"The Gift" Discusses Training in Vibrams and How Basketball has Helped his Career

Q&A with 4X Mr. Olympia, Phil Heath
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In your leg-training article “Tricked-Out Wheels” in the September FLEX, 
you were wearing Vibram FiveFingers. Do you train in Vibrams now?

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I use them on leg days. I went online just looking at different training shoes, and I thought Vibrams really made sense. So I gave them a try. They’re like gloves for your feet.

I usually wear cross-trainers or Jordans, and I noticed I wasn’t getting the traction that I wanted. I felt like sometimes my heels were coming up on things like squats; I was on my toes a lot. Primarily, this was because I was trying to use my toes to grip through the insoles to the floor. Well, you can’t do that with a regular shoe, but that’s what Vibrams let you do.

Back in the day, Arnold and the guys used to squat with bare feet. So I thought let me just try Vibrams. So I tried them, and they don’t hurt my back or feet or anything, and
I do feel more connected to the floor. I change back and forth. I’ll train legs with regular shoes or Vibrams, but I think the Vibrams have especially helped me on squats. I feel more grounded when I wear them.

Does your basketball background help your bodybuilding career?

Yes. I think it gave me a mental toughness. I learned things in basketball that have given me an edge on the competition because no one else in pro bodybuilding has done it. It’s an easy transition for me to get up at 5 a.m. and go do cardio, because I used to do that with the college basketball team. Or working out twice a day, well, we did two-a-days in college. The main difference has been the eating. In basketball, you better not be eating all the time. In bodybuilding, it’s crucial.

It was easy for me to transition to bodybuilding because
I thought, “Wow, I don’t have to carry anyone else’s weight anymore.” On a basketball team when we were running suicides, I used to have to push the slow guys. But now I just have to care about myself. Wow, what a relief. I was in some really big game situations where it was do or die, and I was able to be focused enough to perform a certain task. So when I get up
on the Olympia stage now, I’ve been through all that before. Other guys might get nervous. But I don’t. I know the techniques to keep myself calm and on an even keel so I can perform at my best.

College basketball also prepared me for all the travel
 I do now. People ask how I’m able to travel so much and still train and eat right. Well, how was I able to go to practice twice a day, go to class, go to study table, go to meal table, and still have a social life, and still get good grades at 19 years old? We played three days a week in college. Also, when we were watching game film we were being told how shitty we were by the coaches, so being able to take criticism is easy for me as long as it’s constructive. - FLEX

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