Backstage: Flex Lewis

Flex Lewis blasts back!


Stage plays are all about repetition. The lead actor has to nail his performance over and over again. And so it is with Flex Lewis and the Olympia 212 Showdown. Having won it the past three years, he goes for No. 4 in September. But the real repetition occurs when no fans are watching. In effect, his workouts are his dress rehearsals, because these lonely “plays” determine how he’ll perform on the Orleans Arena stage. So we’re going to watch.

Take your seat front and center. The curtain rises to reveal Flex Lewis and his trainer Neil Hill, both of whom hail from the isle of Shakespeare. The latter is going to drive the former through a back workout in a show sure to include dramatic tension, keen insights, and act after act of utter brutality.


Our play opens with the Welsh Dragon and the Dragon Master in a lair. The dragon’s wrist straps are wrapped around the ends of a pulldown bar. He takes a thumbless overhand grip.

DRAGON MASTER: “Come on, no f—in’ about. Pull and squeeze.” On each rep, the Welsh Dragon gets a full range of motion from a maximum arms-straight stretch to a strong contraction with the bar at chin-level. He leans back just a little as he pulls the bar down. And, as the Dragon Master commands, he squeezes hard at contraction before releasing and then controlling the bar’s ascent.

“Squeeze now! Squeeze!” When the Dragon completes the 12th rep of his third set, the master removes the long bar and replaces it with a V-handle. This parallel-grip handle allows for a longer stretch at the bottom and works more of the inner back. The dragon straps onto the V-handle, and he pulls it down to his lower chest. His colossal biceps contract, as do his inner traps and the smaller cookie cutter muscles on either side of his traps—the infraspinatus, the rhomboids, the teres major, and minor.

 “Squeeze!” He pulls again and again and again, grimacing, grunting. Eight reps, nine, 10…

 “That’s it, hold it and squeeze! Feel that now!” Eleven, 12.


You came to this play to see something unique. So now things get interesting. The next exercise is relatively rare, but it’s favored by two of bodybuilding’s master trainers, one in Venice, CA, and the other more than 5,000 miles away in Tenby, Wales. Both American Yoda Charles Glass and Welsh Yoda Neil Hill (aka the Dragon Master) are advocates of two-arm dumbbell rows facedown on an incline bench. The bench is set at approximately a 45-degree angle. The dragon plants his feet on the floor and positions himself so his midchest is touching the top of the bench. He wraps his straps around two dumbbells. As he rows the dumbbells simultaneously, his elbows are neither tucked close to his sides nor flaring out at 90-degree angles from his torso. Instead, they’re about halfway in between those two positions, so at contraction his upper arms are pointed backward at about 45-degree angles from his sides.

DRAGON MASTER: “Come on, squeeze. Keep your head up. Pull with the elbows. All you, Flex, all you.”

Between sets after gulping down some of his BSN intraworkout drink, the greatest 212 champ of all-time explains a variation of this exercise.

WELSH DRAGON: “I will sometimes do these where I stand on the other side of the incline bench and then rest my head on the top of the bench and row. Your back is more parallel to the floor, and you can go a little heavier.”


The Hammer Strength iso-lateral high row is like a combination of a pulldown and row. The Welsh Dragon tugs the machine’s independent arms from out in front and overhead at the start of each rep to his chest at each contraction. He lets his elbows fair out to his sides as he pulls, maximizing the movement that his elbows travel and thus enhancing the squeeze in his upper back. At least that’s how he does the first 10 reps. But at that point he’s only 40% of the way through his set.

DRAGON MASTER: “Come on now, fast reps. Feel these working.” The next 10 reps are fast and short, focused more on the midrange. Afterward, though spent, he’s still only 80% of the way through.

“Let’s go. Five more. Hold these, Flex. Hold these f—ers.” The last five reps go through a full range of motion again, but he holds each contraction for two seconds.

“Hold it! Hold it!”


“Aaahhh!” This play is now so tense it seems on the verge of turning to tragedy. The star delivers a soliloquy between torturous 25-rep sets.

WELSH DRAGON: “With this you almost get three exercises in one. You start with the full reps at a regular pace. Then you do short, fast reps. Then you end with full reps but with that hard squeeze at the end of every rep. I could toss a bunch of plates on this and use a lot more weight, but it’d get sloppy. And I’d miss stimulating the muscles the way I want to. Go lighter and feel those muscles working. Here’s the thing. As a bodybuilder, it’s never about the weight. It’s all about that mind-to-muscle connection. If you want to be a powerlifter, train like one. If you want to be a bodybuilder, train like one.”

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