Normally when I interview athletes I ask for a bit about their accomplishments. When I asked James he told me that he didn't know of any of his accomplishments, that he is always looking ahead, always dissatisfied with the present. It is often this sort of mindset after all that produces such impressive results.
James began lifting as a young teenager, and it was clear very early on that he was an extremely talented and able lifter. He lifted at the Junior Olympic games where he snatched 160kg, and almost made 165kg with one of the most impressive save attempts you will ever see.
James' main coach has always been his dad, with whom he trains in Maui, Hawaii. He spent a lot of time however in California, living with Glenn Pendlay for a while whilst training at California Strength, along with some of its first ever lifters, including Partin Pashov and Donny Shankle, with whom he is still good friends.
Lifting with such developed athletes as a young teenager caused James to lift some incredibly impressive numbers, including this 160 snatch at age 18 and this at age 16. To give you another idea of how strong James was as a teenager, he snatched 160kg as a 17 year old at 94kg body weight...
Despite these incredible lifts, James does not consider himself an accomplished athlete. He is always looking ahead. Do not expect this interview to be full of program advice that delves into percentages and exercises... This interview offers us a look into the mindset of a lifter full of fire, passion, anger, and courage.
Having taken 8 years completely off training, the great James Moser is back lifting. Now a 105+ athlete, James' head is back down to training. With 'no goals, no programming, and no limitations', the only thing that can hold him back is himself.
What were your numbers before, what are your numbers now, and how much do you weigh?
My numbers before were: 165kg snatch and 185kg clean and jerk. Currently, 160kg snatch and 180kg clean and jerk. I weigh 121kg. (Edit - James has now done 175/203)
Is it true that after 8 years of not touching a weight of any kind it took you all of 2 and a half months to snatch 160? How is that possible?
Yes, it is true. It is possible because I place no significance on 160. I place no significance on any weight.
I’ve heard some stories from Donny Shankle about you and him being incredibly competitive back in the day at Cal Strength. Have you got any funny stories about the two of you? If there is one thing weightlifting fans love it’s a story!
Donny is a true friend. He's the kind of person that will go out of their way to visit a friend regardless of where they live. He recently visited me and my family and it was a memorable experience. There are many funny moments I have shared with Donny. One of the more recent ones is of when Donny and I were at Big Beach on Maui. He and I were in the water and the waves initially were decent sized but nothing we couldn't manage. Towards the end they got bigger and were no longer the size you could swim over. Instead of swimming under the wave to avoid it pummelling you, Donny stood straight up with his arms stretched out, as if he was going to embrace the wave, and laughed. The wave crashed on Donny and pummelled him but when he emerged from the water he was still laughing. As you can imagine we all laughed and talked about this moment for some time.
Speaking of Donny. As a teenager you spent a lot of time training with strong fully developed men like Martin Pashov and Donny. What was it like training with these men?
Training with Donny and Martin was an honor and a privilege. They both lifted relatively heavy weights and were/are serious lifters. When I trained with them it was very beneficial for me. I was blessed with the opportunity to train with people who lifted more than me. This influenced me to not be complacent with what I lifted.
Onto training. It seems to me that during your career your training style has been very Bulgarian. You hit heavy singles a lot of the time. Why is this? Did you learn this way of training from somewhere? Do you enjoy it the most? Or do you just firmly believe that it is the way to train?
I wouldn't say my training style has been exactly like the Bulgarian program. It is true I did heavy singles a lot of the time, however, when I trained under Abadjiev I learned I wasn't doing as many heavy singles daily as his program. I did heavy singles often because it was what my dad told me to do. Truthfully, I don't know if there is any one way to train. Each lifter must experiment and learn for themselves what works best for them.
What are your goals now that you are back in weightlifting? What are the numbers you would like to hit? Are you solely focused on the Olympics?
I don't have any goals. Goals are essentially limitations. I am interested in lifting without psychological limitations. The moment I limit myself with a program and goals is the moment I stop realizing my potential.
In your videos you train with a fiery aggression. In your videos 9 years ago and in your videos now you yell at the weights with absolute anger. Why is this? What is your mindset like as you lift these heavy weights?
There is immeasurable power within all of us. If one can realize this then they will accomplish things they thought they never could. This state of mind is devoid of so-called self-control. One must go beyond oneself and surrender to a force much greater.
If you could train with any two lifters ever, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
I wouldn't want to train with anyone besides the people I have trained with thus far and perhaps will train with. I have been fortunate to train with Donny, Martin, Dave Spitz, Norik Vardanyan, Nikolay Hristov, Aaron Adams, Jason Krystal, Jacob Kealoha, the Taken Not Given team and many more people. I couldn't ask for better training partners.
Who have been your best training partners and coaches over the years and why?
I would say everyone I have trained with because they all were thoughtful people. I am blessed to have met such people. I have had one coach throughout my lifting career and that is my dad, Jim Moser. He taught me how to lift and never held me back. If I wanted to max out then he would let me. He placed a lot of trust in me. I believe that is how a coach should be. They should trust the lifter and not hold them back from realizing their potential. A lifter knows best when they feel capable of lifting a PR, not a coach or a program.
How are you spending your days at the moment? Do you train multiple times a day? Are you able to train full time or do you have a job?
I spend my days weightlifting and working. Recently, I started training twice a day. I work at Valley Isle Fitness and it is a blessing to work at a gym when you are an Olympic weightlifter.
What is your philosophy on training? Do you think the most important thing in weightlifting is strength, technique, or mindset? What does weightlifting mean to you?
My philosophy on training is to follow no program. Always experiment and inquire. It may seem that a program is causing your progress but that is not the case. For if it was the program that made the athlete then there wouldn't be such a discrepancy in totals between athletes in the same weight class using the same program. Why do we follow programs? We follow them because we are afraid. There is a false sense of security and stability in following a program. Cast whatever program you conform to aside and stand alone. Only then can you realize your potential.
In my opinion, the most important thing in weightlifting is one's mindset. There is an immeasurable power within all of us that enables one to do what some people perceive to be impossible. One must acquire self-knowledge to realize this.
Weightlifting is one of many activities that provides you with the opportunity to acquire self-knowledge. It is a mirror reflecting your soul. If you take a serious, fearless look at yourself, the reflection will vanish, revealing an infinite abyss where impossibility has no home. That's what weightlifting means to me.
Finally, do you have any anecdotes you can give us? You have trained with some great lifters. Any particularly impressive lifts that stand out, or hilarious moments in training?
No particular lifts come to mind, but what does come to mind is the heart of every lifter. We all experience so-called "bad" days. That doesn't make us quit. Some will strip the bar down and work their way back up again. Some will call it a day and come back tomorrow. What is important is that we don't quit. We do not quit when we face adversity, we crave it. That is impressive to me.
I don't have any hilarious moments to share with you but what I do have is a challenge. A challenge to all lifters to not conform to any program. To think for themselves and not rely on a program. To essentially not be afraid. To stand alone.