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, 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 pro's including Ronnie Coleman (legs), Jay Cutler (back), Hidetada Yamagishi (legs), Flex Lewis (shoulders), and every bodypart many times with Jose Raymond. Dorian Yates also put my through a biceps workout in New Jersey, and a leg workout at his Temple Gym in Birmingham, U.K. That last workout was the most brutal and taxing of them all, and 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 champ. That was, until I trained legs with Branch Warren Tuesday night.
Branch was in my area for three days of appearances for his sponsor, Gaspari Nutrition. The first day was at Steve Cardillo's ANC store in Everett, MA. The second day was at two Cape Cod Nutrition in Plymouth, then Easton, MA. The third and final day was at Supplement City in Shelton, CT. I accompanied him to all of these as he signed autographs, took photos with fans, and gave out product samples. I had coordinated ahead of time with Branch to make sure we could catch a workout. I was hoping he would be on legs one of the three days, and he was. Conveniently enough, it was on Tuesday; and the second appearance was at a store just a short drive away from my gym.
After we left Cape Cod Nutrition in Easton, we ate at a nearby restaurant. Just as a side note, rarely have I seen a man who can put as much food away every day as Branch. At somewhere between 5-6 and 5-7 and a lean 260 pounds, he has a great deal of muscle mass to maintain; meaning lots of protein and overall calories. I was particularly impressed with how he could eat a huge steak with rice or potatoes and eat again just two hours later. Personally, it takes a good three hours for my appetite to return after eating a large serving of red meat. But as usual, I digress.
Long story short, by the time we walked into the gym, it was 8:30 PM. I usually train at 9 AM, though at times to accommodate others I have trained in the afternoon. Certainly I never train at night. One reason is that I use pre-workout shakes that contain stimulants, which would make falling asleep a daunting task later on. But since we were supposed to drive down to a hotel in Connecticut that night, I didn't worry about having 3 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. Training so late was not a big deal for him.
Of course I simply followed along with what Branch was doing. He's known not only for his insanely developed legs, but also for being incredibly strong and intense 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 gym in the world (Metroflex in Arlington, TX), that makes sense.
We started with leg extensions, doing sets of 20 and moving up in weight. The fourth and final set was a drop set starting with the stack for 20, a bit less weight for 20, and a final drop for 20 to make it 60. I had a good pump in the quads going and was starting to sweat, as it was humid in the gym. Metroflex doesn't have air conditioning and the summer temperatures there are routinely over 100 degrees, so Branch was just fine.
Next up was squats. Standard stuff here, starting light and moving up. I only went to 315 for two sets of 10, while Branch hit 405 for two sets of 15. By now, my legs were tight and pumped. From there we headed over to the leg press, again moving up in weight. 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 had instructed, and this time he got a little over 30. Another two plates taken away, Warren 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. When it came to be my turn, I used the same weight progression but fell far short of the reps Branch did. I think I got 20, 15, and 15, with Branch helping out quite a bit on the last few reps there as my legs were simply shot. The pump and burn from about midway through that 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 even recall the last time I ever 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. What I really wanted to do was lie down on my back and collapse in exhaustion. I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. But it still wasn't over.
Hack squats came next. By now, I was staggering around on wobbly legs like I'd swilled a dozen vodka tonics. Branch did three sets, I only 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, 2 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 slowly began feeling a bit better. On the drive to the restaurant, I managed to chug my shake (same ingredients, but I also put Carnipure in mine) just before we arrived. Ordering a flatiron steak and rice, I vainly attempted to eat some but couldn't manage more than a couple bites. My appetite didn't return for many hours, and since it was already almost midnight be then, that means I didn't eat until the next morning with the exception of some of a protein shake around 3 A.M.
I write this nearly 48 hours later. My legs are tender to the touch, I walk funny, and stairs are rough. The worst part was driving to and from Connecticut yesterday, as my quads would start to cramp every hour or so. But the pain was well worth it. Training legs with Branch was on my 'bucket list,' and now I can say I did it. True, I would have done better had I been better rested and training at my usual time, but I still 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.
Special thanks to Gaspari Nutrition for asking me to accompany Branch on this brief New England tour, and of course to Branch for letting a middle-aged writer attempt to keep up with him just before he begins his preparations for the 50th anniversary edition of the Mr. Olympia contest. The leg soreness will eventually go away, bit the memories will last a lifetime!