Once you’re nicknamed “The Gift,” likelihood is you’re going to ruffle just a few feathers. However bodybuilder Phil Heath backed up his boisterous moniker with actual outcomes, successful seven consecutive Mr. Olympia titles from 2011 to 2017 and cementing himself as one of many premier physique athletes of the twenty first century. (And he’s not even formally retired as of 2023.)
However after racking up title after title, a story was born that his success was principally as a result of his top-tier genetics relatively than the “hardcore” exercises and record-breaking lifts that many affiliate with the perfect within the sport.
Not like earlier Olympia nice Ronnie Coleman, whose plate-rattling coaching movies stay the stuff of legend, Heath’s routines centered on machines over free weights and lacked the jaw-dropping feats of earlier Sandow winners.
This methodical (if not reserved) coaching fashion quickly led to a preferred query amongst bodybuilding followers and journalists: Simply how robust is Phil Heath anyway? Let’s have a look.
The Early Years
Heath’s first sport of selection was basketball, not bodybuilding. As he told Bodybuilding.com in 2019, he grew up enjoying basketball in Seattle, securing a full scholarship to the College of Denver whereas in highschool. A defensive-minded guard, he played 66 games in school, averaging 1.3 factors and .3 assists per recreation.
His introduction to bodybuilding got here in 2002 when he determined to enter a present after seeing a few of his pals compete. After simply six months of coaching, Heath entered the 2003 NPC Northern Colorado present and won the Light Heavyweight division. The next yr, he gained the Heavyweight and Total crowns.
Though he admits to being utterly overwhelmed at his first competitors, Heath rose rapidly inside the sport. It took simply 4 years for him to compete at an Arnold Classic, and in 2008, he stepped onto the Mr. Olympia stage, the place he completed third in his debut.
By 2011, he gained the primary of seven consecutive Olympia titles — when it comes to fashionable bodybuilding, his rise to the highest was almost unprecedented.
Whereas exhausting work defines each bodybuilding champion, they’re formed, restricted, or superior by their physique’s construction. Within the case of Heath, all the pieces appeared to line up.
Writing on Heath in 2016, New York Instances journalist John Branch summed up the bodybuilder’s benefits succinctly: “He was genetically bequeathed with good bodybuilding genes: slim joints and lengthy attachments for proportion and large muscle bellies for bulge…”
Merely put, these elements all add to his trademark “3-D” muscle tissues, which appeared to pop on stage and outshine the competitors. Nonetheless, it’s solely a bonus if you know the way to put it to use. On this regard, Heath put within the work by enjoying to his strengths and to not others’ expectations.
Phil Heath’s Coaching Model and Exercises
Mr. Olympia champions fluctuate drastically of their coaching strategies. Some deal with aesthetics and excessive quantity, like Frank Zane, whereas others, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, appear to take pleasure in mixing it up between high- and low-rep coaching. And but, all of them succeeded to various levels. Likewise, Heath employed a coaching system that particularly labored for him.
For a substantial amount of his profession, he skilled underneath the supervision of coach Hany Rambod and his FST-7 system. That is successfully a method employed on the finish of a exercise to generate as a lot fatigue as attainable with a view to assist stretch the fascia, which is the skinny “casing” that connects and holds your organs, blood vessels, and muscle tissues in place. In response to Rambod’s idea, stretching the fascia permits extra room for muscle development.
Understood crudely, FST-7 means together with one or two workouts on the finish of a exercise whereby seven units are carried out in fast succession (with 30-45 seconds of relaxation in between units) with a deal with most burnout. Heath didn’t use this on each train, but it surely grew to become a mainstay of his exercises. His primary strategy, nonetheless, was high-rep, high-volume coaching, and, a lot to the dismay of many bodybuilding followers, concerned loads of machines over free weights.
This doesn’t imply that Heath by no means touched a barbell (he used them recurrently, actually), however they weren’t his main software. illustration of this comes from one in all his leg-day exercises, printed in Muscle & Strength in 2014. Observe the inclusion of FST-7 protocols all through.
Proving the Doubters Incorrect
Heath’s fashion of coaching implies that it’s tough to debate his energy utilizing the powerlifting trinity of the squat, bench, and deadlift. There are not any pictures or movies, for instance, of him occurring an all-out set of squats or deadlifts like Coleman.
That mentioned, Heath has revealed sure particulars that spotlight simply how robust he’s. In a video interview with NFL legend Shannon Sharpe, Heath says he’s within the 1,500-pound membership, which means he’s hit a mixed whole of 1,500 kilos on the squat, bench, and deadlift. Extra particularly, he says he topped out on the bench press at 505 kilos.
What in regards to the squat? Heath has gone on file as not being a heavy squat aficionado, not least as a result of they fatigue his decrease again an excessive amount of. However up to now, he has discussed hitting 495 kilos on the again squat for eight to 10 reps in coaching. (Whether or not he can match that or any of the weights mentioned right here in 2023 is unknown.)
On the deadlift, he usually used the stiff-legged variation with dumbbells for prime reps as a substitute of the normal barbell deadlift throughout Olympia prep. Muscle & Health once reported that he would do 5 units of 10-15 reps with dumbbells weighing between 70 and 120 kilos.
For arms, Heath cycled through quite a lot of workouts throughout his profession, highlighted by incline dumbbell curls with 70 kilos and triceps pushdown tri-sets of 10 reps leaping from 110 kilos to 120 kilos to 130 kilos. Much more spectacular was his means to do strict overhead dumbbell triceps extensions with 70 kilos. When doing machine dips, he’d do 180 kilos for 10 reps going through ahead, after which instantly do one other 10 reps going through backward.
His shoulder energy was one other spotlight. On one in all Heath’s favored actions, a Hammer Energy behind-the-neck press machine, he labored as much as units of 12 with 4 45-pound plates on both sides, according to an article on Muscular Growth from 2016. Later in the identical exercise, he carried out 70-pound lateral raises.
According to bodybuilding journalist Greg Merritt for FLEX journal, Heath would usually carry out underhand rows with 315 kilos for reps and will possible have gone heavier, if not for damage considerations. Although he didn’t push to absolute extremes like different Olympia greats, the concept that he didn’t prepare exhausting, or wasn’t robust, doesn’t maintain up.
How Sturdy Is Phil Heath?
The glib reply is powerful sufficient to be a Mr. Olympia seven occasions. Increasing considerably, Heath was all the time clear throughout his profession that his objective was bodybuilding and never essentially energy. Heavy weights have been a path to larger muscle tissues and never an finish objective. Had he approached issues in another way, it’s possible his numbers could be even greater.
Nonetheless, when you take away Ronnie Coleman from the dialogue, Heath matches favorably with different Olympia champions. His 505-pound bench press is in the identical ballpark as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jay Cutler, who’ve reported one-rep maxes of 525 and 550, respectively.
On the squat, 495 kilos for reps edges out Dorian Yates’ mark of 465 kilos for 10. And in the event you use BarBend‘s one-rep max calculator, Heath might have probably had a max squat of 614 kilos. That’s not too far behind Franco Columbu, who claimed a one-rep max of 655 kilos.
Certainly, a cursory have a look at the strongest-ever Olympia champions reveals that Heath holds his personal in opposition to nearly all of them. His “downfall,” because it have been, is that he got here at a time when Coleman had conditioned followers that champions wanted to raise the heaviest weights attainable to be aggressive.
Some bodybuilding followers could marvel what physique Heath might have constructed by pushing to his energy limits. Others will acknowledge that bodybuilding facilities on the physique alone. In that class, he was unmatched for seven years.
Featured Picture: @philheath on Instagram