Back On Top: Flex Lewis Lives Up To His Name

What cutting-edge nutritional techniques has Flex Lewis been using to carve his canyon-like cuts? What miraculous training methods has he employed to develop his muscular thickness? Read on to find out.

Back On Top

Pro bodybuilder James "Flex" Lewis has a lot to be happy about these days. Yet to hit his 30s, the man known for his flawless development and some of the thickest muscle size this side of Branch Warren is steadily working towards Olympia supremacy, his shredded physique currently serving as an able benchmark for the IFBB's 202-pound division.

Sponsored, fittingly enough, by FLEX magazine, Flex has already proven that he can hold his own against the IFBB's best, as evidenced with his stunning victory at the British Pro Grand Prix in March. Already famous for his improbably massive wheels and picture perfect symmetry, he has added a new dimension to his game, one that will no doubt have him battling for first at this year's Mr. Olympia in September: freakily shredded conditioning.

In 2008 he burst onto the pro scene with an impressive second-place finish at the Tampa Bay Pro Bodybuilding Weekly Championships, a worthy debut shortly followed by an even greater showing at the Europa Super Show, where he snatched his first pro victory. Third place at the Olympia capped off a stellar year for Wales' greatest ever bodybuilding export.

In 2009 Flex faltered slightly with his fifth-place finish at the Mr. Olympia, a show many were picking him to win. As persistent and stubborn as he is, this result only served to fuel his motivational fire, and 2010 was spent training like a demon, the results of which we are now seeing in all their Technicolor splendor.

So just what cutting-edge nutritional techniques has this new-and-improved version of Flex Lewis been using to carve some of the deepest canyon-like cuts ever seen on a pro bodybuilding stage? What miraculous training methods has he employed to develop muscular thickness worthy of any pro bodybuilding lineup? The answer may surprise many. Read on to find out.

Q: You will be competing in the New York Pro in four weeks from today's date. How is your training going so far for this event, Flex?

Flex: After the British and Spanish Grand Prix events, I took some down time. I changed my training a little. I took some time away so my training has only picked up over the last couple of weeks. I was ready, though; I never get too far out of condition in the offseason anyway. In the words of Neil [Hill, Flex's trainer] I was three weeks ahead of myself. My training and cardio have been relatively easy.

Well, the cardio side of things has been; it has been 30 minutes in the morning, and I'm sure it is going to pick up in the next couple of weeks. But at four weeks out I already have striated glutes. What we don't want to do is burn too much muscle going into the show.

I never get too far out of condition in the offseason.
+ Click To Enlarge.
GASP? Yes, we all just did.

Q: Making improvements at pro level can be very difficult, but you appear to be consistently presenting your best shape each time you compete. Most fans will agree that compared with 2009, this year's version of Flex Lewis is vastly improved. What allowed you to make such rapid progress in one year?

A: Just predominantly going back to dropping the weight down. Again, I come from a powerlifting background, so I enjoy lifting heavy. Pretty much I was lifting the weight for weight's sake in some cases, so I went back to a lot of the basic exercises: for example, for back I returned to T-Bar rows and bent-over rows, the old-school movements.

People don't often gain from these because they don't use correct form; they just pull the bar and throw the weight around. Me and my training partner, Shawn Barber, actually focused on dropping the weight back and squeezing and isolating all muscle groups, not just back. And his gains have been phenomenal; he actually recently won the Mr. Tennessee and overall.

And obviously working with Neil Hill as well. I do a lot of my own stuff in the offseason, but I do follow his Y3T practices. We do a lot of unique exercises with Neil, and I think the proof is in the pudding.

Q: What does Neil's approach offer that other training methods may not have given you in the past?

A: He scolds me about training too heavy. My weight now has actually gone up with good form. Not that I was ever in the gym purely lifting for ego's sake. I feel I am a humble bodybuilder, but in the gym, I am a different animal, so it was a case of me realizing that sometimes you don't need to be lifting stupid amounts of weight to be growing: you are a bodybuilder, not a powerlifter.

There is a fine line, too, that you can walk with regards to losing form when doing extra reps. So, cut the weight back and isolate it more. I am using my head more as I continue in this game [pro bodybuilding], and I want to be in the game for a long time. And I actually moved away from a lot of the drama.

I now live in Tennessee and we have a lot of bodybuilders and people in the industry here but it is a whole different animal. We have 70 competitors that we are training, including Brandon Curry and a lot of fitness and figure pros. It is the southern hospitality, and I don't need to be in a certain area to be a professional bodybuilder. I like to have balance in my life and I feel that by living away from certain areas I have that balance and this has allowed me to improve as much as I have done for this year.

Q: You have been more settled on a personal level going into the 2011 pro season?

A: Most definitely; I have had a whole new mindset going into this year's shows. The key word has been balance. I believe you grow when you are happy. I have my businesses here in Tennessee outside of the sport, and I am involved in other things that take me away from bodybuilding.

I'm heavily involved with traveling. Every weekend or every other weekend I'm traveling for bodybuilding, so I have become a better bodybuilder partly by finding that balance and not being around the sport 24/7.

Q: One difficulty many pro bodybuilders face is peaking several times throughout the year. Has achieving competition shape at regular intervals ever been a problem for you?

A: I actually get better as these shows go on, but I have never had a gap as long as this before. Normally I have had a one- or two-week gap between shows. Truth be known, the New York Pro hasn't been an easy prep because I had come off my training-to give it a slight rest for two to three weeks-then had to get back on the training and cardio. Even though I eat clean, it has been hard on my body.

I have never suffered from shin splints at this stage in the past, only in the beginning stages of my cardio, transitioning from the offseason to pre contest; but it [shin splints] has been with me since my first show this year. I'm fighting through it and it has been a little difficult. But those who know me know I'm a stubborn bugger, and it won't deter me from aiming for number one.

I think everything in life has a story, and it is just another mountain to climb going into [the 2011 New York Pro]. I had plenty of mountains to climb going into the last show, so I have just surrounded myself with people who have kept me in the zone.

Q: Has your mental approach to training and competing changed since 2009?

A: I'm more mature. It is a maturity that has come through pitfalls and tribulations and, again, I think the biggest thing since 2009 is that I have more life experience and a whole new mindset for the 2011 year.

Q: Do you think you are the most motivated you have ever been to succeed this year? You certainly appear to be so.

A: I'm extremely motivated. I'm a motivated individual anyway. With anything I have ever done, I have always gone out of the gates with too much force. That's why I am so blessed to have Neil Hill behind me. He pulls my reigns back quite a lot of the time. So in 2011 I have learned to have that balance and relax more and just let the cardio and the training do their thing.

Because the training has never been a problem; it has just been too much of it, living in the gym in the past. Thinking more cardio was better. Learning to listen to my body more and communicating with Neil more gave me a formula going into 2011. And this has resulted in added muscle.

Q: Making steady improvements is obviously a good thing but it can backfire if the pressure associated with it is not handled correctly. When a bodybuilder such as yourself improves, there is often added pressure to perform, to meet certain expectations the fans and judges have of you. Do you feel such pressure now that you have stepped up and shown your best size and conditioning yet?

A: I have always put pressure on myself to succeed. In these 2011 shows there was a lot of pressure, which was down to the fact that I had time off. There have been bodybuilders that have had time off only to come back looking the same, if not worse. I always underestimate myself so this year I put a lot of pressure on myself.

But with Gaspari Nutrition and Weider Nutrition being behind me, they have given me a big chance and obviously had a lot of faith in me during the time I had off. I know with some companies the sponsorships are very limited. So I had to come back with a bang, and I felt that pressure to do so. It pushed me hard in the gym and in life.

Q: At this year's British Grand Prix, you were one of the more shredded competitors onstage. How did you address you cardio so as to arrive in probably your best shape ever?

A: [I did] about 30 to 40 minutes in the morning and another 30 minutes before bed of hard, extensive cardio. I let the food and the training do its work. So I pretty much had three intervals of calorie burning: one [cardio: 30 to 40 minutes] in the morning, training [with weights] mid-afternoon, and cardio again before bed. The cardio was regular intensity while keeping the heart rate high, and was done twice a day, every day, regardless.

Q: How did you plan your nutrition this year?

A: My diet is very consistent; there is nothing fancy and no tricks to it. Just very basic. I think many bodybuilders and nutritionists get too creative when basic works best. Look at Dorian Yates--he did the same thing every single day, and it worked for him. So there were no nutritional changes this year. I was taking my Gaspari supplements all the way up until the end.

In fact, I had more calories going in [to each 2011 show]. We actually kept the Gaspari SizeOn Max Precontest and Carbohydrate formulas. There was nothing to be changed because my bodyweight was coming down nicely and slow and I was improving.

Q: And you will continue this supplement regime going into this year's New York Pro?

A: Exactly, correct.

Q: What changes did you make to your training this year to ensure that you were in your best shape come competition time?

A: Nothing, I have kept it exactly the same as in the offseason. A few more isolation exercises to bring out some detail but that's pretty much it.

Q: You made amazing changes to your physique for this year's pro season, especially with regard to your back size and detail. Surely you must have done something different compared to 2009.

A: No, not really mate. The only thing I did was to drop my calories after training and just went back to greens postworkout. Some days Neil would throw in a high-carb day, which was clean [carb sources], nothing crazy. Cardio was kept basic; I don't do any cardio in the offseason, and my weight here went up to its heaviest ever at 250 and I was really lean.

We started [training for the British Grand Prix] 20 weeks out, just changing the diet. We added in cardio around about 10 weeks out. At about six weeks out, I was about 215 [pounds], which is the weight I am now. So what we did then was change a couple of things around and added the secondary cardio [the 30- minute session before bed].

Right now I'm still doing cardio once a day but it will change to two times soon, and as soon as it does, my weight will start dropping down. So there has been nothing crazy; everything has been kept consistent.

Q: Looking ahead, winning the Olympia would seem the ultimate goal for you. Is this something you will be gunning for come September?

A: I always set the bar so high; I always aim for a goal that is obtainable, but that I have to work my ass off to get. This year was focused on one and one show only. I was winning the British Grand Prix; that was my Mr. Olympia. We ended up doing [the IFBB Mr. Europe Grand Prix] two weeks after that, which I had no intentions of doing. I only decided to do it on the Monday after the British Grand Prix.

So me and Neil made a game plan and jumped into the Europe Grand Prix, and I placed third. The New York Pro--which is my focus now--has required another game plan. So in terms of the Olympia I never look past the show I'm training for. So once the New York Pro is over with, of course my sights will be on training for the Mr. Olympia.

And just like anyone who fights or is going for the Super Bowl ring, my goal is to win. I wouldn't be doing the 202 class if I didn't believe I could win that show. It is not an egotistical thing; it's about being confident and training for first place. Again, a boxer or an MMA fighter doesn't compete to get knocked out.

In my heart of hearts, I believe I can win [the 202-pound class at the 2011 Mr. Olympia]. I train hard every day, eat when I need to eat, and do what I need to do to one day get my hand lifted as the 202-Olympia winner.

Flex Lewis' Top Tips For Shredding

  1. Quality nutrition for quality gains. Flex has occasional high-carbohydrate days, but the food he eats always represents of clean calories.
  2. Twice-daily cardio (30 to 40 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes before bed), beginning three to four weeks out from the show. Daily cardio is done leading up to this point, pre contest.
  3. Supplement for success. Flex uses Gaspari Nutrition supplements precontest and offseason with an emphasis on high-quality protein products first thing in the morning, intra-training, post-training and before bed to stoke protein synthesis.
  4. Maintain a balanced life inside and outside of the gym. Have outside interests and activities to take your mind off the rigors of precontest dieting and training.
  5. Take the ego out of the equation: Lower training weights and focus on form to establish the mind/muscle connection necessary for complete, ripped muscular development.
  6. Set the bar high: Train to be number one and do not accept second best.
  7. Hit the basic exercises: Do not shy from old school movements such as T bar rows for optimal mass and detail.

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.