Bryce Lewis: the future of powerlifting
Introduction and interview by Eric Helms
I had the pleasure of meeting Bryce Lewis for the first time when he competed in the 2008 INBF Capital City Championships, the same show in which Coach Alberto Nunez and my good friend and 3DMJ athlete Angela Compilli won their WNBF Pro Cards. In this competition he won his class in the novice division and looking at his physique, which was relatively new to the weight room, you could tell he had a future. It is no doubt the man packs a lot of muscle on his frame.
He came back to compete in a flurry of shows in 2009, most of them alongside his father, and he ended up doing quite well. He moved up to the open division, threw his hat in the ring in NPC untested shows and proved that he could hang on any stage. I had the pleasure of competing with him at the Cap City and he and his father even came and stayed with me during the weekend of my last show in 09' and supported me all the way. I have the pleasure of now calling them my close friends, not just fellow competitors.
Bryce and me backstage at the 09' Cap City Bryce and his Dad
This year, Bryce decided to take a crack at powerlifting, and his success has been downright unbelievable. Bryce asked me months back if I would coach him for powerlifting and design his program. I knew that he was one of the most dedicated athletes out there, so I jumped at the opportunity to work with him. I knew he was strong, but man, he shocked me with the amount of progress he made this year.
Bryce just placed 3rd in the Nation in the 198's Junior's division at the USAPL Nationals. Although this is a feat in and of itself, what truly boggles the mind is that Bryce was competing RAW and this was an equipped competition! He only had his belt and chalk, while his competitors had squat suits and bench shirts! If this were bodybuilding, it would be akin to walking into an IFBB Pro Show as a natural and taking 3rd place against top tier juicers! To make this feat even more impressive, Bryce finished with a total of 1545lbs, just 6lbs short of totaling Elite in the 220lbs weight class...but here's the kicker, Bryce was competing in the 198lbs weight class, the weight class below the 220's! Our star squatted 525lbs, benched 365lbs and deadlifted an amazing 655lbs. These lifts are incredible for any 198’s raw lifter, but for a junior division competitor they are uncanny.
Bryce Lewis deadlifting 655lbs
Bryce under the squat bar
3DMJ: Bryce, how has your experience with powerlifting been compared to bodybuilding?
Bryce: While bodybuilding and preparing for competitions, many of the first lifts of a workout session were either one of the big three (squat, bench press, or deadlift) or some variation thereof. And for good reason too! They happen to be exercises that recruit vast amounts of muscle fiber and a healthy athlete should definitely consider them in their program. While bodybuilding is about physique aesthetics, and powerlifting is about physical strength, there is some crossover. More strength means more muscle recruitment via various mechanisms, which in turn means more muscle growth. Take a look at many powerlifters and you’ll see they aren’t small guys. I’ve noticed a lot of powerlifters take the “putting on size” thing a little too seriously, though. Fat isn’t necessarily going to help you lift a weight any more easily, and this is where proper nutrition and guidance fits in. 3DMJ was able to help me here as well.
I'd say there is some crossover!
3DMJ: When you switched gears to powerlifting from your offseason bodybuilding training, what differed, what changed?
Bryce: I had geared my offseason bodybuilding training towards inducing maximum hypertrophy. While the first exercise was still in the 5-rep range and rather heavy, the rest were in a more traditional 8-12 rep range, with the goal of taxing the muscle. I’d be working out more times per week on the bodybuilding routine than for powerlifting, allowing the most recovery possible. Eric was kind enough to create a variation on a Westside routine for powerlifting, designed specifically for me and my weaknesses. Not everyone is going to fare the same with the exact same program. Personally, I needed more work on glute strength and lumbar strength than quads or traps, and the routine held this in mind. Someone else might be completely different, and it’s always important not to follow any cookie cutter routine you see, as in Flex magazine. Overall, the changes were to focus on the “big three” and exercises imitating and supporting these movements, with a focus on improving a 2-rep max.
Speed work was also something I’d never done before, and I strongly believe this helped me gain strength much faster than I would have otherwise.
3DMJ: Many bodybuilders believe that bodybuilding training and powerlifting training are two completely different animals, yet many natural bodybuilders these days (including Team 3DMJ) are competing in both quite successfully. Do you feel that these sports can complement one another?
Bryce: In short, absolutely! I wonder, though, if powerlifting doesn’t aid bodybuilding more than vice versa. A powerlifter is looking for strength gains acquired by low rep ranges and heavy poundage, but strength also recruits new muscle (read Eric Helms’ Q&A on the role of the CNS in weight lifting here). The performance end result of powerlifting and bodybuilding are completely different, but both spend their training in the same place—the gym! Many of the exercises (if not all) cross over, with only training styles, rep ranges, volume, and intensity that differ. As you can see, there’s tons of overlap, and a person can be successful in both bodybuilding and powerlifting at the same time.
The power of deadlifts
3DMJ: What would you attribute your recent success with powerlifting to?
Bryce: There was a strange spurt of growth after my last bodybuilding contests that I’m still trying to explain. Just for perspective, my deadlift shot up from 495 to 600 in about 8 weeks. This is a HUGE increase, and I have a feeling I owe it to a healthy post contest rebound of metabolism and a solid training schedule and work ethic. I’ve always pushed myself, at the urging of my dad and based on his advice to strive for higher and higher goals. Basically, always set a goal just out of reach so you’ve got something to strive for. I’ve carried the motto of “never being satisfied” in as many areas of my life as I can. My current goals are a deadlift of 700lbs, a squat of 550 lbs, and a bench press of 405 lbs.
It’s no wonder Bryce finds motivation in his father
Form, form, form! I HATE seeing people in the gym deadlifting or squatting with bad form, and I can see from their body mechanics something is amiss. If you’re going to join the wonderful world of powerlifting, find out what body position works best for YOU, and stay with it. I recently narrowed my deadlift stance a good eight inches and found I was able to grip the bar better and get more power. Everyone’s different, and knowing yourself is key.
3DMJ: What are your future plans and goals for both bodybuilding and powerlifting?
Bryce: Bodybuilding is taking a backburner to powerlifting for now, and my goals are to see how I fare in the open division of raw competitions. I’m just at the border of the 90Kg and 100Kg weight classes, so I must also decide if I should go up, or stay lean and compete as a 90Kg competitor. That 700lb deadlift is teasing me, and after seeing Layne Norton do it, it’s my goal to lift it too.
3DMJ: Thanks Bryce it’s been great talking with you, and we wish you continued success!