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A is for Ali Rosen.
She’s an IFBB pro bikini winner, registered dietitian, and Lewis’ fiancée. Rosen and Lewis plan to marry next February.
B is for Back.
Like Phil Heath, Lewis possesses narrow clavicles, which limit his lat width. But also like the five-time Mr. O, this four-time 212 O champ made the crucial rear double-biceps pose his “lights out” winner by accentuating all the components others neglect—traps, rhomboids, lat density, spinal erectors—and that’s before we even get to his superb lower body. Let’s take just one area, his spinal erectors, which are arguably the best in the IFBB Pro League. Many bodybuilders neglect this body part, but not the Welsh Dragon. In each back workout, he gives it a special focus with power-rack deadlifts and intensely contracted back extensions.
C is for Calves.
Before he was the world’s best 212-or-under bodybuilder, even before anyone outside his family and friends in Wales knew his name, he had those calves. Lower legs were always a strong point, and now on the Olympia stage, they give his physique a finished look from every angle. Lewis works his gastrocnemius and soleus with a variety of exercises and techniques, but this is a typical triset routine (done for four rotations of 15 to 30 reps per set): calf press, seated calf raise, standing calf raise.
D is for Dragon.
A red dragon adorns the national flag of Wales, and mythical basilisks have been associated with Flex’s native land for nearly three millennia. He adopted the moniker “the Welsh Dragon” as a proud tribute to his heritage.
E is for Experimentation.
“My first gym had a limited amount of equipment,” Lewis remembers. “So I learned how to turn a chest machine into a back machine, a leg press into a shoulder press, and on and on. I was always experimenting, and I still am.” As just one example, he uses a seated calf machine for one-arm rows, which he named “dragon rows.”
F is for Florida.
After years living in California, Nevada, and Tennessee, Lewis settled in southeastern Florida in 2013. He and Rosen, who are now expectant parents, own a home near Fort Lauderdale.
G is for Glutes.
The bestindication of high-def contestconditioning is cross-striations in the posterior. Those horizontal cracks are another quality that give Lewis his winning edge. “There’s always been plenty of muscle there,” he avers, “and I don’t do any specific exercises to bring my glutes in. It comes with the diet and the cardio and posing, posing, and more posing. I tense my glutes hard every time I strike a pose. It helps bring in that area, but it also reminds me to stay tight all over. Ifyour glutes are flexed, you’re going tokeep your whole body tight.”
H is for Humor.
“I always take bodybuilding seriously, but I never want to take myself too seriously,” Lewis explains. One quality that separates the Welsh Dragon from many in the bodybuilding world is his perpetual good cheer, including a healthy strain of self deprecation. This, in turn, has helped fuel his immense popularity with fans. Despite his bodybuilding superstardom, his humble and affable nature comes across in everything from his tweets to his seminars to his victory interviews.
I is for Intensity.
“The key isn’t how many reps you do, the key is how hard you’re working the muscle,” the Welsh Dragon states. “A lot of people think sets of three or four reps that are really heavy are harder than 15 to 20 reps with a lighter weight. But if you do three reps, you get in and you get out. I want to keep the set going, keep the tension on the muscle. That’s the hard work that makes you grow.” For a period Lewis followed the high-intensity philosophy of fellow British legend Dorian Yates, and even now Lewis says he sometimes “dabbles” in HIT. But he’ll also do five-exercise giant sets for triceps (20 reps per exercise) for a total of 100 reps without rest. Whether taking the low road or the highway, the one constant is maximizing intensity.
J is for Junior.
The IFBB raised the limit a couple of years ago, but previously the junior division was for bodybuilders 20 or under. This was where Lewis first got noticed. He won the Jr. British Championships at 19 in 2003 and repeated in 2004. In that latter year, he ran the table in the NABBA junior division on his way to securing its Jr. Mr. Universe title (two years after Eduardo Correa beat Marius Dohne for that title). Before Lewis turned 21, he was undefeated with eight victories to his name, and, thanks to the Internet, he was generating an international buzz. Who is that kid with the pleasing shape and the big wheels? And how great can he be?
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K is for Knowledge.
From the powerlifter mentors in his first gym who shepherded his early workouts to the books and magazines he read as he transitioned to bodybuilding to when, at 19, he began working with Neil Hill, Lewis was a dedicated student of training and nutrition. And he remains so to the present day.
L is for Llanelli.
This industrial town on the southwest edge of Wales is where James “Flex” Lewis grew up as the son of a metalworker and a nurse and the oldest of three athletic boys. It’s also where he discovered bodybuilding. His aunt attended a Tom Platz seminar and purchased a book. When he was 12, Flex saw that book and was blown away by Platz. “I just couldn’t get over the size of his legs,” he remembers. His parents felt he was too young for weight training, so he hid his dad’s rusty barbell under his bed. Every night, the defiant youngster hoisted the loaded bar onto his shoulders and pumped out sets of deep squats before sliding into bed and dreaming of Platz-like wheels.
M is for M-2-M.
“That mind-to-muscle connection is the most important thing in my training success,” Lewis states. In his junior years, he was in danger of being just another Platz wannabe with a perpetually lagging upper body. Today, the 212 Olympia champ is celebrated for his physique’s pleasing proportions. He did this by de-emphasizing his strengths and emphasizing his weaknesses. And the most important component of that emphasis was strengthening his mental connection by going lighter and concentrating on the feel of the muscles working. “I’ve just recently learned how to really hit my chest so my front delts don’t take over. Arms were the first area where I really learned how to focus on them in a way I was missing before. Over time I taught myself to squeeze and get connected with the muscles, and the weights came back up.”
N is for Neil Hill.
Flex’s nutritionist and trainer is also a 5'5" Welshman. Hill won the overall Welsh Championships in 2002 and competed in his only IFBB pro show later that year before a knee injury hastened his early retirement. “I was really kind of lost,” Hill says of his life without posing daises just before he saw “a kid that could be the Michael Jordan of bodybuilding” making his competitive debut at the 2003 Welsh Championships and easily winning the junior division. Lewis and Hill began working together the next day, launching a relationship that has endured for 12 years.
O is for Olympia.
The Mr. Olympia is the pinnacle of bodybuilding. Likewise, its 212 division is the apex of lighter-weight bodybuilding. From 1974–79, there were two Olympia classes: lightweight (under 200) and heavyweight (200-plus). Franco Columbu won the first three under-200 titles; Frank Zane won the last three. And from 2008–11, there was the Olympia 202 Showdown (202 or under). David Henry won the first one; Kevin English won the last three. History was made in Las Vegas in September 2015 when the Welsh Dragon won a fourth 212 O title and set the record for most “lightweight” Olympia victories of all time, pulling ahead of Columbu, Zane, English.
P is for Posing.
Lewis is one of the best posers in the 212, and that includes the sometimes unique way he strikes his mandatory shots. His secret? The punch line to that old joke about getting to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.
Q is for Quality.
In the quantity-versus- quality debate, Lewis is forever on Team Quality. His competitive body weight is limited to 212 pounds, so what he adds somewhere he may need to subtract somewhere else. Like a sculptor with clay, he packs on muscle strategically, always cognizant of the appearance of his entire physique on the Olympia stage.
R is for Rugby.
The tough-as-Wales sport of rugby is the national pastime of Flex’s native country. Like their father, all three Lewis boys played. (Flex’s brother Luke currently plays on a minor-league team.) The desire to grow more powerful for rugby scrums fueled the oldest brother’s earliest weight workouts. Rugby was also where James became Flex. At six, he earned his nickname for his flexibility on the rugby pitch. When he took up bodybuilding, he worried that people might think he was stealing Flex Wheeler’s moniker, but his mom encouraged him to stay true to himself.
S is for Social Media.
Lewis tells a story about his first day in a gym when “one of the biggest guys” laughed at him when he asked for advice. “That day, when I was 15 and a skinny little runt, I told myself that if I ever got big, I’d never be like that to a newcomer. I’d always be kind to people.” Even as he’s grown ever larger in size and fame, Lewis has remained one of the most approachable of all pro bodybuilders. And that extends to the digital realm. He serves up a steady stream of updates and interactions on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
T is for Two-Twelve.
The IFBB Pro League 202 division was replaced by the 212 division in 2012, expanding the maximum competitive weight by 10 pounds. Lewis, who had a win-loss record of 3-5 in the 202s, has dominated the 212s, including the inaugural Arnold Classic 212 last year and all four Olympia 212 Showdowns.
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U is for United Kingdom.
After winning everything he could in the junior division, young Lewis focused on the British Championships. The overall Brit champ earned IFBB pro status. Flex took the light-heavy class in 2006 but was edged out for the overall. He would not be denied in 2007, winning the British Championships—the most prestigious amateur title in the U.K.
V is for Variety.
For significant periods, Lewis has employed Hill’s training program, Y3T, which rotates three different rep schemes. This naturally imparts variety. Furthermore, whether or not he’s doing Y3T, the Welsh Dragon is constantly switching his exercises and exercise order. “Variety is crucial to keeping your intensity up and your muscles responding to new stresses,” Flex explains.
W is for Wales.
He has now spent almost all of his adult life residing in the United States, but Lewis is proud to be the greatest bodybuilder to emerge from Wales—a country of only three million people (less than 1% of the population of the USA).
X is for X-frame.
Flex was not blessed with wide clavicles. No one is going to confuse his structure with that of fellow 5'5" legend Franco Columbu’s. However, Lewis has long emphasized expanding his medial delts to broaden his shoulders. It’s worked. Along with his wispy waist and bulbous quad sweeps, his physique forms one of the most distinct X’s in the 212 division.
Y is for Youth.
When Lewis won the 2007 British Championships, earning the right to go pro, he was only 23. The following year, when he secured his first 202 pro title and finished third in the Olympia 202 Showdown, he was merely 24. This year when won Olympia 212 victory number four, he was only 31, making him one of the youngest top pros. In last year’s 212 O lineup, only Aaron Clark was younger.
Z is for Zenith.
When Flex Lewis won his fourth straight Olympia 212 Showdown, he entered uncharted territory. His name is in any and every GOAT (greatest of all time) conversation when it comes to lighter and/or shorter bodybuilders. But will he stay with the 212s or choose, at some future date, to move exclusively to the open class? How high could a 225-pound, peeled Flex place in the Mr. Olympia? He turns 32 on Nov. 11, with likely many years of bodybuilding excellence ahead for him. The Welsh Dragon’s zenith? To be determined. His legend continues to grow. – FLEX