Russian Kettlebell Workout: Peripheral Heart Action with Kettlebells

By David Whitley, RKC

PHA stands for Peripheral Heart Action and is the forerunner of what is commonly called circuit training today. This isn’t Curves circuit training either. Former Mr. America Bob Gajda is generally credited with developing this method in the late 1960s and many notable strength athletes have used it through the years to increase endurance and shed fat while maintaining muscle. John McCallum sang its praises in his Keys to Progress and Bruce Lee used it to develop his rippling muscularity. One of the key differences between this type of training and more conventional cardio is the resistance. Since the focus of PHA is resistance training, you will keep your hard-earned strength and muscle as you improve aerobic conditioning and shed fat.

PHA training is dramatically different from conventional “body part” training. As you know, a typical weight training routine consists of several sets of exercises done for a particular body part before moving on to the next body part, typically with rest intervals between the sets. In PHA, the entire body is trained in such a manner that no localized “pump” is achieved. The idea is to provide uninterrupted blood flow throughout the body while taking no rest in between sets. By eliminating rest periods, you can see that you will either a) be doing the same amount of work as a typical workout, but in much less time or b) be doing three or four times as much work in the same amount of time. This translates into total body strength and conditioning. This is the brutal beauty of PHA.

Russian Kettlebells are especially well suited for PHA training since it is so easy to transition from one Russian Kettlebell exercise to the next without setting the weight down. The continuous motion will sufficiently tax the cardiovascular system to build endurance while the lifting of weights simultaneously stresses the muscles. You are going to expend a tremendous amount of energy, and that translates into tremendous conditioning and fat loss. If you cut back on your calories a bit you’ll be amazed at how quickly you lean out.

Here is an example of a Russian Kettlebell specific PHA program:
Russian Kettlebells Group One
Windmill 5 reps per arm
Renegade Row 5 reps per arm
Double Front Squat 5 reps
One-arm snatch 10 reps per arm
One-arm Swing 10 reps per arm
Complete three continuous rounds if you are able, and then move on to the next group of exercises. If this is too much for your lungs, you may take one-minute breaks in between each exercise in the beginning and gradually reduce the amount of rest time between exercises until you reach can perform the entire group three times without resting. Upon completion, move on to the next group of exercises.

Russian Kettlebells Group Two
Double Clean and Jerk 5 reps
Double Bent Row 5 reps per arm
Double Military Press 5 reps
Slingshot (pass around body) 10 reps each direction
Two-arm Swing 10 reps
Another approach is to do as many as you can in one minute, then move to the next exercise rather than going for a set number of repetitions. If you cannot go for the full minute, do as many as you can in good form and rest until the top of the next minute. Go through each round 3-4 times with no more than a minute’s rest between exercises. Work on it until you can go through each round four times with no rest at all, and you will be doing 40 minutes of continuous work. This also works well with bodyweight exercises.

Here is how a PHA program might look using Russian Kettlebells combined with bodyweight exercises:
Group One
Double Front Squats
Renegade Row
Pushups on Kettlebells
One-arm snatch
Group Two
Double Clean and Jerk
Jumping Jacks
Two-arm Swing
Hindu Pushups
To incorporate PHA into your schedule, you could do the PHA routine on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, perform some sort of active recovery work. Good examples include taking a walk, playing basketball, and swimming; just make sure it's enjoyable and keeps you moving. As an alternative approach, you can do two days per week of PHA and two days of pure strength training (e.g. 5x5 or Power to the People). This “half-and-half” approach will work on strength and endurance with equal emphasis. You won’t get lean as quickly as doing exclusively PHA, but it will be good for general conditioning or as a way to transition into PHA from a mass or strength-focused cycle.

Here are a few tips that will help your progress:

Before each workout, do a few minutes of joint mobility drills to loosen up.

At no point should you go to muscle failure. If the particular drill calls for 5 reps in a round and you can’t get that many continuously, it is acceptable to do a set of three and a set of two or even five singles. Get the prescribed volume and keep working toward perpetual motion. You will get there.

After you finish the workout, walk around for a short while to bring your pulse back to normal.

Have a protein shake after each workout to enhance recovery.

Find a good massage therapist and get a massage once every two weeks to enhance recovery.

Peripheral Heart Action with Russian Kettlebells is not easy, but I never said it would be. It is brutally effective for conditioning and getting lean. I can promise you that the results will be worth the effort.