How to Train like the Rock

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Aaron Williamson hadn’t always planned on becoming a personal trainer to some of the biggest, most muscle-bound stars in Hollywood. In fact, there was a time when shifting tin with the likes of Dwayne Johnson seemed impossible to say the least.

Flashback to 2009 and Williamson – a former marine – had just returned from Iraq and found himself living in his car in New Orleans. He’d just filed for bankruptcy and says his life had been “flipped upside down”.

It was fitness that saved him. Specifically, a decision to move into personal training. “My fitness was the only thing that helped me keep my sanity,” Williamson, now 42, tells Men’s Health over the phone. “I started training at this 24-hour gym in New Orleans and ended up discovering there were more TV shows and films being shot in Louisiana than anywhere else in the world at that time.”

A chance encounter with Zac Efron in the gym led to Williamson getting the call from the producers of G.I. Joe: Retaliation in 2012, asking him to come in and train the cast. There, he met Johnson and went on to train him for the film, as well as Johnson’s upcoming WWE comeback.

“I don’t care about celebrities; I never sought this industry out, I just ended up in it and I’m grateful for it because it gave me a pretty cool career,” Williamson says. “[That said] when I started getting into personal training, Dwayne would have been one of the ones I wanted to work with just because he’s so intense about training. Fitness to him has a special meaning, as it does to me.”

The Plan

Williamson was initially on the periphery of Johnson’s awareness; they’d seen each other in the gym from time to time, and Johnson had seen Williamson training other cast members on set. Then, Johnson reached out one evening, texting to ask if Williamson wanted to train with him the following day.

“I said ‘Let’s do it’,” Williamson recalls. “We met for the first time at the gym and just talked for a bit.”

Obviously, Dwayne Johnson knows his way around a gym and – as any of his 216 million Instagram followers can attest – there’s few things he likes better than getting the deepest of sweats on. For G.I. Joe, however, he wanted to mix things up, which is where Williamson came in.

“It was about him trying some new stuff through some of my techniques; just some different movements and sequences,” Williamson explains. And, with Johnson easing into a WWE comeback, having Williamson by his side took some of the guesswork out of what he needed to do to get back into fighting shape.

The pair hit it off, and began training every day at 5am over the next few months.

“He’s like me; we like to train everything,” Williamson says. “We used a lot of time under tension and typical drop sets and super sets. It was really just about trying to push the limits of pain.”

“He’s in there to put in the work,” Williamson continues. “Training is always dictated by nutrition, and his nutrition was always on point. Given that was the case he could have trained all day.”

But, even The Rock has his limits. Like any mere mortal, Johnson had a “love/hate” relationship with legs day.

“Everyone loves to train them but you hate the pain that goes into it,” Williamson says. “If you’re walking out of a legs session and you’re not hurting you did something wrong.”

Photo credit: Paramount Pictures
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

Smackdown

Even before he became a possible presidential candidate with his own brand of tequila to shill, Dwayne Johnson was a very busy man. But, Williamson says he never let work get in the way of putting the real work in.

“His focus is so jam-packed that when we get into the gym he’d be on his phone trying to get stuff taken car of before we started training,” Williamson says. “Once training started he’d throw headphones on and we’d give each other hand signals and head nods and just go after it.”

Williamson calls his time with Johnson “One of the most seamless experiences I’ve had. You don't have to teach him much; he knows the human body and he knows the weights room so well.”

Williamson credits Johnson’s “bodybuilding, meathead love for iron” and “ intense love for lifting heavy-ass weight” as key factors in their successful partnership.

“I’ve trained a lot of people in this industry and he’s the only one where the gym has such a deep sincerity,” Williamson says. “It’s a special place for him. I think that’s why him and I clicked; at the hardest times in our lives the gym was all we had.”

The Workout

While Johnson’s routine is under strict lock and key, Williamson is able to share his basic workout plan, which he adapted for aspects of Johnson’s training too.

“Depending on the actor, I like to incorporate functional movements with traditional weight training,” he says. “It shows in the physiques you see in athletes, actors, etc... the difference between someone who does free weights versus those who focus primarily on machines/HIIT/cardio. Full range of motion is key to strength progression, muscle growth, and injury prevention.”

This is a (nine-move!) push day workout. Take two minute’s rest between sets, picturing The Rock shaking his head at you if you start flagging.

  1. Bodyweight push-ups: 3 x 10 reps

  2. Incline hammer press: 3 x 10 reps

  3. Weighted dips: 3 x 12-15 reps

  4. Incline cable crossover: 3 x 12-15 reps

  5. Leaning 1-arm dumbbell lateral raise: 4 x 10 reps

  6. Hammer shoulder press: 4 x 10-12 reps

  7. Bus drivers: 3 x 12 reps

  8. Hammer MTS tricep extension: 4 x 10-12 reps

  9. Straight bar tricep push downs: 3 x 10-12 reps

Aaaaand, relax.

Find out more at aaronwilliamson.net

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