Robert Maxwell Interviewing Jones Olson-Ewart
When I was a kid, I took swimming lessons at a lakeside park near my family home. Me and a few other kids spent 30 or 40 minutes shivering in the cold lake, learning to swim under the guidance of a couple instructors wearing wetsuits, with flutter boards tucked under their arms. The summer of 2002, I was 11, and as young kids often do, I idolized our two instructors. They were young, fit looking guys in their late teens, but at the time they seemed like full blown, impressive men to me. One introduced himself as Jonas, and even in my pre-strength training, little kid brain, I thought he seemed to be in terrific shape. Fast forward 16 years, and Jonas and I have reconnected. We have a few more things in common now than back in my swimming lesson days. We're both fathers, and share a passion for strength training. Recently I had the chance to interview my former instructor, and really liked what he had to say about training and life. I think you will, too.
1) Tell me a bit about yourself. Where do you live and work, when did you first start working out, and why?
My name is Jonas Olson-Ewart, and I will be 34 years old in September. I currently live in Gore Bay, Ontario. For the last 13 years I have worked in the trades as a gas technician. My first encounter with structured fitness training was when I was 8 years old. A friend and I signed up for karate classes because we wanted to learn how to fight, but it turned out karate was less about self-defense and more about exercise. Mostly calisthenics, bodyweight exercises and running. Words like humility, perseverance and indomitable spirit were thrown around a lot, and they have stuck with me to this day.
2) You’re pretty strong for a guy who hasn’t been lifting all that long. What are your current PR’s, your favourite lifts, and your future training goals?
Right now the highest numbers I have put up in the gym have been 405 pounds for a double on squat, conventional deadlift 405 for a single, and flat bench 275 for a single. All those lifts were performed without a belt. As for accessory lifts, I once front squatted 295 for a single.
I would have to say squats are my favourite – all variations. Squatting seems to come naturally to me, and in my opinion squats are the cornerstone of any decent strength building program. As for the 3 competition lifts, my next goals are 495 pounds for the squat and DL, and I would love to see 315 for the bench, but that's still a ways away. Next cycle with front squats I expect to hit 3 plates.
3) Describe your current training program in as much detail you can.
Right now I'm in the gym 1 day on, 1 day off, with some light cardio on the off days. Each day in the gym I focus on one of the main barbell movements: squat, bench, and deadlift in that order. Currently I'm working in the 5 rep range, and for S and DL I increase the weight by 10 pounds each session. Bench I increase by 5 pounds. Every day before lifting I stretch and warm up for 15 minutes or so, making sure to hit both upper and lower body. Then I will start with the bar and work up to my top set of 5 reps for whatever lift I'm doing that day. After that I like to drop back down to my last warm up weight and crank out a couple sets of 5 just to get some volume in. In terms of accessory stuff, I work in the 10-12 rep range for 3 sets, and I generally try to match it to the main lift, for example:
Squat day I will incorporate leg press, calf raises, leg extensions, lunges, etc. Bench day: flyes, overhead press, bicep and tricep work, pullovers, etc. Deadlift day: hamstring curls, Romanian DL, good mornings, shrugs, lateral pull downs, Y's and W's, etc.
4) What’s your favourite exercise and why?
If I had to pick just one, it would be the high bar back squat. It was the first of the 3 competition lifts I was taught, and is really what cemented my love for the iron. For me, when my squat goes up, all my other lifts go up as well. It seems to be a great overall indicator of how my training is progressing. If my squat goes down for whatever reason, there is usually a problem with nutrition or rest and recovery that needs to be addressed. I have heard the squat called "the king of lifts" and for good reason. In my opinion it represents the gold standard in overall strength. The squat rack is a muscle factory, pure and simple.
5) What nutrition approach do you use to build and maintain strength?
Diet and nutrition is actually something I am really working on right now. Getting big and strong, i.e. bulking has never been a problem for me. All I have to do was make sure I was getting 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, take my multivitamin, and eat at a caloric surplus. Pretty simple right? I got strong, but the trouble was I was carrying around a lot of extra body fat. Next I attempted to cut, and ate less protein, calories etc., and focused more on bodybuilding movements. I lost 30 pounds, but my strength went down the toilet. Long story short; I have sought the professional advice of a dietitian to help me eat in a way that: promotes overall health, allows me to not only maintain but build strength, keeps my body fat percentage in check.
My menu on a typical day would look something like this:
Breakfast: hard boiled eggs (3), whey powder 32g, fruit, Greek yogurt and coffee
Lunch: large salad with chicken or beef
Dinner: grilled chicken, steak, pork, or fish along with a dark green vegetable and some kind of grain (rice, barely etc)
Snacks: fruit, nuts, beef jerky, milk etc.
6) Do you feel it’s important for all men to be physically strong? Why or why not?
Absolutely. Speaking strictly from a personal perspective, powerlifting has enriched my life in a way that I don't think anything else could. In my pursuit for greater strength, I have adopted habits that lead to an overall healthier lifestyle. This sets a good example for our sons/daughters and young people in general. I believe that being strong also works wonders for our mental and emotional health as well. Lifting heavy weights busts depression, gives us confidence, but also humbles us. There will always be that lift we missed, or a new PR we are chasing. I for one never want to be the man who is unable to do his share of work on the jobsite, or be unable to pitch in and pull his weight in a group setting. When I consider this question, the words of Socrates come to mind
"No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. .. what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable"
7) You and I both have kids. Can you talk a bit about balancing a love for training with time for your kids, and why both are important?
Yes, I have a son who is going to be 8 years old at the end of July, and this is my take on balancing family and gym life. It's all about effective time management. Let's face it, if we want to do something badly enough, we are going to find the time and do it. I prefer to look at it as just another aspect of the sport. Manage your time with as much care and diligence as you would put into your training and programing. Personally, in the rare event a conflict ever arises between family obligation and training, my responsibility as a father will win out every time – it's just that simple. On off days, my son and I usually like to balance our time between active, healthy outdoor activities, and just plain old vegging out (read: light cardio and rest/recovery). It really doesn’t matter what we happen to be doing – it tends to fall into one of those two categories.
To address the second part of the question, I also believe in taking time off from lifting now and then to spend quality time with my son, no interruptions. Usually to go on a camping trip, head down south for a week, that kind of thing. No visits to the gym at all. The importance of spending quality time with family cannot be overstated whether you lift or not, but there is one point I feel is worthy of mention. Children learn a lot by example, especially when they are young. Having a parent who makes time to lift will teach them about healthy, active living. It teaches them how to manage time. It will teach them the importance of a good diet. It teaches them about setting and accomplishing goals, humility, perseverance, indomitable spirit...It sets them up for success.
8) What are 4 pieces of advice you’d offer new lifters?
For a person new to strength training looking to get into the sport, here are a few points to ponder:
1. Choose weights that are challenging, not excessive. Ego has no place in a gym unless you don't mind a short career and lots of injuries. Strength training is about progressive overload, not blowing your wad all at once.
2. Do not neglect proper nutrition. Eating right lets muscles rebuild and repair the damage we caused in the gym. Good food gives us energy to fuel our workouts. It promotes overall health.
3. Make sure to take adequate time for rest and recovery. Our muscles don't grow in the gym, they grow when we sleep. Get a solid 8 hours of shut eye and your body will thank you for it. Some lifters even find afternoon naps helpful.
4. Seek out the advice of an experienced, veteran lifter to help you on your journey to achieve your goals. I'm not talking about groups of gym bros by the smith machine, or even personal trainers who charge x number of dollars per session. I'm referring to the folks who have been powerlifting for 10 plus years. These guys are generally more than willing to offer advice if they know you are serious about training. They are not motivated by money or ego, and are not afraid to invest time, energy and yes, money INTO powerlifting, for no other reason than their passion for the sport. If one of these guys offers you advice, you would be wise to take it. They don't want to see you miss lifts. They don't want to see you get injured. They want to see you succeed.
9) How long do you plan to keep lifting? Why?
Well, I still don't have a five plate squat yet... or a three plate bench. I have yet to lift in an organized meet, to qualify, or even register with the Ontario Powerlifting Association. There is so much left to do, my journey is not over. From all the positive benefits I have gained from lifting, I struggle to find a single con. I have everything to gain, and nothing to lose. On that note, I have one final thing to say. After close to 3 years of powerlifting, I have yet to truly test my strength in the high bar back squat. I've done a set of heavy doubles, but never a maximum effort, heavy single, true test of strength. Maybe someday, deep in a bulking cycle, after hours, in a closed gym, in the presence of my mentor....
The iron bug has bitten, and it's bitten hard. Hope to see everyone at the bar!