Doug Hepburn was one of the famous old-school lifters of the golden age, a guy who was knocking out some spectacular feats back in the 1950s and 60s. We’re talking about a guy that was putting 370 lbs over his head, with strict form, for triples, and 400 lbs for singles; strict-curling 225 lbs; and squatting 600 lbs. Doug was benching over 500 lbs in days before bench shirts.
Yeah yeah, genetics blah blah anything works for them blah blah. You may not reach those weights without Doug’s genetics, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn some lessons from what he recommended. The same goes for any big, strong lifters. So I want to look at his programs, which are quite interesting because they aren’t quite the same old things you see every day. These setups rely on a lot of very low-rep sets, in the same vein as Anthony Ditillo or Steve Justa; stuff you just don’t see a whole lot of these days what with all the ‘bodybuilding’ floating around.
I like Doug’s routines because they’re simple, and because they’re largely auto-regulating. This means that there’s no complex planning or periodization involved – you follow the plan as outlined and progress takes care of itself. What’s listed below are the workouts – the sets/reps, rough weights to use, and a progression method.
The Original ‘Power’ and ‘Pump’ Routines
The programs you’ll tend to find from Doug talk of doing a ‘power’ routine followed by a ‘pump’ routine.
The ‘power’ routine would have you start out with a weight that you could handle for five singles. These weren’t meant to be all-out maxes; heavy, yes, but not ass-kicking grinders. Each workout, you’d add one more single until you hit eight reps.
Another variant attributed to him starts out with 8×2 (eight doubles) – just like the singles, these should not be maximal sets. Heavy, yes, but not grinders. Each workout, you’d add a rep until you hit 8×3 (that’s eight triples).
Then you’d follow that up with the ‘pump’ routine, which was your basic 5×5 setup. I told you that thing goes back ages. This was a little different though; most versions had you starting out with 5×3 (five triples) and then adding reps workout by workout until you reached 5×5. That’s a bit of a different approach from the common 5×5 ‘sets across’ that’s popular today.
Interestingly enough, the story goes that both Bill Starr and Mark Rippetoe were originally influenced by Hepburn’s approach, combining the 5×1 and 5×5 workouts. The singles were dropped because, let’s face it, that’s a long workout; and thus you get the 5×5 we know today. Funny how all this stuff connects.
As he became older, I’m told that he changed his mind about those suggestions, feeling that doing both of the ‘power’ and ‘pump’ routines in the same session was overkill. I have to say I agree, because anything that has you doing a ton of low-rep sets is going to be a hard workout all by itself. Add multiple sets of 5 on top of that and you’re gonna be in the gym awhile.
With that in mind, he changed to the three routines that are listed below, named simply ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’.
The A, B, and C Routines
I grabbed this information from a poster named twiceborn over on T-mag, perhaps one of the few useful things to come out of that site. He said that these changed recommendations were in Doug’s videos that he released in the 90s, but unfortunately I’m in no position to confirm that. If any readers happen to know, or if you’re twiceborn and you happen to read this, drop me a line.
On Doug’s newer A and B routines:
One thing Doug changed later in his life is that you DO NOT do the Power and Pump programs together in the same workout.
He felt the Pump program was overkill and probably did him more harm than good. 8 sets of 90% singles followed by a full 5×5 would kill any of us.
His refined training which he advised when older and wiser (in the late 90’s before his death) went like this:
“A Routine” – Use Singles, start with 4 total and build up one rep per workout until you hit 10. (4 to 10 reps with 90%)
“B Routine” – Use triples and do the same progression. This was used when you went stale on the “A” routine, and was used until you were using the same weight for triples as you did for singles on “A” (12-30 reps with 75-80%)
You would do the “A” program until you went stale (and you WILL go stale, trust me) and then switch to the “B” routine for a few months. You don’t pick and choose depending on the day,you use them in order, A/B/A/B… Doug thought the average guy could go 4 months on each before having to switch to the other program. THIS, he said, was the key to continued gains.
If using the “old style” workouts, you ALWAYS add the single reps to the FIRST sets until you hit the goal. For example:
5/4/3/3/3… and so on…
More about the A, B, and C routines:
At the end of his career he actually split up the two workouts “Power” and “Pump” and used them as I mentioned, one for a few months and the other for a few months.
First 3-4 months:
one set of 5 at 50%
60% x 1
70% x 1
80% x 1
4-10 singles @ 90% (“A Routine”)
when you peak out and cant add any more weight…
Second 3-4 months:
one set of 5 at 50%
60% x 1
70% x 1
80% or thereabouts for 4-10 sets of 3 (“B Routine”)
80% for 3/3/3/3/3 building to 5/5/5/5/5 (“C Routine”)
And yet a little more detail:
Doug never used percents, he realized some guys could do more than others at a certain percent.
If I mentioned percents I am sorry, I was just trying to illustrate.
He said to take 5 reps with a light weight to start. Then add weight and do a single, add again for another single and add yet again for the last single. This was the warm up. a set of 5 and 3-4 singles to get to your working weight.
The next single would be at your working weight, which was “heavy enough to strain with but not your max”. This was not necessarily 90% but thats what it averages out to for me. YOU MAY BE DIFFERENT.
Use a weight you strain with but can get 4 singles, and build up to 10.
If you do the “B” routine, use a weight you can get 4 triples with and build it up the same way.
If you use the “C” routine, stay with 5 sets but start with 3’s and build them up to 5’s.
THE “C” (PUMP) ROUTINE IS JUST A SHORTENED VERSION OF THE “B” ROUTINE! Use it if you dont want to hang around for 10 sets, simple as that.
I think these changes make the routines a lot more practical for most people, instead of beating you into paste on the regular. I also like the sequencing of the A and B workouts, and keeping the C in reserve for easier phases (or unloading if you prefer). That can make for a nice long-term progression, based on small, incremental gains – the kind of training that’s actually productive and good for longevity.
For the weekly routine, look no further than the Tight Tan Slacks.
From Strength & Bulk, Doug seemed to like alternating between upper and lower body workouts (familiar!), with a one day on, one or two days off arrangement. That may be tough for you OCD wackos that can’t stay out of the gym, or for those of you that can’t get to the gym on just any day of the week. But I bet if you’re clever, you can figure out a solution.
Press from Stands (out of the rack, if you prefer)
Another option is listed from The Hepburn Method
Most of the workouts attributed to Doug follow some variation on that theme, really – combinations of squats and deadlifts for the lower body, and bench pressing, overhead pressing, and curls for the upper body.
Personally, that is, if it were up to me, I’d probably default to something like this, used with the newer A/B/C progressions.
Overhead Press (Clean & Press would be a good option here too)
Bench movement can be things like board presses, floor press, bottom-up presses, stuff like that. Overhead press can be strict military, push press, partials out of the rack, whatever.
Deadlifts alternated with Power Cleans
Squats and Deads on the same day sounds brutal, and it probably would be, but I imagine you’d get used to it. It would be worse with the triples than the singles, I imagine. If it got to be a problem, I’d probably slot in front squats instead of back squats on deadlift days.