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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.
AIN’T NOTHIN’ BUT A PEANUT
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.”
TEXAS TAG TEAM
Branch Warren and Johnnie Jackson have been training partners off and on for years. Hitting chest and biceps, their pace was as relentless as a bucking bull’s. When one finished a set, the other started his, racked it, unracked it, without pause, and all while moving prodigious weights, including 405-pound incline presses (for six reps) and 100-pound hammer curls (for seven reps). They cranked out 250-pound pulldowns (for 12) and 200-pound one-arm dumbbell rows (for 10) along with machine T-bar rows, seated cable rows, and chin-ups, all of it at their usual I’ll-rest-when-I’m-dead pace. “As soon as Branch is done, I’m ready to jump in there because it’s so motivating watching him,” Jackson said, “and then vice versa when I’m going and he wants to get at it. When each of us is going the other is thinking, ‘I can do that too’ or, usually, ‘I can do more.’ ”
Johnnie Jackson‘S SHOULDER WORKOUT
It seemed nothing could top the T-bar’s giving out, but Coleman came close when he squatted 10 deep, picture-perfect reps with 585 and a blood vessel in his nose burst, trickling crimson. The metal got its revenge for those T-bars, but Coleman refused to tap out. He just kept squatting. What’s war without blood? He also repped out leg presses with nearly one ton and lunged the length of the gravel parking lot and back twice in the 98° swelter with 135 on his shoulders. There were leg extensions and leg curls, too, but seeing Mr. O knock out squats with nearly six bills and bleeding for it while DMX shouted curses in that inferno can’t be topped.
We also captured a Coleman chest and triceps workout, in which he did only dumbbell presses flat, incline, and decline for pecs. He planned to perform each with 160-pound dumbbells for sets of 10–12, but on his initial set of flats, he hit five reps and looked good for five more before he bailed, dropping dumbbells that looked like fire hydrants back to the dusty floor. Take that, metal! “That ain’t them,” he told the friend who had retrieved the weights. “Those are the 190s. I want the 160s.” He was using 30 pounds more than he’d intended and was still racking up reps with ease.
Ronnie Coleman‘S LEG ROUTINE
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TEXAS CHEST MASSACRE
At the same time, Warren and his partners unleashed what I called “the sickest workout I’ve ever seen”: barbell incline presses with 405 for 10 reps, bench presses with the same weight for the same reps, and dumbbell presses with 170s and all at a stampede pace.
But it was the final exercise that secured this workout’s legendary status, as Warren fired off drop sets of dips with giant chains draped about his shoulders, engulfing his head in metal. “It might look crazy, but they’re easier to put on and get off, and you can do a drop set by taking off one at a time,” Warren said of the chains. “You can accomplish anything in life as long as you have patience and heart and you’re willing to put in the work.” It was crazy-crazy intense and so was everything else about that hellish workout.
BRANCH WARREN’S CHEST WORKOUT
*Note: Drop-sets with three subsets of 6-8 reps
When we think of Ronnie Coleman we think of him in MetroFlex at the hottest hour, midsummer, with a barbell in his palms and a herd of angry plates on each side, rattling, as though trying to break free. The rap music shaking the graffiti-covered walls almost drowns out his cries of “Yeah, buddy!” and “Ain’t nothin’ but a peanut!” When we think of Coleman, Warren, and Jackson, we think foremost of their all-out training with crippling weights, winning the war of man versus metal Texas-style.
RATED: TEXAS HARDCORE