08/02/2021 0 Comments

The seven-time Mr. Olympia champ shares his favorite moves for an award-winning back

Citation By Joe Wuebben

Is Phil Heath’s back-training philosophy all about going as heavy as possible with high-intensity and high volume? No. In fact, his top priority is back health.

“My overall approach to back training is knowing that a bigger muscle is a strong muscle; however, back health is No. 1 for you to be able to do this,” says Heath. “Sometimes you have to crawl before you walk. So when getting ready for a show, for me it’s all about time under tension and gradually building up. By the end of the prep I’m actually at my strongest. My body is now more mature to where I can handle that kind of poundage throughout. But it’s all because I take a very disciplined, detailed approach.”

Check out the 7-time Mr. Olympia’s back-breaking workout, which he’ll hope carries him to a record-tying eighth title this December in Las Vegas.


Neutral Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown48-12
Plate-loaded Lat Pulldown Machine48-12
Reverse-grip Lat Pulldown38-12
Barbell Bentover Row (underhand grip)410
Seated Cable Row38-12
Machine Pullover410-12
Weighted Back Extension410
**Rest 30 seconds between sets, per FST-7 protocol.**

NOTE: This workout was designed by Hany Rambod, creator of FST-7. “Phil is posing in between every set to really maximize time under tension,” says Rambod. “So he’ll do a front- or rear-lat spread or a back double-biceps shot between sets during his back workout.”


Ready to give the heavy iron a rest? Put your own bodyweight to work—and start forging that six-pack—with these challenging, core-strength-enhancing moves.

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Phil’s Philosophy:

“This wide neutral bar will actually work the outer lats, but then as you go down it works the middle of the back. I’ve always liked this bar because I feel like it adds good detail to the mid-back. The neutral grip will help you focus on where your elbows are. You may not be able to use as much weight as you can with other attachments, but instead of getting discouraged, keep doing it. Let’s master this one. Where I’m at right now, I look at a different attachment like this one almost like a martial artist who says, ‘OK, I’m good at the staff. Now I’m working on the sword or the nunchucks.’ These are all things I’m trying to master in my arsenal so I can be the best bodybuilder in the world.”

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Bodybuilder and Mr Olympia Phil Heath working out his lats with a plate loaded lateral pulldown machine


Phil’s Philosophy:

“I feel like this machine really locks me into a good position. A lot of times when you get to using heavy weight on lat pulldowns, your form starts to get out of whack a little bit and you start swinging. On this one, even if momentum starts to take over, as you pull down, the seat brings you up to where you finish in the correct position. So it kind of corrects you; it’s like having stability-tracking control on your car. You may do something foolish with your form, but this machine is going to keep you in check. And if you can keep your form good, you’re going to get a great contraction on this one.”

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Phil’s Philosophy:

“I’ve noticed with underhand movements I can use my arms as hooks. You can use straps, but the reverse grip really allows you to focus on things like, ‘Where are my elbows at?’ I’m just going to use my arms and hands as hooks and pull down with these elbows, not leaning back too far, and I’m going to pull so far down that I’m going to really figure out where that sweet spot is. With an overhand grip, you may not be able to feel it as much because the forearms and biceps are more involved. The last thing you want is for your forearms to give out; that means your lats are getting 50% of the actual tension.”

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Phil’s Philosophy:

“I use the underhand grip basically to add more sweep from the lower lats all the way up. I usually use somewhat of a shoulder-width grip and try to pull the bar right into the belly button and get a good contraction there at the top. This is the exercise I started using in 2007—because I needed more sweep. I knew I wasn’t going to be the structurally widest guy, but I knew I could develop rounder muscles. Most of the competitors I go against won’t have that sweep. So working from the bottom, doing an underhand grip on rows, I feel like that’s been really good for me. Overhand is always a good way to do it, too, but I feel with underhand I get better contractions as well as a greater range of movement.”

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Phil’s Philosophy:

“With this exercise I really want to focus on getting a good stretch at the bottom. So on that negative, you’re in the stretching movement, and then as you pull all the way up, you put your back upright—just as you would do if you were actually rowing out to sea. The goal is to be upright, not so far back, at the end of the movement to get the best contraction. You have to find where your sweet spot is, the point at which you’re getting the most contraction, and then you have to be able to hold that for a one-count. If you can actually do that, that’s real strength right there.”

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Phil’s Philosophy:

“This machine is interesting because it actually has different handles, both on the outside and inside. I use the inside grips because I’m able to get that sweep just like with the underhand barbell row. And then I’m kind of at an angle going down, and it’s all about the stretch. So I’m getting a good stretch at the bottom, it’s a full range of movement, but I’m also able to pull back farther with the elbows at the top. As I said with the pullovers, back exercises are usually controlled more with the elbows than the hands and biceps. Every time we do a back double biceps or a back lat spread onstage, we’re pulling back with the elbows to show that Christmas tree. So this exercise is what I imagine every time. And what’s cool about this particular machine is that, as I pull toward my body, the grip actually gets wider.”

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Bodybuilder Phil Heath doing upperbody workouts with a seated pullover machine exercise


Phil’s Philosophy:

“This exercise was added to my routine because of the width I wanted to add to the rib cage. I could have gone with a dumbbell pullover, but on this machine, I noticed I could pull more with my elbows. A lot of times, people want to use their hands to pull down on that bar. But I’m getting a good stretch by letting the pads push my elbows back. And when you’re pulling down, your hands are guiding it but not pulling it. Pulling with the elbows is putting emphasis on the lats. If you don’t pull down with the elbows, you’re hitting more triceps.”

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Phil’s Philosophy:

“I don’t do deadlifts hardly ever, and I realized I need good etching in the lower back and I need to have a strong lower back to do heavy rows. So I started doing these back extensions with added weight. Not much to it—just hold that plate and make sure you’re going slow and steady on the way down and squeezing the muscles as you go up and at the top. You can also do some reps with the plate and then drop it and do some more. And when you’re doing the reps without the plate, pull your elbows back as if you’re doing a row. That’s an advanced movement for guys who want to get a little bit extra out of the exercise.”