Doug Hepburn’s 1953 Training Cycle

doug-hepburn

An absolute goliath in the training world, Douglas Ivan Hepburn or Doug for short, was one of the most respected athletes of the mid-twentieth century. Winning gold medals at the 1953 World Weightlifting Championships, the 1954 British Empire Games and a series of other contests, Hepburn is perhaps best known for his incredible power. Indeed, the Canadian born strongman was the first individual to bench press 500 pounds and squat over 600 pounds with relative ease. A remarkable feat by anyone’s standards.

The following blogpost is based on Hepburn’s own interview with muscle writer Jim Murray in 1954 and details Hepburn’s training cycles in the lead up to his 1953 gold medal.

The Basic Power Structure

Inspired by the US powerlifter, Paul Anderson, Hepburn made a point of prioritising strength above all else. This he made clear to Murray and his readers

If a man’s temperament is suited to it, I believe he will make better success in weightlifting by training for strength primarily and style secondarily than if he puts great emphasis on learning form

In practical terms this meant Hepburn tended to cycle his programmes based upon his next immediate goal. If he sought to increase his squat, he squatted as much as possible. If he wanted to deadlift more…well you get the idea. Interestingly, Hepburn was a huge advocate of the military press for increasing his benching ability. The crossover of his 400 pound pressing ability was undoubtedly seen in his later successful attempt to bench press 500 pounds unassisted.

Training For the 1953 Games

Unlike modern lifters who may periodise their training over the course of a year, Hepburn’s programme for his successful showing in the 1953 weightlifting championships was remarkably simple. Based first and foremost on low repetitions and heavy weights, Hepburn varied the poundages lifted based upon his mood more than anything else. A unique if nevertheless effective approach.

Even more interesting is the fact that without fail, Hepburn tended to limit himself to three training sessions a week based on the following lifts. To give an idea of the Canadian’s strength, Murray provided readers with Doug’s best training efforts in the lifts.

Monday

Power Cleans

      • 6-8 sets of 2 reps each. Progressively increasing the weight on each set.
      • The first clean is made from the floor and the second is from the hanging position.
      • Best lifts: 280×2/300×2/320×2

Bench Press, regular grip.

      • 6-8 sets of 2 reps each. Progressively increasing the weight on each set.
      • Warmup with 5 reps at moderately heavy weight. Increase for the next set. For the remaining sets stick with the weight.
      • Best lifts: 350×5 for warmup/400×2/430x5x 2 sets.

Squat, heels raised on board.

    • 6-8 sets of 3 reps each. Progressively increasing the weight on each set.
    • Warmup with 5 reps at moderately heavy weight. Increase for the next set. For the remaining sets stick with the weight.
    • Best lifts: 475×5 for warmup/520×3/550x3x5 sets.

Wednesday

Snatch

      • 6-8 sets of 2 reps each. Progressively increasing the weight on each set.
      • The first clean is made from the floor and the second is from the hanging position.
      • Best lifts: 200×4 for warmup/240×2/260x2x6-8 sets..

Bench Press.

  • Same as Monday.

Squat

  • Same as Monday.
Friday
      • Entire workout the same as Monday.

The paucity of Hepburn’s training volume was not lost on Murray who stressed this point for his readership

Note the limited number of exercises used, and that they were practiced in low repetitions for several sets. Doug lifted a  total of 20 cleans or 22 snatches in a single training period.

He limited his squats to a total of 23 and his bench presses to 17. It is interesting to learn that he relied on bench pressing to keep up his pressing power during this period. His press so far exceeded his clean that it was necessary for him to emphasize pulling movements in his pre-contest training.

Did it work?

Hepburn’s official gold winning appearance at the games is perhaps evidence of that. In the three power moves Hepburn’s records were as follows:

      • 371.25 Press
      • 297.25 Snatch
      • 363.75 Clean and Jerk

Simple but effective!

Sources

Train for Strength – Doug Hepburn/Jim Murray (1954 interview)

6 comments

  1. He was my great uncle..my dad’s oldest brother…16 years apart…my grandfather was Harold Horace Hepburn uncle Doug dad…Grandpa was left on the steps of a church in Ontario and his name was pinned to his shirt…the rest of the Hepburn family still lives between Thunder Bay and Sudbury, grandfather was of Ojibwa and Scottish decent…records were lost in a fire at the church!!..The Longleys adopted our grandfather!!..He traveled during the war to different ports all over the world…our grandmother was left with 4 sons as our grandfather came home with a war bride and had 3 daughters!!!..our family has always been told stories of our grandfather’s cheating ways…it is our belief that Doug is our father’s brother. He looks just like my dad!!! ..was in shock when I saw his pic…but I remember my dad always talking about him …and dad said they took a pic of uncle pushing a cement truck on its side…not over..balanced? ? ..We lived in Ontario. .but then dad moved us to Chilliwack outside of Vancouver??? In 1974…seems strange to me…and again my dad always mentioned him..but we were too young to get it!!!

    1. Hi Jennett, happy new year! That is amazing, I just love hearing stories like this. Incredible to have you on this post.

      Is there a trend of strong men and women in your family out of interest? Your great uncle was certainly one of a kind if the reports are true. Have you been interested in his career for long?

      Hope all’s well,

      Conor

  2. I myself lift three times a week and follow methods similar to Doug Hepburn, whom I admire very much. Over the last two years, my Deadlift has moved from 500 to 560 lb, and my Press has gone from 200 to 231 lb. I turned 46 this year.

    Training is very different in the case of a drug-free lifter. I seem to make good progress by allowing my body to rest while practicing my lifts often enough (every other day). I do very few lifts each session (two or three, plus one-handed deadlifts for grip) and will do many sets each lift (8 work sets of 2-3 reps is typical, but sets of 5 are common when I deadlift).

    I am pretty sure I will deadlift 600+ and press 250+ in due time if I keep following these methods and stay healthy.

    1. Hi Dominique. That’s some progress congrats! I’m sure 600+ will come in due time.

      You’re 100% right, the old tried and tested methods are often the best. Listening to your body and training consistently are the goal it seems.

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