The James Alexander Ellis Interview
James Alexander Ellis is a man on a mission. Starting out as a personal trainer, he successfully made the change to the competitive world of fitness modelling. Now, with an array of international fitness modelling awards under his belt from prestigious championships including WBFF, he’s reached the lofty heights of superstardom in the bodybuilding community. What’s next for this ambitious trainer and fitness model?
We sit down with him to talk training tips, the tough challenges of fitness competitions and secret dreams of Superman.
What originally inspired you to start training?
Like many teenagers, I was a little body conscious and wanted to improve my physique. I had poor eating habits, didn’t exercise enough, the usual. From my teen years onwards, I’ve always aspired to look like the cover models on fitness magazines like muscle & fitness and the other big titles. I wanted to have such an impressive physique like them, so I started training in earnest.
Plus, little secret for you guys here, I’ve always had a fascination with iconic superheroes like Superman. I think every teenage boy has a little part of him that wants to be real life superman, but I really took it to the next level!
Was there something in particular that inspired you to shift from regular training and aim for such a lofty and impressive dream of the WBFF Pros?
My competitive nature. Whatever I do, I want to be the best at it. I was working in personal training, and whilst I found it rewarding to help people like myself, the environment didn’t have enough chance for flair or self expression. Back in 2011, I happened to have a sports photoshoot and I was totally shocked at the results – I really looked like superman! It was an awesome feeling, but it made me think, can I challenge myself even further?
I realised I needed to set my sights on the next level, so when I was informally asked to compete in an amateur fitness model competition, I jumped at the chance. From the moment I started competing in the fitness modelling, I was hooked. It ticked all my boxes, the huge physical challenge, the showmanship, the flair for the stage – I love every second of it.
Once I competed in one competition, I knew I had to keep going with it, and I’ve been pushing challenging myself to bigger and better competitions ever since.
How was your life changed since you made the change to competitions like WBFF Pros?
I’ve realised how important every aspect of lifestyle management is for fitness, especially if you are competing in any kind of sports or fitness modelling competition.
Now, I’m incredibly vigilant about every aspect of my lifestyle, from daily training regime to a strict diet. I do relax outside of competition periods to an extent, but I don’t want to undo all the work I’ve put into building and maintaining my physique.
Even though my daily schedule is stricter than it ever was, I feel far more in control than I have done, more confident and a lot happier. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it definitely works for me!
What motivates you to keep going through tough training sessions?
Some sessions are really rough, so when the going get’s tough I try visualisation techniques to push me through my training. I imagine myself on stage, performing my signature moves, the crowd loving it. I really put myself in that experience and visualise myself winning the trophy, how that moment looks, sounds and feels. It’s a really powerful motivational technique, I’d recommend anyone to try it next time you’re struggling to get through your training.
What do you do during typical training session?
I mainly focus on weight training. My typical weekly training schedule would incorporate some classic bodybuilding style training with endurance training. For example where I might devote an hour to individual body parts across the weekly schedule and mix it up with complex circuit training exercises with little to no rest inbetween.
I also do fasted early cardio a few times a week, as this helps to maintain my condition.
What are the challenges of training for competitions?
Without a doubt, the toughest challenges are the lifestyle and diet adjustments. No question there. Giving up a great deal of leisure time, adhering 6-7 days a week to a strict prescribed diet, limited social life – that’s really hard for any fitness model. I do it because I really love what I do and I believe it’s important. Strange as it may seem, the training itself is never the challenge, the real physical challenge is dealing with the accumulation of strain on the body and the central nervous system. Thank god there are places like Fibre Tense that do so much to help deal with that strain!
What do you eat on a typical day? How does that change as you get closer to a competition?
I have lived for a few years now on a lower carb diet, where more of my calories come from fat and protein. During the week, I typically only eat starchy carbs once a day at best, and this is usually a little cheat like a protein bar or similar. At the weekends, I relax the regime a little.
So my meals consist of chicken, beef or salmon with broccoli, spinach and avocado. I use oil-based dressings, coconut oil, and snack freely on cheese, nuts, carrots, chorizo and Greek yoghurt. It sounds crazy, but that’s a flexible diet – where I don’t count calories and allow myself things that an average person might even consider “unhealthy”.
Closet to the competition, calories are watched a little more closely, leaner meats and healthier fat sources are used. Higher carbs would be allowed on one day a week, but I wouldn’t have a “free” weekend.
Who are your sporting heroes?
Arnold Schwarzenegger. He brought the sport of bodybuilding into the mainstream and gave it a face and some character. If that wasn’t enough he then went on and basically conquered the world! Oh, and superman of course. He’s a sporty guy, right?!
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given on motivation and training?
On motivation, the best piece of advice I’ve ever received is that old maxim, ‘every failure is a step closer to success’. You should never be afraid to fail in the pursuit of our hopes and dreams, I try to remember that when I’m having a particularly tough workout.
On training, there’s a lot of different pieces of advice I could share! I’ll settle for two of the most useful pieces of advice I’ve had on my own training regimes.
Paul Eastwood taught me about metabolic typing, helping to understand how my body, specifically my metabolism prefers a slightly different type of typical western culture. Hence I learnt to eat slightly differently and I have never looked back. I recommend it to anyone.
Ben Carpenter introduced me to training concepts and systems that I still use 7 years on. Check him out on Twitter.
What advice would you give to newbies looking to follow in your footsteps?
1. Be patient. Rome was not built in a day. Asking “how long did it take you/ will it take me to get that physique” is very much missing the point. Training and fitness are your own personal journey, enjoy it and learn from it, focus on the process, not purely on the outcome.
2. Surround yourself with those who can lift you up and educate you.
3. Use simple visualisation techniques to keep you going. One technique I use still is to display a photo of my favourite fitness model or fellow competitor on my phone and desktop. I could then keep my goals in sight all day long. This has really helped me keep my focus.
Image Credit: Rahat Art Photography