A transformation that proved every bit as satisfying as a Test hundred.
A decade ago, when Michael Clarke became Test captain of Australia, he took control of an institution. Recently, after a milestone birthday, he resolved to take control of his own body, targeting it over 12 weeks for a transformation that proved every bit as satisfying as a Test hundred. Though your loftiest sporting dreams may have fizzled out, the chance to follow Clarke’s example and build a masterpiece of your own is there to be seized. Time to don the (weights) gloves, son – you’re the next man in.
Maybe it’s an effect of feeling free again post-lockdown. Perhaps he’s having a nice morning. Or could it be he’s just very comfortable these days in his own skin? Whatever’s going on, Michael Clarke is buoyant when he arrives at the photo studio in Sydney’s Alexandria. Everyone is greeted warmly. Every request is met keenly. Every tilt at humour elicits a peal of laughter.
Not bad for a bloke who’s on a few hours’ shuteye. “I’ve been awake since 1:45,” he says, shaking his head. “Just couldn’t sleep.”
It’s around 9:30 on a cool October Wednesday and Clarke has already knocked over his regular shift on breakfast radio and negotiated resurgent traffic to be here to reveal the physique he’s built as Men’s Health’s latest transformer. And . . . action! Clarke’s transition to model seems effortless. Really, what a performer! It’s as though he’s incapable of taking a bad shot. You wonder whether he’s been tutored in some of the finer points of the art . . . and, come to think of it, several of the more important women in his life over the years have been pros in front of a camera.
A compliment reminds of him of his stint, years ago, as an underwear model. That was no picnic, he says. “When all you’re wearing is a pair of undies, what are you supposed to do with your hands? I never knew what to do with my hands.”
As one of Australia’s greatest batsmen, however, Clarke knew exactly what to do with them. An energetic, big-dreaming prodigy raised on the sun-baked decks of Sydney’s western suburbs, sporting bleached hair and an air of supreme self-confidence, “Pup” Clarke cracked the Test side in 2005, making a century on debut. He went on to play 115 Tests, retiring in 2015 having amassed more than 8600 runs, a tally that places him fourth on the list of Australia’s most prolific scorers. He was no mug with the ball, either: a part-time left-arm spinner, his best figures of 6 for 9 would be the envy of many more celebrated bowlers.
Along the way, Clarke became Australian cricket’s first Gen Y captain, an appointment that failed to please everybody in this traditionally conservative, hyper-masculine realm. But just as he’s done in recent months, Clarke executed a transformation of sorts back then, as well, tempering a Ferrari lifestyle to present as a laser-focused leader of men. While his 47-Test stint at the helm wasn’t without blemish vis-a-vis team performance and conspicuous unity, it stands nonetheless as a testament to his outstanding personal qualities: determination, self-discipline and fortitude.
Here, Clarke explains why, at the age of 40, as a father with a dicey back and a go-getter with an expanding portfolio of business interests, he decided to overhaul his approach to health and fitness. As you can see, the results – achieved with the help of Sydney trainer Jono Castano – attest to a triumph of will. For some readers, these results will be every bit as impressive as anything Clarke did as a cricketer. In which case, feel free to follow his lead.
While turning 40 was the catalyst for this, I wouldn’t say it was a massive psychological hurdle. But retiring from cricket was. When you stop doing something that got you out of bed every single day, when you lose that structure and routine, you lose a lot – and I’ve seen people go downhill in those circumstances, physically and mentally.
Trying to stay fit and healthy post-retirement was partly a defence against that. And when I hit 40, something told me that I wanted to be fitter and healthier than I’d ever been. But while that was my goal, I wasn’t sure it was possible. I mean, could I really be fitter and stronger, could I really feel better and look better, than when I was a professional athlete? That was a time when I had the best people around me – the best nutritionists, the best strength-and- conditioning coaches. How could I possibly do things better on my own?
Well, keep in mind that I played cricket at 74 kilograms, and my training was heavily cardio-focused. When I retired six years ago, I wanted to build strength and change things up, so I started my own weights program. I’d wake up and head to the gym to do my training, which was pure lifting because I stopped all cardio. And the result was I put on 10 kilograms over three years.
I got to a place where I felt more comfortable, and I questioned whether I should have played cricket at that heavier weight. But then I began to feel a little bit too heavy. I had trouble finding the ideal balance between strength and cardio.
That changed when I started training with Jono and Chad Hurst at Acero. The training was structured for me as a 40-year-old man with my body type. They devised a plan that blended strength and cardio in all my 45-minute sessions. Every workout would raise my heart rate and leave me fatigued, but at the same time I’d be building strength. They found my sweet spot, in other words. I have size now but I’m agile. I can move.
Something important was how they assessed my body each day to work out how much I could take. It was, ‘Where’s he at?’ ‘Can we push him?’ ‘Should we hold back?’ Usually, the answer was, ‘Okay, smash him!’ Some Fridays – my God! I was like, ‘Jono, you know I’m going for a drink with some mates so you’re lighting me up here’. And he’d be like, ‘I’m not, mate – it’s just the program’. So, we’d train for 45 minutes, and it was like I’d trained for three hours.
Something I loved about training with the boys is that they tested me. There were times I was like, ‘Jono/Chaddy, I don’t think I can do that because of my back’. And they’d be like, ‘Well, have a crack and if you can’t, we’ll stop’. What they never said was, ‘Oh, if you’re saying you don’t think you can do it, then don’t do it’. They were like, ‘Uh-uh – the rules aren’t that you tell us what you want to do; the rules are you’ve asked us to get you fit, so take our advice’.
I’m stronger now in various ways. If you asked me to knock out 50 push-ups, I could do it, whereas once upon a time I couldn’t. And if you said, ‘Max bench press’, I think I could lift more than I ever have. I feel that if I were to perform now every type of fitness test I used to do when I played cricket, I reckon I could beat all my old results.
FEED THE FURNACE
The training was only the half of this. Never in my life had I cared about the food I ate. I’d gotten away with eating as I liked because I’ve always been lean and done so much cardio. But for this challenge I wanted to try something.
I had to be realistic, though, because I’m always strapped for time. As well as the breakfast radio, I have commitments with my own two businesses, as well as with eight other companies that I’m an ambassador for and have equity in. I’ve got a five-year-old daughter [Kelsey Lee, now six] and a 50/50 custody arrangement with my ex-wife [Kyly Clarke]. So, I started getting these Fast Fuel Meals – healthy premade meals that covered me for lunch and dinner. [Clarke has a financial interest in Fast Food Meals.] Structuring my food this way has changed my life. I’m quite a big eater, so there are times I’ll eat two of them. I don’t mind cooking, but if I can get away with not cooking separate meals for my daughter and me, and avoiding having to wash up, that’s an hour a day I’ve saved.
I’m a big one for moderation. I love a drink on the weekend. I love going out for dinner with my mates. So, for me, if I can look at being disciplined from Monday to Friday, and then treating Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday as chances to enjoy life a bit more . . . well, I think that’s the right balance for me.
Balance matters because a program isn’t sustainable without it. What I’m doing now doesn’t involve training three hours a day or five hours a day, seven days a week – both of which I’ve done. I’ve tried so many things. But I’ve found this combination of cardio and strength in 45-minute blocks, combined with the better eating, has me feeling better than I ever have.
Kelsey Lee has been to the gym and loves seeing Jono and Chad. I guess I’m trying to, I don’t know, inspire her to live a similar lifestyle. I want my daughter to say, ‘Let’s have a running race’ – and I can do it. Or, ‘Let’s go do the monkey bars’ – and Daddy can do that, too. Yeah, I’m 40. But there’s nothing I can’t do at 40 that I once could, and I hope there’s nothing I can’t do at 50 that she wants to test me with.
THE LONG GAME
The better you feel, the clearer things become. While retirement hurt, I can see now that I was as well prepared for it as I could have been. I’d managed a back condition my whole career – periodic disc bulges at three levels – and I remember thinking that if I could play at the top until I was 30, I’d be doing well. In the end, I made it to 34.
Even if it was subconsciously, I think I was preparing myself for the end, trying to set myself up financially by getting involved in different types of things, including commentary while I was still playing. That helped, but there was still a transition period. When you’ve chased one dream since you were six – to play cricket for Australia – until you retire at the age of 34 . . . that’s a big gap to fill. Look, I don’t miss playing. I love the game and I owe it so much, but I don’t miss it and that tells me I did walk away at the right time.
Remember, too, that I’d just lost my best mate [Phillip Hughes, in November 2014]. I hadn’t had the chance to really mourn that loss, and I suddenly felt fear for the first time in my life. I walked out to bat knowing that you can get hit and die in a sport where I’d never felt like that. Because of what happened, they redesigned the batting helmet; it was a lot heavier, and I could feel it on my head, so suddenly I was conscious of wearing a helmet, whereas I’d grown up as a kid never wearing one, and the faster they bowled the better it was for me because I was a tiny little batsman and I wanted the extra pace.
In August 2015, we lost the Ashes series in England, and I’d always believed that as captain you are accountable for the wins and losses, so I was happy to take the hit for that performance. And my little girl was due soon. So, for a number of good, honest, fair reasons I decided that I’d had my time – that it was someone else’s time.
FIT FOR LIFE
Look, I’ve always been quite fit, but as you can see from the before photo, I was still carrying a bit. More than that, though, I wasn’t as healthy as I wanted to be – and I’m not talking about how my body looked; I’m talking about my mind. I wanted to be sharper. I want to be sharp at 4am for radio, and I want to be just as sharp when I pick up my daughter from school at 3.30, and still sharp when she’s having a conversation with me at 8:30 before she goes to bed.
In terms of the shared custody, honestly, I have nothing but respect for my ex-wife, and all I can do is compliment her. She is a fantastic mother, we have a wonderful friendship, and we both, always, prioritise our daughter.
Regrets related to cricket? In regards to me as a person, I think I changed a lot when I had my little girl. I think she softened me, opened my eyes to the emotional side of others and myself. I never knew I was anywhere near as affectionate as a person as I am with her. She has brought that out of me. She softened me just after I retired, so if I were leading a team now, I think my leadership style would be . . . more compassionate.
See, if you ask [Jono and Chad] about the way I train, they’d be like, ‘He never misses a session and he’s always early’. I’ve still got that attitude from my playing days of, if you’re on, you’re on, and you don’t quit and you don’t let people down. As a player and a captain, I was always heavily focused on the goal at hand, and I don’t think I’ve lost that. But what I am now is a bit more open to the idea that there are many ways you can reach a destination and it’s not all about that one day, that one instant, that one moment.
When I was offered the captaincy of the Test team, I said to Cricket Australia, ‘Could you explain to me, please, what is the job exactly? You’re saying, captaining Australia, but uh-uh, I mean, what is the job?’ And they said, ‘We want to get back to No. 1 in the world’ – we were ranked fifth at the time. And I said, ‘Okay, I’ll accept this job’.
I thought I could do it. I thought I knew how we could get back to No. 1. And, thankfully, we did get there, about 17 months after I took over. So, I wouldn’t change any of that because we – the team – achieved our goal. And man, we didn’t have the team that I first joined when I walked into that Australian changeroom. All of us had to work hard; all of us went through highs and lows; there wasn’t one superstar. We all came a long way and grew individually. So, I wouldn’t change any of that. But, at 40, if I were to captain a sporting team now, there would be tiny differences. That’s all.
Cricket has always been part of my life but it’s not my life now. I watch the games and I talk about it on radio and I message the boys, but these other things challenge me now and I love that. I want to work. I want to hustle.
I did a photo shoot at the SCG recently and it’s funny because that ground has given me the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It’s where I scored the 329 [v. India, 2005,] but it’s also where Phillip [was fatally injured]. Walking onto the ground, those two things hit me.
There are other memories, of course – a lot of them amazing. Any time you won an Ashes series. Anytime you found a way to win in India. Taking on the South African quicks. You think about all those things, but at the same time I will never forget what happened to Phillip. In the end, it didn’t change cricket. I don’t think it was ever going to. As much as I don’t want to see anyone get hurt, [short-pitched bowling] is part of our game. You can’t not bowl a bouncer – the game would be too easy for the batsmen.
These days, I don’t really have a competitive outlet. But, you know, when you grow up trying to win all the time . . . one day you realise that winning isn’t everything, and at least sometimes the challenge of doing something, of taking it on – that is the win, not the result. Let’s say I went and played a game of cricket right now. My will to win wouldn’t be anywhere near as strong as it used to be. I don’t have to come first anymore.
Fortunately, although both my mum and dad instilled in me a competitive spirit, they also taught me how to lose. They made it very clear: ‘You’re not going to win everything’. And my sister . . . she would kick my butt. She was the better athlete, the better runner, the better swimmer, so I had to learn how to lose. But if you work your backside off, you can win, and when you do, you celebrate. Because the feeling of winning, there’s nothing better.
While this started as a 12-week challenge, I’m not going to stop because I love the way I feel – fitter, healthier and, most importantly, happier. In part that’s because I’m training with guys I love, and their program works. I’m putting the right fuel into my body to get the most out of myself. I haven’t come this far to stop now and go back to do something half-baked. I’ve found a balance that is sustainable. You don’t need 24/7 discipline – and it’s really not hard to do.”
Clarke’s trainer, Jono Castano of Acero, devised this workout of push-pull supersets spliced with aerobic blasts so the former skipper could build or maintain muscle while stripping away the fat deposits that were concealing it. Get out there and dominate.
Barbell Bench Press
Barbell Bent-Over Row
Do 5 sets of both moves following a rep protocol of 20, 15, 12, 10 and 5, increasing the weight for each set. Don’t rest between moves. Take a 1-minute breather between supersets.
Cardio Hit 1
Assault Bike, 20-calorie burn per set. Do 3 sets, taking 1-minute rest periods.
Cable Flys 12 Reps x 5 sets
Chin Ups 12 Reps x 5 sets
Do 5 sets of 12 reps for both moves. As above, don’t rest between moves but take a 1-minute breather between supersets.
Cardio Hit 2
Assault Bike, 20-calorie burn per set. Do 3 sets with 1-minute rest periods.
Perform a total of 100 push-ups, in as short a time as possible. You can fail multiple times. Just make sure you notch that century in the end. Raise your bat as you leave the arena.
CREDIT: Men’s Health