Phil Pfister was born in the city of Duluth Minnesota. His parents both worked as physicians, with his father working as an internist and his mother working as a pediatrician. Unlike many of the great strongmen, Pfister was not at all interested in sports as a young man. Throughout high school Pfister did not pursue any athletic pursuits outside of skateboarding and jet skiing. He went on to West Virginia State College where he initially planned to study as a pre-med student. However Phil lacked enough interest in the subject to dedicate himself to the coursework, eventually getting a Board of Regents degree and leaving the academic field.
He continued on to become a firefighter. Phil enjoyed the idea of being a firefighter due to the freedom it allowed him to have in the rest of his life. It was in this time that Phil began doing what would bring him great success, strongman competitions. Training in the gym at his fire station Phil began to love training for the events. Making use of his competitive spirit, Pfister would achieve an impressive 4th place finish in the 1998 Worlds Strongest Man, his first shot at the legendary title. Competing again in subsequent competitions Phil couldn't quite overcome his competition, which included the likes of Zydrunas Savikas, Magnus Samuelsson and the on-fire champion, Mariusz Pudianowski. Phil pledged during the Hercules Hold in 2001 that he would be the man to bring the title of World's Strongest Man back to America, a feat not successfully done in over 20 years (last done by the great Bill Kazmaier).
Despite this bold promise, Phil would not be seen in the finals of World's Strongest Man for five years. This absence was broken when Pfister returned for the 2006 World's Strongest Man. Looking stronger and more determined than ever before a very serious Pfister faced a strong field of athletes which included Mariusz Pudianowski looking to make history with a fourth World's Strongest Man win. Mark Felix and Pudzianowski initially put on a powerful performance, but Phil would make the most of day two, closing to within a point and a half of The Dominator Pudzianowski. After making a stunning run the Car Walk, an event thought to be an ace for Mariusz, the final result would be determined entirely by the iconic Atlas Stones. Both men struggled with the stones but Pfister managed to just edge Pudzianowski and make good on his promise to defeat the field and bring the title back to the United States once more. Pfister brought the trophy home to the United States for the first time in 24 years.
After this competition Phil would compete a few times more, though he never reached the podium again. His legacy as America's champion would be passed on to Brian Shaw, who would follow up on Pfister's success. Phil continued to lift and pursue his career as a firefighter. He now works as an experienced commentator for the World's Strongest Man televised broadcasts. In 2008 Pfister also appeared on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? and won $25,000 and a 2005 Tony Jaa film, The Protector.