"It’s one thing to see the body change and feeling better and moving better, which is a great thing, but for me, strength training has allowed me to challenge myself in a way that I never thought I could – to push beyond barriers in my mind. Strength training says yes you can."
When Jay Jones found strength training, something inside of him clicked.
His confidence started to grow. He could see and feel his body grow stronger. Over time, he also started to notice a positive change in his mental health.
But once he found community within powerlifting, it all came together: Jay found his home and his passion.
“It’s one thing to see the body change and feeling better and moving better, which is a great thing, but for me, strength training has allowed me to challenge myself in a way that I never thought I could – to push beyond barriers in my mind. Strength training says yes you can. What it tells you is that it’s a process; it’s not this instant gratification thing that just because you can think it, it’s going to automatically happen. It’s day by day. Every action that you have has a compound effect.”
Jay participated in his first powerlifting meet this year, and he’s already determined and training to set some PRs at his next competition, which is coming up soon – he’s already preparing for it.
His favorite lift is the deadlift because of how strong, powerful and grounded it makes him feel. He also views it as a metaphor for life: When trying something new, you start by building a solid foundation and working your way up.
“I’m getting a little philosophical here, but it's kind of a metaphor for life. The deadlift for me is kind of like you’re starting from the ground up, and you’re learning how to do things slowly but surely, and once you get to the point, it gets a lot easier. The more you progress in it, the more you feel stronger and a lot more confident in yourself that you can start moving weight a lot more. It translates to different things in my own life.”
Jay says his favorite thing about Athletic Brewing is that it doesn’t diminish his recovery and training. He can enjoy a beer and then hit the gym the next morning fresh and focused on leveling up.
Read on to learn more about Jay, his discovery of the sport of powerlifting and strength training, and how he helps keep his mental health strong as well by sharing stories and struggles on his podcast, Real Talk: The Mental Side of Life.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, and how fitness and sports came into your life.
I’m the youngest of four siblings. I grew up in the Washington, DC, area, and both of my older brothers were high school football players. My sister was a former cheerleader.
I, honestly, was – between the four of us – the most un-athletic of the bunch. I found fitness through the fact that in high school, I wanted to play basketball, which never really worked out because I was 5’8” and (at the time) 130 pounds.
When I got to college, I had this dream of wanting to play for my college basketball team. That didn’t really work out either, but during that process, I started working with a strength coach that we had through my high school. It was during one of my winter breaks where I found fitness, and it was like, “OK, it hurts, but I feel the benefits of it for the short and long term.”
Fast forward from that, I graduated from college and I still was working out, but then I had some health problems of my own, more mental than anything else.
There were some things that happened during that time frame where fitness was the one thing that helped me get through. What I found was, when I first saw my body change, I felt this nice little self confidence boost. What I started to realize over time was there is more of a mental health aspect to this too. Once I started to correlate both of those together, it opened up a new door for me.
Being able to move my body was something that gave me a release of endorphins, made me feel good about myself, and it’s something that’s good for the long term. Whether it’s regular strength training or now training for powerlifting, it’s something that’s been ingrained in me for so long that I can’t see myself without it. Was powerlifting something you stumbled upon through strength training, or did you shift into it through other means? So it’s interesting.
You talk about the role of social media today, and you talk about influencers – there was actually an influencer that I followed; he’s a powerlifter named Russel Orhii. He’s a 5x USA powerlifting national champion. At the time, in 2019, I found his YouTube channel. I related to him on a very personal scale, being into hip hop and everything else we grew up with. He showed me there’s more to just being an athlete and doing a “traditional sport.” You can do powerlifting and be a strength athlete.
I thought to myself, I can’t see myself playing basketball at this point, so let’s go ahead and try something different. I love fitness, and I want to have that competitive itch that I haven’t had in so long.
After looking into what powerlifting is and what the competition was like, I noticed the barriers to entry are not that big. You can join powerlifting, you can do a local meet … you can do all these different things and you don’t have to be the strongest or the best in the world. You go to have fun, but you can also find a way to challenge yourself.
If Russel can do that – and yes, he’s probably the strongest dude I’ve ever seen in my life – I can do that for myself, and with my platform, I can find a way to influence those around me and whatever their journeys are because they’ve see me from being this tiny kid to someone whose grown into something that’s more than just that an athlete. All of us have an ability to be strong in our own rights.
You can be strong in endurance, strongman, powerlifting, or whatever your respective niche is. The one thing I love about social media is we get to see all of that on full display, and there’s not that big divide. Everyone can be an athlete in their own right and it’s a beautiful thing to see. You recently had your first powerlifting meet recently.
Tell me a little bit about the process of training for that, and of course how you did in the competition!
My training goes back to the middle of 2020 where we’re all locked down. Luckily, I had built a whole gym at home, so I was able to start training and get myself initialized in the sport.Once I joined my actual gym, then it took off.
During that first prep, it was difficult. I was doing it without a coach. I was learning different things about powerlifting, like RPE (rate of perceived exertion), cues on the big lifts – the squat, bench and deadlift – and also with that, learning how to focus on the commands that your judges are giving you. If you rush a command, then your lift doesn’t count.
And then, it was another first for me – getting comfortable wearing a singlet. I’ve never worn a singlet in my life. So it was very interesting trying to get in that feel. But during that prep, I did see my strength go up quite a bit. It felt good going into meet day.
On meet day, I was nervous the entire night before. I was up at about 3:30 in the morning just because I couldn’t sleep. The meet started at 9 am. Once we got to the meet, you weigh in, do the equipment check, and then there’s a lot of downtime. There was a lot of me just sitting around with my thoughts and my music.
Once they got rolling, I got to my first attempt, and I’m nervous; I’m very, very nervous. I’ve never done this before; I don’t know what the heck is going to happen. But I got onto the platform, and after watching a few people go through their attempt, it kind of just reminded me of being in the gym, but being around people who are focused on you and cheering you on.
After that first lift, it quelled a lot of my fears about being front and center. That meet – you have nine attempts, three on each lift – I went six for nine. I had six successful lifts: two successful squat attempts, one successful bench, and my deadlifts were the bread and butter of that entire day, which made me feel great.
One thing I loved about that competition is the entire powerlifting community, whether they know you personally or they’re there just seeing everyone compete, everyone is cheering someone on. No one is in full competition with one another. Everyone’s uplifting one another. It’s a very welcoming environment and it makes people feel at ease whether they’ve had a good day, a bad day, or a day that’s in between.
That meet made me feel so much more comfortable being in the powerlifting space, that going up for this next competition in Cincinnati, I feel very comfortable with how that’s going to progress and how I’m going to feel going into that meet.
What are some of your goals for your next meet?
I have two goals: The first is to reach 1,000 pounds total, so that’s 1,000 pounds total between all the three major compound lifts. The biggest one I want to hit is to achieve a 500 pound deadlift. I don’t know why that’s been in my brain for so long, but I think after that first competition and seeing footage back and knowing that I could’ve gone higher. I know it’s there. I just have to make sure my training goes well; I’m working with a coach that’s helping me get there, and by the team meet day comes, I [hope I’ll] be able to get that.
What does strength training mean to you, and how does it help you outside of the gym?
It means everything to me. There was a time where my self confidence was really low, and a lot of that has to do with physical appearance, but the more I grew up, the more I understood that strength training has helped me in a mental aspect, too.
It’s one thing to see the body change and feeling better and moving better, which is a great thing, but for me, strength training has allowed me to challenge myself in a way that I never thought I could – to push beyond barriers in my mind. Strength training says yes you can. What it tells you is that it’s a process; it’s not this instant gratification thing that just because you can think it, it’s going to automatically happen. It’s day by day. Every action that you have has a compound effect.
That’s helped me out in the gym and outside of the gym. It’s a nice relief for me in terms of my mental health. I’ve always struggled with a lot of different things about myself, and my impression of myself and how I portray to others. Once I found my identity and being able to relay a message through strength training, I found my purpose: Here’s who I am as an individual. Especially for the people around me – they can see my work my butt off through training and see that I have highs and lows, but I’m still human. The fact that people can see that, it’s like, OK – if he can do something like this, what can I do to help me achieve my own goals?
That’s been one of the most humbling things for me. I’ve heard from others who say they see [me] do [my] thing in the gym, and it’s helped [them] out, whether it’s my own fitness or my own goals, to not even worry about what other people think about me, to just go out and do it.
I think that’s one of the most humbling experiences, just to know that I may not see the direct influence that I have on people, but just to understand that we have an opportunity on our particular platforms to show what we love to do and have a good influence on other people. It’s helped me personally and also helped others.
Powerlifting sometimes has a reputation for pushing yourself to injury in pursuit of strength gains. What do you do to stay healthy and take care of your body?
Recovery – especially now that I'm ready to hit my 30s in the next year or so – is the biggest thing for me. Recovery and nutrition. Things that I could do in my early 20s I can not do at this point in my life. So when I do train, I’m always stretching. It may seem silly to some people, but the way your body works at a certain point, you just don’t rebound as fast as you used to. That’s just the way the human body works.
Supplementation is one of the biggest things that helps me. I use Bare Performance Nutrition, so I use a lot of their products. Especially their superfood powders and joint supplements. Also, walking, too. I think people underestimate the value of a nice little walk and keeping the body moving.
Powerlifting is very taxing on the body. You’re moving a lot of heavy weight that your body doesn’t want to move. But it’s very fulfilling. Sleeping, I think that’s a big thing too. The value of sleep is heavy. So I take a lot of pride in doing all of those things to make sure I'm as healthy as possible. Injuries happen, but I can do everything in my power to prevent them through proper recovery, nutrition and sleep.
What’s your favorite lift?
Deadlift. When I first started training, it was bench press because it felt powerful just to move the weight off your chest. But there’s something humbling about a deadlift.
Every muscle is involved, and it’s something about the foundation up that the deadlift brings. You’re starting from your feet, then moving through your shins and your quads to the point where you’re standing up. Every muscle is engaged.
I’m getting a little philosophical here, but it's kind of a metaphor for life. The deadlift for me is kind of like you’re starting from the ground up, and you’re learning how to do things slowly but surely, and once you get to the point, it gets a lot easier. The more you progress in it, the more you feel stronger and a lot more confident in yourself that you can start moving weight a lot more. It translates to different things in my own life.
Speaking of starting something new, I heard you have a big announcement to share.
Yes! So I’ve known about this for weeks now, but my wife and I are expecting our first child in January 2023!
So everything we’ve talked about has added meaning for them to see an example of being consistent and working hard. We couldn’t be more thrilled to be new parents in the new year coming!
How did you find Athletic Brewing and the ambassador program?
I found Athletic Brewing through social media. There’s a gentleman that I follow and he promoted Athletic Brewing on his Instagram page. When I saw some of his posts in terms of non-alcoholic brews, I thought to myself, “You know, I’ve had a lot of alcohol for quite some time. Sure, it tastes great in the moment, but I know what my goals are and I want something where I can have that taste but still fit in my goals.”
So I looked at Athletic Brewing, and I saw the Upside Dawn is 50 calories, it’s a golden … let’s give that a try. I tasted it, and there’s really no difference in the taste. Then I got the Run Wild IPA and after that, it was kind of a hook for me. Athletic Brewing [became] my go-to if I want a non-alcoholic brew, especially during the week when I want to drink but don’t want the after-effect of drinking.
When I saw the ambassador program, I figured, if I’m going to stand behind a product I know I believe in and use regularly, the ambassador program felt like the perfect opportunity to promote that and the lifestyle I have, especially with training. So I applied, gave it a shot, and here we are, almost a year later: I have a lot of brews in my fridge, and a lot of things that have come with it, the most important thing being the community that I found. I think it’s been wonderful.
How has the ambassador program helped you in your professional, personal or athletic endeavors?
I get to see a lot of different people from all walks of life enjoying different parts of their own athletic journeys. Look at our own community – we have people that are climbers, runners, people that do triathlons, obstacle course races … there’s so many different things! I can see people’s successes, and I love being able to cheer people on from that perspective, and people do the same for me.
It’s also a nice little community that shares the same love for Athletic Brewing that I have. I mean, you’re talking about a company that gives back to try to make our world a better place, whether that’s in the community, in our parks. It’s different things that we have an impact on, and we have people that are really focused on making sure we are uplifting each other and the community that we’re all stationed in and making sure we’re doing the best for one another, and I love that about the Athletic Brewing ambassador community.It’s such a wide spectrum. But I think all of us align on similar goals – being together, working through our sports, having fun, and enjoying Athletic Brewing.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
I’ll start off with the most important thing: In the last year, I started my own podcast about mental health. To make a long story short, I’ve dealt with mental health issues since I was around 12 or 13. Up until very recently – I think 2020 was a huge catalyst for this in terms of being able to talk about this more openly – I was unfortunately criticized for talking about mental health.
But being able to do some of the things that I have been when it comes to mental health, whether it’s donating to charity streams through video gaming, being able to talk to people about mental health and having their stories shared with me on an open platform has been eye opening and shown me a different side of people that I wouldn’t have expected but also can appreciate. It’s a way to continue the message of mental health being destigmatized and make sure that people have an outlet. It’s comforting in a way to be able to hear one another’s stories, but then also help better the community.
And then powerlifting itself has been a huge accomplishment for me as well. I never thought I could find a way that I could express myself like this until I started to do it. Being able to be around individuals that are strong and continue to push me from a physical aspect and allow me to continue to be my best self – it's been great to have that influence around me – being able to be the strongest and best person I can possibly be.
Another achievement that I’m very proud of is getting my masters in business administration. It was a promise of mine – I promised my late grandpa in 2019 after he passed, and it was something promised my parents – and luckily through the pandemic I was able to do that. I graduated in August and walked on the stage in December 2021. It’s been a lot of different accomplishments, but all of those I’m very, very proud of.
What is a bucket list event or race that you’d love to compete in?
If my strength journey goes the way I think it can go, I would love to go to Las Vegas and compete in USA Powerlifting Mega Nationals. It’s a very big event where the best of the best compete. I’d love to get strong enough to compete there and be in the presence of some great lifters. That probably would push me past my own limits and help me to achieve something I never thought was possible. And if I don’t compete, even just being able to go and see how these strong competitors go about their routines, how they lift, and just being around a great community.
What’s your favorite recovery food?
Tacos. People might think it’s weird to have tacos as a recovery food, but you also have to think about what’s in tacos. I use ground turkey instead of ground beef as a base. I get a lot more protein. And tacos go well with any Athletic brew. I think my favorite is tacos with a Cerveza – perfect combination!
What do you like to do on rest days?
I’m a bit of a nerd, so when I rest, I’m probably playing games on my PS5 or watching something on Netflix. My wife and I just finished Stranger Things. But I don’t really do too much, outside of maybe walking on a treadmill, I like the solitude of not doing things. There’s something nice about relaxing and not having to worry about doing things, especially in the comfort of home.
What gets you up and out of bed every day?
I think about the people around me. I think about my wife first and foremost. She's been a big influence on me and I want to make sure that I’m doing everything for her, whether it’s taking care of things around the house, or when I train, I always think of being here for the longterm for her.
And then also my community. My family, friends … making sure that they’re taken care of. I like to make sure that people are taken care of before I take care of myself, but I know that in order to do that, I have to be in the right space physically mentally and emotionally. But they've been the most important.
My community, my family, my wife. Without any of them, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in right now in terms of my job and my training. They’ve supported me through so much that they are the reason why I do things. If I fall short of my goals, it’s because I'm not doing things to help them. They are literally the reason why I do things, and I will continue to make sure that I put my all into everything and make sure that I'm not letting them down.
What does living without compromise mean to you?
I go back to a quote that I’ve gotten from my dad. My dad has been one of the closest people in my life. He’s been there for every event and he was also the best man at my wedding.
He’s given me a quote that’s stuck with me the entirety of my life, and it’s very simple: “Do your best and anything less is unacceptable.”
People on the outside may hear that and may think maybe your dad is putting too much pressure on you. I think to myself, no. Each of us has a standard for ourselves, and we know what our best effort is. We know when we don’t give our best effort. I found myself to be my own worst critic, and that can be a good or a bad thing depending on what the situation is.
When I think of my dad's quote: I know what the effort is. I know exactly what I can give, even on my worst days. I think about that, and I think about what am I putting out there in the world to make sure that I’m doing the best that I can to make an impact on the people in my life and to make sure that it has a ripple effect.
So I’m very deliberate about giving it my all and making sure that the message I'm sending is something people can take with them and maybe apply to their own lives. All of us in a way are influencers. It’s not just because of social media. When you’re around your friends, you influence them. When you’re around your family, you influence them. Doing your best is giving everything I have and doing it with integrity and respect.
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