Fat Loss Hypertrophy Strength

Jamie Lewis: My Life in Lifts

Jamie Lewis is a world-class strength athlete who’s competed in strongman and powerlifting at 165 and 181lbs, co-founder of the supplement company Chaos and Pain (www.chaosandpain.com) and the author of some of the most controversial lifting articles on the planet. Here’s what he’s learned from a life in lifts. 

Jamie Lewis isn’t afraid of sharing his opinions, but he’s also happy to back them up. He started powerlifting in response to critics of his training philosophy, rapidly rose to become #2 ranked in the US, and went on to break the raw world record with a total of 1,705lbs. Oh, and he barely uses dumbbells, thinks machines are underrated and doesn’t believe in periodisation. Yeah, you heard.

What’s been your proudest ever moment in the gym (or on a lifting platform)?
I like the way you framed this question, because I think most peoples’ proudest moments in lifting are likely come in the gym, and if not, they should. Far too many people have fallen into the trap of thinking that gym lifts don’t matter, and it’s only what you do on the platform that counts. For the vast majority of people, competition lifts don’t matter at all- unless you’re setting records or competing for a top ranking, there’s no point to getting “competition numbers.” Frankly, that mentality is like saying that if your sex isn’t on Pornhub, you didn’t have it. It’s ridiculous.

Having made my first simile involving porn, I’ll answer your question- my proudest moment in lifting was being a part of the ridiculous record-breaking streak in the last Clash for Cash. That was my fourth meet, I think, and I had a serious chip on my shoulder placed there by internet trolls who insisted I used fake plates in my training videos. Three of us were on absolute fire in that meet, and in back to back to back lifts, I tied the raw squat record and broke a 40 year old raw total record, Jesse Kellum smashed the 198 raw squat record, and Dan Green smashed the 220 total record. That was a surreal experience, because it wasn’t a one man show the way a lot of meets are. It was made all that more memorable by the fact that one of Jesse Kellum’s buddies walked up to me and told me that even though I am a terrible person (I was wearing a shirt that read “Smile, Satan loves you”), Jesus still loves me. I laughed so hard I almost shit my pants, and it was a hilarious way to cap off an incredible meet.

What do you wish you’d started doing earlier?
Eating my face off, haha. It’s only been in the last few months that I have really gained an appreciation for the massive effect overeating can have on your success in gaining muscle and strength. I know that must seem ridiculous – I’ve been writing about strength training and nutrition as an avocation and vocation for the last decade, and training hard since 1993, so it must have dawned on me prior, right? Not so. I’m not alone in this either – I recently had a guy who outweighs me by 80 or 90 pounds tell me that he would get fat if he ate like I’ve been eating for the last few months. I think too many lifters fall into this trap.

For anyone reading this, I’m not talking about IIFYM or any of that nonsense – I’m talking about Eddie Hall-style force feedings, and I focus on protein first, then fat and carbs. If you look at the best lifters of yore, they had massive appetites, and there was not a boiled chicken breast in sight.  More food equals more strength. So I eat five times a day like it might be my last meal on Earth – a half pound of chicken, pork, beef, or venison in one dish or another (today it’s chicken shawarma with green skhug). Then I just out-train my diet by absolutely murdering myself in the gym and grow like I live next to a nuclear power plant.

What do you do that you don’t think enough people are doing?
Honestly, the current trend to eschew machines is idiocy.  Machines have been around for centuries (yes, centuries) and have persisted in being used for one reason – they work. It’s not because they’re necessarily easier than compound movements – it’s because THEY WORK. I even fell into the trap for a couple of years, and since I’ve gone back to training heavily on machines I’ve seen my strength and hypertrophy increase far more quickly than by free weights alone.

In other news, I’ve come to regard dumbbells as more or less useless unless I’m training arms or doing lateral raises.

What does (almost) everybody else do that you don’t bother with?
Periodisation. Periodisation was popularised by Leo Matveyev for Russian lifters who lacked access to good gyms and adequate food in the offseason (because it was the Soviet era), so they would come into camp half starved and detrained. They couldn’t just throw them into the deep end like that, so the Soviets had to design a system to bring them back up to speed and then maximise their strength in a very specific time frame. If that applies to you in the US at this point, you must live in Appalachia half the year and then trade sexual favours for gym and food access to compete.  

It’s utterly ridiculous that people apply that method of training to Western lifters today. The only reasoning I can ascribe to the utilization of this system is lazy lifters and imaginative coaching, both of which seem to predominate powerlifting at this point.

If you could have one workout with anyone, past or present, who would you choose?
The Road Warriors, circa 1990.  Since most of the people reading this are too young to know who I’m talking about, the Road Warriors were the most brutal pro wrestling tag team in history. They were godawful wrestlers but monsters in the gym, and technical wrestlers despised them because Hawk and Animal would just waddle into the ring huge and angry and press slam everyone in sight until they quit from pain and exhaustion. They were renowned for being among the strongest people ever to wrestle. Hawk apparently squatted 750 for triples and regularly behind the neck pressed 405 for reps. At one point he benched 565 in competition with a broken orbital bone, and he won a cheat curl competition with a 315lb effort. They were also absolute fucking maniacs. I’ve never been one to train with a partner, but I honestly think if I could train with similarly minded lunatics who outweighed me, my total would be astronomical in very short order. Literally nothing would stop us from destroying every record in sight.

What do you focus on during a really big effort – a last heavy set, or massive single, or whatever else demands the most focus from you?
Doing something epic. I know that sounds fairly nebulous, but I never enter the gym with a specific goal in mind. Lately, I’ve been in the gym for 12 to 15 hours a week, using 90 second to 3 minute rests, and I am frequently so sore I just train around whatever hurts the most. Thus, it could be an ultra heavy single, doing a ridiculous amount of volume, or a set of three or four to utter failure. For instance, I partially tore my lat two months ago and have had to go the volume route on back, so my back workouts after shrugs usually consist of sets of ten to twenty reps on cable rows with 60 to 90 second rests for a straight hour. I’ll change the handle and the angle of the pull every 15 minutes or so, but I just basically row for an hour. Amusingly, I think my back looks better than it did two months ago as a result.

What has lifting given you that you don’t get anywhere else in life?
The ability to act as aggressive and hostile as I want and not end up in jail for it. Anyone who’s seen me in the gym can attest to the fact that I’m pretty asocial (or terrifying, depending on your perspective) – I just stomp around screaming hardcore and deathcore songs and throw around weights. It’s the greatest way to release aggressiveness that I know of outside of fighting, gives you an awesome physique, improves your mental clarity, improves longevity, and generally allows you to let that 5% of your DNA that’s Neanderthal show through. I’m sure this is being read with a whole lot of “he’s a douche” comments being muttered by giants behind their keyboards, which amuses me greatly – I know my attitude toward lifting is anachronistic as shit, but I’d rather be an anachronism than brandish the the milquetoast attitude 95% of lifters have these days. Life’s too goddamned safe and boring to be a ‘modern man/woman’ in the one place we have left to go nuts without fear of legal repercussions.

My Life In Lifts is a regular interview where we talk to some of the most elite athletes in strength training and bodybuilding history. To see every interview, click here