Workout Systems: Peripheral Heart Action Training

Workout Systems: Peripheral Heart Action Training

If achieving maximum muscle power or muscle mass is your goal, Peripheral Heart Action (PHA) training is not for you. There are much better programs available that will help you improve those physical qualities. PHA is, however, a proven workout system that has been used by the general fitness population to improve cardiovascular conditioning, increase strength and muscular endurance, and along with way help reduce bodyfat.

You need to go back to the 1940’s to find the roots of PHA training. It’s a resistance training system attributed to the late Arthur Steinhaus, Ph.D. Dr. Steinhaus was a respected professor at George Williams College who did a considerable amount of research on the physiology of exercise.

PHA training was popularized by Bob Gajda, Ph.D. Gajda won the FICH Mr. Universe title and in the 1966 AAU Mr. America competition defeated Sergio Oliva, a future 3-time winner of the IFBB Mr. Olympia title and one of only three bodybuilders to beat Arnold Schwarzenegger. Gajda earned a doctorate in Kinesiological Studies and with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Richard Dominguez wrote the popular general fitness-training book, “Total Body Training.”

In his own words, here is what Gajda said were the benefits of PHA training: “First, the PHA system of training allows for a greater work load. Second, it gives one a recuperative buffer in case of an injury; due to the implementation of the secondary heart action. Third, it builds stamina because of the continuous circulation of the blood. Fourth, it alleviates boredom by proving itself to be not only good for the sport of weightlifting but also of the secondary goal of total physical fitness.”

Before getting into the details of the program, consider that a common way to design a workout is to perform all the sets for one exercise before moving on to another, a method referred to as station training. The following is one simple example of how an upper body workout might be organized using station training, using two pressing exercises and two pulling exercises:

A. Pressing Exercise #1: Bench Press: 10 reps x 2 sets

B. Pulling Exercise #1: Seated Cable Row: 10 reps x 2 sets

C. Pressing Exercise #2: Triceps Pressdown: 10 reps x 2 sets

D. Pulling Exercise #2: Barbell Biceps Curl: 10 reps x 2 sets

Circuit training involves performing exercises in sequence so that two or more sets of an exercise are not performed in a row. Using the exercises in the previous example, here is the same workout performed in a circuit fashion.

Circuit #1:
A. Bench Press: 10 reps x 1 set
B. Seated Cable Row: 10 reps x 1 set
C. Triceps Pressdown: 10 reps x 1 set
D. Barbell Biceps Curl: 10 reps x 1 set
Circuit #2
E. Bench Press: 10 reps x 1 set
F. Seated Cable Row: 10 reps x 1 set
G. Triceps Pressdown: 10 reps x 1 set
H. Barbell Biceps Curl: 10 reps x 1 set

In contrast to these two methods, Gajda’s PHA system has you perform several “sequences” of exercises that alternate between two upper body and two lower body exercises, followed by a core (abdominal) exercise. No rest is allowed between exercises. A single sequence might look like this:

A1. Military Press: 10 reps
A2. Deadlift: 10 reps
A3. Standing Dumbbell Curl: 10 reps
A4. Lunge: 10 reps
A5. Leg Raise: 10 reps

After you perform a sequence 3-4 times, you would move to another sequence. Usually 3-4 sequences are performed with minimal rest between sequences. Gajda recommends you monitor your heart rate during the workout and keep it at 80 percent of maximum.

In 2015 a research study was published on how PHA training compared to a high-intensity interval-training (HIIT) program. The PHA workout alternated between 3 upper and 3 lower body exercises, performed for 15 reps and 4 total circuits. After 12 weeks, the PHA program proved superior to HIIT in many areas, including systolic blood pressure and upper and lower body strength. The HIIT workout proved superior in increasing maximum aerobic capacity (V02 Max), 18.7 percent to 8 percent compared to the PHA workout.

A competitive weightlifting, Gajda also developed an advanced PHA program for that sport back when there were three lifts contested (Olympic press, snatch, and clean and jerk). One workout he used was performed on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; another on Tuesday and Thursday; and the three Olympic lifts were performed on Saturday. Here are the workouts performed during the weekdays:


Warm-up: Jog one mile


Back Squat, 10 sets of 5 reps (including warm-ups)

Reverse Curl, 10 x 5

Crunch Sit-up,10 x 15-40

Olympic Press, Motor Pathway, 10 x 3 (performed with light weights -- he used no more than 135 lbs.)

Snatch, 10 sets of 3 reps
Crunch Sit-up, 10 x 15-40
Neck Exercise With Head Strap, 10 x 10
Flexibility Exercise – light lateral flyes on bench, 15 reps
Jerks Off Rack, 10 sets of 3 reps
Front Pull With Expander, 10 x 10-15
Frog Kick – same as crunch sit-up

Clean, Motor Pathway, 10 x 3 (he used no more than 150 lbs.)


On Tuesdays and Fridays:


Warm-up: ¼ Mile Wind Sprints


Front Squat, 10 sets of 3 reps (including warm-ups)

Crunch Sit-up, 10 x 15-40

Good Morning, 10 x 10

Snatch, Motor Pathway, 10 x 3 (he used no more than 135 lbs.)


Power Clean, 10 sets of 3, all from below knees

Crunch Sit-up, 10 x 15-40

Wrist Roller, 10 x 3

Flexibility Exercise – light side lateral raise, 15 reps


Deadlift, Wide Grip, 10 sets of 3 reps

Jerk, Motor Pathway, 10 x 3, no more than 145 lbs.

Bench Press, 8 x 8

Flexibility – skip rope for speed, timing and flexibility

Many variations of PHA training have been developed and shared by fitness writers and Iron Game athletes since Gajda popularized it, giving it names such as “Death Circuits” and “The Pump System.” Whatever you call Peripheral Heart Action training, give it a shot and see if this workout gets your blood moving!



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