This past fall I had the honor of having a private lunch with Olympic gold medalist Bryan Clay at the ACE Fitness Symposium in Orlando, FL where Bryan was the keynote speaker. Myself and two other lucky fitness professionals who won a raffle drawing were able to pick his brain about his training regimen, nutrition, and just talk about life.
Bryan Clay won the silver and gold medals for the U.S. in 2004 and 2008 respectively in the decathlon, which is a track and field event comprised of ten events completed over 2 days.
How great of an athlete is Bryan Clay? It’s hard to put into words.
Prior to the 2008 Olympics, Clay was tested by SPARQ, which is a rating system to test sports-specific athleticism that stands for Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction, & Quickness. At 5’10’’, 180 pounds, Bryan recorded a score of 130.40 for the football SPARQ, the highest ever recorded up to that point. By comparison, superstar Reggie Bush scored a 93.38 on the popular test. Bryan also has a 43.5-inch vertical leap.
Bryan graciously agreed to do an interview with me for BuiltLean.com. I’m super excited to share with you his story. While I learned a lot from him, the two themes that really stuck out at me were (1) the incredible detail of his 4 year training plan and (2) his superhuman determination.
You can learn more about Bryan at his website www.BryanClay.com along with his Bryan Clay Foundation and read his autobiography “Redemption: A Rebellious Spirit, a Praying Mother, and the Unlikely Path To Olympic Gold” (affiliate link).
1) In your book, you describe how you were a troubled teen going down the wrong path. What changed your attitude and direction?
Being surrounded by good people was huge for me. Track and Field got me out of trouble. Ability led me to opportunity, and those opportunities led to some coaches who fortunately had tons of integrity and cared as much about me as person as they did an athlete. They, along with family, a few close friends, mentors, and the amazing girl I ended up marrying all shed light on a more righteous path.
2) While you spent up to 8 hours a day training for years, most of us have trouble getting to the gym for even 30 minutes. Do you have any advice for the yo-yo exerciser to finally stay consistent?
My best advice for people who are struggling with consistency is to set some specific goals and create a plan with accountability built in. Make a trainer or friend with similar goals a part of your life. Even a good fitness app on your phone can give you this necessary structure for consistency. After that, its a question of how serious you are about reaching your goals. I’m confident you recognize the scenarios throughout the day when you have a chance to answer that question, but just in case: Morning alarm clock: running shoes or snooze button? Lunch: Burger joint or real food? Route home from a day’s work: gym or b-line to the couch? Accountability and encouragement from another source can really help keep you in the fight, while a steady commitment to the right choices form good habits.
3) You now famously said that “nothing changed” after you won the gold medal. What did you mean? What did you learn?
Let’s just say that changing your kid’s diapers as an Olympic Champion makes medals profoundly irrelevant.
Exercise & Nutrition
4) As a decathlete, you need the whole package including strength, flexibility, power, and endurance. How do you train for all of these fitness goals at the same time?
Simply put, incredibly organized training. We have to compartmentalize while keeping all aspects of physical and mental training in concert which each other, and that requires a serious plan.
5) Many people who are trying to get leaner and stronger do not create, or follow a plan. How detailed was the plan you followed? How important was it to your success?
I had to be at peak performance levels at the precise moment the100m start gun fired on day 1 of a decathlon. Getting there requires a deliberately orchestrated plan built on science and a series of attainable, realistic, compounding goals. As Olympians we have a 4 year training cycle with a very lofty goal. Those 4 years are broken down into months, months into weeks, days into minutes, and so on. The idea is to try and win each day in order to win it all.
6) What are your top 5 favorite strength training exercises?
Clean, Snatch, Squat, Bench, and Box Jumps.
7) I was surprised to hear your warm up routine takes an hour. Can you give a quick snippet of what you did in your warm up and why it takes so long?
They didn’t always take an hour, but when they did, it was because of what I mentioned before – we have a lot of ground to cover. Active warm ups get the core of the muscle warm and also served as a piece of our conditioning. Leg swings, and the high kicks we called “Frankensteins” are good examples of strength, conditioning, active stretching, and warming up all in one.
8) Do you have any favorite meals? What about snacks?
Training at the elite level doesn’t allow for 3 squares a day. You’re constantly refueling so its a lot small meals and snacking throughout the day is necessary to keep you going. I’m not a fan of protein bars and stuff like that because I prefer stuff that goes down easy when you’re working out, like fruit.
9) Are there any nutrition tips you can give that helped you optimize your athletic performance?
Remember that recovery is just as important as the workout itself, and a big part of recovery is nutrition. Simple carbs with a bit of protein and hydration were key for me to be able to get on with the master plan.
Bryan Clay Motivational Video:
Bryan is a true inspiration. Check out this video to get a feel for his passion and approach to competition:
Thank you for this one Mark.
Next time when you talk to an athlete, would you be kind enough to ask, how they maintain their physique, after their professional days. Reaching that pivot is a story, but for many athletes to maintain their fitness even after getting out of the competition field, I would really like to know about.
I think that’s a great question I should have asked, Rajesh. Given I spent a couple hours with him at lunch, I may be able to answer your question.
While his training regimen now is a lot less intense, he still commits to exercise just about daily. He typically does workouts in the morning before everything else.
He also periodically runs races to support various causes and his own foundation, which also keeps his motivation high. For example, when I met with him, he was considering running a marathon with his wife.
Bryan’s mindset is that exercise is important. He doesn’t question it, he doesn’t worry about what to do one day versus another, he creates a plan, follows that plan, and reaches his goals.
In my opinion, if someone thinks exercise is very important and makes it a priority, staying in shape is very manageable.
Thank you for replying, Mark. Much appreciate.
Having past my 40th birthday, I only want to maintain myselves as it is. At the same time exercise is a habit for me. My body fat percentage should be between 8 – 10%, waste size of 28.5 and can run, do hand stand pushups and all.
But there are times when I wonder, what next.. Sorry, if I am not explaining well.
That does make sense, Rajesh. Thanks for sharing. One of my goals in continuing to add articles to BuiltLean is to help people like yourself stay motivated and learn some new tips you can apply to your current workout regimen.
After working out most of my life, I stopped serious training about 7 years ago and now am about 50 Lbs. overweight. What training regimen would you recommend?
Hey Steve, the short answer is to find a program that:
1) Is progressive, meaning it gets harder over time
2) You will stick to and is manageable
3) Is safe and has exercise variations based on available equipment and fitness level
I did create my own 8-week program, which you can check out. It’s designed to accommodate different exercise levels from Level 1 to Level 3.
In the short term, as Bryan alludes to, creating a simple plan can go a long way. So maybe it’s doing 30 body weight squats, walking for 30 minutes, and tracking your calories to start off every day. My guess is you can make some major changes by just changing your nutrition habits. Then once you can start looking into more structured weight training programs. But again, it’s up to you and I’m really happy to hear you are ready to get back on track!
I also encourage you to check out the search bar on this site on the top right hand side in case there is something specific you are looking for.
Even though he’s way out of most people’s league, it’s the commitment and mindset and dedication we can learn from. Very inspiring! Sharing!
Thanks, Laura. Totally agree. His determination is awe-inspiring.
say mark I am a 67 year old male i am in decent shape for my age 6′ 2″ in height and weigh 203 lbs . just need some advice on abs, flexibility,and muscle toning . I would be very appreciative if you can help me. thank you robert
Hey Robert, if you haven’t already, I recommend checking out my Get Lean Guide, which you get for free by signing up here => https://secure.builtlean.com/transform-organic. It sounds like you need some more direction, so I think that guide can help a lot. Ultimately, toning (or losing body fat) is mostly a nutrition problem. I have some articles on flexibilty coming out in the next month, so I hope to do that soon. Flexibility is something you can work on every day.
You outdid yourself on this one ! Great stuff.
Thanks for allowing all of us to gain some insight on a special world class athlete.
I bet he was extremely down to earth and a great guy to chat with.
Thanks, Tom. Bryan is a really great guy and was very down to earth.
I enjoyed the motivational tips and balanced perspective. Set goals and stay on it even through the rough spots. But keep in mind why we do what we do. Marc, your program turned me around. At 53 I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I lost weight, got in shape and now at 55 am training for a half marathon and eventually a full marathon. No longer sick, just tired! But keeping balance is vital- the purpose of the exercise is health and quality of life for greater service.
That’s great to hear and I completely agree, Mike. Exercise is about health and longevity over the long term.
Thanks for this Mark! More power!
Hi Mark, I was just wondering if he talked to you about how he has stayed motivated for all these years? I myself have received results from good nutrition and good workout plans but I can never keep it going for any length of time. Any time I have a bad day (eat way too many calories), it always seems to get me off track and it always takes me at least a week before I get back on track to try and get fit. By using your program I’ve manage to drop from 240 lbs (29% bf) down to 213 lbs (19%bf),but I seem to be stuck there!! I know I have the ability to get to 10% bf I just need the motivation to stick with it until I get the results I desire. So if Bryan mentioned any motivational tips or if you have some yourself it would be greatly appreciated if you would share them!
Thanks for your time and the article…great as always!!
Hey Tyler – Rajesh had a similar question as the one you shared. I gave him my answer here. I do encourage you to check out some of the motivational articles we have on the site. I’ve posted a bunch and a few may really help => Fitness Motivation Articles on BuiltLean.
Hey Marc I want to increase in size and my rep range is between 6 to 15 and I consume 80 grams of protein everyday.
Bryan Clay is such a humble athele. I really like this guy even though I dont know him personally.
Thanks Marc for review it really awesome.
He really is a very humble guy. Happy you enjoyed the interview!