Bryce Lewis is a champion powerlifter dedicated to the life of a raw athlete helping drug-free competitors gain prominence and acceptance. He approaches powerlifting from a unique perspective, melding the scientific method, a natural approach, and obsessive dedication in his journey of optimizing his athletic ability. In addition to his many accomplishments, Lewis also runs The Strength Athlete, a coaching company focused on using powerlifting as a means for self-improvement. The 34-year-old Lewis sat down with Virus to discuss his greatest joys from powerlifting, his definition of passion, and his systematic approach for calming his nerves before competitions.
How far can a raw powerlifter go using natural methods, an analytical mind, and passion? That is the question that has driven Bryce Lewis throughout his competitive career and as a coach teaching his techniques to the next generation of powerlifters.
Lewis credits his high school and college volleyball career as his gateway into weightlifting, saying how the sport taught him the importance of working hard, attention to detail, and teamwork. Lewis then naturally fell in love with powerlifting after noticing how he enjoyed doing squats and deadlifts more than other exercises. He also liked that he didn’t have to go undergo strenuous diets to compete like he did as a bodybuilder.
“It was this blend of high performance, challenge in training, and a big payoff when you finally progress under the pressure of only getting nine attempts,” says Lewis about his love for powerlifting.
“Competing feels like a mental tornado every damn time and I'm still surprised by it every time. It feels like putting a saddle on a hurricane and just holding on for dear life”
Lewis finds many similarities between heavy lifting days and competition events, allowing him to “practice” for the real thing. He has a step-by-step process for getting into the zone. He begins by trying to recreate his competition days as closely as possible, starting with a go-to song that increases his energy.
From there, he focuses on his mental side by filling his head with positive affirmations and thoughts of success, envisioning the athlete he wants to become.
Then, he hones in on a single cue before beginning his movement. This allows Lewis to let go of all distractions and turn his energy on completing his lift.
“It's me versus me, and doing something I never thought possible feels like you get to realign your whole reality”
Even as a champion and a veteran competitor, Lewis still gets nervous before competitions. But his checklist helps him keep his composure and re-focus on himself.
Lewis takes an equally measured approach when it comes to his diet. His long-term view for his nutrition plan ensures that he doesn’t have to cut closer to events. He’ll cycle through small diets 8-12 weeks before competitions while focusing on water, sleep, and protein intake.
But more than winning competitions, Lewis’ proudest successes come from his internal satisfaction of reaching goals. He recalls one of his proudest moments coming from the first time he squatted 700 lbs, in a basement gym, without any spotters or anyone around.
He describes the moment as a “pinnacle of achievement,” even if there was no one else to see it.
“The numbers feel like they matter more to me than the wins against other people,” adds Lewis.
With his hyper-focus in the gym, Lewis unsurprisingly has a love-hate relationship with social media. While he longs to get rid of his smartphone one day, he understands the importance of connecting to his audience. He is at peace with showing his real personality, sharing stories and celebrating things he truly loves.
“I'm still never clear if I should be ‘athlete Bryce,’ ‘coach Bryce’ or ‘human Bryce.’ Each one would have vastly different content so I'm kind of oscillating between all of these, testing the waters every now and then”
“When I do a big lift and others celebrate me for it, it feels really good. Otherwise I enjoy sharing things I'm learning about or working on, or things that have worked for me,” says Lewis about showing his true self on social media.
Lewis admits that while he’s as passionate about powerlifting as ever, there are times when his motivation wavers. He observes that not being motivated is a personal warning sign “that something isn't right, and if you pay attention to them, you can usually fix what's wrong before it becomes a bigger problem.”
An essential ingredient of motivation is falling in love with the everyday process of powerlifting. While competitions are one way to measure success, training is also about the pursuit of mastery.
“There's only ever 2-4 competitions per year you can do. If you don't love the other 200 training days, you're missing out and you're going to be miserable,” according to Lewis.
His journey to becoming a champion powerlifter has translated into several other life lessons. He’s learned the importance of delayed gratification and the power of falling in love with the process. He adds that while powerlifting is an individual sport, an athlete never improves without teammates and a support system.
Most of all, Lewis has learned to trust his gut in terms of what works for his game.
“Being able to say ‘I know that’s a good idea, but that doesn’t work for me’ is a good skill to have,” he adds.
“Passion is the thing you like doing even when it's difficult, even when no one is around”
Lewis was originally drawn by Virus’ minimal yet functional aesthetic, along with the focus on the small details. His go-to outfits include the 3/4 compression fit pants, along with the KL1 Active Recovery pants for moving to and from the gym.
Lewis is also an entrepreneur in addition to his competitive career. He runs The Strength Athlete, a coaching company that uses powerlifting as a means to guide students to self-improvement.
His goal is to create a progress-based experience for his students, no matter if they’re new to the sport or competing at an elite level. He takes pride in his coaching role, communicating, educating, and supporting his students with individualized programs.
“I put lots of time into tiny details that no one will ever care about and give away my time freely and still do many things myself that might be better automated or outsourced,” adds Lewis.
“It feels like I had to optimize everything else that much more, and put more of my heart and ability into performing and trying as hard as I possibly could”
Lewis has also distinguished himself by taking a drug-free stance in competition. He doesn’t believe himself to be morally superior to other competitors by not using performance enhancing drugs. Instead, it is an issue of sporting fairness and a vision to establish standards within competitions.
He does take satisfaction in knowing that he had to optimize every aspect of his life, from his schedule to his determination, to be able to compete at a high level using natural ways.
That is ultimately how Lewis approaches his competitive and coaching career. His goal is to fully max out the ability of himself and his students, and to see how far an athlete can go with an analytical approach, dedicated training, and passion.