PHA Training Is the Anti-HIIT Workout That Keeps Your Heart Rate in the ‘Money Zone’

Photo: Getty Images/ Gary Yeowell
In recent years, HIIT has become the fitness world's favorite modality. Alternating between high-intensity active intervals and rest periods gives your heart rate a significant spike in a short amount of time, and delivers a burn that lasts long after you step off the mat. And while HIIT deserves its beloved status (even if we all hate the burpees its workouts usually require), PHA training could soon be number one in our hearts.

PHA training stands for "peripheral heart rate training," and in many ways, is the anti-HIIT. Unlike traditional heart-rate-based workouts, which bring your heart rate through peaks and valleys by asking you to push yourself to maximum effort and then rest, PHA is meant to keep your heart rate at a sustained level through the duration of your workout. This means that instead of taking a break between exercises, you're working the entire time. The catch? You're alternating between your upper and lower body, which not only makes the non-stop movement more bearable but also keeps your blood flowing in a body-benefitting way.

“Unlike your typical circuit workouts, which keep people moving from one exercise to another with rest in between, with PHA, you focus on alternating parts of the body—so you go from upper body for a minute, then to lower body for a minute," says Erika Shannon, the director of fitness at MYX, which recently added PHA workouts to its platform. Think: Moving between above- and below-the-waist strength-based moves (some of which require weights, others that are strictly bodyweight-focused) like squats, rows, and lunges. "You switch back and forth, so you're constantly sending blood flow to different parts of your body without a break." The result, she says, is that it keeps your heart rate at a steady and elevated state throughout your workout.

“PHA gives you more bang for your buck from a heart rate perspective," according to Shannon. It keeps your heart rate in what she calls "the money zone" (aka the aerobic zone), which gives you a fantastic burn that lasts far beyond your workout and helps you build muscular and cardiovascular endurance.

The modality serves double duty as a strength training and cardiovascular workout, and you can get some solid bang for your buck in only 20 minutes. And if you happen to be a HIIT lover? Don't worry—there's room for both in your routine. "It’s super healthy for you to do PHA training a few times a week, and mix that up with some high-intensity cardio, whether that’s on the bike or with a HIIT workout," says Shannon. By doing this, you build strength and allow for diversification of your workouts. Just be sure to give your body proper time to rest and recover in between sessions.

20-minute PHA training workout you can try at home

2-minute warm-up: Loosen up your muscles with moves like good mornings, inchworms, and gate openers.

14-minute circuit: Grab a set of medium weights, and repeat the 7-move cycle twice with no rest in between sets.

  1. Lower body: Alternating rear lunges (1 minute)
  2. Upper body: Bent-over rows (1 minute)
  3. Lower body: Lateral lunges (1 minute)
  4. Upper body: Chest flies (1 minute)
  5. Lower body: Bridge press (1 minute)
  6. Upper body: Bicep curl with overhead press (1 minute)
  7. Lower body: Squat thrust (1 minute)

4-minute Core finisher: Challenge yourself to do as many push-ups or burpees as you can, or hold a plank for the duration of the 20-minute workout.

Before you start, make sure you know how to do these moves the right way:

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