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Branch Warren’s chest torture was the sickest workout I’ve ever seen.
In more than 20 years of bodybuilding, I’ve watched six Mr. Olympias and dozens of other pro bodybuilders and world-champion powerlifters train, not to mention all varieties of unknown meatheads willing to do anything to get big. My fellow Warren witness, photographer Kevin “Hardcore” Horton, has observed a similar quantity and quality of trainers, and he concurs that for raw intensity, brutal atmosphere and ludicrous feats of strength on nearly no carbs, this was as good as it gets.
Crank up the heavy metal, tighten your belt, keep a bucket handy and journey with us to MetroFlex Gym in Arlington, Texas, for a real-life horror show.
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MY KIND OF PLACE
“I started out in a health club and I met this bodybuilder over there who was Ronnie Coleman’s workout partner at the time, and he told me about MetroFlex. It was 1992 and I was 17 years old and still in high school when I started coming over here, and from the very beginning, I loved it. I thought, This is what a gym is supposed to be. This is my kind of place. I took a couple of years off from MetroFlex to set up my business, but other than that, this has always been my gym.” — B.W.
They slap a couple of 45s on a bar and begin repping out warm-up sets of incline presses with 135. As soon as one is done, another plops down and grabs the bar. They each do a set with 225 then add two more plates. “Yep, here we go!” Warren shouts over the thundering music, stalking around and wrapping his wrists.
Moore: “All day! All day!”
Jacobs: “Come on! Come on!”
Taking a wide grip, Warren gets 12 with 315.
Moore goes. Jacobs goes.
Two more plates — 405.
Warren paces, securing his elbow pads and tightening his wrist straps and his red, white and blue powerlifting belt. “Yep! Light weight, motherf—ker!”
He stomps to the incline bench and takes a seat, leaning forward, eyes closed, visualizing 405 as a light weight rocketing off his upper chest again and again as easily as 135. “How bad you want it?” Moore howls. “Let’s go, motherf—ker! This is it! Showtime!”
As DMX raps “Party Up” in menacing barks, Warren falls back onto the bench with a yelp and grips the bar. Moore helps lift 405 pounds and steadies the bar on his forearms until he’s confident his best friend is ready. Then Warren starts pumping out reps. One, two, three. Incline presses, 405 pounds, no half reps, no bouncing, no Smith machine. Moore and Jacobs holler above DMX. Four, five, six, seven. “Y’all gon’ make me lose my mind, up in here, up in here!” Moore’s fingers are under the bar for the final three reps — eight, nine, 10 — but Warren gets them on his own. “Y’all gon’ make me go all out, up in here, up in here!” That’s 10 reps with 405 during the depths of a low-carb diet two weeks before competing in the Mr. Olympia. Warren inclines 455 for 10 in the offseason, and he’s gone up to 500, although the last time he did so he tore his triceps.
“Let’s go!” Warren shouts at Moore just before Moore’s set. “How bad you want it? What you gonna do? You ain’t on no diet!”
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PRETTY BIG WEIGHT
“My chest was probably my weakest bodypart when I started out. I could only bench 155 pounds. But whenever someone asks how much you can lift, they always ask about bench press, so that was always an area I wanted to bring up. I just lifted heavy over the years and it came up. Now I can bench some pretty big weight.” — B.W.
Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” roars through cobweb-shrouded speakers so loud that the only means of communication are nods and shouts. Jacobs has been in the training trio for about a year, replacing IFBB pro Johnnie Jackson. Moore and Warren have trained together for a decade; so much of what they convey to each other during a workout — weights to use or just how much assistance to give — is unspoken. Warren begins pumping up barbell bench presses with 225. Then Moore.
“Let’s go! Smack this bitch up!” Moore shouts at Warren, who cinches up his belt and secures his wrist wraps. Warren falls back onto the bench. “Change my pitch up! Smack my bitch up!” Moore helps him lift the weight off. “I know you got 10!”
“Light weight!” Warren bellows.
The weight is 405, and that’s anything but light, especially at this pace, after inclines, and when the presser gets seven full reps on his own. Then, as his training partners shout curses, and with just a bit of help from Moore, he gets three more.
Most incredible of all is the fact that over the previous week, Warren has ingested a mere 50 grams of carbs per day. Even MetroFlex’s most famous member, eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, would be impressed. Coleman, who we’ll watch train chest in MetroFlex later in the day, tops out at 365 for bench presses and 315 for incline presses — and he doesn’t go at Warren’s ridiculously rapid pace.
Moore: “Two weeks out! Two weeks out! Ain’t nobody else doing this s—t! Nobody’s even close!”
I’m frantically scribbling notes, trying to keep up with the shouts and reps, despite my quaking stomach and dizzy disposition, and when I turn around, Warren is already finishing a set of dumbbell bench presses with 125s. The dropped dumbbells bounce away. Warren gulps water from a bottle as his partners do their sets. Then he and Jacobs kick 170s over to the bench.
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COULDN’T DO ANY MORE
“I do reps all kinds of different ways. Sometimes I go real slow and pause at the bottom, but I’m doing them faster now. I change it up all the time. I always go heavy, and I always go to failure. The sets I did today, I did them till I couldn’t do anymore, and that’s pretty much always how I train.” — B.W.
“F—kin’ go! Smack your bitch up!”
Pressing the 170s, Warren gets eight full reps and two partials. Then he drops the weights with a curse. He stalks about like a hungry wolf, glancing sideways with disdain at his prey, those damn dumbbells, now being pressed by Moore.
“Come on!” he shouts. “Those ain’t s—t!”
With help from Jacobs, Warren steadies the 170s on his colossal quads again, falls back onto the bench and presses, going for the kill. Curses and encouragement rain over Prodigy’s “Firestarter.” When, after eight reps, he can’t get another, he drops the 170s and grabs the 125s. “I’m the pain you tasted, well intoxicated!” After 10 more reps, when he fails to drive up number 11, he abandons the weights. He stomps away, panting and sweating. Soon he spots Jacobs, encouraging him with curses.
ALWAYS GO FAST
“We always switch it up, and in the offseason, we usually do one more exercise than what we did today — like dumbbell flyes — and we go a bit heavier in everything. We always go fast. There’s no sense waiting around when it’s time to work.” — B.W.
NOTES: The dips are performed as drop sets. In the workout we watched, Warren’s final set of dumbbell bench presses was also a drop set, consisting of an additional 10 reps with lighter dumbbells. In the offseason, he will usually do one additional exercise, such as flat or incline flyes.