Olympia Weekend 2012: Phil Heath - Interview With The Defending Champ

Phil Heath is the man to beat, and he knows it. With his title defense just under the horizon, The Gift keeps on giving in this wide-ranging interview.

It all came together in 2011 for Phil Heath. In his fourth try, he finally defeated Jay Cutler and walked away with the Mr. Olympia title. A week later he did it again, besting Cutler and an Olympia-grade field in the inaugural Sheru Classic in India.

For anyone else, this would be the top of the mountain—the be-all, end-all of a stellar career. But Heath isn't done yet. The champ says it's only now, in 2012, that he has begun to hit his stride and find the "muscle maturity" he's always sought.

At 32, Heath is still the youngest of what he calls the 2012 Olympia Weekend's "four-headed monster," which also includes Branch Warren, Kai Greene, and Dennis Wolf. And he wants to send the other three noggins a message: "They are collectively going for second."

In a candid and far-reaching interview with Bodybuilding.com, Heath discusses his mental and muscular show prep, his relationship with Cutler, and his fondness for tickling the ivories to unwind.

When will you head out to Vegas for the 2012 Olympia?

I'll actually go out on Sunday and get settled in so there's no stress. I stay where I have a full kitchen and I can cook all my own meals. Well, actually my wife Jenny cooks all my meals [laughs].

When is your last day of training before the Olympia?

Wednesday will be my last day.

Editors note: Judging for Mr. Olympia begins on Friday evening at 7 p.m., and the finals are on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Do you back off the weight training as you get closer to the show?

I'll go as heavy as I can up until the contest. Obviously I'm not going to do anything stupid to injure myself.

When do you typically train, and do you try to stick to the same schedule?

I try to train late. I'm doing extra cardio now. Right now I train during the day. I'm assuming I'll be training during the day when I'm in Vegas, so right now I'm trying to get used to that schedule.

That's one thing some people are critical of when they see your videos online—that you don't train crazy or lift heavy like, say, Branch Warren. Do you think that is accurate?

I think I train hard and heavier than what most people think. I'm not trying to train with massive amounts of weights. I'm also not trying to get hurt. I think if they watched my DVDs and see the pre-online content they'd see more of it. When I'm close to the show I use mostly machines to not get injured. In my offseason, I'll train heavier but I'm trying not to get hurt. I train as smart as I can. I'm not concerned what others think. I do what works for me.

You've successfully avoided major injury in your bodybuilding career. What's the key to not getting injured?

We all have tweaks, but my ability to recover is remarkable. I know my limits and those produce good results. You have to use proper form and good technique.

What's your nutrition like before shows?

It all depends on how I look, and what I need to achieve. It's the basic protein sources such as chicken, beef and fish, but yeah, as I get closer to shows it's usually more tilapia.

What about protein shakes? When do you cut those out?

I'll usually cut those out 4-6 weeks out from a show.

I saw you tweeted something about Fantasy Football. Do you have a team?

Ha! Yeah, with football now I'm more interested. I haven't played in like six years. So far I'm 1-1 so I have a decent record. We'll see.

Who is your NFL team?

Come on, it's the Broncos. We're going to the Super Bowl.

I thought it might be the Seahawks since you grew up in Seattle.

I live in Denver. Broncos.

A number of people used to ask "Why Denver" and wonder when you'd move to L.A. Do you get that anymore?

I don't hear that anymore. I use to hear it, but I think it might have been the case 10-15 years ago. Now really, all you need is weights and a good environment.

Do you think the altitude helps your training?

I'd say the altitude does help. I'm probably in better cardiovascular condition than other bodybuilders and probably better than what people would give me credit for. I can do cardio no problem, plus I think my lung capacity is better. You have the Olympic training center here, so it certainly isn't hurting me.

What have you focused on training more this year?

I focused more on being more complete, especially in the relaxed poses. I trained heavy in the offseason to build more dense fibers. People will see a noticeable difference. I am more complete.

Did you focus on any individual part? People have said you're narrow, or your back isn't wide enough, or your chest isn't big enough.

Individual body part? I didn't think I had weak area, really. I mean, people can nitpick. I do think people will see I have a bigger chest. They saw that in the five-week-out photos that MuscleTech posted. It's no longer an issue. People will always say something, but every year I come back—and now what? I'm the only guy who has [won the Olympia] in this lineup. They have been nitpicking me since I turned pro, but you know what? Thank you. They made me realize I had work to do. I do believe I am the most complete guy out there.

How much cardio are you doing?

Up to two hours per day, but it just depends. I usually don't have to do a ton because I stay pretty lean and I don't have to kill myself. I usually only have to lose about 25 pounds or so over the course of a prep, where some other guys are losing 50 pounds or more. It's more about the food than anything, though. When it comes to cardio, yeah, my legs get tired, but it's probably more from the depletion of carbohydrates.

Speaking of weight, that's what a lot of people like to talk about. Will you be bigger this year?

I hoping I'm heavier. I know that I am bigger. I guess the proof will be on Friday and Saturday.

I know you get asked in every interview, but what have you done differently for your prep this year compared to previous years?

Everything has been the same in terms of my prep, but I take things with a greater sense of urgency. If I have to put people off, I'll go train. Before, I'd bend a bit more. This time around with all the appearances and the movie stuff, I have to step it up.

How was that experience, having a movie crew (Generation Iron) follow you around, and how long did they follow you in Denver?

They were here almost a week. They were pretty cool, and it was all pretty easy. There wasn't anything I really had to change with my schedule and they were cool. It was easy and they didn't screw up my prep at all. Obviously it would be a bigger, better movie if I win, so they wouldn't want to mess with my prep. We did some lifestyle shots and they followed me around.

So you won't be taking anyone's shirt backstage?

Well, Arnold didn't do that. Wasn't it Ken Waller who took Mike Katz's shirt? So maybe someone will do something like that, but I don't think anyone will take Branch Warren's shirt. Ha.

How has it been being Mr. Olympia versus years past? Have you had more distractions?

No, I'd say it's the complete opposite. Sure, certain things get put on hold when I get into the end of my prep, but I'd say I've done more outside of bodybuilding than people realize. I had articles in GQ and SLAM—that was pretty big. I've had a lot of local television appearances and some cool things with the local radio and TV people. I've been on V around the world, such as Moscow. I'd say collectively my visibility went up tenfold. It hasn't been a struggle, and I don't mind doing appearances. I think I'm the best ambassador for the sport.

Looking back on your first show, what do you see?

I laugh. I can see why people were laughing when I walked out on stage. I didn't know what I was doing and didn't know how to train as a bodybuilder. It's no different than when I was a kid and saw that guy playing basketball. You saw him and said 'this guy has a good chance being in the NBA.' Those who saw my first show saw that in me. You can look at it now and see it.

Do you and Hany [Rambod, Heath's trainer/nutritionist] follow the same plan each time?

Yeah, this will be my fifth time at the Olympia. Our blueprint goes against conventional wisdom at times. We usually have a foundation of what we're looking for, though, and obviously I want to be conditioned. The key is not losing body parts and to stay full. It is one thing to stay hard, but you also have to be full, and your muscles have to be round. We try to be the best of both. I think we have the best of both.

Do you do cardio at home?

I do, but if you don't have cardio at your house you have to go to the gym. So luckily I have a key to the gym. Dylan Armbrust gave me a key to the gym, so there are some times I have to go to the gym, like when I had no power. There were actually a couple of times I fell asleep at the gym on accident after a workout, but it was still late enough, so I went home and caught some sleep.

You train at Armbrust Pro Gym, which is known in Denver as being bodybuilder-friendly. How are people at the gym during your prep? Do they bug you or leave you alone, especially since you're Mr. Olympia?

The culture at the gym is unique. They all really understand and don't want to bother me. They leave me alone during my prep. People will say hi, but they know I am focused. I think they enjoy Mr. Olympia training at the same gym they do. Every once in awhile you get a new member who wants to talk. Someone usually tells them you have to catch me when I'm walking in or when I'm done. It's a good atmosphere.

In the past you've had adversity come up while prepping for a show, like your car breaking down. Anything like that come up?

Well, last year the building where my cardio and gym is at home had no power to it. I was trying to get it repaired, and they were digging up my whole yard and it cost me like five grand to get it fixed. Long story short: You will have adversity. It's just how you deal with it.

What's the key to staying healthy while depleting?

You have to make sure everything is clean. Make sure when prepping food that everything is clean. Anyone with any viruses or who is sick stays away.

Are there any supplements you take to help from getting sick?

You have to stay on top of your minerals. I definitely stay on top of my Vitamin C. You just have to hope that nothing happens. Just put yourself in the best position to be healthy.

How about social media? Do you like twitter more than Facebook?

Yeah, I'd probably say twitter. @philheath

You are usually active on Twitter, but not as much lately. Is that on purpose?

I think it's important to disconnect with the public in order to go where I've never been. I have to be very, very focused. It's great for the positive attention, but it's also a distraction. You can't be around people who appease you all the time. At the same time there will be some who throw a little bit of hate your way. You have to focus on your craft. I'm taking this serious. I'm the same guy and will be back for more after the Olympia and Sheru Classic.

How do people know they are
 talking to the real Phil Heath?

I'm the only verified member in bodybuilding that I know of. There's the blue check mark. PHILHEATH is my twitter ID. You can go on

my website, http://phillipheath.com, to ensure

you have the right one by clicking on the icons.

Actually, I'm filling out paperwork, and my lawyer is

contacting a guy who has been impersonating me on

Facebook. I know when you type in my name there are a lot of different Facebook pages, but the one that is mine is linked from my website ...

You're a bit of a gamer. Do you play during your prep or shut it all down?

Shut it all down. This time: no video games. Actually, I bought a keyboard and started playing piano again. I'll play 20-30 minutes to goof off and think about nothing. That's kind of been a saving grace and my new hobby. I guess it's not new, but I picked it back up again. I grew up playing for 8 years and then stopped for 10, and then just picked it up again.

Is it like riding a bike, or are you a bit rusty?

I'm a little rusty. I realize I need to take lessons again. I think it will be good, though. I'm more mature this time around and I utilize more time and ask questions.

Before, I would play for 30 minutes and then play basketball. I was much better then, but it will all come back.

What do you play?

It all depends. Lately I'll look up stuff on YouTube and play, but nothing in particular. Just depends.

Do you still get massages and acupuncture?

Yeah, I get massages twice per week. Usually deep tissue, but it's more about making sure everything with my body is on point. I also go to the chiropractor four days per week. We just make sure everything is on point.

Do you ever watch the UFC and follow your fellow Team MuscleTech athlete Jon Jones? Think he'll win this weekend?

Yeah, I do watch a little. When I get a chance I do watch. The thing is, I don't have much time. When it comes to him I know he's going to win. I don't want to say I'm not interested, but it's a lot less interesting knowing he will win. It's becoming "Who can beat him?"

You tweeted that you couldn't wait to play your Olympia posing music. Will it be different this year?

My routine will always be pretty much the same, you know, with high energy. This year, I'm very excited about it. The first two minutes, and really the whole routine, is who I am. It's about who I wanted to become: the champion. It's a champion routine, and that's what I always wanted to be. I think people will like it.

Do you feel more pressure this year being the champion?

I think the expectations have been high since I turned pro. I think the biggest difference is that I will be better than I was last year. As far as pressure goes, I stay away from media. I let them talk about me winning or losing. It's not rocket science. They are going to talk about me winning or not winning. I can't be concerned about other people. I'm just being the best I can.

You'll be heading to India again this year after the Olympia. What was the toughest part of competing in back-to-back shows, especially one across the world?

It was tough with the Olympia. You win, you don't sleep. I mean I didn't sleep. I was on cloud nine. I think maybe I slept like three hours total over a few days. I was still running on adrenaline. There won't be much to do in India, so I'll rest a bit in between eating.

Does the long flight bother you?

No, I just get up and walk around on long flights. It helps me stay away from any water retention.

This will be the first time you haven't shared the stage with four-time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler. A number of people like to say you guys are training partners and he's your mentor, but that's not totally true, is it?

People fail to realize that we've only really trained together a handful of times. He was never really my mentor, but we both shared life decisions. He has a blueprint that worked for him. Early on I think, he and I allowed everyone to kind of let us be the teacher/student, and we didn't elaborate. He's been one of my biggest supporters, and has always had that level of professionalism. I'd say he's been a role model more than mentor to me. I check in all the time with him; he'll text me something like "You better be kicking butt," but it's more for motivation, and it happens to come from the four-time Mr. Olympia. He has a great legacy and has always been supportive throughout this whole experience.

What did you think of Jay signing with BPI Sports? And have you talked to him about him competing in the Olympia next year?

We haven't chatted about any of that. I'm obviously happy for him—happy for him to make money. Really I'm hoping to get a chance to chat and hang out when we are in India. I'm hoping I'm a two-time Mr. Olympia, and we can catch up then. I'm happy for what he has going on. All he has done is right by me.

Jay had kind of become your rival, or at least that's how many wanted to portray it. Do you think Branch, Kai, Dennis, or someone else is your new rival?

It's kind of the three-headed monster—well, four
if you count me. I want to make it so clear that
I am the winner, and that they are collectively going
for second. That's my job. I don't care who it is next to me.
I've beat 'em all before and will again. I'm still growing. I started
to hit my stride this year. I haven't had the muscle maturity hit
until now.

Do you and Jay stay in touch?

We keep in touch, but not a whole lot. We are just very busy.
It's just not who he is. You know when he likes you. I just
feel like we're friends, and he has given me my space.
Friends give me my space, and actually it's more
supportive by not texting or calling, which may
sound weird. You know, just check in on me or send
thoughts and prayers. I know my friends will be
cheering for me and I'll have lots of support. I don't have
to have someone calling me up and training with me.

Who are your sponsors
you'd like to thank?

MuscleTech, Weider/AMI, Red Bird Farms, SmartShake, EnergyCare, Schiek, and RYU clothing.

Anything new planned in your
clothing line? And where can people see you at the Olympia?

I will have a whole new line of clothing: Gifted Athletics. I actually have a Gifted Athletics booth. It's near the MuscleTech booth. I'll be at the MuscleTech booth and there. We have a lot of cool stuff like new shirts. Some lifestyle stuff—clothing you feel comfortable in.

Thanks for your time, and all the best in your title defense.

Thank you, and thanks to all the fans who will be there or watching on the webcast.

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