This 20-Minute PHA Bodyweight Workout Is All About Keeping Your Heart Rate in the Aerobic Zone

Photo: Getty Images/Delmaine Donson
Without my own state-of-the-art home gym, I'm all about workouts that don't call for a lot of gear. I'm also a cardio junkie, but get tired of the same old HIIT circuits over and over again. My latest obsession? This 20-minute PHA bodyweight workout that requires no weights or equipment and gives my heart a little extra lovin' after a long week of writing.

Not familiar with PHA? The acronym stands for "peripheral heart rate training," which is a fancy way of describing fitness that keeps your heart rate elevated throughout the length of a workout. Melanie Melillo, fitness programming specialist at MYXFitness, explained that typically other fitness regimens, like HIIT and spin, push for short bursts of cardio followed by brief periods of rest, causing the heart rate to fluctuate. Instead, PHA workouts alternate between upper and lower body exercises with no rest periods in between, keeping your heart rate up the whole time.

“When you work out this way, your heart is constantly shunting blood supply from one half of your body to the other, keeping your heart rate elevated more consistently,” Melillo explains. “This consistent elevation in heart rate causes the body to work harder and tap into its stored energy, aka fat, making it a better workout for fat burning and overall cardiovascular health.”

While the increased calorie burn is a certainly a plus, PHA’s impact on heart health is the real winner. Consistently moving the body increases blood flow and keeps the heart rate in the aerobic zone, or what MYX fitness coaches like to call "the Money Zone."

This target heart rate is key to increasing oxygen intake, or VO2 max, to build endurance and increase stamina. “PHA workouts have also been shown to improve VO2 max, which means they enhance your overall fitness by improving your ability to consume oxygen when exercising,” Melillo says. Layer on the total bodyweight component—like squats, lunges, and push-ups—and you have a full-body workout that create resistance and really conditions the muscles.

Ready to give it a whirl? Below, Melillo's 20-minute PHA bodyweight workout—no weights or equipment required.

Elevate your heart rate with this 20-minute PHA bodyweight workout

After a brief warm-up to loosen up stiff muscles, complete each circuit at your own pace. Melillo advises this session might be a little more intense than traditional strength training (remember, no breaks!) so take it slow and, if you’re feeling up to the challenge, repeat each circuit 3-4 times.

  1. Lower body: squat + reverse lunge: Start with your feet hip distance apart. Then, sit back into a squat with your chest lifted. When you're squatting, bring your right foot back into a reverse lunge, dip, then return to the squat position. Alternate reverse lunges for 1 minute.
  2. Upper body: superman + push up: Begin on your belly with your legs straight and arms extended over your head.  Lift your arms and legs off the floor into a superman (like you're flying) Then, lower your arms and legs onto the ground before bringing your hands underneath you and pressing into a push-up. Repeat for 1 minute. Pro tip: Modify your pushup by pushing up from your knees instead of your toes for an easier exercise. 
  3. Lower body: slow skaters: Begin with both of your feet close together. Hop or step your right foot out to right, then cross your left foot behind in a speed skating movement. Bend your knees and reach your left hand to the floor before rising and switching sides. Repeat back and forth for 1 minute.
  4. Upper body: beast to plank + shoulder taps: Begin on your hands and knees with your hands stacked under your shoulders. Tuck your toes under and lift your knees 2-3 inches off the ground into beast position. Then, walk or your jump legs straight back into a plank position before tapping each shoulder with the opposite hand. Walk or jump feet back into beast position and repeat for 1 minute.
  5. Lower body: single leg glute bridge: Start lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Then, lift your right foot off the floor (should be around the height of your left knee) while keeping your right knee bent at a 90-degree angle. From there, lift both hips as high as possible, pushing through your heel on the left foot and squeezing your butt at the top.  Lower your hips back down to the floor, keeping that right foot lifted. Repeat on one side for 30 seconds then switch to other side for 30 seconds .
  6. Upper body: Core finisher bicycle crunches: Begin flat on your back with both your knees bent 90-degrees and feet off the floor. With your hands behind your head, extend your left leg while pulling your right knee across your core/rotating your upper body towards your knee. Switch sides, and repeat side-to-side for 1 minute.

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