“Come on! That’s a light-ass weight! It ain’t s–t! Olympia, baby! Get that Olympia back!” Branch Warren shouts.

And so, two days after the Europa Super Show on September 17, 2005, less than four weeks before attaining the shape of his life for the Mr. Olympia, Johnnie Jackson reps out one-arm dumbbell rows with the “light-ass weight”: a 200-pound dumbbell.

It’s a typical day at the office for perhaps the best and strongest bodybuilding training partners in the world. And it’s a photo shoot for FLEX, nothing faked, real weights, real sweat, real pain. They’d invite you to join in, but you’d be buried by the third set. So watch and listen, up close and personal, and find out why everything is bigger in Texas.

DEADHEAD | Stroud’s Fitness in Hurst, Texas, has an airy easy ambiance. If it wasn’t for a long row of framed bodybuilding photos, you might mistake it for a place more fit for glute lifts than deadlifts — until Johnnie Jackson arrives.

“I thought about technique for so long that now it comes automatic. Keeping correct form is very important. I can’t express that enough. Keep your butt low. Keep the weight as close to you as possible; drag it up your legs. That will keep your lower back out of the exercise as much as possible. The less you use your lower back, the easier the pull is.

“Keep your chest and head up. Wherever your head is, that’s pretty much where your body is. If you keep your head down, that’s going to draw you more forward and pull your butt up and make you use your back more. So pick a place on the ceiling or high on the wall in front of you and watch it the whole time. That’ll make you keep your head up and help keep you in the strongest pulling position.”

THE SWING OF THINGS | When Branch “Tank” Warren arrives, he’s already dragging. As photographer Kevin Horton adjusts a light, Warren sits on a bench and says with a sigh, “I gotta rest till everybody’s ready.”
“Ready, Kev?” Jackson asks Horton.
“Ready,” Horton replies.
“So much for that,” Warren says, and everyone laughs as he stands again, a moment after sitting. He tightens his wrist straps. “I’ll rest when I’m dead. Let’s build back.” They start with front pulldowns and, after one warm-up set each, they use 250 pounds for 12-rep sets, leaning back on each rep. “Generally, I go a little heavier and lean back and squeeze my shoulder blades together at the contraction,” Warren explains.

“I get a better contraction that way. Some people stay straight up and down and don’t move much. We do it that way sometimes, just to switch it up, but I get the best contraction leaning back a little.”
“There’s nothing wrong with a little movement as long as you don’t go back too far,” Jackson opines. “You have a certain range of motion that’s safe. We stay within that range, but when you’re using a maximum weight, you have to use a little swing to help you get the bar down. If we go lighter, I stay stricter and squeeze more.”

For more on building your back with this awesome twosome, pick up a copy of February FLEX available on newsstands now.