The Hepburn Method: How to increase your strength by 120 LBS (55 KG)

hepburn method

Review of The Doug Hepburn Method of Strength

Doug Hepburn (16/9/1926 to 22/11/2000), full name Douglas Ivan Hepburn, was a Canadian weightlifter and strongman who won the gold medal at the 1952 World Weightlifting Championships and was inducted into Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame (1953).

Hepburn was dominant in the strength training world during the 50’s and was touted as “world’s strongest man” for his feats of strength.

Some of his famous lifts are:

  • World record press of 371 1/4 pounds at the 1953 world championships
  • Two hand press off rack: 440 pounds
  • Jerk press: 500 pounds
  • Squat: 760 pounds
  • Two-Hand strict curl: 260 pounds
  • Crucifix: 200 pounds (100-pound dumbbell in each hand)
  • Wide-Grip Bench Press: 580 pounds (touch and go)
  • Right-hand military press: 175 pounds

hepburn method

Also, he was the first man to Bench Press 500 pounds, and all of this was done before the steroid use became prevalent in strength world. Moreover, he was born with physical deformities including a severe squint and a clubfoot.  Normally, such a person is not deemed to be a world class weightlifter but he did. Besides, he stayed strong well into his 50’s; at age 54, he squatted 600 pounds for 8 reps, and military pressed with a 170-pound dumbbell!hepburn method

These facts lend more credibility to the strength methods of Hepburn.

Let’s delve into his methods which turned him into such a phenom.

Hepburn Method of Training for Strength

Doug Hepburn inclined towards slow strength progressions, and he believed in periodizing training in a manner which allows a trainee to completely adapt to a training load before moving on to the next heavier load.

He was so confident of his programming that he claimed any guy could gain 120 lbs on big lifts, and 60 lbs on isolation exercises through the training plans laid out by him.

In essence, his approach was to accumulate volume with a weight before increasing load, so set/rep progression over load-progression.  And he liked to switch up programming when progress starts getting stagnant by using different methods with the same lifts. He wasn’t big on the exercise variety.hepburn method press

Doug was of the opinion that strength should be developed not just for One rep max’s but also in the 4 to 6 rep range, as we also discussed in our famous How To Increase Strength article.

The key point of his training theories was that he focused on long-term progression (periodization) than the short 4 to 6-week plans like most trainees suffering from Training ADD prefer.

Lay-Out of Hepburn Progressionhepburn method squat

Hepburn method focuses only on 2 or 3 main lifts per workout and no other exercises as filler. Hepburn liked to do only a few things at a time but with full focus and undivided attention. It was the secret of his success in the strength training.

He splits his training in 2 to 6 workouts each week with each muscle trained up to a frequency of 2 to 3 times in a training week (microcycle). He would use full body workouts when training 2 or 3 times a week, otherwise an upper body/lower body split.

The linear progression periodization model used is arranged in the following manner. You start with 1 set of 3 reps & 7 sets of 2 reps on Week 1 with a load of around 80% to 85% of your max on the given main lift assuming you train your main lift twice a week.

Here’s how you use this model:

WEEK 11X3, 7X22X3, 6X2
WEEK 23X3, 5X24X3, 4X2
WEEK 35X3, 3X26X3, 2X2
WEEK 47X3, 1X28X3


After you successfully complete this mesocycle with the given load, you increase the load by 2 to 5 Kg depending upon the lift and repeat this cycle. You continue repeating it until you hit the wall.

Let me tell you that if you stay conservative with adding load each mesocycle and consume lots of high-quality food, then you’ll keep progressing on this plan for quite some time. Many lifters who follow this progression report making progress for up to a year!

And later when people abandon this plan, it’s not due to lack of progress but boredom.

Sample Workout Plan based on Hepburn Methodhepburn method handstands

We’re providing you a workout program based on Hepburn Method developed by us for our clients which yielded immense results.

The training is divided into a traditional upper/lower split with the training goal of improving maximal strength on power lifts. Training frequency is 4 workouts a week with each power lift (except deadlift) practiced twice a week.


ASquatStrength Pyramid14 to 61
BSquatHepburn Progression28Doubles &/or Triples
CSquatRA5032 to 3AMRAP



AMilitary PressStrength Pyramid14 to 61
BBench PressStrength Pyramid4 to 61
C1Military PressHepburn Progression28Doubles &/or Triples
C2Cable RowsNormal86
DMilitary PressRA5032 to 3AMRAP




ASquatStrength Pyramid14 to 61
BDeadliftStrength Pyramid4 to 61
CDeadliftHepburn Progression28Doubles &/or Triples
DDeadliftRA5032 to 3AMRAP



AMilitary PressStrength Pyramid14 to 61
BBench PressStrength Pyramid4 to 61
C1Bench PressHepburn Progression28Doubles &/or Triples
DBench PressRA5032 to 3AMRAP



  1. Strength Pyramid

    It is a method where you increase your load every set in a pyramid fashion doing only 1 rep each set to minimize fatigue buildup. You should not go to your 100% max, but only up to around 90%.

For eg. If your max on bench press is 100 Kg, then you do your strength pyramid like this:

Set 120 Kg (Bar only)1
Set 240 Kg1
Set 360 Kg1
Set 470 Kg1
Set 580 Kg1
Set 690 Kg1


  1. Hepburn Progression

    Astated in the article, you start training cycle with 1X3, 7X2 and finish with 8X3; add load and repeat.

  2. RA50

    This method stands for Rep Accumulation starting with 50% of your max for a total of 50 reps. In the above example your max is 100 Kg, then you’ll do your RA50 sets by using 50 Kg on the bench press. You’ll attempt to do 3 sets of as many reps as possible on each set until a total of 50 reps is achieved. Once you’re able to complete all of your 50 reps in 2 sets or less, increase the load by 2 to 5 Kg next workout. For visual learners, below table explains it better:

    WEEK 150 Kg25 reps20 reps5 reps
    WEEK 250 Kg30 reps20 reps0 reps
    WEEK 355 Kg20 reps18 reps12 reps

    And so on.

A, B, C notations indicate normal sets, you complete all sets of A, then move to B and so on.

A1, A2 notations indicate alternate sets, you do 1 set of A1, rest 15 seconds, then move on to do a set of A2. Rest for the desired period, and repeat till all of the sets are done.

You can add some isolation work at the end for your weak muscle parts, but only add 1 to 2 exercises with for 2 sets without going to failure. However, the clients who reported best gains didn’t add any additional work to the program.

Fun Fact: Hepburn – The champion of wisecracks & comebackshepburn method fun

Once a ‘douchebag’ mockingly asked Doug Hepburn, “How is it to be all brawn and no brain?”

To this Hepburn wittingly replied, “I don’t know man, you tell me what it is like to be neither?”

16 thoughts on “The Hepburn Method: How to increase your strength by 120 LBS (55 KG)

  1. awesome, this program came just at the right time. I was looking for a solid program for strength, and now I’m gonna use this. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Awesome progression structure. No nonsense simple yet amazingly effective program for anyone to make fantastic gains on. Would highly recommend! Thanks for the gains.

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    1. Kyo, the purpose of strength pyramid method is to potentiate the neural activation via post potentiating effect. A fixed weekly progression plan is not required here, you just need to increase set by set load up to only 10% higher than the load selected for the Hepburn progression.
      For eg, if your max bench press is 100 Kg, and you selected 80 Kg load for Hepburn progression than you only need to get up to about 90 Kgs on strength pyramid sets. Over time if your progress on Hepburn Progression takes you to 120 Kg for 8X3, you’ll be going up to about 130 Kg on strength pyramids.

      1. Ok, got it !
        So the moment I succeed a mesocycle on Hepburn method (like taking 80 kg to 82.5 kg) my strength pyramid should always match up my Hepburn progress ie going to 92.5 kg to get a potentiation effect.Thank you for the clarification.
        Oh and, is it ok to lower the rep accumulation for deadlift ? Seeking 50 rep seems really brutal (I could not stand the BB style on 531 with deadlift 5×10). Do you progress on a weekly linear fashion for the assistance exercices (those with normal scheme method) ?
        Thank you, sorry for asking again ! Your workout looks solid.

        1. is it ok to lower the rep accumulation for deadlift ?

          I would suggest lowering the intensity to about 40% rather than cutting the total reps. Since deadlifts are being practiced with lower frequency in this program, reps are required to perfect the technique for continuous progress over long periods.

          Do you progress on a weekly linear fashion for the assistance exercices

          Not really, you just need to select a heavy enough load to get in the required reps without going to failure. You can either use straight sets or increase load set by set. This volume is required for the structural balance in the program.

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