Phil Heath Reveals His Top 10 Muscle Building Exercises

Phil Heath sits down with Chris Williamson to discuss his personal selection of must-do exercises for optimal muscle growth.

Phil Heath Favorite Exercises
Phil Heath Favorite Exercises (via Phil Heath/Instagram)

In the realm of bodybuilding, where every movement counts, legends like Phil Heath have the final word on what it takes to sculpt an award-winning physique. On the back of a trend where top bodybuilders name their ten must-do exercises, Heath sat down with Chris Williamson to reveal and justify his own muscle-building arsenal.

Known for his seven Mr. Olympia titles, Phil Heath has been a dominant force in the industry since the 2000s. Beyond his impressive physique, Heath has a mind finely tuned to the intricacies of bodybuilding. His decisions to favor certain exercises over others not only reflect his personal experiences but also the results that these exercises have yielded over his storied career.

Here’s the distilled wisdom from “The Gift” on the ten exercises he deems quintessential:

Phil Heath’s Tip 10 Muscle-Building Exercises

  1. Incline Dumbbell Presses
  2. Standing Dumbbell Lateral Raises
  3. One-Arm Preacher Curls
  4. Hack Squats
  5. Rope Face Pulls
  6. Rope Tricep Extension
  7. Incline Dumbbell Flye
  8. Underhand Bent-Over Barbell Rows
  9. Overhand Wide-Grip Pull-Ups
  10. Stepmill

Phil Heath also detailed why he chose each one: 

Incline Dumbbell Presses:

Heath emphasizes the versatility of dumbbells, especially for building the coveted upper pec development. The aesthetic results? A physique that’s enviable even in casual wear, like T-shirts.

“Incline presses, no question about it. Dumbbell more likely because you can do a lot with dumbbells over the barbell right? I always want that shelf up here, it looks great in t-shirts. Yeah, if you’re hitting a side shot, you want the upper pec development to exist,” said Phil Heath. “You don’t feel as much in danger in my opinion. Even when you’re doing flyes you know, you can – it just feels so good. That would be one of them.” 

Standing Dumbbell Lateral Raises:

While this exercise is often misperformed, Heath underlines the importance of form to isolate the deltoids without engaging the traps unnecessarily.

“Side laterals for sure, dumbbell lateral raise, standing for sure,” added Heath. “From the side [lifting], to the side. More just I guess that would just be with arms right? But as you did that, your traps moved. I don’t need that. I don’t want that. Lower trap, now that’s no, I just need to get it. If I’m working this I understand it’s a secondary muscle, but you end up doing this [moving the body too much]. You see it. Why is that moving? Can I deactivate it? Sure, right here [from the side using arms].” 

One-Arm Preacher Curls:

Whether on a machine or with dumbbells, Heath sees value in focusing on each arm independently. It’s a way of achieving symmetry and understanding the different strengths in each limb.

“Definitely a preacher curl. Because I can concentrate on more with one arm than two. I can also isolate and understand, why is one arm stronger than the other. Am I performing the rep the same on either arm? Now, if I’m in a fixed position I can’t tell so I need to see… I need to feel, and I need to physically see this.” 

“Oh yeah, I’m going to do that [supinated]. But I also have to recognize am I having any biceps tendon stuff and shit like that, which I actually have right now.” 

Hack Squats:

Heath recalls his times achieving substantial results with this machine, emphasizing its versatility in adjusting foot positions.

“For sure, hack squats. Oh my gosh. It just feels incredibly strong to be in that position, I love it. Yeah… I did a lot of damage on that machine. Well, you know, the platform — I can go wide, I can go at the top, I can go at the bottom, I can go narrow. I like to go a little narrow.” 

Rope Face Pulls:

Targeting the rear delts, Heath swears by face pulls, noting the ideal motion directs towards the eyes.

“Rear delts but face pulls with the rope. I love that. Yeah [eye height].”

Rope Tricep Extensions:

Using the same rope, Heath believes in the traditional downward motion for triceps development.

“Since we’re using that rope, triceps extensions.”

Incline Dumbbell Flye:

Beyond pressing, Heath highlights the stretch and contraction benefits of flyes.

“I’m actually getting a good stretch and I’m able to contract differently as well [versus incline dumbbell presses] working that same plane.” 

Underhand Bent-Over Barbell Rows:

The underhand grip offers a wider range of motion, mimicking the on-stage pose of pulling the elbows back.

“Because I’ve noticed that overhand I’m getting more – initially, you’re going to feel it more in your forearms, and I’m only going to get so much and I feel like there’s more margin for error I believe whereas if you’re coming here I don’t feel it as much. And it’s simulating what I’m doing on stage, pulling the elbows back.” 

Overhand Wide-Grip Pull-Ups:

Simple yet effective, this form of pull-up finds a spot in Heath’s list.


To carve out the legs and glutes, Heath recalls his innovative approach, using weight vests, ankle weights, and even e-stim units during cardio sessions.

“Because I can carve out the legs. I can do glutes with that. Yeah, actually I did. I wore a weight vest for… what show was that it was earlier in my career I would wear like weight vests and ankle weights. I did something that no one else ever did. I was using e-stim units while I was doing cardio. I used Compex on stepmill.” 

The art of selecting exercises isn’t unique to Heath, as other greats like Chris Bumstead and Nick Walker have also shared their go-to lists. Each list offers unique insights, but they all underline the importance of strategic exercise selection in achieving bodybuilding excellence. As for Phil Heath, even as debates about his potential return continue, his legacy in the sport remains undeniable.

If you’re interested in a deep dive into Heath’s perspective, check out the entire discussion on Chris Williamson’s YouTube channel.

Published on August 31, 2023 at 5:00 pm
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