James “Flex” Lewis established himself as the best 212-and-under bodybuilder when he won the 212 Showdown at the 2012 Olympia Weekend. Since that win, Lewis has remained undefeated. While it takes a great physique to win a bodybuilding contest, it’s the mind behind the muscle that gets the body into the gym and onstage to do what it does. Here FLEX the magazine talks to Flex, the man, about the mindset and training methods that have taken him to the very top of his division.
FLEX: When you started lifting, what were your workouts like?
Flex Lewis: Very primitive. Bare basics. Which is probably why I have the mindset I have. One of the first gyms I ever joined was a powerlifting gym. We had a squat rack and bench presses, and we had homemade dumbbells because one of the guys in the gym was a welder. There was a seated chest press we’d turn into a back exercise. Any piece of equipment—we’d take its conventional style, whatever it was made for, and turn it into something else.
That mindset—that you see these great bodybuilders coming out of these places without X, Y, and Z equipment— that mindset was instilled in me early on. Some guys come from very well-equipped facilities, and when they’re forced to travel and train in some hole-in-the-wall with antique pieces they bug out. Dorian Yates was a freak of nature, and he was created in a small little underground gym with no room to swing a cat, so to speak.
FLEX: Were you one of those guys who neglected entire body parts?
Flex Lewis: No, although I did fall into that thing everybody falls into: trying to keep up with your friends and peers and not stimulating the muscle you’re trying to work. For example, I’d use a lot of triceps instead of chest on the bench press.
Early on, some of my body parts blew up, like my legs. Others didn’t, like my chest. Part of that was because I was pressing with my shoulders and my triceps. Chest took a backseat not because I wasn’t training it but because I was training it wrong. I never really had someone say, “Slow yourself down, concentrate on the squeeze.” It wasn’t until I’d won a couple of shows and was traveling back and forth to the States that I said to myself, “Something isn’t right. I need to learn the essence of the mind-muscle link.”
I dropped the weights and started pressing the bar again just to get that mind-muscle connection. And I’d feel it when I was going too heavy. I could press 315 for reps, but I’d be getting a pump in my triceps and delts. It was more of a powerlifting movement. I wasn’t feeling it in my chest. So I guess I should say I wasn’t feeling it when I was going heavy. But I understood what I was doing wrong, and I was willing and able to correct it, which meant dropping a plate on each side, slowing down the reps, and concentrating on the feel.
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