Everything's BIGGER in TEXAS

The beyond-brutal workouts that built Coleman, Warren and Jackson.


It fits the persona of the Lone Star State, that cowboy ethic of rugged individualism, brutal labor void of pretense and yet a trio of Texans has taken hardcore to another level of suffering: Ronnie Coleman, Branch Warren, and Johnnie Jackson. They move metal, rep after rep, sometimes toiling at the same time in the same small gym. They are also three of the strongest competitors to ever saunter onto an Olympia stage. We journeyed deep into the heart of Texas and watched these three champs train and what transpired was the true meaning of hardcore Texas style.


We thought we knew what to expect when Ronnie Coleman, all 310 pounds of him, moseyed through the graffiti-covered doorway of MetroFlex Gym in Arlington, TX, and cobwebs, rust, dust, broken mirrors, a soundtrack of molar-jarring gangsta rap and heavy metal, nearly triple-digit heat and humidity, and tons and tons of iron waited patiently for the next battle against human flesh. Here were all the spices and ingredients for supremely barbecued muscle. But we could not anticipate the result when the world’s best bodybuilder at his all-time strongest stirred the fire.

After 585-pound deadlifts for six reps as a sort of warm-up, Mr. O worked up to 455-pound barbell rows for two sets of 10. Those rows alone would have qualified this workout for legendary status, but what happened next guaranteed its immortality. As he was knocking out reps of T-bar rows with a staggering 645 pounds (not a misprint), the metal tapped out rather than face an “owning” by Coleman. The V-handle snapped, and the plates crashed back to the decimated floor, throwing up a cloud like a roped steer tripping on a dusty plain. The setting, the participant, the weight, the explosion—it couldn’t have been better scripted. Coleman defeated the weights. 

The next day we were in his home gym, where he did his cardio and sometimes hit the weights during the final years of his Olympia reign. In contrast to his usual workplace, his home office had entire lines of Hammer Strength and Life Fitness machines, an LCD TV, and a state-of-the-art sound system. In addition, a phalanx of ascending dumbbells topped by 200s, as well as a few tons of iron, were all crammed into two rooms attached to the back of his house. Then, dressed in what looked like a checkered tablecloth, he knocked out 24 sets for shoulders, including 295-pound barbell overhead presses (10 reps), rear laterals with 100-pound dumbbells (10 reps), and 585-pound behind-the-back barbell shrugs (12 reps). What is most memorable about that workout, though, was the heat. It was 86° in the cramped sweathouse, and when I asked about the wallmounted air-conditioner, then resting quietly, Mr. O said he’d never turned it on, adding, “This ain’t even hot to me. I like it hotter. It’s the only way I know to workout.”


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