It’s happened twice before. color>The last time was 23 years ago when ex-training partners Lee Haney and Rich Gaspari dueled as numbers one and two in the world.
Before them, best friends Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu, like Haney and Gaspari, finished one-two at three consecutive Olympias. Now the two men atop the bodybuilding world are Jay Cutler and Phil Heath, close friends who bonded over the past six years via countless text messages and phone calls, as well as meals, contests, vacations and workouts.
It’s the latter category that we’re most interested in and two such occasions in particular, covered by us in words and photos and spaced two and a half years apart. For those two workouts illustrate how the training of each man changed and how Heath went from eager disciple chasing
his mentor to Cutler’s chief competition for best on the planet, the“little brother” who many believe surpassed his “big bro” at the lastOlympia and who even more
believe will exceed him this year. It’ll be decided on a Las Vegas stage, but their first competition was in a Las Vegas gym.
ROUND ONE color>
“I thought I was in shape until this, but I got my ass kicked today,” Phil Heath says with a grin after his back workout with Jay Cutler. As humble as that state- ment was, The Gift’s next utterance topped it: “Just think, Jay’s going to be Mr. Olympia, and 20 years from now, I’ll be able to tell my kids I trained with him and he buried me.” By then, of course, Heath may have at least one Sandow of his own.
Mark this date: July 31, 2006. That’s when Cutler and Heath worked back together, and because we were there for every rep, quip
and tip, you can be there, too. Just
think, 20 years from now, you may be able to tell your kids you expe- rienced the time two future
Mr. Olympias trained together and one learned firsthand from the other the meaning of Olympia-level intensity.
The preceding two para- graphs were the first two in my November 2006 FLEX arti- cle (“Phenom Backlash”) about Heath and Cutler’s back workout. By the time that issue hit newsstands, Cutler was indeed Mr. O, and four months after the issue you’re holding now hits newsstands, Heath may be Mr. O. What a difference five years makes.
Let’s first remember where the two “brothers” were on the last day of July in 2006. Heath was 26, an IFBB Pro League rookie and fresh off his first two pro victories, but he had been around 210 pounds in those shows and many questioned whether he would ever have the heft to go delt to delt with Cutler, who regularly came in at least 50 pounds over 210. Cutler was three days from his 33rd birthday. He’d sat out that March’s Arnold Classic after winning three straight (2002–04), and that summer he was putting his everything into the Olympia after finishing second to Ronnie Coleman the last four times he’d entered. Back was his highest priority, and in his quest to get his lats in line with the eight-time Mr. O’s, he had adopted Coleman’s emphasis on free-weight basics. The workout we watched was all Cutler’s, with Heath determined to learn all he could (he called himself “a sponge”), and at the heart of it were four types of free-weight rows. “I preach the heavy core movements now,” Cutler said then. “It’s about sweat and pain, and that’s why Coleman is the best. He never got away from that hardcore training.”
THE SCORE color>
On that day, the first-ever workout shared by the two men, “big brother” maintained his 50 over “little brother,” with the former into his prep at a relatively lean 285 and the latter a cut-free 235. The max weights each used (all for identical or nearly identi- cal reps) didn’t compare, either. T-bar rows: Cutler 405, Heath 270. Underhand barbell rows: Cutler 315, Heath 225. And, the biggest lats-kicking, one-arm dumbbell rows: Cutler 205, Heath 115. The soon-to- be Mr. O was lamenting that the gym had yet to get its 220s delivered, with which the nine-year pro would’ve nearly doubled-up the rookie.
It was Cutler’s elevated volume and intensity that really got the best of Heath. The 22 working sets (and another handful of warm-ups) were what the now-four-time Mr. Olympia did for back thickness each week, and he did a similar workload for back width in a separate weekly workout. What’s more, the Pro League veteran trained fast, resting no more than 45 to 60 sec- onds between sets, a brutal pace that reduced the amount of metal the panting Heath typi- cally moved.
“I wasn’t concerned with anything else but surviving,” Heath joked afterward before stating, “I know for the  Arnold I need a wider back, so getting my butt kicked today — that’s how it has to be if I want to grow. I’m not embarrassed. Bodybuilding is always about pushing yourself to get better.”
Nearly five years later, Heath reminisced about that day: “I learned what it means to be a professional bodybuilder. Before that, I thought of workouts as sort of a run- through in basketball. I always kept the brakes on a little. Afterward, I went all out. In terms of my back, which was my big weakness then, I took some of Jay’s style, which was Ronnie’s style, incorporating the T-bars off the floor, barbell and dumb- bell rows and really working those basics, getting my strength up and letting the weights put the muscle on. Two years later, back was no longer a problem.”
ROUND TWO color>
After a January 2009 Cutler/
Heath chest workout coached
by Hany Rambod and featured
in the June 2009 issue (“Kill-
ing It”), Cutler said: “Obvi-
ously, I lost [the Olympia] last
year for a reason. I reassessed
things, and I decided to take
a different approach, because
I think I only have this year to
make an impact, because oth-
erwise people are just going to write me off as a has-been and a former. I don’t want to be known as a former. I still feel I can be the current. So I’m training with some anger and some anxiety, and I’m open to trying something new.”
And Heath said, “Training with Jay, I realize that I’m not that far away. It’s going to be a sad day when he decides not to compete anymore. Hopefully, by then I will have adopted his intensity, so I don’t have to rely on anyone to push me. I feel that if I have enough days like today, I will be Mr. Olympia this year.”
Let’s remember where the two men were on the 25th day of January 2009. Cutler was 35, a two-time Mr. Olympia who had lost the Sandow to Dexter Jackson the preceding September, his first defeat to anyone but Coleman in five years. Many saw it as the initial misstep in an inevitable downward slide. Heath was 29, coming off an epoch- setting third in his long-awaited Olympia debut, just one thin placing behind Cutler in their first onstage competition. I was among those, including head judge Jim Rockell, who felt Heath, at 229 pounds, should have gotten the Sandow, and with both men forgoing the 2009 Arnold Classic to focus on the Olympia only, The Gift seemed on the verge of overtaking his one-time mentor
on everyone’s score sheet. On this day in January ’09, with both in similar off- season shape, Heath, at 270, had cut in half the previous 50-pound body- weight advantage. Cutler was 294.
The reason there was a third man (Hany Rambod) at this workout fleshes out the specifics of Cutler’s comment about “trying something new,” but before we get there, let’s retrace Heath’s previous two-and-a-half years. Seven months after the “backlash” workout, when Cutler was king of the bodybuilding world, The Gift stepped onstage in Columbus and got punked. Others would have been pleased with a fifth in their debut Arnold Classic, but for Heath it marked the first time in his eight-contest career he failed to haul home a first-place trophy. At 216, he simply didn’t have enough muscle to outpace the four men ahead of him.
Rambod developed his training sys- tem, FST-7, in large part to boost his star client’s workout intensity. The next year, competing in the 230 neighborhood, Heath’s new additions shocked the body- building world as he trounced the field at the Ironman and nabbed a second at the Arnold (to that year’s Mr. O) and the afore- mentioned three spot at the Olympia. The Gift had accomplished a nearly unprece- dented feat for a bodybuilder at his level: acquiring a new physique in 12 months.
Coming off his own humbling defeat at the ’08 Olympia, Cutler contacted Rambod and decided to work with the first trainer of his long career and his first nutritionist other than Chris Aceto. In January 2009, it was unclear if the change would prove successful and reestablish him as the “current” or if it was the doomed and desperate act of a “former.” I heard tentativeness as Cutler spoke of his new training style, and this is understandable when you look back at how successful the old ways had been. He said he’d ditch FST-7 without hesita- tion if at any time he felt it wasn’t work- ing as planned. But he had always been willing to try something new — or ￼ ￼ old.
The “backlash”-style of free-weight basics was a dramatic change from a greater emphasis on machines and angles in the years before. He adopted Coleman’s exercises to beat the champ at his own game, and if he now needed to adopt Heath’s coach and methods to hold off The Gift, so be it.
THE SCORE color>
This time, the weights were virtually the same. Cutler went up to 150s on incline dumbbell presses; Heath to 140s, despite a tweaked shoulder. On incline flyes, Heath matched Cutler’s 15 with 80s, before Cuts went to 85s for 12 on his final set. Both men maxed out at 320 on Hammer Strength isolateral presses for sets of 10 full reps and 10 partials. Then came the sevens that give FST-7 its number — the seven sets of one isolation exercise performed with minimal rest. In this case, it was cable crossovers with 85–75 pounds per side (the weight was reduced once for each man), approximately 90 reps total for both, including forced reps and peak contrac- tions. Afterward, they crunched most- musculars for maximum pumps, groaning curses, assured that they squeezed every- thing out of the shared torture session.
In a reversal of their first workout, this time it was Cutler, still feeling his way through Rambod’s system, who was the sponge. “I definitely focused on squeezing a lot more today and on really keeping the sets going. We did half reps and burnout reps to hit those fibers that aren’t normally hit,” Cutler said afterward. “Then we finished with our seven sets of fascia stretching with the cable crossovers and, of course, stretching in between [sets], which is important and taking in plenty of water.”
“That time I wasn’t going to lose,” Heath remembered two years later. “I lost once. I wasn’t going to lose again. In part, it was because you guys [FLEX staffers] were there, but I would’ve been that way if it were just Jay and me. I am that way when it’s just us. After that first back workout, I’ve always hung with him. He knows it, and we both thrive on it. We push each other to be the best.”
THE RACE color>
Eight years after they met and five years after they first trained together, “little bro” hangs with his “big bro” every time they trade sets. “We just did a leg work- out in Vegas,” Heath says of a gym ses- sion with Cutler earlier this year. “I hung with him rep for rep, same weights, same intensity. I think it opened his
eyes, because legs are supposed to be his strength, but I’m not going to lose in a workout, because I never want to lose on the stage.” The last thing Cutler said of the Mr. Olympia after the 2006 work- out was, “I got to win that thing before somebody catches up to me.” He has now won four Sandows, but somebody has caught up to him.