Olympia Weekend 2012: Branch Warren Interview

Branch Warren has seen it all in a 20-year bodybuilding career, but he hasn't won it all. He's balanced, chiseled, and gunning for the Sandow.

For Branch Warren, this year's Olympia is all about redemption. After closely fought second- and third-place Olympia finishes in 2009 and 2010, Warren, the current Arnold Classic champion, hopes to finally capture the only title that eludes him.

Considering the recent gains he made, the shape he is renowned for, and the hunger that drives him to victory in almost every show he enters, there is no counting the man out.

Forced out of 2011's Olympia with a torn left quad tendon—an injury many felt he would not fully recover from—Branch defied the naysayers to not only compete against the world's best at the 2012 Arnold Classic, but to resoundingly win this show against formidable opposition.

After an excellent training year, which included the birth of his first child, Branch is determined and at his all-time physical best.

Warren is his own man; a blue-collar bodybuilder whose only concern is the training that has been responsible for bringing about the transformation that has seen him go from being a bottom-heavy Most Muscular winner to one of the top three bodybuilders competing today.

In winning his last four shows—the 2011 Arnold Classic, 2011 British Grand Prix, 2012 Arnold Classic, and 2012 Australian Pro Grand Prix—Warren has positioned himself as a major threat to Phil Heath's title defense going into this year's Olympia.

But can he win against what might be the best field ever assembled?

In the following interview, big Branch discusses how he has prepared for the most important Olympia of his life, how he overcame adversity to become a two-time Arnold Classic champion, and how fatherhood has changed him.

When did you begin training specifically for this year's Olympia?

About one week after the Arnold.

Do you find that the longer you compete, the more rest you need in the offseason to prepare for your next big event? And do you feel you are you as strong as you have ever been?

I continue to train how I always have done, and I think I'm as strong as I have ever been.

What, if anything, have you done differently, training-wise, to prepare for the 2012 Olympia?

My training pretty much stays the same. I have a good combination together and won my last four competitions in a row [2011 Arnold Classic, 2011 British Grand Prix, 2012 Arnold Classic, and 2012 Australian Pro Grand Prix], so I'm still doing the same thing.

Your chest and back continue to improve. What are you doing differently for these groupings?

Yes, for a couple of months I did some specific training for these areas with a strength coach, Josh Bryant, before switching back to my normal training. This training did make a lot of difference.

We used rubber bands, chains, and bunch of different exercises and ways of doing things, especially for my back. We did some crazy back stuff. This gave my back a better shape.

So in switching back, I assume you mean going back to the heavy, hardcore style of training you are known for.

Yes, still banging away.

Did you make any dietary changes to prepare for this year's Olympia?

No, my diet is the same. For the Olympia [compared to the 2012 Arnold] we started the diet a couple of weeks earlier, but that's about it.

Do you measure your daily caloric consumption and grams of macronutrients?

No, not at all. George [Farah] gives me a plan and I follow it. I used to do it all myself and could tell you then, but not since 2009. This makes it a little bit easier, receiving the program and following it.

I eat a lot of calories and carbs. Higher than most, I would say. I probably eat more carbs than the average.

What do you typically consume, supplement-wise, pre and post workout?

I take [Muscletech] Hydroxycut Hardcore in the morning before I train and [Muscletech] Nano Vapor after I train, and I always take [Muscletech] Nitro-Tech. And I take [Muscletech] Vitakic vitamins in the morning.

How does your diet vary off-season to pre-contest?

Sometimes I think I eat more food pre-contest than I do in the offseason, to tell you the truth. I tend to grow into my diet by eating more rather than less.

But you would eat more clean calories pre-contest than you would in the offseason.

Absolutely. It's not that strict in the offseason, and if I want a little something I will eat it. But I eat pretty good year-round; I try to stay in shape because I do so many guest posing spots.

In the offseason I don't deviate from the pre-contest diet too much. I do eat a lot of pasta, and if I want pizza once each week, I will have it, but other than that I stay pretty strict.

How important do you feel nutrition is compared with training and other related variables?

I would say that 75 percent of bodybuilding progress is nutrition and proper supplementation and about 25 percent is training. You see guys who train just as hard as I do, but they don't make the kinds of gains I make because they don't have the right nutrition and they don't supplement right. So a big factor in the success we have is the nutrition.

Can you give me a rundown on your protein intake?

I have roughly 400 grams of protein per day, evenly divided out over seven meals.

Do you set the clock and eat during the night, as some competitors do?

No, I have never done that.

Do you eat prior to your morning cardio or do you do your cardio on an empty stomach?

On an empty stomach. I usually wake up, drink a cup of coffee, and then do my cardio.

And how long do you usually rest after cardio, before doing your weight training?

I get up around 6:30 a.m. At 6.45 I do my cardio, and I train at 10 a.m.

Do you subscribe to intra-training nutrition?

No, I think that is for people who don't train intense. If you train intense, you are not going to stop during your workout to eat.

You are known for your backbreaking training sessions. How long do these typically go for?

From 45 minutes to just over an hour. It varies.

Do you, like many other pro competitors, tend to go heavier with your training in the offseason?

No, we go heavy year-round. Right after the Olympia, we do go lighter—maybe through October and into November—but after that, man, we ramp it back up.

So for how many weeks after a big show such as the Olympia do you stay away from the gym?

It all depends. After the Arnold, I was back into it a week later. But when training for the Olympia, this year, I really go by how I feel. I try to take 1-2 weeks off after the Olympia.

If I feel I need more, I will take more. Whenever I start missing the gym and get that itch to get back in there, then that's when I go back.

Wouldn't you need more time off after a big event such as the Olympia?

Come on man, you train just as hard for the Arnold as you do for the Olympia. I did everything I could do to win the Arnold this year, so am doing everything I can for this one too. I give 100 percent no matter what contest I'm getting ready for.

You won the Arnold Classic twice and came close to winning the Olympia. Being a two-time Arnold champion and two-time Olympia top-three finisher, do you feel there is any additional pressure on you to prove yourself at this year's Olympia?

No, with all I overcame to win the Arnold this year, the pressure doesn't get much greater than that. Six and a half months before this year's Arnold, I couldn't walk. But I rehabbed it and came back, not just to compete but to win.

I had a lot of other things I overcame during that time, too, so there can be no more pressure than that. You are only pressured if you let yourself be pressured.

To come back from a serious injury to win the Arnold Classic in arguably the best shape of your life is an incredible feat. A variable you had control over was your attitude toward the adversity you encountered. How big of a role did your mindset play in your recovery?

Absolutely, you have to constantly visualize yourself as the winner. I had surgery on the Monday [after the injury occurred] and then told my wife I was going to get ready for the Arnold; we never discussed this again.

The next Monday, one week later, I was back in the gym training. Obviously it was all upper body; I couldn't train legs for a while. I just made a decision to go back and compete, but not only compete, but win. I never gave it a second thought.

There were times I would look at my leg, 3-4 months into training, and it still had a couple of inches to go before it was back to where it needed to be. I just had to have faith in God and in myself. It all came down to mental toughness; there was no quit. Just don't let anything get to you, man. I also had some guest posing work so I stayed in good shape for that.

How did you deal with the speculation that you would not return to defend your Arnold title?

I stayed positive at all times. I don't go on the forums and all that crap, and I don't listen to the BS.

I have a good training partner and a good trainer, so we just do our thing.

At this year's Arnold Classic you looked to be bigger than ever. Will you be better than ever at the upcoming Olympia?

In 2009 I got second at the Olympia and was, I feel, in my best condition ever; my body fat is currently lower than it was back then, and we are eight days out.

So, yes, I think you will see my all-time best conditioning at this year's Olympia.

I think this contest is wide open, but I really brought it this time.

The current consensus among fans seems to be that you will place third at this year's Olympia. What are your thoughts on a potential third-place finish?

I'm training to win and it doesn't matter what people think. I won the Arnold when people had me in third place there. So it's all a bunch of hype and crap. I will step out onstage on Friday night and we will see what's up.

Competing at your level is not easy. Do you find training and dieting for a contest a big as the Olympia becomes harder the more you do it?

It's never easy. Relatively speaking, I think it's probably a little easier than it used to be; I've done it for so long and it's been a big part of my life for such a long time that it's just what I do. And if you really love what you do it's not really work. If you have a job you hate every day and you get up to go to work, now that would suck.

What motivates you to be at your best year after year?

To win that show, man. I set a bunch of shows for myself a long time ago and I have accomplished every one of them. I just have one left. So that's what motivates me.

Do you enjoy the process of working to win the Olympia as much as you would enjoy winning the title itself?

Well, with the process you have to go through the journey to achieve the outcome, so over the years I've come to enjoy the journey. I enjoy pushing myself in the gym to see how far I can go beyond my limits—further than I ever have before, so I can present a better physique onstage than I ever have. You have to do that to get the outcome you want.

This year's Olympia will showcase probably the best lineup in recent memory, including, of course, yourself, front and center. Who would you consider to be your main competition?

My main competition is Branch Warren.

So you just concentrate on your own game, rather than thinking about what anybody else is doing?

Yes, that's it.

Given the adversity you have in recent times faced, does this year's Olympia hold any special significance for you?

Well, hopefully it will be the one I win. I couldn't even tell you who will be in the contest and probably don't even care. I focus on myself and the things I am in control of. All that other stuff I can't control so there is no point focusing on it.

Whereas once you were known for your tremendous leg development, you are now considered to be a much more balanced competitor.

That is correct, and my placements have reflected that. In my early pro days I was bottom heavy. So I spent many years training hard and through a lot of hard work and pain I brought some areas up to do what I needed to do.

With my Arnold Classic wins and in placing in the top three at the Olympia, I think that speaks for itself as far as my physique being balanced out now.

You now have a young family with the arrival of your daughter. How has this affected your prep?

It has made me more focused on my training than ever. If you are a bodybuilder, especially a pro bodybuilder, you are, by nature, pretty selfish and self-centered. That's just the nature of the sport; it makes you that way, even if you are not naturally that way as a person.

It's all about you: your training, eating, tanning, posing, and resting. You are always thinking about yourself first. Having a little girl for the first time in my 20-year career, I have to think about somebody else before I think about myself.

So that's a good thing. And on top of that, getting married was a big moment in my life. It wasn't just me anymore, but now I have a family. I have to stay healthy, and more than ever, I want to succeed to provide a good life for them.

What would you like to say to your fans who will be cheering you on to your first Olympia win?

I would just like to say that I wouldn't be able to do what I have been doing if it wasn't for the fans. I have been very blessed to have so much support from so many young men and women out there.

I am just so thankful that you guys buy the supplements, read the magazines, and come to the shows so I get to live out my dream. I have trained my butt off this year to hopefully not disappoint you.