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Strongman Doug Hepburn - Complete Drug-Free Strength Building System

By Strength Oldschool

* The following article contains Amazon "Affiliated" links which means if you click on the links and decide to buy something, Strength Oldschool will receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

The following training system and information is from the book "Strongman: The Doug Hepburn Story" by Tom Thurston. Superb book, which I would highly recommend if you're a fan of Doug Hepburn.

Strongman - The Doug Hepburn Story by Tom Thurston

Be careful if you decide to follow Hepburn's Training Programs. You do so at your own risk! Always consult a doctor before attempting a brand new training program.

The following Strength and Size Training Programs were produced by Doug Hepburn, a giant in the Iron "Strength" Game, with over 60 years training experience.

He was a big believer in "Natural" lifting and despised the thought of drugs polluting the sports within the Physique and Strength world. He fully believed that natural lifters who followed his suggested training programs would produce real muscle and strength gains for either sex, male or female. Gains that would last for years and into later life!

Hepburn believed in simple, basic training, no less than twice a week and no more than six times a week. Within this article, the basics of Hepburn's "A" and "B" Full Training Program will be disclosed, which can easily be applied to his recommended Workout schedules stated further down.

He recommended that lifters first decide how many days a week they are able to "consistently" train and then to choose exercises which best target the muscle groups.

He believed in training muscle groups more than once a week, up to as much as three times a week, sometimes more! However, he always stressed never to exert maximum lifting ability i.e. train to complete failure, as this would lead to over-training. If the lifter really wanted to test their current strength levels, then Hepburn suggested that it was only done twice a month at most, and only after performing a full training session.

"...never exceed more than three exercises per workout, never work the same muscle group more than three times per week, and if you are working out more than three times a week, never include upper and lower body exercises in the same workout." ~ Doug Hepburn

There was logical thinking behind Hepburn's training methods. For example, using only a minimum number of exercises during a workout session.

Psychologically speaking, lifters in general I believe, would be much more energetic and motivated to train hard on fewer exercises per training session. If you look at a typical Steve Reeves "Full Body" workout program which involved something like 12 to 15 exercises per workout, this could potentially exhaust the mind of a lifter before they even begin training! Granted, Reeve's training program was pure "bodybuilding" based and not strength oriented.

If you plan on training "Full Body" workouts twice or three times a week, Hepburn recommended using the following basic exercises only.

  • Full Squat for the legs
  • Bench Press for the chest
  • Deadlift for the back

Those exercises are basic compound lifts meaning they also affect additional muscle groups, for example, the Bench Press doesn't just train your chest, it also hits the shoulders and the triceps. The Squat and Deadlift will not just hit your legs and back but will condition your entire body!

So if you plan to train "Full Body Workouts" Hepburn suggested the following exercises and training schedules.

* Before deciding on a workout schedule (Hepburn's examples given below), read the following important wise statement by the Strength Legend...

"Another common reason why athletes fail in their strength aspirations is because they embark on a program that they do not have the time to maintain... It is imperative, therefore, that you examine thoroughly your social obligations before you schedule your training. Better a moderately rigorous schedule that you can stick to, than a super-rigorous schedule that you can't." ~ Doug Hepburn

Please note that whichever training schedule you choose from below, you will apply Hepburn's "Program A" or "Program B" (detailed later) to your chosen training schedule.


(Tuesday + Thursday)

  • Bench Press
  • Squat
  • Deadlift


(Monday + Friday)

  • Bench Press
  • Squat
  • Deadlift


  • Olympic Press
  • Squat
  • High Pulls ( * or Deadlifts - Your choice )

* Hepburn believed that because the Deadlift was a basic exercise which can be taxing on the body as heavy weights can be used, thus potentially lead to over-training and stagnation in strength gains, that it would be best to replace the Deadlift with a similar exercise that targets the same muscle groups but isn't as taxing on the lifters mind and body.

* Hence why, "High Pulls" were included in place of the Deadlifts. Hepburn stated that it was the lifters choice whether they kept the Deadlift in three times a week or replaced it with High Pulls on one of those training days i.e. Wednesday.

If training twice or three times a week is too little for you, and you wish to train more often, for example, four to six days a week, then Hepburn recommended that you increase the overall number of exercises to six, instead of only three.

The additional exercises complement the main muscle groups. For example, the Bench Press hits the triceps (back of the arm) and the Arm Biceps Curls (the Barbell Curl) will target the biceps (front of the arm). Included below are the suggested training schedules and exercises.



  • Bench Press
  • Deadlift
  • Arm Biceps Curls


  • Squat
  • Leg Biceps Curls
  • Calf Raises


  • Bench Press
  • High Pulls ( * or Deadlifts - Your choice )
  • Arm Biceps Curls


  • Squat
  • Leg Biceps Curls
  • Calf Raises



  • Bench Press
  • Deadlift
  • Arm Biceps Curls


  • Squat
  • Leg Biceps Curls
  • Calf Raises


  • Olympic Press ( * or Bench Press - Your choice )
  • High Pulls ( * or Deadlifts - Your choice )
  • Arm Biceps Curls


  • Squat
  • Leg Biceps Curls
  • Calf Raises


  • Bench Press
  • Deadlift
  • Arm Biceps Curls


  • Squat
  • Leg Biceps Curls
  • Calf Raises

* Again, with hitting repeated exercises throughout the week, Hepburn suggested replacing certain lifts with others to avoid mental and physical stagnation. But it was left to the lifter to make that choice.

If you're a massive fan of Doug Hepburn and of "Arm Biceps Curls", otherwise referred to as "The Barbell Curl" then I recommend this article which contains my own personal collection of Strict Curl Records from past to present. I also ask the question..."Is Doug Hepburn still the King of the Heaviest Ever Strict Barbell Curl?" Enjoy!



Training exercises and schedules have all been printed above. Now we go on to the actual "A and B Training Programs" developed by Hepburn, which you will apply to one of the above training schedules i.e. twice a week, three times a week, four etc.

"Before my conception and implementation of these training principles, the general state of weightlifting was at a standstill. No one in the world, for example, had been able to bench press 500 pounds (which is why it was referred to as the "500 pound barrier"), and most world strength authorities considered it impossible. Not only was I the first man on the planet to do so (completely drug free) (1953, June 30 - Western Sports Centre, Vancouver), I added another 85 pounds to my world record within a few months. My methods were emulated following my gold medal win at Stockholm. The Russian and Bulgarian lifting teams began studying and adopting my principles and training procedures - to the point of following me from competition to competition. This is because they were able to realize early that the total poundage that an athlete lifts over a long and controlled time period is infinitely more beneficial than a series of maximum or near maximum lifts performed over a shorter, more sporadic time period." ~ Doug Hepburn

Hepburn fully believed that the following developed training programs would build MAXIMUM SIZE and POWER in the shortest time possible (without the use of drugs!).

Hepburn also stated that using his training methods..."you will never feel that you're struggling".

Canadian weightlifting champion 'Paul Bjarnason', in regards to following Hepburn's style of training, stated the following...

"You never seem to be working that hard. You go through your regular, relaxing workout, making your regular relaxing increases as indicated, yet a few months later you are lifting all this weight that you never dreamed that you would be able to lift." ~ Paul Bjarnason


This training program consists of two routines, one Power, one Pump. Both routines are performed every workout.

  1. POWER (A): Developing maximum strength in the muscles, tendons and ligaments.
  2. PUMP (A): Developing maximum muscle size and endurance.

The Power routine is always done first followed by the Pump routine. No matter if its Program A or Program B you are following.

Hepburn stated that as a much as 120 lbs (54 kg) of strength per year, could be added to larger muscle groups such as the chest and legs etc. For smaller body parts such as the arms, maybe 60 lbs (27 kg) per year.

How to Begin the "Power (A)" Routine / Weight Selection

Hepburn suggested choosing a weight that you can perform only eight continuous reps with. This established weight / poundage will be the starting weight that you then use to perform "eight sets of two repetitions" on your First Workout.

There is no increasing the weight every set, you simply use the exact same weight for all sets over the course of several Workout sessions. Rest times between sets are two to three minutes only.

This is how progressive workouts look on the "Power (A)" Routine.

  • First Workout: 8 sets of 2 reps
  • Second Workout: 7 sets of 2 reps and 1 set of 3 reps
  • Third Workout: 6 sets of 2 reps and 2 sets of 3 reps
  • Fourth Workout: 5 sets of 2 reps and 3 sets of 3 reps
  • Fifth Workout: 4 sets of 2 reps and 4 sets of 3 reps
  • Sixth Workout: 3 sets of 2 reps and 5 sets of 3 reps
  • Seventh Workout: 2 sets of 2 reps and 6 sets of 3 reps
  • Eighth Workout: 1 set of 2 reps and 7 sets of 3 reps
  • Ninth Workout: 8 sets of 3 reps

So each workout when performing the "Power (A)" routine, you are always doing 8 sets. The only factor that changes is the reps. You do not increase the weight until after a series of workouts where the goal is to gradually work up to 8 sets of 3 reps. Only at this point will you then add more weight and REPEAT the whole process.

Hepburn suggested adding 10 lbs (4 or 5 kg) to large muscle groups and 5 lbs (2 or 3 kg) for smaller muscles like the arms.

It's my suggestion that even smaller weight increments are used i.e. 1 kg (2.2 lbs) for larger muscle groups and less weight for small muscles, for example, 0.25 kg (0.55 lbs) or 0.5 kg (1.1 lbs). These small weight plate increments are referred to as "Fractional Weight Plates" which can be purchased on Amazon.

Smaller weight increments in my opinion are much better for "natural" lifters to help avoid stagnation in muscle and strength gains. The process of becoming stronger may feel much, much longer when using smaller weight increments but its more beneficial in the long run but a lot of patience is required.

Patience is something a lot of us lifters lack as we all wish to pursue FAST strength and muscle gains. This is why many lifters decide to deviate from planned training program guidance and instead follow their own path by repeatedly testing their strength limits on a weekly, sometimes DAILY basis! This just results in overkill where lifters burn themselves out and instead of blaming themselves, they blame the "Program"! Other lifters who lack the patience tend to resort to steroids which I'm sure is pretty common these days.

After you finish your "Power (A)" routine, Hepburn suggested that a five minute rest period is required before moving on to the "Pump (A)" routine.

How to Begin the "Pump (A)" Routine / Weight Selection

Hepburn suggested Reducing your training poundages by about 20% and use a weight which you can perform three sets of six reps with. The weight chosen should feel very comfortable and not strenuous to achieve.

Again, there is no increasing the weight every set, you simply use the exact same weight for all sets over the course of several Workout sessions. Only the number of reps changes each workout.

This is how progressive workouts look on the "Pump (A)" Routine.

  • First Workout: 3 sets of 6 reps
  • Second Workout: 2 sets of 6 reps and 1 set of 7 reps
  • Third Workout: 1 set of 6 reps and 2 sets of 7 reps
  • Fourth Workout: 3 sets of 7 reps
  • Fifth Workout: 2 sets of 7 reps and 1 set of 8 reps
  • Sixth Workout: 1 set of 7 reps and 2 sets of 8 reps
  • Seventh Workout: 3 sets of 8 reps

Once you gradually work up to 3 sets of 8 reps, you then increase the weight and return to the three sets of six reps format and repeat the cycle.

Hepburn suggested 5 lbs (2 to 3 kg) to 10 lbs (4 to 5 kg) weight increase on your exercises but did state that if you wanted to add less weight, then that is fine also.



Hepburn stated that the above (A) program should be performed for at least one full year before moving on to this more rigorous "B" training program. This program also consists of both a "Power" and "Pump" routine and that you should always perform the 'Power' routine first. The only real difference is that the "B" program consists of heavy single reps which Hepburn referred to as the "ultimate for developing both power and size".

Hepburn warned lifters that the benefits of his "B" program enabled lifters to use much heavier weights which would result in faster strength gains but....He further stated that it also meant more potential for lifters to get hurt or overtax their mind and body. So be careful if you decide to follow this "B" program. You do so at your own risk! Always consult a doctor before attempting a brand new training program.

How to Begin the "Power (B)" Routine / Weight Selection

Hepburn suggested that you start your first workout with a poundage that you can lift for three continuous repetitions but not four. This will be your starting weight which you will perform "five sets of one repetition" with. Your workouts will progress as follows...

  • First Workout: 5 sets of 1 rep
  • Second Workout: 6 sets of 1 rep
  • Third Workout: 7 sets of 1 rep
  • Fourth Workout: 8 sets of 1 rep

Rest times between heavy sets will be three to five minutes long.

Every workout, you will strive to add an extra set of 1 rep until you eventually work up to 8 sets of 1 rep.

If you achieve this, you then increase the weight slightly and return back to 5 sets of 1 rep and repeat the cycle.

After you finish your "Power (B)" routine, Hepburn suggested that a ten to fifteen minute rest period is required before moving on to the "Pump (B)" routine.

How to Begin the "Pump (B)" Routine / Weight Selection

Hepburn suggested that lifters lower their training poundage and use a weight that you can comfortably lift for eight but not nine consecutive repetitions.

The lifter will then perform six sets of three reps.

This is how progressive workouts look on the "Pump (B)" Routine.

  • First Workout: 6 sets of 3 reps
  • Second Workout: 5 sets of 3 reps and 1 set of 4 reps
  • Third Workout: 4 sets of 3 reps and 2 sets of 4 reps
  • Fourth Workout: 3 sets of 3 reps and 3 sets of 4 reps
  • Fifth Workout: 2 sets of 3 reps and 4 sets of 4 reps
  • Sixth Workout: 1 set of 3 reps and 5 sets of 4 reps
  • Seventh Workout: 6 sets of 4 reps
  • Eighth Workout: 5 sets of 4 reps and 1 set of 5 reps
  • Ninth Workout: 4 sets of 4 reps and 2 sets of 5 reps
  • Tenth Workout: 3 sets of 4 reps and 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Eleventh Workout: 2 sets of 4 reps and 4 sets of 5 reps
  • Twelfth Workout: 1 set of 4 reps and 5 sets of 5 reps
  • Thirteenth Workout: 6 sets of 5 reps

So with each workout session for the "Pump (B)" routine, you are performing a maximum of six sets only for each exercise. Each successive workout, only the number of reps change as can be seen above.

Over time, once you achieve 6 sets of 5 reps, then INCREASE the weight slightly and return back to six sets of three reps and repeat the cycle.

Hepburn further stated that the number of "Workout" days within the "Power" and "Pump" programs for both "A" and "B" are different duration. His advice...

"Follow the directions of each routine separately and the programs will take care of themselves." ~ Doug Hepburn

The following statement from Doug Hepburn I think is extremely important which all beginner strength athletes should read...

"...when a lifter arbitrarily decides to increase his or her training weight ten pounds a week, he or she is really saying 520 pounds a year or 1,040 pounds in two years - a completely unrealistic and unattainable goal." ~ Doug Hepburn

A lot of lifters don't tend to think along those lines. They just continuously slap weight on the bar and hope they can do it every single training session without actually thinking long term. I've been guilty of this. Sooner or later you burn out, your CNS (central nervous system) just breaks down.

What if Muscle Stagnation Occurs?

Hepburn recommended eliminating the "Power" routine for a few weeks, possibly slightly longer if needed and just focus on the "Pump" routine.

If you still feel run down after a few weeks, and your strength is still stagnating, then Hepburn further suggested that your training poundages may be too heavy and need to be reduced.

"You have either started with too heavy a weight or are adding weight too quickly....Since every person gains strength at a slightly different rate - depending on a variety of hereditary factors - it is just a matter of finding what works best for you." ~ Doug Hepburn

Hepburn also further stated that new lifters beginning strength training programs will gain strength fast but sooner or later their strength gains will slow down including their overall rate of progression, and so the lifter will need to train smarter and consider reducing the rate at which they increase the weight on the bar.

"As long as you regularly increase your training poundages to some degree, your strength will increase in direct proportion. In this case, "slowly but surely" is the only rule to follow." ~ Doug Hepburn


Additional Advice on Attaining Maximum Size and Strength

Hepburn believed that to gain maximum strength and size, you had to eat a lot of food which for Hepburn meant over 10,000 calories every day!

"When forcing your body to handle ever-increasing poundages, your food intake must be ever-increasing as well." ~ Doug Hepburn

Hepburn believed in weighing himself every day (in the nude for accuracy) and using a lifting journal to keep track of progress.

He was also a big believer in liquid calories...

"Shakes made from milk, juices, eggs, protein powder and honey are digested more easily than solid foods. Liquids also let the body assimilate more foods in less time, accelerating progress." ~ Doug Hepburn

Hepburn also recommended drinking milk and eating solid food during gym workouts but only easily digestible, high energy foods such as dates, figs, raisins etc.

"I have, on many occasions, consumed as many as three quarts of milk during a single session, with no ill effects. As a result, I have actually gained weight during my workouts." ~ Doug Hepburn

Other advice from Hepburn included drinking coffee and honey as a way to obtain quick energy during training and to get plenty of sleep for recovery purposes...

"At least one hour of extra sleep a day is recommended if you are following the "A" program, and two hours if you are following the more rigorous "B" program." ~ Doug Hepburn

Lastly, Hepburn stressed the importance of "Mental Relaxation" through meditation...

"Perhaps even more important than getting enough physical sleep every twenty-four hours is getting enough mental relaxation. Regular meditation will allow the mind, which is constantly racing to keep up with the hectic pace of the world around it, to slow down and relax. Tensions will melt away and you will soon be better able to distinguish those aspects of your daily life that deserve concerned attention and those that do not." ~ Doug Hepburn

Thanks for reading this article.

I really hope lifters of all age groups, can benefit in some way from the training programs and additional information, recommended by Doug Hepburn.

For further information on the life of Doug Hepburn, check out his book, "Strongman - The Doug Hepburn Story" by Tom Thurston.

If anyone has tried Hepburn's training programs above, please share your opinions, good or bad, at the links below. Thank you.


If you long for the good ol' days of "Old School Bodybuilders and Strongmen" check out my Vintage Muscle Magazine videos on Youtube!

Keep training hard folks!

All the best,

Strength Oldschool

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