Circuit training workouts are synonymous with fat loss.
The combination of high reps, compound movements, and short rest periods have been marketed to be the ultimate way to burn fat and build muscle.
And, it’s true that circuit training can burn a lot of calories compared to traditional “fat burning” workouts (i.e. steady-state cardio).
But, the vast majority of circuit training workouts you’re likely to read on the internet or in fitness magazines are woefully inadequate.
The reason for this is that these metabolic circuits are more akin to giant sets where by you’re hitting the same muscle group over and over and over again.
While there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s far from the ideal way to organize a circuit training workout.
You see, when you stack too many competitive movements together (a la squats followed by lunges followed by squat jumps), you’re forced to use lower weights and drop the intensity of the overall workout due to the fatigue being induced.
Now, if your goal is purely muscle building, this approach is fine.
But, if your goal is fat loss, we’ve got a better way to organize your exercise circuits.
It’s called Peripheral Heart Action Training, and we’ve got all the things you need to know about this calorie-burning, fat-melting training protocol.
What is Peripheral Heart Action Training?
Peripheral Heart Action (PHA) training was developed by Dr. Arthur Steinhaus in the 1940s.
The concept of PHA training is to keep blood consistently circulating during a resistance training workout. (truth be told, blood is constantly circulating throughout your body regardless if you are exercising or not, it’s just that exercisesincreases the amount of blood flow).
The primary difference between other circuit training protocols and PHA training is that Dr. Steinhaus composed his circuits such that subjects rotated back and forth between upper and lower body exercises.
By structuring exercise circuits in this way, Dr. Steinhaus believed that individuals could derive both cardiovascular and resistance-training benefits (calorie-burning and muscle building) in the same workout.
A typical PHA training session would involve a circuit of 5-6 exercises performed with little to no rest between movements. A total of 4-5 rounds of the circuit would be completed in a training session. After completing one circuit, a 1-minute rest period is taken before beginning the next circuit.
The benefit of alternating between upper body and lower body exercises is that each muscle group gets some rest before another related muscle group is worked again.
Originally, each exercise in the PHA training circuit was completed for 15 repetitions using a weight that was ~55-60% of an individual’s 1-repetition maximum (1-RM).
If you are new to PHA training or circuit training, you may want to alter the rep scheme and rest periods until your base level of fitness can handle the more intense demands of traditional PHA training.
For example, instead of performing 15 reps per exercise, you can begin with 10-12 reps, and instead of taking no rest between exercises, you can take 20-30 seconds of rest between exercise.
As you progress and become more acclimated to this style of training, you should aim to increase the number of reps completed per exercise to 15 and decrease the rest between exercises.
When you are able to complete 15 reps for an exercise across all 4-5 sets, you need to increase the weight so that you can keep progressing in your workouts and gaining muscle and strength.
Now that you’ve got the basics of PHA training, let’s take a look at some example PHA training circuits.
PHA Training Workouts
PHA Training Workout #1
Perform 15 reps per exercise with 1 minute rest between circuits. Try to take as little rest as possible between exercises within each circuit.
- Bench Press
- Leg Extension
- Lat Pulldown
- Leg Curl
- Shoulder Press
- Seated Calf Raise
PHA Training Workout #2
- Back Squat
- Chin Ups
- Romanian Deadlift
- Feet-Elevated Push Ups
- Leg Raises
PHA Training Workout #3
- Overhead Press
- Leg Press
- Seated Cable Row
- Kettlebell Swing
- Chest Press
- Goblet Squat
PHA training is by no means the only way to burn calories and body fat, but it is one of the most efficient means to help lose weight, especially for those individuals who don’t have a lot of time to train during the week.
Use the above workouts as a template to build your own PHA training circuit.
If you don’t have access to a particular piece of equipment, that’s OK.
Just remember it’s the format that’s important -- alternating between upper and lower body exercises.
PHA training can be done with machines, cables, barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, or bodyweight -- or even a mix of all of them!
- Piras, A., Persiani, M., Damiani, N. et al. (2015). Peripheral heart action (PHA) training as a valid substitute to high intensity interval training to improve resting cardiovascular changes and autonomic adaptation. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 115, 763-773