Head and Shoulders Above

The 10 shoulder-training rules followed by 5X Mr. Olympia, Phil Heath.


Let’s say you’re Mr. Olympia. Just dream for a minute. Your life is a whirlwind of airports and interviews and strange gyms in stranger places. And all the while, you’re a marked man. You’ve got the title everyone wants, so the world’s other best bodybuilders are gunning for you workout after workout, meal after meal. What do you do? How did you stay on top? Two ways. You eliminate, as best you can, your weaknesses—those areas your closest competition could possibly exploit. And you enhance your strengths—those areas you can exploit over those same top contenders.

This brings us to Phil Heath’s shoulders. What was once a deficit is now a surplus. We should also mention the head on those shoulders, because the changes happened and continue to happen only because of meticulous planning and methodical execution.

The Gift uses the following 10 techniques to both overcome a narrow structure and enhance the 3-D density his delts’ and traps’. Eliminate weaknesses, expand strengths, rinse, repeat, over and over. For Heath, this approach wins poses. And, ultimately—it wins Sandows.


During Phil Heath’s first two years in the Pro League—his undefeated freshman season of 2006 and his disappointing Arnold Classic debut the following spring—the consensus was that he was a force to be reckoned with, but his narrow clavicles would prevent him from joining the likes of Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler in the Olympia pantheon. Then 2009 happened. The Gift 2.0 was 15 pounds heavier than the previous version, and a great many of those pounds were packed around his clavicles. Suddenly, the old consensus was replaced with a new one: Heath is going to contend for the ultimate title, starting now. Fast forward to today, and he has five Sandows.

No amount of training will lengthen clavicles, but Heath still widened his shoulders significantly by expanding his deltoids. The medial delts are of primary importance in breadth, but at least one of the three delt heads (anterior, medial, posterior) plays a substantial role in every mandatory pose except for abs and thigh. Colossal traps can also provide crucial depth in many poses. “I want to maintain my advantage there,” the reigning Mr. O says. “Or expand it. Delts and traps are always going to be a big focus for me.” You can’t lengthen your bones, but, like Heath, you can give the appearance of doing so by making strategic additions.


The more you win, the more you have to lose. As a former collegiate basketball player, the Gift knows this rule applies to all sports. Look at Derrick Rose. After the 2010–11 season, the Chicago Bulls guard became, at 22, the youngest-ever NBA MVP. But a blown-out left knee kept him of the hardwood in 2012–13, and a blown-out right knee did the same for almost all of this season. Injuries have dramatically slowed Rose’s career trajectory in a way no opponent could. Likewise, Heath’s greatest potential obstacle moving forward is not another competitor. It’s a torn tendon. Even just a strain that keeps him riding the brakes for weeks when he should be accelerating could cost him first place and forever alter his legacy.

That’s why if you happen into Armbrust Gym in Wheat Ridge, CO, during the first 10 minutes of Mr. Olympia’s shoulder workout, you’ll see him repping out various types of raises with diminutive dumbbells. He knows the importance of warming up for injury prevention, especially in regards to the vulnerable deltoid muscles and the ball-and-socket joints that lie beneath. Strain any component in that complex architecture and it can derail shoulder, chest, and back workouts for weeks or months. Follow the gift’s protocol, and make certain your delts are lightly pumped and ready to rock before your first working set on shoulder day.


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