“PEOPLE WONDER WHAT MY SECRET IS. IT’S REALLY NO SECRET.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a bodybuilder, past or present, who’s managed to positively alter his physique from his pro debut to five years later more dramatically than Phil Heath, your new Mr. Olympia. At every contest in his career, Heath has managed to show judges and fans alike something new, whether it’s turning formerly weak body parts into strengths or making already standout body parts that much better. We all know where Heath managed this transformation from a youngster with untapped potential to undisputed best in the world: the gym. But exactly how he did it is something only he can comment on. In this exclusive FLEX interview, less than two weeks after his Olympia win and fresh off his victory at the Sheru Classic in India, we sought to find the answer to the one question on every bodybuilder’s mind: How did he do it?
FLEX Your physique has improved dramatically from when you first turned pro. What are you doing now in your training that you weren’t doing back then?
PHIL HEATH Nothing. Everything’s really stayed the same. The only thing that’s really changed is the FST-7 protocol. Other than that, I’ve really been doing the same things all along. What people need to realize is that I’ve been bodybuilding for only nine years. My pro career got started 2½ years after I picked up a weight and decided to be a bodybuilder. People wonder what my secret is. There’s really no secret. It’s just that you guys have been watching my progression from the very minute I started bodybuilding.
FLEX So what you're saying is that a lot of your improvements can be attributed to muscle maturity?
PHIL HEATH Yeah, and I also probably got a bigger head start that most people because I was an athlete in college. I was Division I, and I already had a high fitness level. The person that just decides to start weight training out of the blue was probably never a star athlete. I don't want to sound like I'm elite, but usually the guys at this level were athletes from the start. That said, muscle maturity is only going to come from how many hours I spend in the gym. I still have to put in the hard work.
FLEX What would be the one key lesson you've learned in the gym since turning pro?
PHIL HEATH You don't have to reinvent the wheel. You don't have to come up with any exotic movements if what you're currently doing is working. If you've noticed that dumbbells work better that barbells for you on a bench press, then why change that? Maybe you should change the order in which you do the exercises for variety, so I've done that. But as far as what I've done in the past few years, it's just learning how not to overtrain, learning how to listen to your body, and realize that, yeah, if I go in the gym and something doesn't feel right, then I may drop that whole exercise and go on to something else. As far as switching my whole theory on training, no.
FLEX How does your training differ from off-season to pre-contest?
PHIL HEATH The past few years, I've decided that going into a contest I should be able to use the same amount of weight as I was using in the off-season. Early in my career, I didn't have the strength required to keep up that mass going into a contest. Now, I'm making sure that the weights being lifted are heavy all the time. Saying, "Oh, I'm just going to focus on higher reps and shred up" that's fallacy. Before I started working with Hany I believed that. But not anymore. I realize that a strong muscle is always a bigger one and that you should be able to lift heavy throughout your contest prep until maybe the last 10 days. Frankly, I lifted heavy up until three days out from the Olympia. People choose to back off on their training approaching a show, but I don’t believe in that.
FLEX Other than FST-7, what intensity techniques do you use in your training? Do supersets, drop-sets, rest-pause, or similar techniques find their way into your workouts?
PHIL HEATH No, not really. The only thing I do is maybe a reverse dropset every now and then with lateral raises. But that’s about it. You typically train each body part twice a week, with a few exceptions. Why do you think twice is better than once a week? Look at Ronnie Coleman. He hit everything twice. I believe that if you’re able to eat as much as a bodybuilder is supposed to, you’re probably not going to overtrain. And more important, I want to make sure that weaker areas are getting enough volume throughout the week to where they stay stimulated and full. Your strong points don’t necessarily need as much attention. So whatever you’re trying to bring up, I don’t see why you shouldn’t train that twice a week if you have the time to do it. And obviously, that’s going to depend on a person’s ability to recover. I’m probably going to be an exception because my career is bodybuilding, so I’ve got every resource available to me going to the chiropractor and all the extra therapy stuff I get done, along with all the food I eat, has enabled me to recover fast enough. The average person may not be able to afford that lifestyle. So if you’re sore, yeah, maybe you shouldn’t be doubling up as much. But if your body can hold up to it, then by all means, go for it.