbbell can be used for more advanced clients.

As the client progresses, swap out these exercises for more complex movements. A client who has been exercising for some time might also start with more advanced movements. They might also start with a heavier weight. 

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