Head and Shoulders Above

The 10 shoulder-training rules followed by 7X Mr. Olympia, Phil Heath.



The most unique thing about Heath’s shoulder routine is the fact that he does two exercises for rear delts, hitting an area that many bodybuilders overlook with a barrage of eight sets. “I do extra rear delts to accentuate the flow from delts to arms in the rear double bi,” he explains. “[Big rear delts] also help you from the side. It adds that little extra.”  When his closest competitors have a weakness, it’s something he’ll emphasize more. Rear delts tend to lag front and side delts, so most bodybuilders would benefit from prioritizing this area to keep their three deltoid heads in balance.


Astute observers will note that Heath used to work his traps at the end of his back routine, but he now does so at the end of his shoulder routine. Either way works. The trapezius is a relatively large muscle. Upper traps (worked mostly with shrugs) are located above the clavicles, and mid and lower traps (worked more with back exercises) are located in the upper center of your back. The argument for shrugging on back day is that your upper traps are already getting some work then—especially if you do deadlifts. The case for shrugging on shoulder day is that your upper traps are more properly part of your shoulder region, and they will get stressed with medial delt exercises, like side laterals and wide-grip upright rows.

Which workout you choose is largely a matter of personal preference. “I’ve done it both ways, and I like both ways,” Heath says. “But I just feel like I have a little more energy at the end of my workout on shoulder day. Doing lots of rows and pulldowns takes more out of you than doing shoulder presses and laterals. But other than that, I wouldn’t say one way is better than the other.”


As mentioned, the Gift sticks to the 10–12 rep range for delts. However, he goes as high as 20 on shrugs. Unlike many bodybuilders, he’s not trying to impress anyone by humping up dumbbells the size of fire hydrants. Shrugs are one exercise most anyone can go heavy on—if they shorten their ranges-of- motion and time-under-tension and unrack and rerack monsters that can potentially wrench their spinal erectors. Heath’s not going for that. He uses dumbbells he can safely manage for strict, full reps, squeezing at the contractions. “Too many people don’t really feel these,” he says. “I want to get those strong contractions. And the higher reps let me really work the muscle.”


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