Q&A w/ Raw Drug-Free 105KG Powerlifting World Record Holder: Bryce Lewis (2016)
On the Fitworldexposed website we talk a lot about how to gain size and strength. More specifically, we talk a lot about the importance of having big and strong glutes for an impressive lower body and powerlifters are hands-down the athletes out there with the biggest and strongest glutes as far as I’m concerned because their sport revolves around Squats and Deadlifts.
Today we have a special guest who goes by the name of Bryce Lewis. For all of you who don’t already know, Bryce is one of the strongest pound for pound drug-free lifters of all time. As far as his lifts are concerned, he squats 650lb+, benches 450lb+ and deadlifts 750lb+ which currently puts him at a 1917lb total.
This is why if you want to get good at anything then you have to learn from the best because they didn’t make it to the top by accident. Powerlifters have dedicated their lives to getting stronger totals and the wisdom/knowledge that they have is worth its weight in gold.
Lets get into it.
What made you take on Powerlifting as opposed to something like Olympic lifting or Bodybuilding? Also how does it feel to be one of the strongest drug-free lifters out there and do you get mad when people call you out on being on gear or do you not let it get to you?
Hello and thanks for the opportunity and interview. I originally started sport in volleyball in high school and college, and transitioned to bodybuilding after that. It was through seeing some of my bodybuilding friends compete in powerlifting in between bodybuilding shows that got me interested, and after my first competition, I was more or less hooked. I still admire weightlifting tremendously, but at this point, becoming the best powerlifter I can is my main priority. As far as my strength levels, I tend to shy away from being called one of the strongest drug-free lifters– I think it helps to think of myself as someone who still has a long road ahead of them. At the same time, I like being a positive role model for others both as a drug free lifter and someone who has been able to high bar squat larger numbers in competition.
I don’t get accused of steroids very often, but I don’t let it get to me. I will take any drug test at any time that someone asks, but I’ve never been taken up on that offer outside of regular IMT and OMT for USA Powerlifting and the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF). I think if I were an athlete with a lower bodyfat percentage, I’d get accused more often.
What is the worst injury that you ever had to experience and how did you get over it?
I’ve had a dislocated shoulder and a herniated L5-S1 disc, and both were from non-powerlifting related activity. Patience and not rushing the recovery process were paramount, as were regular checks on range of motion and restoring mobility.
Do you incorporate Good Mornings in your program and if so then what rep range do you typically like to work in?
I do not incorporate good mornings. I can imagine them being used with any normal loading distribution, and a generally lower RPE, 8 at most.
The Sumo deadlift is one of the best exercises out there for building big and strong glutes, but most people just pull it off the floor as if they were doing a conventional deadlift with a wide stance. What are some other common mistakes that you see along with some important technique cues/tips that you could give people who are trying to get really good at pulling sumo?
The sumo deadlift differs in muscle activation slightly from a conventional deadlift and I imagine is not as good a contributor of full glute activation compared to variations of a hip/barbell thrust. We’d have to defer to Bret Contreras who has extensive done research there.
The sumo deadlift in my experience is a slightly different animal than the conventional deadlift, but the underlying mechanics are identical. Here are some things that may help with the sumo deadlift
-Start the barbell against your shins or as close as is reasonable
–Sumo seems to be a more technical deadlift variation—losing balance is easier as well. As a result, more weekly practice may be required
–Moving from conventional should be a slow and methodical procedure—adductors and related muscles need time to get as strong as the rest of your legs.
–Hips and knees move in unison
-Be patient with the barbell breaking the floor.
–Cervical extension may be used to facilitate the lockout
What does your typical warm-up look like before deadlifts? For example, what do you do before your first warm-up set? Do you do any glute activation drills, dynamic work, foam rolling…etc? If so then what would you typically do in order for your body to be ready to pull massive amounts of weight off the floor?
I have a full warmup that I do before all lower body training days/movements. Can we link that by video? Heavy glute warmup is a large part of my lower body warmup, and appears in at least three movements. Once I actually touch the barbell, I make single plate jumps until I am close to the working weight, where I make smaller jumps. I generally like more warmups than fewer for their ability to allow you to acclimate to training loads properly and be overly warm.
A lot of lifters out there don’t know how to engage their lats in deadlift variations, what are your best pieces of advice on doing so?
Most lat activation happens without your expressly trying to engage the lats, in my opinion. Its not like if I don’t think about engaging my lats, they just won’t fire in the deadlift. We can’y help but engage the lats. However, I think working closely on cable and machine rows, feeling what the arm’s job in engaging the lats are, and applying those lessons to the deadlift should make it easier. Rotating the arms at the start of the pull, focusing on overall position, and lots of practice!
What are some of your tips on how to maximally engage your quads at the beginning of the conventional deadlift?
I don’t think the quads should be maximally engaged. If they were, your knee would be at full extension, right? This isn’t a cue or focus I generally advise, unless there is a mechanical problem where increased quad activation could remedy the starting position of the pull.
After pulling the slack out of the bar on conventional deadlifts, whats the second cue that you like to think about?
I really favor as few cues as you can possibly get away with. A cue is really only ever used for something that you haven’t committed to an unconscious movement pattern—its something you need to be reminded of to make happen. We want as few reminders as possible…who is going to be able to think about a sequence of three things while they are under 95+% of their one rep max? Even if they are able to, I’m guessing some of that cognitive exertion is used up, leaving less to focus on the movement as a whole. Really all of the work of building technique should be done well before it’s time to pull heavy.
What is a breathing technique and cue that you would use for bracing your core in order to save your spine and lifting maximum amounts of weight? What are you imagining when you are breathing in this fashion and where do most people go wrong with this technique?
I hate to give a non-answer here, but I’ve purposefully tried to simplify and eliminate as many cues as possible, incorporating them into an unconscious rote process of setting up and executing the lift. I do think that raw lifters should be setting up patiently, from the ground up. I haven’t seen many effective deadlifts where the athlete takes air while standing, and then bends down to grab the bar. Instead, setting the feet and hands deliberately and THEN taking the air should help keep positioning better over time.
What is the most weight that you have ever rack pulled from knee level and do you find rack pulls helpful for improving your deadlift off the floor?
I have rack pulled 800lbs for a single rep, and I do think overload work of the kind that rack pulls provide has benefit if used in conjunction with a well designed training approach focusing on the main movements and progressive overload. Many athletes end up treating the rack pull as a separate movement all together. It should look and feel like the second half of your normal deadlift.
What are your top 3 favorite assistance exercises for bringing up your deadlift and why?
I’m purposefully going to omit deadlifts because that’s cheating, but practice with the main movement ranks very high on my list. Otherwise, RDL, block pull, and opposite stance deadlift each have a place in good training approaches over time. Other movements should generally be used to address movement patterning on a case by case basis, but global recommendations are hard. Practice and training volume over time have been the largest contributors to my success in the deadlift.
What are some conventional deadlift lockout cues that you are constantly thinking about once the barbel passes your knees that a lot of people don’t consider?
Simply moving the knees and hips in unison. Finishing the hips first or the knees first each lead to problems.
You have an extremely strong upper back, what was the most you’ve ever barbel rowed?
Actually comparatively not that much. I think I’ve rowed 405 for some janky singles a long time ago. My lat training these days consists of pullups or rack chins, and t-bar rows or chest-supported prone rows, each with much less weight than you imagine. I imagine hypertrophy here is far more than overall strength in a non-competition movement.
When in your opinion do you think a lifter should start using bands for stuff like rack pulls, deadlifts, presses…etc? When do you think it is appropriate for a lifter to be using them (ex: S405, B315, D495)?
Accommodating resistance isn’t necessary at any point in training. I’ve seen fantastically successful lifters who have never used them, and many lifters who were successful before the (very recent) proliferation of bands 5 or so years ago.
When in your opinion do you think that a lifter should start using a belt for his/her training? (ex: after 500lb Deadlift)
I like lifters to use a belt on work sets and warmups where they feel they need it. I’m not sold by the benefits of beltless training and as a result think that the belt should be used whenever the athlete needs support. In practice this typically ends up at 65+% of 1RM, depending on the athlete and rep scheme.
I find that my core tends to break down when I pull heavy, what direct core work do you do in your training and do you happen to do any direct oblique work? Also tell us what rep ranges you like to work with when doing core work and how many times per week would you typically do direct ab work?
I like powerlifters training some type of core work once per week usually between 8 and 15 reps, with last set rate of perceived exertion (RPE) at 8-9 RPE. Typically this is a decline weighted situp, a rope crunch, plank or other loaded movement. This is much lower on a list of importance than overall training volume and progression. Technique breakdowns of the athlete bending the spine is not always an issue of strength or hypertrophy of the abs or deeper abs. Sometimes, simply focusing on positioning makes a world of difference. We see rounding of the spine in many lifters. Some of it is functional, and some needs to be changed. I wish I had a good answer for your specific case, but it may take time or further analysis.
Do you think that Powerlifting will ever be in the Olympics?
I really hope so. This is a long and drawn own process of first becoming IOC recognized, and then bidding to be included as a sport—a process that moves at a snail’s pace. Though, seeing the positive drug tests in recent times in the sport of weightlifting gives me pause. I think there would be a larger tendency to cheat, but the possibility of competing for one’s country among so many other amazing sports and to call yourself an Olympian is something I’ve spent some time dreaming about.