Branch Warren wants to tell you something you may not want to hear: You're only as "built" as your calves and hamstrings.
That may sound like the sort of physique critique that's only meant for elite pros, but this bodybuilding legend and Kaged Muscle athlete wants every lifter, everywhere, to hear it. It's a window into why he has been a successful bodybuilder, as well as a successful businessman, since his teens.
Here's the thing: In lifting, and in life, most of us are damn good at doing what we're already strong at. And we're pretty terrible at bringing the same intensity where we're lacking.
In other words, you may have tried every intensity booster and novel rep scheme in the book for your quads, but what about for your hamstrings? It's probably the same old 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps, stop once you feel a slight burning feeling, and hop right off the machine. Do the same thing for your calves—maybe—and go home.
According to Branch, that's what's holding back your leg training—and even why your back hurts.
"Having strong hamstrings, if you're doing squats or leg press, it's going to help you stabilize the movement and just make you stronger and better," he explains. "If your hamstrings are weak, there's a greater chance you're going to hurt your lower back. The back, abs, and hamstrings all play in conjunction with one another. Not only will you look better, but you'll be stronger and more balanced overall."
Here's everything you need to know to add depth to your training and definition to your lower body.
Brutally Simple and Simply Brutal
This routine is short—seriously, it might just take you 10-15 minutes—but it represents only a portion of Branch's lower-body day. Most often, he'll tack it onto the end of a quad workout heavy with squats, leg presses, and walking lunges across the Metroflex parking lot. Other days, he'll start leg day with hamstrings, an intense cramp-fest that must be experienced to be believed.
Just pick a pair of hamstring exercises—really, any will do. Branch likes the lying leg curl and the seated leg curl, so he can go heavy AF on the first machine, and get a finishing pump on the second. But any of these will work:
- Seated machine leg curl (one leg or two)
- Lying machine leg curl (one leg or two)
- Dumbbell leg curl
- Seated cable hamstring curl (one leg or two)
Pick your first move, and then build up to a heavy set of at least 12-15 reps. Branch manhandles the full stack for 15-20 reps, but…he's Branch Warren.
Once he hits that top weight or maxes the machine out, Branch says, "I do as many as I can do. Drop it down, [then] do as many as I can do. Drop it down again, and do as many as I can do. After I'm warmed up, I'll pick a different variation, and basically do the same thing all over again."
This is high-intensity training at its finest, and most people will be cooked after one working set and a double dropset of each movement. Branch does at least 2 sets.
"At the end of the day, it's all about how much blood you can force into the muscle," he says. "How else are you going to get it to grow?"
Lying Leg Curl
Before you reach your working weight, do a couple of light warm-up sets of around 15-20 reps. It's OK if you don't count the reps. Just go until you feel a good pump, but not until you hit failure. Then, do a set with the heaviest weight you can handle for around 12-15 reps. Branch likes the lying leg curl first because he can go heavier, and because the positioning and the handles allow him to really explode into each rep. Don't sell yourself short here.
Seated Leg Curl
Start off again with a couple of light warm-up sets. Then it's time for the same battle you just finished: a working set, followed by two dropsets. But this time around, it's all about tempo and control.
"The way I do seated leg curls is, like, I keep my arms across my chest and then I come down and squeeze," Branch explains. "Your leg biceps are just like your arm biceps. So it's like doing a concentration curl for your biceps. You come up, and then you squeeze. Down, slow up, and then you squeeze. You get as much blood in there as you can, make it cramp, and get that deep-down burn. I feel it way better than when I just go heavy."
Standing Calf Raise
"For years, I didn't train calves, and they were my best body part," Branch says. "But now that I'm retired, I like to train. So I'm working some calves back into the mix just because I like doing it."
Training calves for fun—that says it all, doesn't it?
Take the same approach here as you do for hammies: One heavy set with a full stretch and contraction on each rep, followed by two drops. Do it again if you're brave—or just masochistic. Then limp to the showers and slam your post-workout protein.
A Test Fit for Leg Day
"This is the one day you really test yourself, and you find out how much you really want to win. Sometimes people find out they didn't want to win as much as they thought they did," Branch says. "It's a gut check. Getting sick. Getting nose bleeds. Cramping up. Falling down. That's all part of leg day, man.
"But the people who aren't just pushing through it, but doing better than they did last time, every single time? Those are the people who are champions."