Whether you’re in a T-shirt by the pool or onstage in posing trunks, peoples’ eyes are going to be drawn to your chest. And when you’re onstage at the Mr. Olympia competition, owning a well-developed, perfectly proportioned set of pecs is critical to standing out among a crowded field of competitors. Just ask many past champs who’ve sported amazing chests: Sergio Oliva, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, Lee Haney, Ronnie Coleman

Seven-time Mr. Olympia Phil Heath wasn’t known for his chest early on in his professional career. The knock on Heath was that his arms and delts overpowered his pecs. People forget, however, that “The Gift” turned pro a little more than a year after he began competing—and that was only three years after he began lifting for the stage.

“My first few years as a pro,” he says, “I was creating more roundness, creating more of what people saw of me at the 2006 Colorado and New York Pro shows.” (He won both.) This future Mr. Olympia filled out his physique as he rose to dominance in the pro ranks. “I think [in 2006] I showed people I had a good physique, that I was more on the aesthetic side,” notes Heath. “Now I’m a hybrid who can beat up on larger, structurally bigger guys.” 

At the ’06 New York Pro, he also won the individual body-part awards for legs and arms. The improvements he’s made in chest thickness, density, and fullness are nothing short of extraordinary. As the current Mr. Olympia, he shares the tools, both physical and mental, that he used and continues to use to sculpt a chest worthy of seven Sandows.


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Phil heath chest press

Training photos by Charles Lowthian

Heath’s chest workouts have followed a specific pattern for several years now. “Wherever I am in the world,” he explains, “my opening exercises are an incline press followed by flyes.” Mr. Olympia focuses on upper pecs, which are often neglected by beginning bodybuilders who are too concerned with how much weight they can move on their flat bench presses. “Upper pecs are so important,” he says. “Especially in your side poses, where the audience and judges can see them pop.” 

Heath will alternate between incline dumbbell presses and Hammer Strength incline presses. “I’m doing more working sets these days,” he points out, noting he will aim for three to five working sets versus his usual three of years past. “I’m focusing on strength but also being able to move the weight for at least eight reps.” Even for Mr. Olympia it can be tempting to go above the 150-pound dumbbells or five plates on each side of the Hammer apparatus, but “I’m trying to be smarter than that.” He rests two to three minutes between sets.


Phil heath chest dumbbell flye

Training photos by Charles Lowthian

The incline dumbbell flye is another exercise that stimulates the upper pectoral region. When executing the movement—as well as other chest presses—Heath is careful not to tuck his chin down into his chest.

“When you lower your chin, it means that the weight you’re using is too difficult,” he explains. “You’re creating more stress on yourself by doing that. You instead need to relax and open everything up. If you tilt your head back and keep it higher, you can move the dumbbell higher up on the upper pecs and be able to breathe. With incline flyes especially, I find I get better contractions with my chin higher.”

Heath also avoids banging the dumbbells together at the top of his flyes or presses as a way to control the contraction.



Phil heath chest 3

Training photos by Charles Lowthian

Make the most of a seated chest press by being mindful of the time under tension (TUT) instead of mindlessly or spastically knocking out your reps.

Time under tension is a good thing,” he confirms. “And there’s nothing wrong with doing a rest-pause set now and again. It shows that you’re in control of the weight and the weight isn’t in control of you. There are days you’re not going to feel like going heavier—and you shouldn’t. Concentrate on the concentric movement, then hold it at the top before coming down.”

Heath rests no more than one to two minutes between sets of the seated chest press.


Phil heath chest 2

Training photos by Charles Lowthian

Heath does seven sets of 15 reps, resting 30 seconds between sets. He’ll increase the weight from set to set only if he can maintain intensity. Heath will also vary the height of the cable handles to target different areas of the chest: high to low stresses the lower pecs; shoulder level hits the middle chest; and low to high attacks the upper pecs.


Phil heath chest 1

Training photos by Charles Lowthian

During the past 10 years, Heath has established himself as the dominant force in bodybuilding.

“When I turned pro at the 2005 USAs—and during my rookie season in ’06—I think I showed people that despite not being the largest guy onstage structurally, I’m round, separated, dry, and hard. And I can compare at all the different angles,” Heath says. “I was at the bottom of the heavyweight class at the USAs. I won the Colorado show at 212 pounds, and a week later at the New York pre-judging I was 208.5 pounds. I’m in the high 240s now, and I’ve managed to avoid injury and establish longevity because I didn’t jump up 20 pounds in one year. I stayed true to slow gains.

Everybody wants to be bigger,” he says. “Many competitors are more concerned with the scale and how they look with a T-shirt on. You know what? None of that matters when you’re up onstage. Size isn’t everything. Up there, under the lights, it’s about quality over quantity.” 


  • Day 1 | Legs
  • Day 2 Chest
  • Day 3 Back
  • Day 4 Shoulders
  • Day 5 Arms
  • Day 6 Rest
  • Day 7 Repeat cycle


  • Incline Dumbbell Press SETS: 3–5 REPS: 8–12
  • Incline Dumbbell Flye SETS: 3–5 REPS: 8–12
  • Seated Chest Press SETS: 3–5 REPS: 8–12
  • Cable Crossover* SETS: 7 REPS: 15

*Performed with 30 seconds’ rest between sets.

2017 Olympia Fitness & Performance Weekend

2017 Olympia Fitness & Performance Weekend

Where legends are made!