Bob Gajda’s Peripheral Heart Action (PHA) Training


One point that always fascinates me about training is the sheer diversity one finds when it comes to training systems, exercises and training philosophies. What works for one trainee can prove pointless to another. No matter how good the programme, it often has to be tailored towards the individual, and indeed, we often find that the most successful trainees when it comes to bodybuilding have devised or used workouts advantageous to themselves.

Today’s post is a case in point. Titled ‘Peripheral Heart Action’ or PHA training, this form of exercise has come to be associated with Bob Gajda, the 1966 Mr. America Winner. Counting a host of proponents, including Charles Poliquin, PHA training is a rather interesting combination of circuit, strength and hypertrophy designed with bodybuilding in mind. That being the case, today’s post seeks to answer three simple questions. What is PHA Training and who invented it? Why did it come to be associated with Gajda and finally how can it be used for the modern trainee?

PHA Training in Action

For the unaware, such as myself one hour prior to writing this post, PHA training represents an intense full body circuit with little rest in between exercises or circuits. In Gajda’s case, which we’ll come on to later, five exercises were generally selected as one training group. Each exercise was performed one set each, in rapid succession with little rest in between exercises. One full circuit was done when all the exercises had been completed. This was done for as many sequences as desired.

Putting this into practice, Gajda divulged an advanced programme of his with an emphasis on weightlifting some time in the late 1960s. It gives a good sense of the actual raw workouts:

Jog a full mile before attempting workout.

Back Squat – 10 sets of 5 reps (including warmups)
Reverse Curl – 10 x 5
Crunch Situp – 10 x 15-40
Motor Pathways Olympic Press – 10 x 3, no more than 135 lbs.

Snatch – 10 sets of 3 reps
Crunch Situp – 10 x 15-40
Neck Exercise With Head Strap – 10 x 10
Flexibility Exercise – light lateral flyes on bench, 15 reps

Jerks Off Rack – 10 sets of 3 reps
Front Pull With Expander – 10 x 10-15
Frog Kick – same as crunch situp
Cleans, motor pathway – 10 x 3, no more than 150 lbs.

Though this was an advanced programme, the philosophy remained – circuit training comprised of hypertrophy and strength. Now while Gajda helped to popularise PHA training and indeed he was quite prolific following his victory in the 1966 Mr. America, he did not invent it. That honour goes to Arthur H. Steinhaus, a US Professor of Physiology at George Williams College.

In an rather fortuitous turn of events, Steinhaus actually taught Gajda during the latter’s formative period. Later reflecting on the birth of PHA training, Gajda noted that

In 1963 while attending George Williams College I had the good fortune of participating in a class of Bukh (Danish) gymnastics, along with forty students from the Neils Bukh School, for an hour of continuous drills.

Although the exercise bout was quite rigorous, I found it to be stimulating and almost tonic in effect. Seeking an explanation as to why I felt no fatigue I consulted my professor of physiology, Dr. Arthur Steinhaus, and he explained that the basis of the system of P.H.S. involves the thorough stimulation of the circulatory system.

From there Gajda and Steinhaus began to experiment,

After hearing Dr. Steinhaus explain the theory of P.H.A. my interest mounted and I began to realize its broad possibilities. Naturally my second question was, “Is P.H.A. applicable to weight training?” Dr. Steinhaus believed the system would be ideal since it was based on sound scientific facts.

Gajda began to experiment and in a short space of time had brought PHA training to the weight lifting community in real and tangible way. It’s at this point that we turn to his story

Bob Gajda’s Bodybuilding Story


Writing in 1965, Norman Zale wrote of Gajda

How else can we explain his rapid rise from a “nobody” in the 1964 Mr. America contest to second place in both the Mr. America and Most Muscular Man events at the 1965 show in Los Angeles.

You can imagine Zale’s surprise when Gajda went on to win the Mr. America in 1966!

Echoing the multifaceted lives of his contemporary bodybuilders, Gajda’s existence had many different facets. Outside of the gym, the American born lifter was a highly respected and sought after physical educationalist. Obtaining his primary degree with Steinhaus, Gajda appears to have gone on to postgraduate work before helping to develop a YMCA gym in Chicago known colloquially as ‘the Muscle Factory.’ Undoubtedly however Gajda’s claim to fame is his 1966 Mr. America contest.

Aside from coming out of seeming obscurity in a short space of time, the contest saw Gajda defeat his training partner and soon to be bodybuilding superstar, Sergio Oliva. The next decade would see Gajda slowly but surely promote his system of training in the muscle mags as well as establish a health clinic in Illinois, Chicago.

Though he didn’t reach the heights of Oliva, Gajda nevertheless marked an interesting turn in bodybuilding towards alternative styles of training. Returning to the Zale article we get a glimpse into the workouts behind Gajda’s brief meteoric rise,


Clean and Jerk
High Pulls
Run Track 1/2 to 1 mile
Bodybuilding Exercises (none specific)


Bench Press
Incline Press
Various Exercises on the Power Rack (none specific)
Run Track 1/2 to 1 mile
Bodybuilding Exercises (none specific)


Works for a total on the three Olympic lifts.
All exercises are done from 5 to 10 sets of 1 to 5 repetitions on this day.

Is PHA still relevant today?

A 2015 study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology credited the PHA system with improving cardiovascular and anaerobic performance. From friends who have used the system, the feedback has all been the same. Its tough, its intense and its effective.

If nothing else it can curb unwanted habits in the gym such as taking too long in between sets while on your smartphone (you know who you are). From rummaging through the internet, the modern iterations on Poliquin’s website seem worth a try,


Warm-up: Jog one mile

Back Squat, 10 sets of 5 reps (including warm-ups)
Reverse Curl, 10 x 5
Crunch Sit-up,10 x 15-40
Olympic Press, Motor Pathway, 10 x 3 (performed with light weights — he used no more than 135 lbs.)

Snatch, 10 sets of 3 reps
Crunch Sit-up, 10 x 15-40
Neck Exercise With Head Strap, 10 x 10
Flexibility Exercise – light lateral flyes on bench, 15 reps

Jerks Off Rack, 10 sets of 3 reps
Front Pull With Expander, 10 x 10-15
Frog Kick – same as crunch sit-up
Clean, Motor Pathway, 10 x 3 (he used no more than 150 lbs.)

On Tuesdays and Fridays:

Warm-up: ¼ Mile Wind Sprints

Front Squat, 10 sets of 3 reps (including warm-ups)
Crunch Sit-up, 10 x 15-40
Good Morning, 10 x 10
Snatch, Motor Pathway, 10 x 3 (he used no more than 135 lbs.)

Power Clean, 10 sets of 3, all from below knees
Crunch Sit-up, 10 x 15-40
Wrist Roller, 10 x 3
Flexibility Exercise – light side lateral raise, 15 reps

Deadlift, Wide Grip, 10 sets of 3 reps
Jerk, Motor Pathway, 10 x 3, no more than 145 lbs.
Bench Press, 8 x 8
Flexibility – skip rope for speed, timing and flexibility

Have you used PHA Training in the past? Or are you considering using it in the future? Let us know in the comments.

As always… Happy Lifting!

Sources: This article would not have been possible without that wonderful website, The Tight Slacks of Dezco Ban. As always, it has been a treasure trove of training articles!

Bonus Footage

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