Olympia Legend: Phil Heath

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


Per Bernal


Starting with his first show in 2003, he’s 17-7, and he’s finished atop the bodybuilding world at the last seven Mr. Olympias. He’s won so much this decade it’s hard to remember him ever losing. But no one is a born winner. Success is a mindset that needs to be learned, practiced, and perfected. Phil Heath tells you how he did that and does that. These are not just lessons for bodybuilding success. Together, they’re a winning strategy for everything. 


Things came easily for Heath at first. In his only loss in the NPC, he still won his class. He turned pro on his singular try at the 2005 USA and then won his initial two pro shows in 2006. But he was still just a puppy—if a really good one. At 5'9", he could’ve competed in the 212 division—if there had been one. He was winning with shape and conditioning, but he was undersized, and that was exposed in 2007 at the Arnold Classic. “On this bigger stage, the 27-year-old simply didn’t have enough,” I wrote about Heath then, after praising his conditioning as the best in the lineup and before singling out his legs as especially weak. He finished fifth. Afterward, many wondered if he was already maxing out and if he’d ever have enough for the Arnold title, let alone the Olympia.

A little less than a year later, Heath shut up every critic when he stepped onstage at the Ironman Pro at a peeled 230. Bodybuilding, meet your future. For a year, Heath had replayed that humbling Arnold loss and the resulting criticism and used it to fuel his workouts. There was no way he was ever again going to flex weighing less than 225. Every day was focused on his workouts and his meals. He was determined to become a unicorn, that thing they said didn’t exist—the advanced bodybuilder who thoroughly transforms his physique in a single year. He never would’ve done it had he stubbornly stuck to what had already brought him great and rapid success. No, he had to admit defeat and accept why he was defeated in order to devise a plan to overcome. 


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