The best wheels of our generation. Branch Warren’s legs prove everything is bigger in Texas.
There was only one Tom Platz. Mention the name to any bodybuilding fan and immediately he or she will conjure up a mental image of the greatest legs of all time. Since The Golden Eagle walked offstage for the last time almost thirty years ago, we have yet to see his equal in terms of freaky quads, hams, and calves. But today’s generation has its own king of legs in the form of Branch Warren.
Just as the unreal thighs of Platz amazed and inspired a generation to take their own legs past what was previously considered possible, so too has Branch motivated legions to blast their quads and hams through the pain barrier and into glorious enormity. Be honest – how many of you have stared intently at a few insane photos of the freaky Warren wheels before heading off to the gym on leg day, just to get fired up and ensure a blood and guts, balls to the wall workout? I know I have.
Branch has started his leg workouts with leg extensions for many years, usually doing two sets of 30-40 reps to get a light pump in the quads and blood flowing around the knees. At times he will even do sets of 50 or even 100 reps if the mood strikes him. The leg extension plays a vital role in warming up and pre-exhausting his quads, and as such he's on that sucker for quite a while. He will do seven or eight sets, but these are usually three-stage sets: 20 reps with the right leg, twenty reps with the left leg, followed immediately by 20 sets with both legs at once.
If he does eight sets, that's almost 500 reps of leg extensions just to start things off! "It sounds like a lot, but right now this exercise is more important than it ever has been in the past," he notes. Considering that it plays a key role in the physical therapy process for anyone following a knee surgery, it makes a lot of sense that Branch is parked on it for what must be close to twenty minutes. In case you forgot, he tore his right quadriceps right off the bone in late summer of 2011!
Sometimes Branch will go right into squats from there, and at other times he will use the leg press first. If it's the leg press, he proceeds to do three progressively heavier sets of 20 reps with it. Once he has all the weight he needs, which is usually well over a thousand pounds, the fourth and final set is a brutal drop set. That mountain of iron gets slid up and down the track for 20 reps, then his training partners strip two plates off each side of the posts. Another 20 gut-busting reps follow, and he racks it just long enough for them to remove another two 45's from each side.
Now it's as many reps as possible to failure, which can be anywhere from 20 to 40. Anyone who doesn't think it's possible to nearly pass out or vomit from the leg press (assuming only squats fit that intensity bill) has never seen Branch hit a double drop set on one. Even when you think he's got to be done, he keeps pumping out reps, those massive thighs swelling with more and more blood by the minute.
Safety bar squats
Would you believe this guy was already squatting again just under three months after he tore his quad? Actually, those of you who know Branch probably aren't the least bit surprised. There's a reason "warrior" and "Warren" are so close together in the dictionary.
Few men in bodybuilding have paid as many dues under a squat bar as Branch Warren. I would have said 'under a squat rack,' but that's not accurate in his case. All these years, Branch has been squatting after taking the bar off two big freestanding supports at Metroflex, the kind used in competitive powerlifting. He has squatted 500 pounds for sets of 15 deep reps on too many occasions to count, just to put it out there. Believe it or not, Branch is still squatting, though not as heavy of course, and not always with a regular barbell. Instead he is often uses the 'safety bar,' which is really nothing more than a bar with a padded yoke type of harness welded on to make it easier to stay balanced.
"That really helps take the back out of it," comments Branch, "that way you can stay upright and concentrate on firing with the quads." He had been using the safety bar occasionally for well over a year before the injury, but now Warren finds it invaluable. "For me not to squat at all would be just ridiculous," he explains. "Even with the injury, which is fine now by the way, to me you're not training legs if you're not squatting. With the safety bar squats, I can go down slowly and really focus on making sure the right leg is working just as hard as the left." Until that leg was back up to full capacity, Branch wouldn't do squats with a regular bar as he knew he would be unable to keep from favoring his left leg. But I recently saw him do a couple good sets of 15 with 405 on the regular barbell, so it's safe to say everything is back to normal.
Most men's quads would be toast by now, but Branch is a true workhorse on leg day. Believing that great legs are the result of not just hard work but plenty of it, he makes his way over to the hack squat to target the outer sweep of his mighty quadriceps. "Having the size isn't enough," he points out. "You need shape to the quads too, that flare away from the body." After one set with moderate weight to get his neural system accustomed to the new movement pattern, Branch loads up the machine with four plates, then five, and finally six or seven a side, all for a good 10-12 reps.
Parking lot lunges
Fellow Metroflex Gym member and 8-Time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman made this exercise famous, thanks to his DVD's. Until then, bodybuilders looked at lunges as something women did, but Big Ron showed us all what we had been missing, and made them even more bad-ass by doing them outside. “Ronnie would always do those at the end of his leg workout, and no matter how pumped his thighs already were, they would be 30% bigger by the time he finished lunges,” says Branch.
He has also done his fair share of walking hell in the parking lot, using up to 315 on his back at times for about 100 yards and back. “I don’t even know how I did it,” Branch laughs. The simple answer to that is, he dug down deep, blocked out the pain, and focused on taking just one more step. The deeply-carved separations between the heads of his quadriceps and the chasm nearly dividing his quads and hams from the side is testimony to the fact that this odd exercise dreamt up on a whim is brutally effective.
Standing single-leg curl
Finally it's time for hamstrings, though they have been getting plenty of ancillary work from the compound movements that preceded them: namely the squats, leg presses, and lunges. But now it's time to isolate each hamstring with the standing single-leg curl. Branch does three sets of ten reps for each leg, taking his time on each rep to slowly squeeze the weight up and flex his hamstring for a full contraction before lowering for a controlled negative to let the muscle elongate.
Lying leg curl
Warren wraps up his leg workout on the lying leg curl, doing first two sets of 15 and then going out with a killer pump thanks to a triple drop set. Hitting failure at ten reps, he reduces the weight just enough to fail again at ten, and does this one last time for a grand total of 30 reps. His legs are toast.
What to take from this workout
Right up front, it needs to be said that following Branch's workout to the T will not guarantee you his leg development. Truth be told, by the time Branch won NPC Teenage Nationals at the age of 18 back in 1993, his legs were already bigger than most bodybuilders, regardless of age or training experience. There is only one Branch Warren, and then there's the rest of us! But by following his example of working brutally hard on the basic movements, you can definitely take your quads and hams to their maximum potential. It's all about effort, heart, and never giving up no matter how tough things get! That has been Branch Warren's key to success, and it can be yours too.
Perfect nutrition and supplementation for Leg Day
Before the workout: “You can’t beat a steak and a couple cups of rice. The steak gives you high-quality protein packed with creatine, iron, and B vitamins, and the rice provides slow-burning fuel to power you through those sick squats, leg presses, lunges, and all the other fun stuff." Before he heads off for the half-hour drive to the gym, Branch chugs 3 scoops of Superpump 3.0 in cold water to enhance his energy and focus for the battle with the iron coming up soon.
The minute the workout is over: Another shake packed with nutrients is the first thing Branch has once the workout has ended. "I need to replenish all the amino acids and glycogen that have been depleted over the last hour and a half to two hours," he explains. This shake contains the following:
Post-workout meal: “You know I am a real Texan because an hour later, Trish fixes me up a nice 14-ounce steak. For my carbs, I have a whole bag of pasta and a can of sauce. It may sound like a lot of food, but at my size and with all the energy I put out during a leg workout, my body needs it.”
Branch Warren's Training split
- Monday: Chest
- Tuesday: Legs
- Wednesday: OFF
- Thursday: Back
- Friday: Shoulders and calves
- Saturday: Arms
- Sunday: OFF
|Sample Leg Workout|
|Leg press - Finish with 28 total plates, 1,260 pounds plus sled.||5||28|
|Hack squats - Up to 7 plates per side||4||10|
|Nautilus duo squat +||4||15|
|Squats - Up to 495||4||10|
|Inclined lying leg curl||4||15|
|Seated leg curl||4||15|
|Lying leg curl||4||15|
*Warm-ups not shown.
+ Legs are alternated with this machine from the early 1980's, so it's really a single-leg press