Peripheral Heart Action Training

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I first read about peripheral heart action training in a booklet I bought from MuscleMag International. Dr. Fred Hatfield PhD (known as Dr. Squat for squatting an enormous 1014 lbs in competition) and his son, also wrote about it in their ebook Getting Start with a Weight Training and Nutritional Approach to Fitness, an excerpt from a text of the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA).

 ”The (peripheral heart action) PHA system developed by Chuck Coker, inventor of the “Universal” machine, constitutes the single-most efficient method of deriving general fitness we have ever come across. Nearly all of the components of fitness are served, depending on how the sets and reps are arranged.” Hatfield and Hatfield. Getting Start with a Weight Training and Nutritional Approach to Fitness, pg. 30.

That says a lot about a system of weight training whose name most people never heard.

The system itself is quite simple. Perform a rotating pool of exercises on a given training day and repeat the cycle if necessary. One could think of it as a system of circuit training with a twist. What’s special about the PHA system is that the exercises are arranged in a way that blood flow is directed to distant bodyparts as opposed to a specific area of the body. For example, instead of doing back to back exercises of an upper body movement (eg. overhead press, bench press, and bent over row), a PHA routine might have the following body part order:

1. Lower limb (feet, legs, thighs, and hips)

2. Upper limb (hands, forearms, arms, and shoulders)

3. Midsection/lower torso (abdominals and low back)

4. Upper torso (chest, middle and upper back, neck)

That’s a wide distribution of body parts with exercises that when properly executed recruit more total muscle mass than training an isolated bodypart. Local muscular fatigue is minimized and cycling of blood flow through wider regions of the body provides greater opportunity for recovery because lactic acid (lactate) is not allowed to pool in an isolated muscle. Improved lactate clearance translates to improved muscular endurance. Ultimately, the aim of PHA training is to change the distribution of blood flow with each exercise so that fatigue and muscle pump are reduced. This is a great way for athletes to train in the gym as opposed to following a typical bodybuilding routine or cookie cutter strength routine.

Table 1 gives three example cycles that could be used for a PHA routine.

Table 1: Example cycles for Peripheral Heart Action training.

Cycle 1

Cycle 2

Cycle 3

1. Barbell back squat

2. Chinup

3. Leg Raise

4. Dumbell press

1. Toe raise with bar on shoulders

2. Back raise

3. Kelso shrug

4. Overhead shrug

1. Front squat

2. Bench press

3. Situp

4. Bent over row

 The cycles shown in the above table can be altered in many different ways to produce results even if the exercises are kept the same.  The main variables that can be adjusted are:

  1. exercise order (as long as PHA training principles are maintained)
  2. the total number of reps per cycle
  3. the total repetitions of a cycle
  4. weight lifted for a specific exercise
  5. tempo and lifting velocity.

In general, repetitions should be performed with a controlled rhythmic pace. Tempo could be adjusted to  changing the duration of each phase of the lift. So, the concentric (lifting) and eccentric (lowering or yielding) phases of an exercise in addition to changing the duration of the static contraction at the end of concentric and eccentric phases. You can pause between reps but avoid pausing the lockout of each rep in order to keep a dynamic pace required for an effective PHA workout.

I suggest starting off with 50% to 60% intensity (intensity is defined as a percentage of a barbell exercise’s 1 rep max) to establish your fitness baseline for that routine, working up to an average training intensity of 70% per workout. If you’re unsure of your 1 rep max, then use a weight that will allow to do 10 to 15 reps to get a slight pump. Another way to think of PHA is a training a bodypart to get it slightly pumped then switching exercises to get a pump in a distant part of the body. A great training rule to follow is to leave some energy in the tank, so stop your sets 1 to 2 reps short of failure and finish your workout feeling stronger and more energized than you started.

The routine can be programmed for three day per week, say Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Monday, Tuesday, Thursday. Eventually more cycles can be added to each training day and more training days can be added.

This type of workout is ideal for the weekend warrior who has a tendency to get injured because of inadequate exercise during the week.

So, try this old but effective training system as a compliment to your current strength and health lifestyle.


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