Blog Home Posted by on 25.Mar.2020 in Peripheral Heart Action


We know that weight loss or body fat reduction is largely based on a numbers game. And “working out” is a way of controlling the numbers (less calories in, more calories out and weight loss change can be achieved). Cardiovascular training and resistance training both have many desired benefits and we know that both should be done to achieve the best physical shape a person desires – but how can we get those “cardio” and “muscle building” clients to learn and embrace the benefits of both? One great way to get the most out of your program design is to combine cardiovascular work with resistance training using a method called Peripheral Heart Action (PHA) Training. This method is similar to a regular circuit training method that keeps your client moving from one exercise to another with minimal to no rest between exercises. However, with PHA training, while you are moving from one exercise to another, you are focusing on alternating upper and lower body exercises.(1)

In traditional circuit training techniques, clients are asked to move quickly from one body part to another in a “circuit” fashion that allows each body part enough time to recover before it is worked again. For example, NASM uses a vertical loading circuit training system that begins with working the chest, followed by working the back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and legs. When starting with the chest, the following exercises allow the client ample time for the pectoralis muscles to recover before working them again. Using a PHA system, clients are performing a variation of circuit training; however, they are simply alternating upper and lower body exercises. For example, your client would perform a chest press exercise, followed immediately by ball squat, followed again by a back exercise, immediately moving on to a leg exercise like a step-up, etc. (See table 1 for an OPT programming example)

Table 1. Sample Programming: OPT PHA Circuits

 Stabilization CircuitStrength CircuitPower Circuit
ChestBall Dumbbell PressFlat Dumbbell PressMedicine Ball Chest Pass
LegsBall SquatLeg PressIce Skater
BackSingle-leg Cable RowLat PulldownWoodchop Throw
LegsStep-up to BalanceBarbell SquatPower Step-ups
ShouldersBall Combo # 1Seated Shoulder PressMedicine Ball Scoop Toss
LegsSingle-leg SquatLungesSquat Jumps
Acute Variables1-3 sets
12-20 repetitions
Rest 0-90 seconds
3-5 sets
6-12 repetitions
0-60 seconds rest
4-6 sets
8-10 repetitions
3-5 min rest

This method of training forces the blood to quickly circulate through the body, increasing caloric expenditure and theorized to decrease body fat and increase lean muscle mass.(2)

Overall, circuit training (in general) has been shown to increase caloric expenditure in comparison to similar traditional resistance training where a client may rest up to 90 seconds between sets.(3) Key benefits of using a circuit training system such as PHA include enhancing an aerobic base for clients while simultaneously challenging local muscle endurance. Many clients may not be familiar with PHA training and thus, may have concerns about whether they can sustain the activity or whether or not they will be able to build muscle using this type of program. We will address these questions for you.


Most healthy individuals can perform this type of training. Whether your client wants to lose body fat or increase muscle tone–this system of training can work for them. With increased movement comes increased caloric burn. This form of training gives weight loss clients “more bang for their buck” and can even be used for bodybuilders or recreational exercisers looking to increase muscle size (hypertrophy). While the rest periods between exercises may be greatly reduced (or non existent) this meets the requirements for hypertrophy. In fact, most individuals seeking hypertrophy tend to rest too long between sets and lift too heavy to train appropriately for their desired goals. Recall that several factors are required for hypertrophy (high levels of volume with minimal rest periods force cellular changes that result in an overall increase in muscle size) – volume (3-5 sets; 6-12 repetitions; 2:0:2 repetition tempo), frequency (3-6 times a week), intensity (75-85 percent of 1 RM), rest (0-60 s), and proper nutrition. As you can see, the PHA system works well for hypertrophy clients, allowing the proper rest and volume to achieve the desired goal – while even adding in a time saving bonus!

Athletes may receive the best benefit from PHA training. While endurance athletes must still engage in aerobic activity that significantly increases their maximal oxygen consumption, circuit training (which includes PHA training) increases maximal oxygen consumption 4 to 8 % (significantly less than cardiovascular conditioning programs, but important in increasing local muscular endurance).(2,3)


Using the PHA system may put too much physiological stress on individuals who have blood pressure deviations (high/low blood pressure) and those who may be severely de-conditioned. Individuals with special conditions, such as pregnant clients in their second or third trimester, may require more rest between exercises and, dependent on the client, may want or need to avoid PHA training. Remember that each client is unique and while some may be able to perform PHA training, others may not be able to meet the cardiovascular and muscular demand. If individuals present with any condition listed above, proceed with caution and advise the client to seek medical advice. As with all physical conditioning programs, clients who might be at risk should consult their physician before initiating an exercise program.

There are several different forms of training that can benefit your clients and given each personal goal, you can become extremely creative with your programming. Be sure to incorporate a comprehensive health and fitness assessment process (which includes a preparticipation health screening and medical history), as well as a movement assessment to ensure that your client is structurally ready for the demands of your program.


(1) NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training.

(2) Gettman LR, Ayres JJ, Pollock ML, Durstine JC, and Grantham, W. Physiologic effects on adult men of circuit training and jogging. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 1979;60:115-20.

(3) Gettman LR, Ayres JJ, Pollock ML, and Jackson, A. The effects of circuit weight training on strength, Cardiorespiratory function and body composition of adult men. Med Sci Sport Fall 1978; 10(3): 171-6.