New Jersey native Shaun Clarida made bodybuilding history when he won the 212 pound Olympia in Orlando, FL, in December 2020. He is now the third champion since the division changed from 202 to 212 pounds in 2012 and is the first Jersey native to hold one of bodybuilding’s top titles — a fact he takes great pride in.
Clarida’s story is one of consistency and grit. He entered his first Olympia in 2015, when James “Flex” Lewis had a vice grip on the division, and placed 16th. Instead of accepting his fate, Clarida worked hard in the shadows and kept showing up. After seven 212 Olympia wins, Lewis decided to take time off to gain weight for the Open division. Kamal Elgargni won the title in 2019 (Clarida got third). It still wasn’t Clarida’s time.
Then, at the 2020 Mr. Olympia, Clarida stepped on stage, presenting the best package of his career. In five years, the 5’2” “Giant Killer” packed an additional 23 pounds of muscle onto his frame and got so lean that his muscles looked like granite. And just like that, Clarida went from contender to champion. Now, he’s the standard-bearer in his division.
BarBend spoke to Clarida about the changes he made headed into last year’s Olympia, his prep, and his plans for the future, including a change in weight class.
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Editor’s Note: The following interview has been lightly edited for readability.
BarBend: What did you think of how everything went with the event being moved from Las Vegas to Orlando?
Shaun Clarida: I was surprised. Getting there was easy. Everything else was easy. I think the organizers did a phenomenal job with moving everything from Vegas to Orlando. There was not a bad seat in the house.
BarBend: Would you like to see the event move back to Vegas or stay in Orlando?
SC: I like both [Vegas and Orlando], but I think from the aspect of having family and friends there, and the time after, I think Orlando would be the better option. But either is fine with me, honestly.
BarBend: Let’s talk about the Olympia. You said you weighed in at 177 pounds for that contest. In your first Olympia five years ago, you weighed 154 pounds. What do you attribute that kind of progress to?
SC: It’s just a matter of consistency. I didn’t change anything drastic. I have great coaches in John Meadows (training) and Matt Jansen (nutrition). With John and the training, the emphasis has been on areas that I need to improve, like my chest and my back. With Matt, as I am progressing every year, he just kept feeding me more and more food. That allows me to push more weight at the gym. When all of that happens, progress is going to happen.
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BarBend: Based on your Instagram, you didn’t go light at all in the gym. Did you push yourself to train heavy throughout the entire prep?
SC: All the way to the last few days of the show. Even on that Wednesday, I pushed myself. That is how my body responds. That’s always been how I trained since day one. I believe cables and machines have their place. Personally, my body responds by basic compound movements with lifting heavy weights as many times as I can. Most people don’t understand two things — that lifting like that will help them maintain that muscle, and it will help them achieve that dense, grainy look.
BarBend: How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your training?
SC: This year, with COVID and everything, I didn’t have access to my normal gym. So a friend of mine, Scott Fairlamb, had a personal training studio not too far from my house. So he gave me a key during COVID and said, “Hey, come and go as you please.”
His place is straight, bare-bone, old-school, barbells and dumbbells, and that was it. There were no cables, no machines whatsoever. So I literally worked with only barbells and dumbbells for my entire offseason. My body just grew. I got to my heaviest offseason weight ever — 200 pounds. Everything was dense, hard muscle.
When I went back into my normal gym, I maintained those same movements. So when I dieted down, that muscle stayed. I kept up with the barbell rows, the dumbbell rows, the bench press, the incline press, and the other basic movements. That’s what I attribute to helping me achieve my look.
BarBend: What’s one aspect of prep that fans of the sport really don’t understand, in your opinion?
SC: The fans don’t see how hard it really gets, like getting up at four in the morning to do the cardio or train. They know about it, but they don’t know about doing it when calories are low, we’re drained, you only sleep a few hours at night, and we even question why we do it.
Then, we realize we’re doing this because we want to win, and this is temporary. It’s worth it. All year I told myself, “I can be Mr. Olympia.” I told myself that every single day when I was posing, doing cardio, all of it. Thinking about my victory speech was what got me through it.
BarBend: What are the main differences between the 212 and Open division?
SC: One is short bodybuilding, one is tall bodybuilding. The 212 guys do have a great camaraderie. I could call Guy [Cisternino] if I needed anything, and he would be there. We’re all like that with each other. There’s never really any beef or anything like that. Of course, when it comes time to compete, we’re all business.
BarBend: Were you hoping there would be a pose-down for fun between the 212 and Mr. Olympia winners or the rest of the division champions?
SC: Oh, man. I’d love to have been in a pose-down with Big Ramy [Mamdouh Elssbiay, 2020 Mr. Olympia winner]. It would’ve been like old-school back in the day with Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and Franco [Columbu]. I was ready for it. I thought they would maybe change things up a little bit and had us come back for the night show to do it, but it didn’t happen. It’s all good, though.
BarBend: Have you ever thought about doing an Open show to see where you would stack up?
SC: I have mentioned to a few people privately, but never someone like yourself. I will do an Open show someday.
BarBend: Can I put that on the record?
SC: Yes, you can. I haven’t said when or where, or anything like that, but I would love to do an Open show someday. Absolutely.
BarBend: So someday, before Shaun Clarida retires from competing, we will see you on an Open stage.
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BarBend: Now that you’re the champion, where is your head going into the 2021 season?
SC: I gotta keep doing what I’m doing. [In 2020], I didn’t post a lot of stuff. I didn’t pay attention to anyone else, either. I just kept my head down and focused. That was what I needed. It worked, obviously, so I’m going to do the same thing this year. I have to tell myself, “I have to be better than my last show.” Even as the champ, I can and will get better. If I do that, I don’t need to worry about anything else.
BarBend: What about your physique specifically do you want to improve on?
SC: There are areas that I’m not happy with. I want my back to be wider. I need to work on my chest, hamstrings, and also the calves. The calves have always been an issue for me. So those four areas for me are what I need to work on, and I will.
This title ain’t going anywhere. It’s my title, I’m going to hold it for as long as I want to, and it’s staying here. I’m going to keep finding ways to get better.
BarBend: Now that you’re at the top of the heap, what’s it like looking back on your amateur career?
SC: In 2007, I told Dwayne McDaniel, the owner of Diamond Gym, that I wanted to be the first champion from New Jersey. My state’s never had an Olympia champion. I made that a goal and didn’t know how long it would take. 13 years later, here I am. It’s been great to hear people say, “Hey bro, you brought it home for Jersey. Jersey’s proud of you.”
BarBend: You mentioned John and Matt. Who else helped you get to this point?
SC: My girlfriend, obviously. She is up with me at four in the morning every morning to do cardio. She comes home from work, and we train every single day. People laugh when I say that and ask, “really?” Yeah, because she knows how I work, how to push me, and she goes as hard as many of the guys.
My sponsors have been there.
Flex Lewis has been a friend and mentor for me. I can ask him any question, and he has the answer.
Kai Greene helped me with posing. I can be down and tired, but then Kai texts me, and I’m up, like, “let’s go.” Victor Munoz, Victor Martinez, I have trained with them, and they push me as well. This has been the best year, even despite COVID, this has been the best year, and everything came together perfectly.
Featured image: @shaunclarida on Instagram/Photo by Tony Baldelli