Workout Tips

Use the Hepburn Method to Build Strength Like a Strongman

Get strong as hell with this zero-frills plan from the OG of strongmen.

Deadlift
Edgar Artiga

Getting strong is easy. It’s just a matter of consistent progres­sion, and that’s the central principle of Canadian­-born weightlifter Doug Hepburn’s namesake training system, the Hepburn Method. Born in 1926, the 5'8", 300­-pound strongman was the first dude to bench­-press 500 pounds. And remember that this was in the ’50s before weight training (and performance-­enhancing drugs) was a mainstream endeavor. So it’s safe to assume the man knew a thing or two about getting strong.

Just ask Matt Pudvah, the head strength coach for the Manchester Athletic Club, who turns to the Hepburn Method when he needs to increase his clients’ base strength. Read on for an outline of exactly what it is, how to do it, and a template of Pudvah’s updated version for you to try yourself. Ready to get strong?

What It Is

The Hepburn Method is a linear progression plan that involves only compound movements. Pudvah recommends the overhead press, back squat, bench press, and deadlift. But you can sub out any of these for similar moves (e.g., incline bench, front squat, push press, and the barbell hip thrust).

How It Works

You’ll lift four days per week, for 11 sets per session, using only one exercise. The progression is simple. You add one rep to two sets each week for the strength portion and one rep to one set each week for the hypertrophy work. (See below for the exact sets and reps.)

Why It Works

One word: volume. “By lifting less reps for more sets, you’re able to accumulate more total tonnage over time than if you lifted closer to your one­-rep max,” Pudvah says. Also, using less weight allows you to maintain ideal form, which will help prevent injuries. Sticking with the same move for the accessory work but with less weight helps you grease the groove of your lifts, while also packing on more muscle mass.

How to Do It: The Hepburn Method

Directions: For the weight, use 80% of your 1RM for the entire four-week cycle. At the end of four weeks, add 10 pounds to your lower-body lifts and five pounds to your upper-body lifts, and then repeat. After two cycles, retest your maxes. For the sets and reps, the first number is the sets and the second is the reps.

  • Week 1: 6x2, 2x3 main lift reps; 3x7 reps of hypertrophy work
  • Week 2: 4x2, 4x3 main lift reps; 2x7, 1x8 reps of hypertrophy work
  • Week 3: 2x2, 6x3 main lift reps; 1x8, 2x8 reps of hypertrophy work
  • Week 4: 8x3 main lift reps; 3x8 reps of hypertrophy work

Testing Tip: When testing your 1RM, give yourself two days. Test one upper-body lift and one lower-body lift on the same day.

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