“The Gift” Phil Heath isn’t just known for his 3D arms, roadmap back, and massive wheels. And although his chest and shoulders may be overshadowed by his arms, they’re still a part of his World-class physique that won him seven prestigious Mr. Olympia titles.
Now, genetically if someone has huge arms with full muscle bellies, their chest and shoulders will tend to lack in comparison. But Phil was still able to develop these body parts to match the rest of his body; then compete with the elite in the Open bodybuilding class, and come out on top!
Phil Heath’s chest workouts are always champion-caliber and his shoulder training is no different. He’s been criticized for lacking chest development and narrow clavicles but this only fueled him to hit the weights harder. So now, he’s got big, full pecs and bowling ball deltoids…
His shoulders also play a big role in his three-dimensional appearance and if he offered us his best training tips then we’d listen in a heartbeat… and fortunately, it’s our lucky day because he’s done just that!
So, here is Phil Heath’s best chest workout routine and some shoulder workout with tips/advice from the Gift himself…
Phil Heath’s Chest Workout
Incline chest press
Now, elite status bodybuilders know what they need to do to get the best results possible. And Phil Heath is a strategic man who doesn’t change a thing if it’s working for him (If it’s not broke, why fix it)?
So, with that being said he starts every chest workout with some type of incline chest press.
…Why incline? The upper chest contributes to the fullness of the chest, up by the clavicles, and this is very important for having a side chest that’ll impress the judges. Incline presses place great emphasis on the upper pecs and you’ll notice the improved development.
Studies even show a 30-45- degree angled bench to activate the upper chest more during certain parts of the movement. (1)
The workout – Incline dumbbell presses 3-5 sets x 8 reps (Alternate with Hammer Strength incline machine for same sets and reps).
Two to three-minute rest in between sets.
Effective decline chest guides:
- Decline Hammer-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press
- Decline Bent-Arm Barbell Pullover
- Decline Cable Fly
- Decline Barbell Bench Press
- Decline Barbell Pullover
Flys are very effective and science shows that using dumbbells during this exercise significantly stimulates the Pectoralis Major muscles. But they also feel darn good when you’re squeezing your pecs to the max and getting a huge chest pump. (2)
But when you do an incline fly, you’re emphasizing the upper pecs and getting a really good stretch in the muscle fibers.
Phil Heath advises against tucking your chin down. He recommends keeping your head up as this allows you to perform the flys higher up on the chest to stimulate the upper chest muscles. But you can also breathe better and lift more weight.
Another tip to get a more effective contraction is to avoid touching the dumbbells at the top. This removes the constant tension which is important for muscle growth.
The workout – Phil does 3-5 sets of 8 reps minimum, sometimes going up to 12.
Best Incline exercises:
- Incline Straight-Arm Pull-Down
- Incline Cable Bench Press
- Incline Reverse-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press
- Incline Barbell Bench Press
- Incline Dumbbell Fly
Standing cable crossover
The standing cable crossover is an excellent exercise for getting a deep stretch and the benefit of this exercise is that you can use a variety of heights to target different parts of the chest. Phil uses different angles and increases the weight for each set.
Now, a study by ACE research showed the cable crossover to elicit 93% of muscle activation through electromyography (EMG) testing and this means it’s nearly equivalent with the bench press for effectiveness. (3)
So, focus on the contractions and getting a full range of motion to really activate the chest muscles.
The workout – Phil does 7 sets of 15 reps which are a lot of volume for most people when combined with other exercises. If you’re going to do the workout, cut back on the sets if you’re at a beginner or intermediate level of training experience.
Phil only rests 30 seconds in between sets.
Other standing cable exercises:
Chest press machine
Phil focuses on slow and controlled machine chest presses and this allows him to place his chest muscles under constant tension. This is not the time to just bang out reps, as this takes away from the real effectiveness of the chest press machine.
You have to feel every muscle fiber working and this happens when you don’t rush the process.
The workout – 3-5 sets of 8 reps, sometimes going up to 12. Do rest-pause sets often.
One to two-minute rest in between sets.
Other machine press exercises:
Phil Heath’s Shoulder Workout Tips
Big traps and wide delts
Phil Heath has to approach his shoulder training with a plan of attack that will allow him to hold his own on stage because of his genetically narrow clavicles (He’s not as wide as other guys on stage).
So, he must train harder and focus on getting the lateral head as big as possible. This means tons of side lateral raises and shoulder presses.
But trap development also plays a huge (Pun intended) part in how wide Phil Heath heath appears so he makes sure to get them as big as possible. He has to use every advantage he can to compete with the taller and wider mass monsters on stage.
Tip: Bend your arms when doing the side lateral raise as ACE research has confirmed this variation to elicit the most muscle activation. (4)
Is it best to train traps on back day or shoulder day? To be honest, it really doesn’t matter as long as you train them properly. Your traps will get some form of stimulation either way. So choose based on your preferences.
Now, Phil Heath trains trap after shoulder day because he feels he has more energy than if he were to train back. But he has a point as back training should always be more exhausting than shoulder training.
So, the best advice is to do your shrugs and upright rows when you’ve got plenty of gas left in you…
Phil Heath aims for 10 reps to get the best of strength and muscle-building benefits. 8-12 reps are generally considered to be the best range for muscle building, so Heath keeps his reps in between for a perfect balance.
Not to take anything away from the basics (Barbells and dumbbells) but the newest, most modern gym equipment is pretty amazing!… because no longer do you have to train purely caveman style (Although it’s still important) and newer equipment is extremely advantageous.
Not only do you not have to worry about stabilizing heavy weight loads, but most machines these days move with your body mechanics.
Phil utilizes a few machines for his shoulder training and these include the reverse pec deck, unilateral Hammer Strength machine for overhead presses and plate-loaded rear lat machine.
Other traps and delts workout:
Unilateral movements allow you to train one side of the body to work each muscle independently. This develops more stabilizer muscles than bilateral movements (Barbell training); allows for more range of motion, and also helps you to improve muscular balance. (5)
Phil Heath prefers to use dumbbells and unilateral machines to train his shoulders so that he can focus on one arm at a time.
Take it slow!
Some athletes go hard as if they have nothing to lose, but this is the kind of thinking (And training) that can derail your efforts rather quickly.
Phil knows that being careless can set him back big time and it can even be detrimental to his body down the road. So, he trains smarter than he does harder. But he still trains hard it’s just that he’s gifted in the genetics department and will grow by just staring at a dumbbell…
The rotator cuff is a very sensitive area and can become injured quite easily so he does a lot of warming up to ensure he’s primed for an intense shoulder workout.
Double muscle attack!
The normal gym goer or bodybuilder will do one exercise per each head of the shoulder muscle. So for example, you might just do side lateral raises to target the medial head.
Well, not Phil Heath… he would add another exercise in top of that just to get one-up on you. And it works for him. He’ll usually do two rear delt exercises to create a better visual appeal in the back double bicep pose.
It also helps the side chest pose to really flow on stage.
Seven is the magic number!
To give his muscles a little more firepower, Phil will often do seven sets of an exercise with 20-30 seconds of rest in between.
This makes up for a less than perfect shoulder workout or he may just do it to up the intensity big time…
Let the muscles do their job!
The temptation to max out on the poundages is always there… but for many people, this means working everything else but the actual muscles.
Well, we hate to say it but you won’t be seeing results this way. The muscles must do the work, not the joints.
So, when training your shoulders (Especially side laterals) use a weight that’s light enough to get at least 10-12 reps with but focus on the contractions.
Do high reps
Weight training is not all about lifting heavy weights. Using both low and high reps work different muscle fibers and Phil heath goes up to 20 reps with dumbbell shrugs. (6)
He does this to feel the muscle working, and not put a lot of stress on his spine from holding such heavy dumbbells.
Let’s just say… you won’t find better advice than what Phil Heath has to offer. With the second most titles in Olympia history, “The Gift” knows what it takes to build a champion-caliber physique.
His chest and shoulder development is second to none and is a reflection of his hard work and dedication in the gym.
So, now it’s your turn to apply his workouts and tips for your very own mass and strength building benefit. Remember though, each person has a unique genetic structure and therefore results will vary.
But if you apply these basic training principles, the results will be there.