By ripping through set after set of squats in order to rip his shirt off episode after episode, Hunter Clowdus is quickly making the case that he’s Hollywood’s most ripped star. If he’s not at the top yet, he’s just built an iron-solid plan to make that vision happen.
Since his very first pushup at the age of 3, the Tennessee native has transformed himself from a chicken-legged Chattanooga high school quarterback into a shredded Beverly Hills High “All American.” On the CW smash-hit football drama, which just began its fourth season, Clowdus plays JJ Parker, the blond and chiseled life-of-the-party linebacker.
Getting from skinny to muscular while filming full time isn’t easy, especially when juggling an extended-hour, unpredictable and chaotic film schedule. But Clowdus still manages to spend nearly three hours a day training — most of the time twice daily.
Making it a little easier and more fulfilling these days is that the workouts are now being done in the iron-friendly confines of his custom-built garage gym, fully equipped with power racks, leg press machines, and enough cardio equipment to keep him looking like a lean television linebacker.
A bodybuilding fan, he followed the sport’s heavy hitters who dominated the stage back in the ’90s and 2000s, including icons Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler. Today, he admires the physiques of his heavyweight acting brethren — former WWE stars The Rock, John Cena and Dave Bautista. Like Dwayne Johnson’s personal Iron Paradise gym, Clowdus lays claim to his own Iron Arena, but when it comes to looking like Hollywood’s finest physiques, he takes a much more classic, Brad Pitt-type approach. “Those guys are in their own category,” Clowdus says of the ex-WWE trio, “but I undoubtedly want to be on the short list of the best built actors in Hollywood.”
Though outsized by some in the business, Clowdus can never be outworked in the gym. You can find the star in between sets of taping banging out sets of bench presses or deadlifts with castmate and fellow weightroom warrior Danny Ezra, who plays running back Spencer James. The friendly rivalry keeps both actors game ready for each gridiron scene.
“He and I are the two big trainers on set like — we genuinely enjoy lifting weights,” Clowdus says. “We’re always pushing each other. He’s got me beat, but he weighs a little more than I do [laughs].”
As he continues to pack on the muscle, Clowdus is OK — in fact, honored — being referred to as a musclehead. With the work and dedication he’s put in the weightroom, being typecast for his body suits him fine for now.
“It may not be every actor’s strong suit but being fit is mine,” he says. “That’s what I want to take into roles and projects. My physique is part of my package.”
A History of fitness
You can say Clowdus’ introduction to fitness began at the pre-K level, but his first weight set didn’t happen till he became a pre-teen. It took a challenge from his father — do a bunch of pushups each night for a month and we’ll go pick out a weight. The 12-year-old responded, he says, by banging out 50 to 100 each night. His father held up his end, and after a trip Dick’s Sporting Goods, Clowdus’ weight-training odyssey began in the family attic.
“It was this Marcy barbell set with like, 300 pounds of weights,” Clowdus recalls. “I wore that set out. I don’t even know how the floor held up.”
Always athletic, the weight training helped him become quarterback of his high school football team. And despite running a blazing 4.5 40, the lanky 6-foot, 160 pouder received some light ribbing from his teammates for his not-yet-developed “chicken legs.” “I didn’t have the biggest of legs, and I really didn’t train them as a kid,” he says, “I had some wheels, but I was only 160 pounds and didn’t have a cannon for an arm. People would poke fun at my legs, but that’s just kind of how I was built.”
Clowdus also excelled at baseball, and walked on to the University of Alabama as a shortstop. Although his baseball career didn’t take off, he began packing on muscle as he spent more time in the weightroom. It’s also when his passion for acting blossomed, which forced him to reset his life perspective a bit.
“You know, training really helped me mentally, emotionally, even spiritually, just kind of figure out who I am and still feel more anchored in life, which I think is super important,” he says.
He scored his first Hollywood role in 2012 in MTV’s “Teen Wolf.” After a wave of smaller roles, Clowdus in 2018 scored his breakthrough role on “All American.”
He sees a correlation between both sports and acting, in his case, the necessities of staying focused and discipline.
“I think in any preparation, you really want it to be applicable to life,” he says. “If your training only serves for one purpose, that’s somewhat unfortunate because there’s so many facets of life that it’d be great if it worked toward that as well. So I feel like my training has definitely evolved through the years. But it always goes back to: Does this help me now?”
The one consistent element in Clowdus’ fitness journey has been his parents, who’ve been along for the ride since his very first push nearly three decades ago. So when COVID forced most gyms to close more than a year ago, Clowdus was left pondering whether to go all-in on a home gym or wait it out and stick with the local commercial gym, and turned to Mom and Dad. They encouraged him to start building. “That was all I needed to hear!” he says. “From then on I set out to build the perfect gym with every piece of equipment needing to make sense to how I train. And now, I’m super proud of how it came out.”
In Clowdus’ iron arena, there are no high-tech contraptions that will become unused coatracks; instead each piece of equipment
— from the power racks to each cable attachment even to recovery tools — serves a training purpose. Even the décor was carefully thought through as well, including a framed No. 47 Beverly Hills High jersey, as well as large, hanging banner containing the classic quote from Teddy Roosevelt, “The Man in the Arena”: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.”
“As I was going through things that really resonated with me, what I wanted to stand for and the legacy that I want to leave, I kept coming back to that quote,” he says. “I think it’s admirable to be the one covered in dirt with the blood and the sweat and tears. I just think that that is so much that is such a more fulfilling way to live life.”
With a two-a-day training schedule requiring weights and conditioning, Clowdus selected an eclectic and effective mix of weightroom essentials and cardio machines. Some of Clowdus’ favorite pieces include a Smith machine/half rack combo for its full-body versatility which he uses for plenty of presses and lower-body work. He also purchased a “power tower” cable system, complete with 200 pounds per pulley and an assortment of attachments, along with a leverage lat pulldown he says was necessary to get that needed back day home workout. Never skipping leg day, Clowdus added a leg press/hack squat combo machine for an ultimate quad-crushing leg day.
For his evening calorie-cutting sessions, Clowdus added a row machine where he says he’ll pull for anywhere from quick 500-meter bursts to 5,000-meter distance workouts. He also added a manual Woodway treadmill on those days he just wants to quickly get in a high-intensity sprint.
But when it comes to his favorite piece, he tells every home gym builder to invest in a power rack.
“Every gym needs a rack where you can slide in an adjustable bench for chest or you can do squats or pullups,” Clowdus says. “ I got one with a multigrip, so I can vary my pullups. If someone asks me what to get first, to me this is what you need.
A ‘leg up’ on Hollywood
Clowdus remembers the old-school of learning about bodybuilding and workouts: He would read and study every physique magazine on newsstands (including Muscle & Fitness), and admiring the cover talent — from Coleman to Cutler to Mike O’Hearn. He’d pick the workouts he’d like, and through trial and error, began playing with exercises, sets and reps until he found the right formula, which by the looks of his frame, appear to be working quite well.
These days, while not a mass monster himself, he sees himself taking the same style and approach to training as the reigning Olympia Classic Physique winner.
“I’m a big fan of Chris Bumstead,” Clowdus says. “I think he’s awesome, and he does such a phenomenal job of documenting and keeping his fans in the loop on YouTube.”
Skipping a workout is never an option, even when film schedules require him to be on set as early as 3 a.m. and may run as long as 12, maybe 15 hours. In a worst-case scenario, Clowdus can oftentimes incorporate his one rest day when the schedule calls for it.
As his old teammates from high school can see each week on “All American,” Clowdus’ legs have grown quite proportionally to the rest of his frame. Leg days require a lot of energy, and the actor requires lots of focus for himself when it comes to training.
“I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve really enjoyed leg training and again. It’s the one body part that really has the ability to crush me. I can just make my way through bench pressing or I can knock out pull up in my sleep, but leg day if I’m not there mentally then it’s going to be a bad workout.”
For one of his most recent workouts, Clowdus shared a four-move, high-intensity session. He begins by doing four sets of banded leg presses for 20 reps each. “I love using bands,” he says. “By accommodating the resistance at the bottom of the position, it keeps the strength curve more balanced.”
He then attacks hits his quads with four sets of hack squats, this time for 12 reps. He follows this up with four grueling sets of kettlebell stepups, for 20 reps.
Clowdus concludes his workout by incorporating a more recuperative exercise — terminal knee extensions, in which he wraps a band around the power rack and above his knees, then slowly bends and straightens his knee while the band stretches. It’s a nice form of recovery from a rough session, he says.
“I feel that my tendons and ligaments appreciate that extra little bit of love,” he says.
With the grueling workouts and long scheduling, recovery is a never-neglected component in Clowdus’ gains. He’ll always make the time to either incorporate Therabody Recovery Air boots one day, then go to a foam roller the next. He’s also a fan of percussive devices, but one his favorites, he admits, is a basic and inexpensive hack: He freezes a lacrosse ball then rolls it over the soles of his feet prior to a run.
“I find it really releases those tiny little muscles in your feet,” he says, “and I find my runs are considerably more enjoyable afterward.”
When it comes to diet, he admits he doesn’t follow any strict or restrictive routine, however, Clowdus says he keeps a casual eye on his macros, especially if there’s a shirtless scene in an upcoming script. In that case he may drop the carbs by about 50 grams.
Hydration and sodium intake are also high on his checklist to successfully juggle his training and film schedule.
“I definitely want to make sure I don’t have to worry about muscle cramps, or things like that,” he says. “It’s why I speak so much about recovery. Because when you are dealing with high volume in the weight room, and moderate volume with road work and cardio, I have to recover.”
While his eyes are set on conquering Hollywood’s fittest, playing the longevity game is a necessary goal Clowdus remains focused on as well. He says when it comes to replicating the perfect film body, Brad Pitt’s ripped look in “Troy” is his gold standard for physique. But even more important, maintaining a consistent routine that will keep you at peak condition like Pitt, 20, 30 years later, is the ultimate objective.
“I’m much more focused on the race of life,” he says. “If we’re speaking about the tortoise and the hair, I think the tortoise was onto something,” he says.