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Phil Heath always has a plan. In 2006, his rookie year, when he lacked the size to hang with Pro League Goliaths, he won with high definition at a mere 206 pounds. Afterward, he stayed off the O stage until, in 2008, he’d brought up his weaknesses so much that many felt he deserved to carry home the Sandow in his O debut (he placed third). In 2011, when he won his first Olympia, he shocked the bodybuilding world with his crispness. In 2012, he was fuller, but Kai Greene and others seemed to be closing the gap. So Heath and his trainer, Hany Rambod, strategized a plan for widening the gap once again and winning his third straight Olympia title.


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To understand Heath’s blueprint for the 2013 Mr. Olympia, we must first return to the Olympia that preceded it. On score sheets, Heath won in 2012 with straight firsts over Greene’s straight seconds. But numbers don’t tell the whole story. It certainly felt like a closely fought contest, a mano-a-mano duel between two rivals with wildly divergent personalities and physiques. Fans picked sides. The noisiest Greene partisans favored his greater overall size, especially the breadth of his legs and his lats. Heath displayed massive advantages in delts, pecs, traps, and triceps, but those relatively small body parts could be obscured by the broader outline of Greene.

There were others to watch out for in 2013. Coming of his shocking third-place fi nish at the ’12 Olympia, Shawn Rhoden had the momentum. Four-time champ Jay Cutler was returning. Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay was making his debut. And if Dennis Wolf— forever lurking in the top six—ever nailed it, he would be trouble. As 2013 progressed, Heath and Rambod surveyed the probable Olympia field. If there 

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was one area Greene, Rhoden, Cutler, Ellsbiay, and Wolf could beat Heath in, it was legs. So lower body became Heath’s priority. Meanwhile, to fend of mass monsters who might outweigh him by more than 20 pounds, the Gift needed to maintain his strengths, displaying both the curves and the cuts others lacked.

“In 2011, I was ripped, and it shocked people that I could still get that kind of conditioning as big as I was,” Heath states. “Then last year [2012], I thought Kai was going to try to come in with all this dense muscle, so I came with a fuller look. The only problem was Kai went leaner. So, everyone was talking about this [2013] being the year he would get me. Well, what I tried to do was combine those two looks, 2011 and 2012; get the ripped look with the full look. I knew if I could do that, no one would beat that.”

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“With all the hype about Ramy and Kai, I thought, ‘What’s the one body part these guys could accentuate onstage over me?’ And it’s quad development. Even though I beat ’em on separation, they have it on thickness and pure mass. So I put my focus on legs. I told people the only chance they have is with legs. So if I train legs harder or more often, then that takes away their best punch. And once you do that, then they can’t really fight with you. Really, it 
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was quad sweep from the rear that I was most concerned about. So I was trying to make my glutes smaller, bring out the outer quads, and make my hamstrings pop. I just wanted that better shape, and that’s what we were able to do.”

The key was a double double. First, he double-split legs, breaking them into two sessions in the same day: quadriceps in the afternoon, hamstrings and calves in the evening. Then, he doubled their workload, hitting them twice over his seven-day split. On paper, not much changed between the two workouts. He switched in front squats for back squats and/or vertical leg presses for 45-degree leg presses in the second workout. The main difference was a greater focus on increasing the time under tension in the second workout. For example, he might go lighter on leg extensions and hold contractions.


These are four exercises that Heath worked into his routine during the past year.

  • CLOSE-GRIP BENCH PRESS:  He doesn’t do any barbell pressing on chest day, but he inserted this old standby into his arm days. He does them after pre-exhausting his triceps with isolation exercises.
  • LOW-CABLE CROSSOVER: By pulling the cables from low positions to above his chest, he’s able to focus more on his upper, inner pecs.
  • MACHINE PULLOVER: He discovered this is an excellent method for removing the biceps from back work to better isolate his lats.
  • SPIDER CURL: This biceps curl done on the flat side of a preacher bench helps him focus more on contractions.


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It wasn’t enough for Heath to grow his legs and fend of the “best punch” of his closest challengers. He also needed to maintain his knockout blow—the rear double biceps. From head to toe, this is the pose that shows the most. It’s the best barometer for conditioning, and it also highlights a wide panoply of diverse muscles. Because of his relatively narrow clavicles, Heath knows he’ll never take the back shots with lat width. But he wins the rear double bi with everything else—all those muscles others might neglect coupled with a stunning collection of details. (Flex Lewis follows the same strategy to win the rear double bi in the 212 Olympia Showdown.)

As with legs, Heath doubles up his rear delt work. He does four sets of rear laterals on a lying plate-loaded machine and another four sets on a seated machine. “I do extra rear delts to accentuate the flow from delts to arms in the rear double bi,” he states. “It also helps you from the side. It adds that little extra. My big thing is what muscle don’t they [my closest competitors] have, and that’s what I emphasize even more. And I know Kai doesn’t have rear delts. I’m just covering all the bases. I have to do this to stay the champ.”

“I’ve come to realize it’s going to be very, very difficult for a lot of these guys who’ve been training longer than me,” Mr. Olympia continues. “Because if you haven’t fi gured out the formula after 20 years for building muscle in your weak parts, you’re probably never going to get it.” One thing Wolf and Elssbiay don’t have is calves. Heath typically trains his lower legs three times per week. “What I do is I choose one exercise for calves each workout, and I do 10 sets of pretty high reps, at least 20. Then the next workout I’ll choose a different exercise.”

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Calves, hams, rear delts— those are among the muscles that give him his rear double biceps advantage, but it’s still a back shot. So back development is crucial. What Heath gives away in brute size he makes up for in 3-D density and HD separation. Whereas some others have bloblike backs, his divides into distinct regions: trapezius, rhomboids, teres major and minor, latissimus dorsi, spinal erectors. The key is a variety of exercises (he does six for upper back) and their precise execution. You won’t see him humping up a row or swaying dramatically during a pulldown. He wants to feel the individual muscles working from stretch to contraction.


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With another mission complete and a third Sandow in his possession, the Gift is again developing a new strategy. This time, the mission is to win the 50th Mr. Olympia contest on Sept. 19–20. Heath, the 13th Mr. Olympia, is in a quest to grow his legend and climb bodybuilding’s immortal rankings. A fourth Sandow will tie him with Cutler for the fifth most Mr. O titles of all time.

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Meanwhile, No. 13 also has to fend of the best bodybuilders on the planet to make sure a 14th man doesn’t join him in the Sandow Society. It’s a role he relishes. “Like Ronnie [Coleman] said, he loved being Mr. Olympia,” Heath states. “And I love being Mr. Olympia, too, especially because I’m preventing quality guys from getting a title. I love the fact that I can do that. I mean it’s not like a personal thing—or maybe it is. But that doesn’t matter. I don’t want to look at my career and say I gave this guy a chance. Hell, no. I prevented you from achieving your dream. And you can have all those Arnold Classic titles. You can have that all day. I don’t care. It’s definitely fulfilling knowing I have that ability to stand in their way. And I’ll still only be 34 next time. That’s what’s great about it. I’m excited to see what I look like next.”


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LEG EXTENSION: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

SQUAT: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

45-DEGREE LEG PRESS: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

HACK SQUAT: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

LUNGE: 4 sets; 30 steps


LYING LEG CURL: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

STANDING ONE-LEG CURL: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

SEATED LEG CURL: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

STIFF-LEG DEADLIFT: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

SEATED CALF RAISE: 10 sets; 20 reps


WIDE-GRIP PULLDOWN: 3-4 sets; 8-12 reps


OVERHAND BARBELL ROW: 3-4 sets; 8-12 reps

ONE-ARM DUMBBELL ROW: 3-4 sets; 8-12 reps

SEATED CABLE ROW: 3-4 sets; 8-12 reps

MACHINE PULLOVER: 3 sets; 15 reps

BACK EXTENSION*: 2-3 sets; failure

*Note: Included only in the final weeks before Olympia.


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INCLINE DUMBBELL FLYE: 4 sets; 10 reps

FLAT DUMBBELL PRESS: 4 sets; 10 reps


CABLE CROSSOVER (LOW): 3 sets; 12-15 reps

CABLE CROSSOVER (HIGH): 3 sets; 15 reps

STANDING CALF RAISE: 10 sets, 20 reps


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SEATED SHOULDER PRESS*: 4 sets; 10 reps


DUMBBELL FRONT RAISE: 4 sets; 10 reps


REVERSE PEC-DECK FLYE: 4 sets; 10 reps

DUMBBELL SHRUG: 4 sets; 15-20 reps

*Note: Dumbbell or Hammer Strength Machine

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LEG EXTENSION: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

FRONT SQUAT: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

VERTICAL LEG PRESS: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

HACK SQUAT: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

WALKING LUNGE: 4 sets; 30 steps


LYING LEG CURL: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

STANDING ONE-LEG CURL: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

SEATED LEG CURL: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

STIFF-LEG DEADLIFT: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

CALF PRESS (45 DEGREE): 10 sets; 20 reps


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CONCENTRATION CURL: 3 sets; 10 reps

SPIDER CURL: 3 sets; 10 reps

HAMMER CURL: 3 sets; 10 reps

ROPE PUSHDOWN: 3 sets; 12-15 reps

ONE-ARM DUMBBELL EXTENSION: 3 sets; 12-15 reps

CLOSE-GRIP BENCH PRESS: 3 sets, 12 reps

BAR OR MACHINE DIP: 3 sets, reps to failure


Sunday was his scheduled rest day. But Heath was frequently altering this split, sometimes because of travel and sometimes because he skipped training arms (his strong point). Depending on those two factors, he often put an extra rest day in this split, either after his back day or after his second leg day.