So Many Questions: Bodybuilding's Phil 'The Gift' Heath hopes to get kids moving
Phil “The Gift” Heath
Most people would agree that snagging a Mr. Olympia title might easily be considered as the pinnacle of a professional bodybuilder's career.
Suffice to say, Phil “The Gift” Heath isn't most people.
For the two-time world champion, not even pulverizing Arnold Schwarzenegger's title record by walking away with a third win during September's Mr. Olympia competition in Las Vegas would be enough. Nope, as far as he's concerned, by the time he decides to officially retire from the sport in 10 years (at the ripe old age of 42, he says), there should be at least five, if not six, or possibly even more, Mr. Olympia titles under his belt.
Call it a relentless pursuit or an unshakable commitment, but either way, Heath is bound and determined to go the distance … although, his idea of a legacy has far more to do with another goal than it does with an acknowledgement of physical perfection.
For as much dedication and self-discipline he has for the world of professional bodybuilding, ensuring that young kids have a healthy foundation that fosters an active and healthy lifestyle and touching as many lives as possible would be his ultimate success story. Whether onstage or off, he's well aware that personal character and a respect for others are attributes that are always on display.
Question: Tell me about your daily training regimen.
Answer: Well, normally, my day starts around 5 a.m., doing 30 minutes to 1 hour of cardio. Then after that, every 2 1⁄2 hours I eat high protein meals, which can usually be calculated to 5,800-6,400 calories per day. In between all of that, I do various methods of recovery — whether it be deep-tissue massage, acupuncture, sonic treatments ... you name it. Those are key for me to recover so I can hit the weights as hard as I can. Usually, I do one if not two 90-minute weight-training regimens. Toward the end of the day, I usually finish off another 30 to 40 minutes of cardio. So, six days a week, I usually work out. I can be in there morning, noon and night, collectively up to 3 to 3 1⁄2 hours a day. They all know me at the gym.
Q: Do you ever just feel like not going to the gym?
A: More than people think. It's a job like anything — you're going to have good days and bad days. But I try to live a purpose-driven life, and I know that I signed up for this. So, it's time to suck it up. Right now I'm a two-time Mr. Olympian, so I ask myself, “Do you want to continue that, or, do I want to be average?” In my world, that doesn't exist. My world is to try to look at those bad days when you're thinking, “Gosh, I really don't want to do those squats, I really don't want to eat that, I want a break,” and really just turn that around, because maybe my competition is having a bad day, and I can get a step ahead. I think we're all creatures of habit. Usually, when you make an excuse, it's easier for you to do it again. I think it's very easy to do that, and then it becomes twice as hard for all of us. It's just owning the fact that no one put a gun up to my head and is making me do it. No one is.
Q: So for you, what's the definition of the perfect body?
A: That's hard without saying “myself!” As you can see, I have some sense of humor going on. Gosh, the easiest way to describe it is, if you ever went to a bodybuilding competition and saw the trophies, usually those awards are of a male bodybuilder in some type of pose. That trophy has all the symmetry and balance in the world.
Q: When does a bodybuilder's desire to perfect their physique turn into an unhealthy obsession?
A: For me, I try to live a balanced lifestyle. I have a wife and kids. I don't distance myself from close friends. I think what happens is that they get somewhat narcissistic and think of it as being like the old school, like “This guy lives in a dump and trains in a dump, and all he does is cuss and grunt all day in a gym.” And that's the perception most people have. Well, you're not in a prison and shouldn't put yourself in a prison. You should really enjoy it. I think a lot of guys, to get to that level, they feel like they have to give up everything in the world. And I think, stereotypically, that's where the whole “meathead” mentality comes from. For me, I try to explain to people, “Yes, I have those moments when I'm in training camp and treating it as a training camp,” but that's only for like 12 to 16 weeks out of the year. I don't want to be categorized as the guy who is so one-dimensional.
Q: People have a lot of preconceived notions about professional bodybuilders. What's one you'd like to see change?
A: Usually, people that have these stereotypes about professional bodybuilders but they never probably met a pro. It was probably some jerk who thought he was a pro with air in his chest with some tight shirt on who bullies people at the gym. We all have a responsibility to respect the people around you. Bottom line. You will soon win people over. All it takes is a smile.
Q: What happens to that body when a pro retires?
A: It all depends on the person and how bad the person beat themselves up while competing. That term, “You rest, you rust”? In this sport, it is true because the guys killed their bodies — back surgeries, neck surgeries, knee surgeries — because of all this heavy lifting. They wore their bodies out. That's why I was explaining the various types of recovery I do. Really it just comes down to trying to downshift your regimen and trying to find a new look.
Q: For you personally, what do you define as the pinnacle of success?
A: My pinnacle will not result in three (Mr. Olympian titles), it will have to be, you know, probably as many as I can get. I don't think three is going to be enough. It's gotta be more than five or six. It's gotta be at least five. I'm the only guy in the world that can challenge the record of eight, so I have to be ethical in my process to get there. But my legacy will be more dictated by how many people I touch. … Getting kids back into shape, and that type of stuff. That kind of went away. So, that's my goal. My goal is to be, and I told him this, that I want to be the black version of Jack LaLanne. So we'll see — only time will tell.
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