7-Time 212 Olympia Winner Flex Lewis Reflects on Bodybuilding and Retirement

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Seven-time 212 Olympia winner James “Flex” Lewis recently mulled over his choice to step away from competitive bodybuilding. Looking back on a historic career that began at 19 years of age, Lewis opened up on a recent episode of the Straight Outta The Lair podcast explaining why he ultimately “owned the decision” to hang up his posing trunks once and for all. 

I do care what people think. It kind of leaves that level high for what I’ll be doing next.

In the podcast episode published on May 30, 2022, the decorated bodybuilding legend discussed his “pipedream” of being the best in the world during his impressionable years growing up in the sport. 

Note: Lewis’ statement on retirement and his dream of being the best in the world is from the 08:00 – 12:00 mark:

[Related: 2022 Arnold Classic Winner Terrence Ruffin’s Artistic Approach to Creating Posing Routines]

Flex Lewis On His Retirement

Despite the success Lewis garnered while competing as a 212 bodybuilder (formally 202-pound bodybuilding), he never let himself off the hook and always felt added pressure during his tenure. 

Been doing this since I was 19 years old. To retire at 38, nearly putting in two decades, my repetition in what I do is everything.

Rightfully so, as there aren’t any other 212 bodybuilders with Lewis’ accolades, including seven consecutive 212 Olympia titles. While Lewis is accustomed to the pressures of performing on stage, he admits he was consumed by nervousness before announcing his retirement

I made the decision, I sat in the decision. I owned the decision. But then when I had to break it to the world, I got very nervous.

“Kind of like a unicorn” is how Lewis saw himself in the bodybuilding industry due to his success in the 212 division. Unlike many other athletes in the sport, Lewis “didn’t have to compete” at other shows. He revealed that his sponsors never asked him to step on stage outside the Olympia. 

In my contracts, I didn’t have to [compete]. [My sponsors] didn’t ask me to compete X amount of times. Some of these athletes have to compete to make a living. I didn’t.

The IFBB Pro was vulnerable when he announced his intention to step away from the sport.


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[Related: Four-Time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler Shares ‘a Day in Paradise’ Training Back]

The Potential Move to Men’s Open Bodybuilding

Prior to his formal retirement announcement, speculation escalated as Lewis underlined his intentions to transition into Men’s Open bodybuilding. However, the 38-year-old ran into a couple of roadblocks that hindered his efforts in making the potential switch. 

I ticked every box and I kept on hitting that wall. In the end…I can walk away…knowing that I’ve done everything in my power.

With new upcoming ventures, Lewis fondly remembers the dream he had as a 19-year-old bodybuilder, determined to become the best in the world. While he has achieved immense success in the sport, Lewis won’t soon forget his struggle moving to America with a “handful of money” in his pocket. 

I can look at that kid now…with this pipe dream…and think, ‘Wow, you had some balls.’ I didn’t have anything but a dream.

Lewis still routinely shares workout routines to help bring up the next wave of talent. Recently, the Wales native joined hands with Men’s Open competitor Rafael Brandão to train chest — which paid dividends as Brandão proceeded to win the 2022 South American Arnold Classic. Lewis walked away from competitive bodybuilding, having won 20 pro shows.

Featured image: @flex_lewis on Instagram

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