Extreme Powerbuilding: The Hepburn Method

Doug Hepburn was one of the biggest and strongest natural lifters in the history of the sport. Discover how Doug trained.

You want muscle, but you also want strength. And you want them as quickly as possible.

Maybe you’re a hardgainer with little strength. Or possibly you’re weak and overweight. You are finished playing around, and want to make a radical change to achieve your goals.

Enter powerbuilding.

Powerbuilding is a lifting term that mixes bodybuilding and powerlifting. Your goal in powerbuilding is to get as big and strong as possible, in the shortest period of time. Powerbuilding routines work well when bulking, but they can also assist in retaining muscle mass while cutting.

The Doug Hepburn Method

Doug HepburnDoug Hepburn was a Canadian strongman. He won a weightlifting gold medal at the 1953 World Championships.

Doug was old school strong. He was the first natural lifter to bench press 500 pounds, and he could squat 600 pounds for reps at the age of 54. But, Doug wasn’t just strong. He was also as big as a tank.

One of Doug Hepburn’s training routines – known as Program A – is known for its uncanny ability to create consistent strength gains. If you stick with the program, it’s possible to add 120 pounds to any major lift over the course of a single year. Here’s how it works…

You perform each workout twice a week. Generally, I recommend four total weekly workouts for natural lifters: which is basically a simple split routine. But we’ll get into program specifics later. All you need to know right now is that you will be performing each major lift twice a week.

On the first training day, you will perform 8 sets of 2 reps each, using approximately 80% of your one rep max – or a weight you could knock out 8 reps to failure with. So, your workout for this lift would look like:

2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2

Now, for each subsequent workout, add a single rep to the scheme. This additional rep will be added to the last remaining 2-rep set that you performed on your previous workout. So, your set/rep scheme during your second workout would look like:

2,2,2,2,2,2,2,3

Basically, each week you will be replacing two of your 2-rep sets with 3-rep sets. When you get to the point where you are performing all sets with 3 reps, add 10 pounds to the bar.

Here’s what an 8 workout scheme would look like. Again, remember that this would be 4 weeks worth of training:

  • 2,2,2,2,2,2,2,3
  • 2,2,2,2,2,2,3,3
  • 2,2,2,2,2,3,3,3
  • 2,2,2,2,3,3,3,3
  • 2,2,2,3,3,3,3,3
  • 2,2,3,3,3,3,3,3
  • 2,3,3,3,3,3,3,3
  • 3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3

Following the last workout, add 10 pounds to the bar and start over again with 2 rep sets. Over time, or on some lifts, it may be difficult to move up by 10 pound increments. Moving up 5 pounds at a time is also a completely acceptable practice.

This may seem like a slow, methodical training method that won’t produce results. But think it through for a moment. If you add 10 pounds to the bar every month, you will increase your squat, bench press and deadlift by 120 pounds each year. That’s quite a large jump.

Imagine going from a 180 pound bench press max to a 300 pound max in only a year. This additional strength also forces your body to adapt, and add muscle. Use Doug Hepburn’s system along with a proper bulking (or cutting) cycle, and you will gain muscle, and/or lose fat.

Powerbuilding Routine

Now that we have an understanding of the Hepburn 8x2 to 8x3 system, it’s time to lay out a full powerbuilding routine.

On each training day, you will perform two exercises using the 8x2 pattern. Rest 2 minutes between each set, and no longer. You don’t want this workout to turn into a marathon session.

Doug Hepburn Squats

After you complete both 8x2 exercises, rest 5 minutes. Next, you will perform the same 2 exercises…this time for reps, and with 20% lighter weight. Perform 3 sets of 6 reps. And on the next workout day, increase one of the sets by one rep.

Continue the pattern of increasing reps, until you hit 3 sets of 8 reps. Then, increase the weight on the bar by 10 pounds. The rep pattern will look like:

  • 6/6/6
  • 6/6/7
  • 6/7/7
  • 7/7/7
  • 7/7/8
  • 7/8/8
  • 8/8/8

Monday and Thursday

  • Squats, 8 sets x 2 reps (2 minute rest between sets)
  • Bench Press, 8 sets x 2 reps (2 minute rest between sets)
  • ***rest 5 minutes***
  • Squats, 3 sets x 6 reps (2 minute rest between sets)
  • Bench Press, 3 sets x 6 reps (2 minute rest between sets)

Tuesday and Friday

Routine Notes

It may take several weeks to a month to adapt to this training style. Though the weights are relatively “light”, you will still feel some muscle soreness from the volume of heavy compound movements you are performing.

Resist the urge to add any exercises to this powerbuilding routine. The goal is to get  strong on basic lifts. This strength will also add muscle mass. There is no need to hit muscles from 17 different angles. Nor is there a need to add in “beach work,” such as bicep curls or sit-ups.

The Doug Hepburn powerbuilding routine is a “slow grind.” You may not feel like you are making any progress. Stick with it. As I mentioned before, it will add 120 pounds to each of the major lifts in only a year’s time.

If your goal is to add muscle as well as strength, eat at least 500 calories above maintenance level on a daily basis. If your goal is to lose weight, try eating 500 calories below maintenance level. You may be surprised by the muscle you keep or gain on this program, even while cutting.

Doug Hepburn used this routine effectively to become one of the strongest, brawniest men on the planet.

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33 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Wed, 03/31/2010 - 23:44
Sam Lee

what is the rep timing on the exercises? And is it the same rep timing for everything?

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 04/01/2010 - 09:02
Steven

The focus of this routine is on moving as much weight as possible. Don't concentrate on rep timing, nor purposely focus on rep speed. Simply try to do as many controlled reps with good form as possible.

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Posted Wed, 09/08/2010 - 11:12
Steve T

Another great article, Steve. Thanks!

Steve T

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Posted Wed, 12/15/2010 - 18:50
louis

I'm not sure I understand.

If I were to move up 1 rep each week as specified, it would take 8 weeks to move up to 3 reps on all sets, which is twice as long as it's supposed to.

Steven's picture
Posted Fri, 12/17/2010 - 10:14
Steven

Hi Louis,

Doug Hepburn performed major exercises twice each week. From the article:

Monday and Thursday

* Squats, 8 sets x 2 reps (2 minute rest between sets)
* Bench Press, 8 sets x 2 reps (2 minute rest between sets)
* ***rest 5 minutes***
* Squats, 3 sets x 6 reps (2 minute rest between sets)
* Bench Press, 3 sets x 6 reps (2 minute rest between sets)

Tuesday and Friday

* Deadlift, 8 sets x 2 reps (2 minute rest between sets)
* Seated Overhead Barbell Press, 8 sets x 2 reps (2 minute rest between sets)
* ***rest 5 minutes***
* Deadlift, 3 sets x 6 reps (2 minute rest between sets)
* Seated Overhead Barbell Press, 3 sets x 6 reps (2 minute rest between sets)

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Posted Sun, 02/06/2011 - 08:46
Weightlifting fan

This was a REAL GOOD article Thanks alot for sharing :)

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Posted Fri, 04/15/2011 - 00:46
Alexander Sweden

Hello!

Thanks for a great article Steve. Iam just wondering if it's really good to train the same muscles twice a week? Would not my CNS be fried or will i adapt to this routine?

I currently train all the excercises once a week. And will i adapt doing the overhead press day after bench press? It's the same muscles almost.

I also want to use this with doug hepburns singles routine. Working from 4 singles to 10 singles then adding 10 lbs. Will this be ok?

Thanks
Alexander

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Posted Sun, 12/25/2011 - 00:15
Rudy

Hey steve, it's Rudy here on another post. I like the sound of all of this, but, don't you think that only four excersizes a day really gets someone all bulky with giant arms and a huge back/chest?

Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 12/26/2011 - 11:24
Steven

Works for me. I only do 4 exercises per week.

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Posted Fri, 05/03/2013 - 14:26
Joe

Bulk comes from your diet. Don't want to get bulky? Don't eat a caloric excess. Simple as that.

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Posted Mon, 01/09/2012 - 13:26
Brent

I am in my 11 month and this program is no joke I have had massive gains in muscle strenght and size, at 48 I'm the 2nd strongest guy in my gym and it's a young gym at that. Where I'm at now is 8x3 Beanch 405, Squats 405, Dead Lift 405 Shoulder Press 225 again all at my 80% for 8 sets of 3 reps. I have been looking forward to going to Plan "B" next! Steve you got info on Plan "B"?

BIGGUN

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Posted Mon, 02/27/2012 - 10:33
dave pigozzo

i'd like to try a new routine for an upcoming RAW powerlifting meet i'll be lifting in. Is this routine good/OK to use? Or is this meant to be used as off season or between meets training? It looks like a great training routine and i'd like to give it a try!!!

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Posted Tue, 03/06/2012 - 00:57
Kent

Question if anyone is still out there.

Why do the 3rd rep on the last sets? Wouldn't it make more sense to do them on the first sets as you are able?

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Posted Fri, 04/06/2012 - 20:29
Jim

Nice write-up Steve. I have yet to try this program but I have been interested in it for a bit. I have been on 531 for about 9 months and loving it. I may try this out after a few more cycles.

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Posted Mon, 07/16/2012 - 18:21
Big Joe

I've been doing this program going on 4 weeks. First of all I really like it. I like doing volume at 80%+ of 1RM with low weight sets. I don't know if anyone has put this into practice but I'm following it to the letter. My observations. I'm definitely getting strong on bench and OHP. However. I think it's a bit much on my lower body lifts. to be honest though I was at about 87% of my 1RM not 80, so that may be my problem. It's a grind but the good kind. I'm really utilizing my rest days, but I feel my legs are not quite recovered from the workouts the previous weeks. Currently at all sets 1x2 7x3 - Squat 265lbs, DL 285lbs, BP 185lbs and OHP 105lbs. Anyone else have experience so far?

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Posted Mon, 08/20/2012 - 19:44
Ethan Smith

Is there any way I can switch out the over head barbell press out with power cleans every other week? Like an A/B schedule? Thank you.

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Posted Sat, 12/01/2012 - 20:43
Tony

this won't work for me, I go to the gym 3 days only, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday. seems less crowded, I use the swole 3 X 5 and after 6 weeks, i take a week off, do nothing then I do Mehdi's 5 X 5 work out for 6 weeks. im 44, 6 foot, 195 lbs, I started in March 2012, started with; DL 135, bench 120, squat 135, overhead press 60 and the bent over row 120 lbs. now im DL 305, bench 200, squat 230, overhead press 120 bent over row 185, all with no cheating on reps, eating good food spending about 40 minutes in the gym, adding 5 lbs once i can complete the full sets, i also deload when i need to. oh yeah back in march i weighed 18o lbs, my goal is 200, my next lift goal is bench press 225, DL 315, squat 250, press 135 and keep my bent over rows up with my bench press..

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Posted Sat, 12/22/2012 - 13:57
Max

The only problem i have with this program is that you need to occupy the squat rack the whole 2 hours it takes and there is only 1 in my center so people get mad if u use it all the time i would be :)

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Posted Tue, 01/08/2013 - 14:41
bob matthews

hi . this article is awseome thanks for posting it . im trying a variation of if for bodybuilding .i am just doing a common type bodybuilding split day 1 chest ,tri day2 back ,bicepand forearm day 3 shoulders and traps day 4 legs,deadlifts and calfs and abs. and they way im doing it is say for chest for example 3 excercises 3 sets each twice a week and and reps as follows like above 666-667 -677-777-778-788-888 add weight start at 6 again . is this look ok . and again thanks for posting this information

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Posted Mon, 01/28/2013 - 07:23
Terry

Hey there, this article and program look really nice. Gonna try it out, just one question, is deadlifting really enough for the back? I mean there are no rows or pull up/down things like that.

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Posted Sun, 02/17/2013 - 07:53
John

No pulling exercises for the upperbody? Why? Will this cause muscle imbalances? Bad posture?

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Posted Thu, 05/30/2013 - 13:53
Kyle

Thumbing down someone for asking a question not to mention the writer himself for answering questions?

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Posted Sat, 06/08/2013 - 14:39
minimalist

The description of the progression scheme is wrong.

In his book, "Hepburn's law" he clearly says that you START with

3,2,2,2,2,2,2,2

then the next workout you add one rep to the next set:

3,3,2,2,2,2,2,2

etc.

There's absolutely no reason why one would add the rep in the LAST set when one is already exhausted.

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Posted Sat, 08/31/2013 - 19:39
Tom

Hi steve when/how will you take a deload on this routine? Thank you for the article.

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Posted Thu, 12/19/2013 - 11:27
ironman

Reps should be added from the first set onwards not the other way round. And 'seated' presses? WTF? Doug never did any lifting sitting on his ass! Do them standing like a man or not at all.

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Posted Wed, 12/25/2013 - 01:50
brent

2 years after my origimal post and 3 years on program still going strong I turned many onto this program in my gym as they noticed my progress... thank for this article its been a blessing for me and now at 50 I AM THE STRONGEST in my gym.

BIGGUN

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Posted Sat, 01/24/2015 - 01:45
M

Still doing this program?

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Posted Sun, 01/05/2014 - 21:33
ricwhit

Great post, I have been reading up on Hepburn and can't wait to try this program, so here I go.

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Posted Wed, 01/22/2014 - 10:08
Jamal Joudeh

have always enjoyed your videos and articles Steve! Good job.
I have one question to the Hepburn method as you have outlined here:
According to my readings, it was the first, not last, set, where the trainee performs 3 reps, executing 2 reps for subsequent sets. Next session, the first 2 sets for 3 reps and so on.
The rationale behind this, it seems, is that one performs the first sets for three reps when the athlete is freshest, and not when he/she is exhausted towards the end.
What is your opinion?
Respect:)

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Posted Sat, 08/02/2014 - 08:56
Matthew

I'm really hell bent on giving this a serious one year try,
There's a few problems I have though and that is:
-There's only one squat rack in my gym I'll have to wage war If I'll stay in there for an hour or more.
-I have school working out 3 times a week is my max and sometimes twice is my only option.

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Posted Tue, 08/19/2014 - 15:15
Martin

If you can only workout 2-3x per week that should be ok. Just keep alternating workouts.

If hogging the rack is the issue, you could switch the exercises so that they aren't rack intense.

For example.....
Routine 1
Bench & Overhead Press

Routine 2
Squats & Deadlifts.

This way, only the 1st exercise on day 2 requires the rack. Do the 8x3 and 3x8 for one lift 1st rather than split it up (I prefer this method).

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Posted Wed, 01/28/2015 - 17:47
Jack

Would it be advisable to add pull-ups on the Wednesday? Not sure i can give up upper body pulls altogether?

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Posted Wed, 03/25/2015 - 07:13
Goose

I have been doing Hepburn for 3 months now. My plan is to take it one year,as that is what it seems to be designed for. I see no issue with adding pullups, as I do 1-arrm Dbell rows as my pulling motion. In his book, Hepburn's Law, Doug advocates a rowing movement as part of the program. The only issue I see is with pullups how do you mimmick a 90% of max weight/low rep scheme with a pullup since it is a bodyweight exercise. I stopped doing pullups while on this program in lieu of the rows. I am 50 yrs old and have my share of aches and pains, so my workout consists of Bench, Front Squats (bad back so can only front squat) , and Dbell rows. No arm isolation work or anything else. Just those 3 exercises. I treat the Dbell rows as if it is a major lift, like a deadlift or squat.