FLEX: How important is proper exercise technique?
Phil Heath: It’s crucial. You have to first learn how to do exercises correctly. Then you have to constantly monitor your form to make certain you’re doing things properly for your particular body type. Everyone says practice makes perfect.
I don’t believe in that at all anymore. Perfect practice makes perfect. Otherwise you can be developing bad habits that you perpetuate in the gym every day. You show up in the gym on time, you have great intensity, you know your sets, you know your reps, you know your exercises, but yet you’re doing the actual repetition with only 50% efficiency. That means you’re developing bad habits. You’re perfecting the wrong way of training.
People talk about hitting plateaus. Well, they probably need to reevaluate their form and technique. Most of the time, people aren’t going to ask you to watch their form. They’re too proud to do that, and they’re going to assume they have it down rep after rep. But they have no way of knowing. I see guys in the gym all the time—and it’s very annoying—who have their camera phone out and making videos of themselves training. And I say, “Watch yourself. Are you actually studying it or are you admiring your work too much?” Even guys like myself, with all the videos I’ve done for FLEXonline.com and stuff, I actually watch those and critique my own form. How did that work? How can that be better? I’m always asking myself those questions. And it’s probably very little things I need to change, but I want it to be perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
FLEX: How has your back training changed since you turned pro in 2005 and people said your back was a weakness?
Phil Heath: I was a lot smaller then. I’ve been growing and improving every year. So understand that partly the changes in my back came with the changes to my entire physique—I’ve put on 40 or so pounds of muscle. I got bigger everywhere. But, as for my back, it was a question of just being smarter and understanding that it’s all about being able to produce enough constant tension to get a great pump. For me, it’s a combination of free weights and machines for back, and it’s all about the form. Once again, perfect practice makes perfect.
Because you can’t really watch your back muscles while you’re working them, you need to rely on things like videos and photos, and you need to learn what it feels like to really keep that constant tension on your lats and the other muscles. Then , when you learn that, you have to stay in that same groove rep after rep. Back work, done right, requires a lot of concentration. It’s not about just moving weights. You have to work your back and not work the weight. And then do that every rep, set after set, and just put the work in, year after year. My back has improved every year because I learned how to work it right to keep that tension on it. Once you get that down, you have to make sure you don’t lose it, and with time your back will have to grow.