By Lara McGlashan, MFA, CPT
Just the Facts
Sept. 7, 1988
Birthplace and Current Residence:
235 pounds off-season; 203 contest
2012: USAs, 1st heavyweight (pro card awarded). 2011: Maryland State East Coast Classic, 1st heavyweight and overall. 2008: Southern States, 2nd teen light-heavy; Teen Nationals, 2nd light-heavy.
Looking at 2012 USAs heavyweight champ and new IFBB pro Aaron Clark, you’d never use the term “skater punk” as a descriptive, but once upon a time — and 125 pounds ago — Clark called the skate park home.
“Back then I was at an all-time low, about 110 pounds, and I wasn’t healthy,” he says. “I also had the wrong personality for skating. Most guys would go to the park to chill and have fun, but I would decide on a trick I was going to do and I’d be there for hours until I landed it. That’s what mattered to me — not having fun, but going home with the fulfillment of having done a particular trick. I was too task-oriented for skating.”
Realizing his physique and lifestyle were in need of a total overhaul, Clark decided to try weightlifting. “My father signed me up for a basic orientation of the weight room at the local rec center in Fairfax, Virginia, and I immediately realized I was a meathead,” he laughs. “Bodybuilding and lifting were very task-oriented, and I used the intensity that got me into trouble in the skate park to get stronger and make improvements in my physique.”
Clark quickly became a gym regular, learning by watching the technique of the older guys and supplementing his education with social media. “Whenever I needed to know something or see how a move was done, I’d go to YouTube,” he says. “There’s so much information out there, I was always able to find something useful.”
Pretty soon the gym veterans noticed his progress and encouraged Clark to take the sport more seriously. “I checked out some photos online of teens who had competed, and I saw that I was at that level or even beyond that already,” he says. “I never really thought of standing half-naked on a stage before, but I realized it was something I could be successful at, so I entered a show.”
At only 19, Clark competed in the 2008 Southern States in Florida, placing second. “I had no idea what I was doing for the diet, or that sodium could make me hold water,” he remembers. “I wasn’t as cut as I should’ve been, but I was excited to have placed second regardless.”
He was runner-up again at the Teen Nationals that same year, to the same guy he had lost to at the Southern States — but for a whole different reason. “I didn’t have a tan,” laughs Clark. “I was harder and leaner than the guy who won but I didn’t get around to putting on my tan; I didn’t realize it was so important. The judges told me afterward that I would’ve won if I had been properly colored up. That’s so funny looking back.”
Rolling on a high of ego-fueled excitement, Clark stepped up his training — a bit too much. “I tore my left pec,” he says. “That gave me a reality check and took me out of the gym for a while. I was also going to school and wasn’t doing very well. Basically, there were a lot of things I had to sort out, so I decided to take some time off from competition.”
He ended up taking two full years off, but continued training with a keener attention to form and function as he rehabbed his chest. In 2011 Clark decided to give the competitive scene another go, and easily won a local show.
“I was hesitant about going into the USAs right then because I had heard that even if you’re the best guy onstage, they don’t give it to you unless you’ve been on a national stage before,” Clark explains. “There was a guy in my class who had just won the Junior Nationals and another guy who had done a video series with a big magazine, and all eyes were on them. I was the no-name guy. But I was like, ‘Hey, if I’m going to do it, I might as well go big.’”
That big gamble paid off big time: Clark took the heavyweight title and received his pro card. At age 24, he’s one of the youngest guys to join the pro circuit, earning him the nickname “Baby U.” As such, Clark knows he has a lot to prove at his pro debut next year.
“I’ve taken the rest of 2012 to add another 10 pounds or so to my frame,” he says. “I’m also seriously considering competing in the 212 division rather than the open. I won the heavyweight class as an amateur at 203 pounds, so I think I could be a big threat in the 212s. I’m considering the New York Pro next May, but don’t hold your breath. I’m still making improvements. I want to take my time and do it right.”
In the meantime, he’s hitting the books at Northern Virginia Community College (Annandale), doing his best to strike a balance between youthful fun and professional sports.
“In the offseason I do enjoy myself here and there, because you only live once,” he says. “But you have to know your limits with everything, including partying. I’ve been at this lifestyle since high school, so it’s not really a problem for me to resist the keg parties. Bodybuilding and that lifestyle is part of me, and always will be.”
Aaron’s Training Split
Day 1 - Chest
Day 2 - Arms
Day 3 - Off
Day 4 - Quads
Day 5 - Shoulders, traps
Day 6 - Cardio, abs
Day 7 - Back
Day 8 - Off
Day 9 - Hamstrings
Day 10 - Repeat Day 1
*Clark trains calves at the beginning of every workout except on leg days.
*Off-season, Clark does cardio 2–3 times a week for 20 minutes. That increases to five days a week precontest.
Aaron’s Dual Leg Workouts
Clark splits his leg training into two separate days; this workout is a compilation of some of his favorite mass-building moves for quads and hamstrings.
Leg Extension 3 Sets x 12 Reps x 150–250 lbs
Leg Press 3 Sets x 8–10 Reps x 720–1,440 lbs
Barbell Squat 4 Sets x 8–10 Reps x 315–495 lbs
Hack Squat 3 Sets x 10 Reps x 360–540 lbs
Walking Lunge 3 Sets x Length of gym x 110 lbs
Squat 3–4 Sets x 10–15 Reps x 135–405 lbs
Leg Press (feet high) 3 Sets x 10–15 Reps x 630–810 lbs
Romanian Deadlift 3 Sets x 10 Reps x 315 lbs
Glute/Ham Raise 3 Sets x 10 Reps x Bodyweight
Lying Leg Curl 3 Sets x 10–12 Reps x 250 lbs (full stack)
Adjust the seat so your thighs are fully supported. Hook your feet under the roller, feet flexed, and grasp the handles on either side of your hips.
Extend your knees and lift the roller in a smooth arc, squeezing your quads briefly at the top. Lower back to the start slowly, under complete control.
“Because this is essentially a warm-up move, I do my negatives really slowly. You have to get your muscles ready to work in both the eccentric and concentric portions of the rep for maximal development, and to best avoid injuries and tears. I primarily do this move one leg at a time. I know that I have a strong side and a weak side, and singling them out means they get equal work so I can build balanced quads.”
While this is a common exercise to warm up the knees, it can also be used as a pre-exhaust move to fatigue the quads before doing multijoint exercises such as squats and leg presses. The advantage is that you can use lighter weights on those follow-up moves, which is kinder to your joints.
Step underneath the bar and balance it across your traps and shoulders, then lift it off the rack and step back until you’re clear. Space your feet hip-width or slightly wider apart, and turn your toes out slightly. Stand erect and take a deep breath.
Push your hips back and bend your knees to squat toward the floor, keeping your chest lifted and your shoulders pulled back. Descend until your thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly below. Explode out of the hole without bouncing, quickly extending your knees and hips to power back to the start, stopping just short of locking out your knees.
“I like to do ass-to-the-grass squats in which I go significantly below parallel. I like the deep stretch that gives me, as well as the extra contraction of the glutes and quads as I power out of the bottom. If I’m going heavier than 405, I’ll also wear a belt and wrap my knees for a little additional support.”
Because everyone has different limb lengths, biomechanics are individual. Vary the spacing and angle of your feet until you’re most comfortable. In general, taller squatters need a wider foot placement.
Stand with your feet about hip-width apart in the center of the platform. Settle into the machine so your back is fully supported and unhook the machine stops. Keep your back pressed into the pad at all times.
Bend your knees and slowly squat down, tracking your knees over your toes and maintaining whole-foot contact with the platform (don’t let your heels rise). When your knees form 90-degree angles, drive up out of the bottom to return to the start, stopping short of locking out.
“I like to spread my feet a little wider than normal and turn my toes out, which I feel allows me to better develop my upper quad detail. I also like to pause for a full count of one at the bottom, which effectively eliminates the stretch reflex and makes the drive even more difficult, tearing up the muscle fibers even more.”
Placing your feet higher on the platform better targets the glutes and hamstrings, especially if you go deep. A lower foot placement hits the quads more, but be careful about your knees extending too far past your toes, which puts added stress on the knees.
Stand erect with your feet hip-width apart and take an overhand grip on the barbell just outside your thighs. Keep your chest out and shoulders back, holding the arch in your lower back. Look directly forward.
Keeping your back straight and knees soft (not locked), fold forward from the waist, slowly lowering the weight while keeping the bar close to your shins. Your glutes should shift back as you lean forward. When the bar reaches knee level or slightly below, reverse the move and slowly rise back to the start, pressing your hips forward at the top as you squeeze your glutes and hamstrings.
“I always think ‘sit back’ when I do this move. This keeps my weight over my heels and helps prevent me from rounding my lower back. This allows me to better focus on using my hamstrings, not my back, to lift the weight.”
Everyone’s range of motion is different because it’s determined, in part, by your flexibility. Lower the bar as far as you can but stop before your back rounds; many lifters mistakenly go for extra distance at the expense of spinal safety.
Lying Leg Curl
Adjust the machine for your height and lie facedown, hooking your heels securely under the roller, feet flexed. Grasp the handles on either side of the apparatus and drop your chin so your spine remains neutral.
Press your hips into the bench and contract your hamstrings to move the roller up in a smooth arc, bringing your heels as close to your glutes as possible. Squeeze hard at the point of peak contraction, then slowly lower back to the start under control. Don’t let the weight stack touch down between reps.
“Hamstrings are very prone to tears, so I’m very conscious to do slow negatives with this move, and build those muscle fibers with eccentric reps to make them as strong as possible.”
The leg curl targets the hamstrings from the knee joint, making it a perfect complement to the romanian deadlift, which works the hams from the hip joint. Use both moves for more complete ham development.
Aaron’s 7 Deadly Sins of Leg Training
1. Don’t train quads and hams on the same day
if you’re having trouble bringing up your legs. They’re both large muscle groups that require a lot of energy, at least when they’re trained right. I split them into two separate days about a year ago — with at least 72 hours of rest between workouts — and have seen incredible gains.
2. If you’re exhausted, take a day off
, especially if it’s leg day. It’s better to go home, eat a nutritious meal, get rested and come back tomorrow when you can hit it hard. Pushing through a workout when you’re physically at less than 100% is just asking for injury, and your gains won’t be as good, anyway.
3. Don’t discount the StepMill and StairMaster
as leg-training tools: They boost cardio endurance so you can train harder and longer, which translates into more muscle growth.
4. Don’t jump into a leg workout without warming up.
I do warm-up sets for at least my first 2–3 leg moves to make sure my joints and muscles are completely ready. And that means warming up on both the negative and positive contractions.
5. Don’t avoid doing a leg exercise just because it sounds girly.
I do walking lunges and step-ups on a regular basis, even though a lot of people think of them as chick moves. A lot of shows are won by guys with separation and density in the ham and glute area, and these exercises directly target that spot.
6. Don’t cut your rest periods short, especially in the off-season.
You want to be completely ready for your next heavy set if you’re trying to build size, and for me that sometimes means resting up to five minutes, especially on heavy sets of multijoint moves.
7. Don’t forget the negative contraction.
A lot of guys are so focused on training heavy for legs that they completely neglect lowering under control in favor of explosive drive. But the negative rep is very important, not only to full muscle-belly development but also to help prevent injuries.
For more on Aaron and his championship training routine check out the video below!