Back and Forth with Mr. O

Phil Heath's Back Routine as He Prepares for the Olympia



Phil Heath took the bodybuilding world by storm in 2005 and 2006. Yet, amid all the praise for his various strengths—those arms, those lines, those round muscle bellies—there was always some mention of his greatest weakness: “Yeah, but can he ever get enough back size to win the Mr. Olympia?”

After all, the Sandow Society is the domain of Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, and Ronnie Coleman, who, by the end of 2005, had collectively won 22 of the 41 Olympias, largely because they possessed the three greatest backs of their eras. Year after year, bodybuilding’s ultimate title was decided when those in the O’s first callout unfurled their rear-lat spreads and locked in their rear double biceps.

None of this was news to Heath. He heard “Yeah, but…” over and over again. He knew all about the backs of Mr. Os, including Jay Cutler, who, beginning in 2006, won four out of five Olympias with his hang-glider lats. So the Gift went about putting in the work needed to join them in the physique pantheon. The transformation of Heath’s back from a weakness to a strength has been one of the most dramatic alterations in bodybuilding history. When he won his first Sandow in 2011, the contest was decided the moment he crunched in his rear double biceps and gasps filled the Orleans Arena. And he hasn’t rested on his laurels. With back masters Cutler and Kai Greene chasing him, he knows this year’s Olympia, like most every O of the past three decades, will be decided from the rear.


A typical Heath back workout begins with front pulldowns. The only question is what type of grip he’ll use on that particular day. “I switch between parallel and underhand with a fairly wide grip,” he says. “With these, I always focus on where my elbows are going as I pull them down. That’s the key to targeting your back—pull with your elbows working like levers and bring them down to your sides. And really, I’m just trying to get the blood flowing into my lats.”

One way Heath enhances the pump is by maintaining a brisk pace. “Usually on this workout I only rest about a minute to 75 seconds between sets because I’m trying to get in a lot of stuf. With back, because it’s such a big body part, I want to just keep working and hit a lot of areas with different exercises.”

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