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Lessons From the Arnold Classic Top 3

Kai Greene is decidedly old school when it comes to using free weights.

As luck would have it, the top three men at the most recent Arnold Classic—Kai Greene, Victor Martinez and Branch Warren—are all athletes I’ve had the opportunity to interview about their training methods. Always in search of patterns, I managed to find three things these very different men have in common:

1) A preference for free weights. Though they’re all still under the age of 35, Kai, Victor and Branch are decidedly old school when it comes to their training tools of choice. Barbell and dumbbell movements make up most of their workouts, with stalwarts like squats, presses, rows, dips and deadlifts making frequent appearances. Of the three, Victor is the only one who regularly incorporates machines in the off-season—but just to finish off a bodypart after he’s hit the cold iron hard.

2) Heavy straight sets. Several fairly complicated training styles are in use today. Some of them incorporate rest/pause and static holds, and others require various mathematical formulas and equations to determine the exact amount of resistance to be used. Other programs are based on supersets and giant sets, with some calling for as many as 10 exercises performed back to back without rest for a given muscle group. Yet the top three finalists at the ’09 Arnold Classic built their physiques primarily with heavy straight sets, and they continue to train that way. They may do drop sets or the occasional superset, but all three feel that the key to muscle growth lies in brutally hard work for sets of eight to 12 reps.

3) An attitude of perseverance. In 2008 each man suffered a significant injury. Victor needed knee surgery, Kai had a hernia repaired, and Branch tore a triceps—he’d torn the other triceps and a biceps in years past. All three were forced to sit out the Mr. Olympia and had to deal with speculation that they’d never be the same again. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked with over the years who have given up bodybuilding due to injuries like theirs—or even, in some cases, less severe ones. Kai, Victor and Branch refused to be defeated by injury. They took the time to heal and rehab the area, then buckled down to hard training once again. When life knocks you down, some people stay down and bemoan their misfortune. Champions get back up and fight their way back to success.

—Ron Harris

Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding, available at

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