Let me begin by saying that I train very hard, and pride myself on that. I am not and never have been the strongest man (relative to the elite in strength), but my intensity is always high. I am all about maximum effort and training to failure and beyond.
I’ve also trained with a few top pros, including legs with Ronnie Coleman, back with Jay Cutler, legs with Hide Yamagishi, shoulders with Flex Lewis and every bodypart many times with Jose Raymond. Dorian Yates put my through a biceps workout in New Jersey and a leg workout at his Temple Gym in Birmingham, United Kingdom. That last workout was the most brutal and taxing of them all. I never thought I would ever have another leg workout that matched, much less exceeded, the levels of pain and intensity I endured on that April morning thanks to the six-time Mr. Olympia. That was, until I trained legs with Branch Warren.
Branch was visiting my area for three days of appearances for his sponsor—and mine—Gaspari Nutrition. We had a long day, and by the time we walked into the gym, it was 8:30 p.m. Now, I usually train at 9 a.m., though at times to accommodate others I have trained in the afternoon. Certainly I never train at night. One reason is that I use preworkout shakes that contain stimulants, which would make falling asleep a daunting task later on. As we were supposed to drive down from Boston to a hotel in Connecticut that night, I didn’t worry about having three scoops of Superpump 3.0 at such a late hour. Branch travels extensively and gets his workouts in when he can while on the road.
Of course I simply followed along with what Branch was doing. He’s known not only for his insanely developed legs but also for his incredible strength and intensity in the gym. When you consider the fact that he was one of Ronnie Coleman’s training partners while still a teen and has always trained at what is widely regarded as the most hardcore facilities in the world—Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas—that makes sense.
We started with leg extensions, sets of 20 and moving up in weight. The fourth and final set was a drop set starting with the stack for 20, then a bit less weight for 20 and a final drop for 20 to make it 60 total. Branch has a constant-tension-rep style, with no pausing at the top. I had a good quad pump going and was starting to sweat, as it was hot and humid in the gym. Metroflex doesn’t have air conditioning, and the summer temperatures in Arlington are routinely over 100 degrees, so Branch was just fine.
Next up was squats. Standard stuff, starting light and moving up. I went only to 315 for two sets of 10, while Branch hit 405 for two sets of 15. By now my legs were tight and pumped. We headed over to the leg press, again moving up in weight in sets of 20. The final set was a drop, and Branch went first. With all the weight the machine’s posts would hold, he did 30 reps. I stripped off two plates from each side, as he instructed, and this time he got a few more than 30. Another two plates were taken away, and he finished with 40 reps. Though there weren’t too many people in the gym, those who were there seemed fairly alarmed at Branch bellowing out phrases like “Last man standing!” and “Light weight!” in his gruff Texan accent to get himself in the zone before his sets. When it was my turn, I used the same weight progression but fell far short of Branch’s reps. I think I got 20, 15 and 15, with Branch helping out quite a bit on the last few reps as my legs were simply shot. They felt more like Jell-O than quads and hams.
The pump and burn from about midway through the drop set on was incredibly painful. I was pouring buckets of sweat, and everything in me was screaming, “Enough of this! Stop!” My stomach was roiling with nausea, and I struggled to breathe. I can’t recall the last time I felt like quitting a workout before it was over, but I must confess with some amount of shame that by this point I truly wanted to be done. I wanted to find a cool, dark place, plop down on my back and collapse in exhaustion. I felt as if I’d been hit by a truck—with Texas plates. But it still wasn’t over.
Hack squats came next. By now I was staggering around on wobbly legs as if I’d swilled a dozen vodka tonics. Branch did three sets, I did two. We finished up with lying leg curls and seated leg curls for hamstrings, three straight sets and a double-drop set for each.
Branch threw back his shake, two scoops each of AminoLast and Glycofuse. I was feeling sick to my stomach and couldn’t even look at mine. Once we were out in the fresh air, which was significantly cooler than the inside of the gym, I began feeling a bit better. On the drive to the next restaurant (Branch eats a lot to support his 260 pounds of muscle), I managed to chug my shake just before we arrived. Ordering a flatiron steak and rice, I vainly attempted to eat some but couldn’t manage more than a couple of bites. My appetite didn’t return for many hours, a new experience for me.
For a good five days my legs were tender to the touch, I limped, and stairs were rough. The worst part was driving, as my quads would start to cramp. The pain was well worth it though. Training legs with Branch was on my bucket list, and now I can say that I did it. True, I would have done better if I’d been I been more rested and training at my usual time, but I stuck it out. Branch has a way of keeping you motivated, as you feed off his energy, drive and intensity. The man trains as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some hard trainers in my time. Thanks to Branch for letting a middle-aged writer attempt to keep up with him just before he began his preparations for the 50th-anniversary edition of the Mr. Olympia contest. The leg soreness eventually went away, but the memories will last a lifetime! —Ron Harris
Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding—Muscle Truth From 25 Years in the Trenches, available at www.RonHarrisMuscle.com. To reach him via Twitter, Instagram: @RonHarrisMuscle; YouTube: RonHarrisMuscle.