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Phil Heath – 'The Gift' that keeps on giving

Phil Heath – ‘The Gift’ that keeps on giving

From shooting hoops to collecting Sandows

Who would have thought that Phil Heath, a 84kg basketball player who secured a scholarship through his athletic drive and dreams of joining the NBA, would one day go on to claim the coveted Mr. Olympia title five times in a row?

Desire, dedication and self-belief

When you have the desire, dedication and self-belief of Heath, nothing is impossible.

Shooting hoop was the young basketball player’s ultimate passion despite being only 1.75m tall. Heath’s focus gradually shifted to bodybuilding when he started lifting weights to improve his strength and size and within only six months he and everyone else at the gym knew that he was destined to become a bodybuilder. A former roommate started calling Heath ‘The Gift’ – a gift to bodybuilding.

Heath later graduated from the University of Denver with a degree in business and IT.

Transformed from 84kg to 122kg

He began his bodybuilding career weighing only 84kg but over time turned his body into a 122kg machine. People were calling him the future of bodybuilding before he even turned Pro.

Heath made his Pro debut at the Colorado Pro Championships in 2006. He continued competing in local shows and packed on more size, eventually tipping the scales at 122kg in the off-season. Heath finished third in his first Mr. Olympia outing in 2008, joining the ranks of Lee Haney and Dorian Yates to take the top three position in a first attempt on the Olympia stage. Heath was the first rookie to do so since Flex Wheeler in 1993.

“My goal every year is to be bigger and better than I was the year before. The competition just keeps getting better and the pressure just gets hotter. Nothing gets easier. To keep winning, I have to constantly outdo myself.”

Knocking Cutler off his throne

‘The Gift’ finished in fifth position the following year due to a stomach bug which caused him to stand in front of the Olympia judges 5 kilograms lighter than he initially intended. In 2010 Heath was runner-up when Jay Cutler won his final Sandow. Heath went on to defeat Cutler the following year becoming the reigning champion of bodybuilding’s most prestigious title. At that point Cutler was a role model of Heath for a number of years before he knocked him off his throne.

Since 2011 Heath has defended the title of Mr. Olympia successfully by defeating opponents such as Kai ‘The Predator’ Greene and Dexter ‘The Blade’ Jackson.

Heath also became the first professional bodybuilder to head up his own sports nutrition company while still competing on the stage with the launch of Gifted Nutrition.

The most complete bodybuilder

He normally follows a twice a day lifting regimen when he is preparing for the Olympia, eating protein and carbohydrate rich meals every two to two-and-a-half hours. Heath also believes in regular visits to acupuncturist and massage therapist to keep his body healthy.

He never runs for cardio when show day draws closer saying that it is too hard on his joints and ligaments but spends 45 minutes to an hour on an incline treadmill, climber or bike as part of his contest preparation.

Some bodybuilding pundits would say of the 13 men who have held the Mr. Olympia title since its genesis in 1965, ‘The Gift’ is the most complete.

Heath sums up his focus for the Olympia perfectly by saying: “All year long my focus is this contest, and everything I do for seventy days is about me winning it. Every meal, every workout, every rep, every supplement, every ounce of sleep, every massage therapy. Everything.”

Heath does bring exceptional roundness and hardness to the stage and is relentless in his pursuit of collecting more Sandows before he finally retires from the sport.

Fact file: (Click to open)

Fact file: (Click to open)

  • Name: Phillip Jerrod Heath
  • Nickname: The Gift
  • Birthdate: 18 December 1979
  • Birthplace: Seattle, Washington
  • Height: 1.75m
  • Off-season weight: 122 kg
  • Contest weight: 113 kg
  • Hobby outside bodybuilding: Strumming an electric guitar for relaxation

Example of The Gift's split: (Click to open)

Example of The Gift's split: (Click to open)

Day 1: Legs

  • Squats: 3 x 10
  • Leg press: 3 x 10
  • Leg extensions: 4 x 10
  • Hack squats: 3 x 10
  • Walking lunges: 2 x 60feet

Day 2: Chest

  • Incline bench press: 4 x 8-10
  • Flat bench press: 4 x 8-10
  • Decline bench press: 4 x 8-10
  • Flat dumbbell flyes: 4 x 10

Day 3: Back

  1. Wide-grip pull-up: 5-7 to failure
  2. Bent-over rows: 5 x 10
  3. Lat pulldowns: 5 x 10
  4. Seated low rows 5 x 10
  5. Hyperextensions: 5 x 12
  6. Deadlifts: 3 x 8-12

Day 4: Quads / hamstrings / calves

  • Leg extension: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Front squat: 4 x 8-10
  • Leg press: 4 x 8-10
  • Lying leg curl: 4 x 8-10
  • Dumbbell stiff-leg deadlift: 4 x 8-10
  • Seated calf raises: 4 x 20
  • Standing calf raises: 4 x 20

Day 5: Shoulders

  • Military press: 3 x 8-10
  • Side raises: 3 x 8-10
  • Front dumbbell raises: 3 x 8-10
  • Rear dumbbell raises: 3 x 10
  • Face pull: 4 x 8-10
  • Upright rows: 3 x 12

Day 6: Rest

Day 7: Arms

  • Barbell curl: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Dumbbell preacher curl: 4 x 8-10
  • High cable curl: 4 x 8-10
  • Cable pushdowns: 4 x 8-10
  • One-arm cable pushdowns: 4 x 8-10
  • Dips: 3-4 sets to failure

Heath stays within the 8-12 rep range when he trains. He increases abdominal and calf work along with cardio sessions as he gets closer to the Olympia showdown.

The Gift's contest history: (Click to open)

The Gift's contest history: (Click to open)

  • 2003 Northern Colorado State, Novice, Light-Heavyweight 1st and overall
  • 2003 NPC Colorado State, Light-Heavyweight, 1st
  • 2004 NPC Colorado State, Heavyweight, 1st and Overall
  • 2005 NPC Junior Nationals, HeavyWeight, 1st and Overall
  • 2005 NPC USA Championships, HeavyWeight, 1st and Overall
  • 2006 Colorado Pro Championships, 1st
  • 2006 New York Pro Championship, 1st
  • 2007 Arnold Classic, 5th
  • 2008 IFBB Iron Man, 1st
  • 2008 Arnold Classic, 2nd
  • 2008 Mr. Olympia, 3rd
  • 2009 Mr. Olympia, 5th
  • 2010 Arnold Classic, 2nd
  • 2010 Mr. Olympia, 2nd
  • 2011 Mr. Olympia, 1st
  • 2011 Sheru Classic, 1st
  • 2012 Mr. Olympia, 1st
  • 2012 Sheru Classic, 1st
  • 2013 Mr. Olympia, 1st
  • 2013 Arnold Classic Europe, 1st
  • 2014 Mr. Olympia, 1st
  • 2015 Mr. Olympia, 1st


The gods of the Olympia:

  • Ronnie Coleman – 8 victories (1998 to 2005)
  • Lee Haney – 8 victories (1984 to 1991)
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger – 7 victories (1970 to 1975 and 1980)
  • Dorian Yates – 6 victories (1992 to 1997)
  • Phil Heath – 5 victories and counting (2011 to 2015)
  • Jay Cutler – 4 victories (2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010)


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