Whether you’re in a T-shirt by the pool or onstage in posing trunks, peoples’ eyes are going to be drawn to your chest. And when you’re onstage at the Mr. Olympia competition, owning a well-developed, perfectly proportioned set of pecs is critical to standing out among a crowded field of competitors. Just ask many past champs who’ve sported amazing chests: Sergio Oliva, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, Lee Haney, Ronnie Coleman.
Five-time Mr. Olympia Phil Heath wasn’t known for his chest early on in his professional career. The knock on Heath was that his arms and delts overpowered his pecs. People forget, however, that “the Gift” turned pro a little more than a year after he began competing—and that was only three years after he began lifting for the stage. “My first few years as a pro,” he says, “I was creating more roundness, creating more of what people saw of me at the 2006 Colorado and New York Pro shows.” (He won both.) This future Mr. Olympia filled out his physique as he rose to dominance in the pro ranks. “I think [in 2006] I showed people I had a good physique, that I was more on the aesthetic side,” notes Heath. “Now I’m a hybrid who can beat up on larger, structurally bigger guys.”
At the ’06 New York Pro, he also won the individual body-part awards for legs and arms. The improvements he’s made in chest thickness, density, and fullness are nothing short of extraordinary. As the current Mr. Olympia, he shares the tools, both physical and mental, that he used and continues to use to sculpt a chest worthy of six Sandows.
INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS
Heath’s chest workouts have followed a specific pattern for several years now. “Wherever I am in the world,” he explains, “my opening exercises are an incline press followed by flyes.” Mr. Olympia focuses on upper pecs, which are often neglected by beginning bodybuilders who are too concerned with how much weight they can move on their flat bench presses. “Upper pecs are so important,” he says. “Especially in your side poses, where the audience and judges can see them pop.”
Heath will alternate between incline dumbbell presses and Hammer Strength incline presses. “I’m doing more working sets these days,” he points out, noting he will aim for three to five working sets versus his usual three of years past. “I’m focusing on strength but also being able to move the weight for at least eight reps.” Even for Mr. Olympia it can be tempting to go above the 150-pound dumbbells or five plates on each side of the Hammer apparatus, but “I’m trying to be smarter than that.” He rests two to three minutes between sets.
INCLINE DUMBBELL FLYE
The incline dumbbell flye is another exercise that stimulates the upper pectoral region. When executing the movement—as well as other chest presses—Heath is careful not to tuck his chin down into his chest. “When you lower your chin, it means that the weight you’re using is too difficult,” he explains. “You’re creating more stress on yourself by doing that. You instead need to relax and open everything up. If you tilt your head back and keep it higher, you can move the dumbbell higher up on the upper pecs and be able to breathe. With incline flyes especially, I find I get better contractions with my chin higher.” Heath also avoids banging the dumbbells together at the top of his flyes or presses as a way to control the contraction.
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