"The Texas Chest Massacre" as it appeared in the March 2007 issue of FLEX magazine.
My violent vomiting 15 minutes afterward in the weeds beside MetroFlex probably had everything to do with the tainted surf and turf I consumed the day prior and nothing to do with the sets and reps I had just witnessed, but that caveat doesnÂt diminish the fact that Branch WarrenÂs chest torture was the sickest workout IÂve ever seen.
In more than 20 years of bodybuilding, IÂve 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 ÂHardcoreÂ 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.
Jay Moore screeches to a halt just outside MetroFlex and, with a wary look over his broad shoulder, he tells the gymÂs owner, Brian Dobson, ÂIf the cops come, this ainÂt my car.Â So begins another workout for Moore, 38, his fellow amateur bodybuilder, David Jacobs, 34, and the leader of the pack, Warren, 31.
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.
ÂYep, here we go!Â Warren shouts over the thundering music, stalking around and wrapping his wrists.
Moore: ÂAll day! All day!Â Jacobs: ÂCome on! Come on!Â Taking a wide grip, Warren gets 12 with 315. Moore goes. Jacobs goes. Two more plates Â 405.
Warren paces, securing his elbow pads and tightening his wrist straps and his red, white and blue powerlifting belt. ÂYep! Light weight, motherfÂker!Â
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. ÂHow bad you want it?Â Moore howls. ÂLetÂs go, motherfÂker! This is it! Showtime!Â
As DMX raps ÂParty UpÂ 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 heÂs 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. ÂYÂall gonÂ make me lose my mind, up in here, up in here!Â MooreÂs fingers are under the bar for the final three reps Â eight, nine, 10 Â but Warren gets them on his own. ÂYÂall gonÂ make me go all out, up in here, up in here!Â ThatÂs 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 heÂs gone up to 500, although the last time he did so he tore his triceps.
ÂLetÂs go!Â Warren shouts at Moore just before MooreÂs set. ÂHow bad you want it? What you gonna do? You ainÂt on no diet!Â
ProdigyÂs ÂSmack My Bitch UpÂ 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 Â weights to use or just how much assistance to give Â is unspoken.
Warren begins pumping up barbell bench presses with 225. Then Moore. Then Jacobs. They slide two more plates on, upping the total to 315. Warren. Moore. Jacobs. One off and another on without pause, pumping the bar up in swift sets of 10. (Jacobs uses less weight; itÂs his first day back after shoulder surgery.) Two more 45s go on.
ÂLetÂs go! Smack this bitch up!Â Moore shouts at Warren, who cinches up his belt and secures his wrist wraps. Warren falls back onto the bench. ÂChange my pitch up! Smack my bitch up!Â Moore helps him lift the weight off. ÂI know you got 10!Â
ÂLight weight!Â Warren bellows. The weight is 405, and thatÂs 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 MetroFlexÂs most famous member, eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, would be impressed. This close to the O, Coleman, who weÂll watch train chest in MetroFlex later in the day (see ÂBack to WorkÂ), tops out at 365 for bench presses and 315 for incline presses Â and he doesnÂt go at WarrenÂs ridiculously rapid pace.
Jacobs: ÂThat bitch got smacked up!Â
Moore: ÂTwo weeks out! Two weeks out! AinÂt nobody else doing this sÂt! NobodyÂs even close!Â IÂm 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.
Jacobs lifts the dumbbells onto WarrenÂs thighs.
ÂFÂkinÂ go! Smack your bitch up!Â
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.
ÂCome on!Â he shouts. ÂThose ainÂt sÂt!Â
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 ProdigyÂs ÂFirestarter.Â When, after eight reps, he canÂt get another, he drops the 170s and grabs the 125s. ÂIÂm the pain you tasted, well intoxicated!Â 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.
You might not think cable crossovers are hardcore, and compared to what follows them today, you might be right. Warren typically only does them precontest. Still, when theyÂre done with minimum rest between sets and each rep is squeezed for a maximum, chest-splintering contraction, theyÂre nothing like a reprieve. WarrenÂs pecs look like mounds of spaghetti as he crunches out each of his 15 reps with 100 pounds. AC/DCÂs ÂBack in BlackÂ is pumping. ÂDonÂt try to push your luck, just get out of my way!Â Four sets are done rapid fire, and next thing I know heÂs draping gargantuan chains around his neck.
The chains look like they should be dangling from a schooner and attached to a refrigerator-sized anchor. In fact, theyÂre used mostly for strengthening bench-press lockouts (a barbell with chains attached grows heavier the higher it goes as progressively more links come off the floor). Warren has three of them festooning his neck, and together they weigh approximately 200 pounds. Guns NÂ RosesÂ ÂWelcome to the JungleÂ is bellowing when he hoists himself onto two thick pipes bolted to the wall that serve as dipping bars.
Warren gets 13 deep, full reps with all three chains along for the ride. ÂLetÂs go! Light weight!Â Then he yanks one chain off and it crashes to the floor in an explosion of dust. ÂCome on!Â He keeps dipping, leaning far forward. ÂYa learn to live like an animal in the jungle where we play!Â
ÂFÂk it! DonÂt stop!Â When he pauses, itÂs only long enough to duck forward so the chains fall off. Then he gets as many reps as he can with just his own 250 or so pounds. All together he does a dipping drop set of 26 reps. ÂYeah, baby! Light weight!Â Warren shouts as Moore dips with the not-sobling necklaces. ÂGo, motherfÂker, go!Â
After Jacobs goes, Warren, with the chains, climbs back onto the dipping bars. We bodybuilders affectionately call hardcore gyms Âdungeons,Â but this scene literally does look like something from a medieval torture chamber: WarrenÂs head swallowed up by rusty chains, dirt, dust, cobwebs, mangled metal, thumping-thumping-thumping clamor mixed with screams (ÂI wanna watch you bleed!Â), and still he keeps working, dipping up and down, up and down, over and over again, and all the while his tormenters shout curses and commands for him to keep going at any cost. One chain falls to the dust. More, more, more! LetÂs go! Two more chains crash down. YouÂre in the jungle now! More! More! Never give up! Go, motherfÂker, go!
The workout began with 405 inclines for sets of 10 and ended, 45 minutes later, with drop sets of Âchain-reactionÂ 200-pound dips. It occurs to me later when the hotel room has stopped spinning that my fevered brain may have imagined the most outrageous parts of the workout in a desperate attempt to make me lie down before I dropped to the floor. That much weight, that many reps, that fast, that close to the Olympia? The deafening noise, the incomprehensible density of veiny mass, the f-bomb barrages, the dust and rust, those damn chains?
ÂHardcoreÂ Horton confirms it all, and his camera doesnÂt lie.
It was a workout that maybe couldÂve (or perhaps shouldÂve) only occurred in MetroFlex Â ground zero for hardcore bodybuilding, a sort of alternate universe where shouting, dropping weights and tearing it up like never before are not only tolerated, theyÂre actually encouraged. In that gym Â his first true gym, and the gym he returned to for legendmaking days like this Â Branch WarrenÂs training is utterly, unabashedly sick, and I mean that as the ultimate bodybuilding compliment.
WARREN'S CHEST ROUTINE
|Incline Barbell Presses||3||8-10|
|Barbell Bench Presses||3||8-10|
|Dumbbell Bench Presses||3||8-10|
Check out some more photos from the shoot. (Click to enlarge)