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:


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:


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.