Olympia Legend: Phil Heath

The Gift's strategy for winning in bodybuilding – and life.


Per Bernal


The 13th Mr. O works out alone. That means it’s up to him to get up for every workout, whether it’s precontest in Armbrust Pro Gym or in the depths of the off-season in some ill-equipped dump far from home. When Heath played basketball, he could count on his teammates and coaches to help motivate him for practices and games. But bodybuilding is the most individualistic of all sports. When you train by yourself, it’s just you and the iron. Heath uses music, short-term goals, and the will to win another Sandow to drive him through each metal session and keep him on his meal plan. Whatever it takes to motivate yourself, use it. No one else can make you hit a personal best or grind through early- morning cardio. You have to do it for yourself. 

Per Bernal


When you’ve won seven Olympias, it’s easy to get complacent, to assume what you’ve done before is good enough, that it’ll always be good enough, to start to think maybe you’re just destined to win. It’s a trap. The previous three Mr. O’s—Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, and Dexter Jackson— all lost their crowns (Cutler twice). The Sandow is never promised. Heath knows this. He was competing in the O the last three times the champ lost, and his first win knocked Cutler off the throne. Fear of losing is one motivation.

But what most drives him ever onward is the pantheon of legends in which he now resides. Last year, as he toiled to tie Dorian Yates’ mark of six O’s, a giant photo of Yates in Armbrust reminded him of the standard he was trying to match. This year, he reached Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Olympia tally of seven. Heath is chasing immortality. The lesson is to never grow complacent. Always have a goal, and when you reach that goal, make a new and greater goal. It was Arnold who said: “For me, life is continuously being hungry. The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.” 


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