I have known James 'Flex' Lewis
since his first visit to the USA back at the 2005 Olympia Weekend. Did I know at the time that the nervous 21-year-old with the Welsh accent so thick I could hardly understand him would be the best 212 Pro in the world as well as one of the most popular athletes in the sport one day? No, my prediction skills aren't nearly that good (the lighter weight division wouldn't even exist for another four years). I wished him well, because I knew that as tough as we like to think it is to turn pro in the USA, it's much more difficult in the United Kingdom. I won't go into detail with all the opportunities US citizens have, because those of you who compete in the NPC are well aware - now even the top two in each class at our NPC Nationals turns pro. In the UK, only one man gets an IFBB Pro card every year, their Overall British Champion.
Rich Gaspari saw so much potential in Flex that he signed him in 2006 as Gaspari Nutrition's first athlete, a year before he turned pro. Since then, Flex has grown along with the company. Last year, he was a very controversial runner-up to Kevin English at the 202 Showdown at the Mr. Olympia, and this year he finally got the big title, now called the 212 Showdown since the weight limit had been increased ten pounds.
Flex is a guy I have always wanted to train with. I'd heard secondhand from others like Rich Gaspari how hard he worked in the gym, and I too am all about hard work. The kid has tremendous genetics, but when I first met him all that really stood out were his legs, especially the calves, and his Popeye forearms. It took Flex a few years to bring up his upper body, and his chest and back in particular have been challenging. I point all this out because it's easy to look at him now and downplay his accomplishments because he's a 'genetic freak.' That he may be, but he was not gifted equally all over.
Until recently Flex lived in Tennessee, but since ending a marriage there a while back, he has recently relocated to Florida. With me being in Boston, there were few opportunities to train with him. The only times we were ever in the same place at the same time were at the Arnold or the Olympia, and he's always either competing or working the Gaspari booth. Plus, as a general rule I don't train when I go to those things. I'm busy working, and I'm so far off my normal meal and sleep schedule that it makes far more sense to just take a few days off.
But right now, Flex is on a tour of gyms and supplement stores. This week he was in Brooklyn, New York, Sheldon, Connecticut, and yesterday in Rhode Island. Since I am on the South Shore of Boston and only 45 minutes from where he was going to be, we arranged to train in the afternoon before his appearance was scheduled to begin. Flex invited our mutual friend Jose Raymond to come down with me. They have different sponsors. Flex is with FLEX magazine and Gaspari Nutrition, while Jose is with MD magazine and MHP. They are bitter rivals on stage, but the best of friends the rest of the time.
I had to break one of my 'rules' this week and train four days in a row so that I could sync up bodyparts and be able to train shoulders with Flex yesterday, but it was well worth making an exception. How many of you would turn down an opportunity to train with a guy like Flex because it didn't perfectly mesh with your schedule of training and rest days? My momma didn't raise no fools!
Flex has hardly trained since his last contest, the pro show in Prague, Czech Republic on October 27 (his third win in four weeks). Of course, you would never know it looking at him. He was 225 pounds at 5-5, and still very lean. Flex eats clean year-round anyway, and I have never seen him out of shape. Jose had not touched a weight since the British Grand Prix on October 20, but of course he too was still huge and strong as a bull.
We started off with some warm-up sets on a seated lateral raise machine, which both Jose and I usually do in our own workouts to get blood flowing. I had been worried that picking shoulders to train this day was a bad idea, as my left shoulder has been acting up lately. That's the same shoulder I had surgery on just over a year ago. Oddly enough, I did have some pain during the machine warm-ups, but after that I was fine.
The first exercise was standard seated dumbbell presses. We went up to 100's, which was plenty for me. Both Flex and Jose easily could have done more, but neither is pushing anywhere near 100% right now as they rest up from the 2012 contest season.
Flex is a man who experiments and innovates in the gym, plus he has also picked up quite a few things from Neil 'Yoda' Hill and Rich Gaspari. As such, I suggested he pick the rest of the exercises. I would like to describe them, but it would be much easier to show you. The next time I train delts, I will make a couple short video clips and post them to my YouTube channel, RonHarrisMuscle. If you're not subscribed to it yet, it takes only a few seconds.
I hadn't planned on sticking around, but Flex and Gaspari Nutrition's Tom Hoops invited us out to dinner, so Jose and I waited while Flex greeted his fans for two hours. After that we headed over to a nearby Texas Roadhouse Grill and enjoyed a huge post-workout meal.
It was a blast to be able to train with Flex at long last, and spend a little time later on relaxing and talking over dinner. He's come a long, long way since I first met him and it's been amazing watching him grow and mature on several different levels since then.
Tomorrow I am heading up to the benefit for bodybuilder Brandon Doherty in his battle against cancer:
Saturday, Dec 1
1500 Lafayette Road
1 PM to 4 PM
I hope to see a lot of you New England area guys and girls up there!