05 August 2011

Baddest Motherfuckers Ever #23- Doug "The Motherfucking Clubfoot" Hepburn

In the times of ancient Rome, all law was said to descend from the right of the father to dispose of the life he created.  This right hearkened back to the ancient Spartans, and probably even further back, and essentially boiled down to this- if a father deemed his child unfit in some way, whether that child be water-headed, crippled, suffering from phocomelia (in other words, resembling a penguin more than a person), or simply being fucking ugly, the father could smash the kid's head with a rock and call it a day.  Due to the fact that I'm a wild-eyed, eugenics-loving asshole, I see no problem with this, but hippies, Christians, and sundry other bleeding hearts can rejoice in the fact that my horribly unfeeling position on the subject of the genetically unfit may have some holes.  If everyone thought as I do, and not the people slavering with anticipation over the revelation I'm about to make, Doug Ivan Hepburn, one of the baddest motherfuckers of all time, might not have been able to ruin lives and rock balls in the strength community in the 20th Century.

Born Canadian, club-footed, scarred on the temples by a shitty forceps delivery, and cross-eyed to a long line of alcoholics, Hepburn did not appear to be in any way destined for greatness.  His formative years didn't really indicate that his stars had changed much either, as his surgery to fuse his divinely fucked ankle was a total botch job, his parents were both apparently raging alcoholics who divorced when he was three, and according to Hepburn his entire childhood sucked, as he was "the brunt of everyone's jokes.  I was christened 'Gimp', Hopalong', 'Cross-eyes' and 'Wall-eyes'.  Four letter expletives were also common, forcing me to spend my time friendless and alone.'(Poliquin)  In that light, I suppose it's terribly surprising that his hatred for his fellow man eventually fueled his Hulk-like strength into such pursuits as tearing license plates in half and breaking world records every time he turned around to wipe his ass.  Like the comedic greats Mike Myers and John Candy, however, Hepburn was eventually able to overcome the fact that he was Canadian and become not just a human being, but one of the strongest human beings of all time.  Additionally, Hepburn is credited with popularizing the powerlifts (presumably because he was too crippled to be super-ultra-mega awesome at the Olympic lifts and had to simply settle for ultra-mega-awesome) and with taking the seldom used bench press and making it a mark of manhood for years to come.  [Put that way I suppose he sucked, because I fucking detest being asked by random assholes how much I bench almost as much as I hate people for asking me what supplements I take- I take a big glass of shut the fuck up in the morning and evening and squat everyday, motherfuckers.]
That aside, some Hepburn facts:

  • he was the first person to officially bench press 500 lbs in 1953, two years after crushing the world record with a 420 bench.
  • for anyone who cares, he put that 80 official pounds and an unofficial 160 lbs on his bench drug free.
  • he strict pressed 381 (competition) and 450(gym), and push pressed 500 lbs.(Willoughby 111)
  • he one arm military pressed 200 lbs, and could put up a 120 lb dumbbell 37 times (Poliquin)
  • for whatever reason, Hepburn tested his single-finger strength, and was capable of hanging 90 lbs off his little finger, extend his arm fully, and hold it there for 10 seconds
  • Saxon-style, Hepburn could rock a 200 lbs crucifix, 120 lb one arm side hold-out, and one arm side press of 250 lbs (Willoughby 111 and Poliquin)
  • he strict curled 260 lbs. at a body weight of 300  (Willoughby)
  • he took Gold in Olympic weightlifting in the World Weightlifting Championship (1953) and the Commonwealth Games (1954).  In the former, Hepburn defeated US weightlifting phenom John Davis, who had won the Olympics the previous year.
  • the only time Heburn was recorded as having deadlifted, he pulled 705 on his first attempt (Willoughby 112)
In the event that you jaded motherfuckers don't find this list to be all that impressive, allow me to remind you that Hepburn was club-footed, which meant that he won the world championships of weightlifting while he was essentially standing on one foot.  Due to his horrible deformity, Hepburn had "no style to speak of in the snatch and clean & jerk"(Smith), which all but killed his ability to completely crush his competition in either life.  According to Charles Smith, Hepburn's press record of 345.5 lbs was "well within his power", and that he vastly outperformed that number if you "put it into his shoulders or let him take it off the squat racks."  Without question, pushing events were Hepburn's bread and butter and without question his greatest strength.
Hepburn's incredible ability to press weights away from his body came from a variety of (at the time) unique training methodologies he employed with great success.  These methodologies were the employment of many very low rep sets, the utilization of dynamic lifts prior to static or grinding strength movements, and a conscientious effort to focus the bulk of his work overall power movements (in particular the squat and the deadlift) as the focus of his routine to ensure that he had enough overall power to make any lift his punk bitch.  Amusingly, he was described by more than one source as being a notably shitty student and not particularly bright, but the man may well have been a Rainman-style idiot savant when it came to lifting, because everything the man said on the subject was solid fucking gold.
D-definitely, definitely related to Doug Hepburn.

His first method for developing the type of strength that has caused many physical culture historians to regard him as the strongest man of all time was the utilization of many low rep, high percentage of maximum sets.Typically, Hepburn focused his efforts on sets of singles or triples.  In the case of the former, he would start with four sets of singles and add one rep per workout until he hit 10 (4-10 reps with 90%1RM).  (Amped)  As you would expect, Hepburn also applied this methodology to doubles, and utilized them in the following way:
“Now for my training poundages. In the press I always warm up with a weight about 40 pounds below my training poundage (training poundage being the weight I will use when doing the 8 sets of 2 reps). If I am using 8 sets of 2 with 320, I warm up to 280 x 2, then jump to my training weight . . . 320. On my next training day, about a week later, I try to add five to ten pounds to my training poundage with the same combination of sets and reps. I warm up to 2985, then jump to 325. I have used this system in all my training exercises, including squats, deadlifts and bench presses. But I have to be careful with this routine because I drive myself very hard and can easily go stale on a month to six weeks of this work. When I feel myself getting a little stale I take a rest for a few days and perform light bodybuilding movements such as curls, dumbbell presses etc. During my actual training workouts I exercise for an hour with hardly any rest between the exercises and I put everything I have into each movement and repetition.(Smith)
Hepburn's second method for increasing strength was to combine dynamic lifts with power lifts.  He would typically focus on two main lifts per workout, believing that a reliance on the bigger movements would have overwhelming strength-building effects that would bleed over into the smaller muscle groups.  His utilization of speed work prior to hypertrophy work has been adopted by weightlifting programs the world around, and if you've been following the major bodybuilding magazines has finally been picked up by the less-than-intellectual pump and pose crowd as well.The belief here is that the nervous system is excited by the first exercise, which allows you to utilize a greater percentage of motor threshold units later on.  Thus, Hepburn's workouts would often consist of something like sets of singes, doubles, and triples on power cleans, followed by deficit deadlifts.  Additionally, the method with which Hepburn would choose his training weights and increase weight followed an intuitive rather than programmed system.  He would essentially pick a weight that would nearly kill him to get a prescribed number of sets and reps, for instance 8 sets of two.  Then, he would stick with that weight, increasing a rep per set whenever possible, until he was able to get 8 sets of 3, at which point he'd raise the weight again.(Poliquin)
I don't believe I'm alone in stating that his kiddie-toucher mustache is unfortunate.

Explosion was of primary concern to Hepburn, as he competed in Olympic weightlifting.  In spite of what just about any powerlifter on the internet (read, guys who are weak as kittens and more likely to eat a gallon of ice cream than lifting anything that would inspire awe in anyone but the most detrained asshole off the street), Hepburn also believed that explosiveness was a primary concern in powerlifting as well.  In Hepburn's words, 
"I would say that it would be very difficult for a person to ‘explode’ if they didn’t have a very fast reflex. Reflex is the cause of explosion. I think reflex has more to do with mental attitude than people think. To a certain stimulus you could probably make a person move faster than they normally would. Even a slow moving person could be forced to move faster if they, for example, used electrodes in the muscles of his arm. If he got a shock, his arm would jerk very quickly. Why then could he not make it jerk that quickly, or ‘explode’ when he lifts a weight? It’s because there’s something lacking in the transfer of that impulse to the muscle itself. Before you can ‘explode’, you have to comprehend what the word means. What I experience when I do a lift, if I was to ‘explode’, and I’ve done it many times with a heavy press, is when I commence the lift, I don’t know about anything until it’s over my head. I’m unaware of what happens at the start. I go black. The concentration of my mind becomes so pinpointed that the sense of awareness of the outside environment disappears. This constitutes a complete ‘direction’ of power. Another thing I could do, which powerlifters can practice, is to sit in a chair, motionless, in front of the barbell that I was going to lift. I used to do the standing press and I’d take it off the racks and push out 400 pounds or whatever it was. I’d sit and look at this bar and not move a muscle and I could bring my pulse rate up to about 150. It was repetitive psyching and it became a conditioned response.I would say that the greatest force can only result from a state of complete relaxation. A man needs one fraction of time before he commences his all-out effort, when he should be under a state of complete relaxation. If the muscles are relaxed, you have a greater ‘length’ of contractual drive. If you get more speed from the start of the contraction and more distance to contract, you’re going to have a greater speed at the point when you push the bar through the lift. I say don’t get yourself tense when you start, but begin from a point of complete relaxation, mind and body, and then suddenly explode." (Smith)
A cool dog can simultaneously get you pumped to lift and chill you out.  It's science.

Hepburn was allegedly into Eastern mysticism, which would fall in line with his belief that one would need "stillness" of mind that is commonly referred to by Japanese martial artists and samurai.  As was common at the time amongst Americans (and faux-Americans, I suppose), Hepburn also experimented with psychoactive drugs in an effort to improve his mental power, and is apparently blasted all to hell in the strength community for having used LSD.  While the response is unsurprising given the strength community's general lack of acceptance of outside views and total lack of ingenuity, it's sad commentary on our community nevertheless.(Archibald)

As I mentioned previously, Hepburn spent the vast majority of his time in the gym focusing on the major lifts, utilizing his favorite sets/reps scheme of 6-8 sets of two reps.(Smith/Hepburn)  This is not to state, as many people are wont to assume, that Hepburn eschewed the use of assistance exercises.  In Hepburn's words, "I do not mean that the trainee should discard the performance of assistance exercises, but what I do mean is that the said exercises must be regarded as secondary and that mental and physical effort should be directed mainly upon the a actual lifts and that the assistance movements be regarded as secondary in the effort application."(Hepburn, Pulling)  Thus, to become fully badass, Hepburn typically used a one on, one off system that looked something like the following (Perryman)  

Upper Body

Press from Stands (out of the rack, if you prefer)
Bench Press
Two-hands Curl

Lower Body


Another option is listed from The Hepburn Method


Standing Press


Bent Row
As his workouts were brutal, Hepburn clearly spent a lot of time sleeping and eating, which he believed helped him avoid the dreaded demon overtraining, which he referred to as staleness like the Eastern Europeans.  This semantic difference also changes the methodology for dealing with the condition somewhat, as the issue in staleness is generally considered to be more of a mental fatigue than a physical one.  To combat this, Hepburn slept 10 hours a night, ate a ridiculous amount of protein, and would take a long rest from the gym if he felt himself going stale.  During that rest period, Hepburn felt it was crucial to attain freedom not only from his "barbell routine, but he also needs freedom from ALL THOUGHTS of weightlifting.  He must forget that such things as barbells exist.  he must deliberately cultivate a light-hearted, cheerful attitude, rest as much as possible, get as much sleep as he can, at least nine hours a night, and get out into the fresh air as much as possible."(Smith, Staleness)  In my opinion, this is some of Hepburn's most important advice, as I think far too many people of late spend a hell of a lot of time talking about lifting, watching other people lift, and reading insipid comments about those people lifting, and thereby waste a tremendous amount of mental energy that should be reserved for the gym on nonsense. As such, they're mentally tired of lifting before they even set foot in the gym, and their lifts suffer accordingly.  One's worries about becoming stale are likely misplaced, however, as Hepburn believed that only 10% of lifters would actually suffer from pronounced staleness, since most people "simply lack  the drive to train themselves into a condition of overwork."(Ibid.)  

In short, Hepburn was a bad motherfucker who overcame a tremendous amount of adversity to become one of the strongest lifters in history.  He did so by breaking his fucking ass in the gym, eating his motherfucking face off, and applying ingenuity to his methodology.  If his crippled ass could do it, so can you.

Go get awesome.

Dresden, Archibald.  DOUG HEPBURN AND PAUL ANDERSON: COMPARISON AND CONTRAST.  http://chidlovski.net/liftup/a_anderson_n_hepburn.asp
Hepburn, Doug.  Pulling Power’s Contribution to the Three Olympic Lifts.  http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2010/05/pulling-power-doug-hepburn.html
Katterle, Sean.  Doug Hepburn’s Amazing Raw Strength.  http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2009/02/doug-hepburns-raw-strength-sean.html
Perryman, Matt.  Doug Hepburn’s Routines.  http://www.ampedtraining.com/workouts/doug-hepburns-routines
Poliquin, Charles. Five Things I Learned from Doug Hepburn: Great advice from a strongman legend.  http://www.charlespoliquin.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/110/Five_Things_I_Learned_from_Doug_Hepburn.aspx
Smith, Charles and Doug Hepburn.  How Hepburn Avoids Staleness. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2008/08/how-hepburn-avoids-staleness-charles.html
Smith, Charles and Doug Hepburn.  The Press and Basic Body Power.  http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2010/03/press-and-basic-body-power-doug-hepburn.html
Smith, Charles and Doug Hepburn.How I trained to Break the Press Record.  http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2011/07/how-i-trained-to-break-press-record.html
Smith, Robert.  Interview with Doug Hepburn. http://soloflexforever.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=1522
Willoughby, David P.  The Super Athletes.


  1. A long awaited article. When is the Paul Anderson one coming up?

  2. Two years ago. http://chaosandpain.blogspot.com/2009/10/badass-of-week-7-paul-anderson.html

  3. A+ post, would read again

  4. Thanks for the read! Enlighting post.

  5. Excellent post. I am on my way to WPC Worlds in November. I am using Doug as a role model. Reading about his story on his trip to Stockholm. Very inspirational.

  6. There was also this one on Anderson's routine: http://chaosandpain.blogspot.com/2010/04/and-it-appears-paul-anderson-was-right.html

  7. Awesome. He's like Paul Anderson's evil twin.

  8. Thanks Jamie. I've only recently got into this squatting daily thing so it's nice to read up on guys who have done it and what sort of madness their training consisted of. Right now I'm just doing enough to ease me into the high volume intensity training, which is squatting daily but only working up to maxes. Eventually I hope to do LOTS of back off sets. Eventually!!!!!

  9. That first black and white picture up there is Paul Anderson, not Doug Hepburn.

  10. Doug Hepburn was an alcoholic. He used acid while he was in rehab of all places to get over his dependence on booze.
    He was also known to take very long rest periods in between sets. He'd even sit and meditate between sets. He was a bit of a bum, actually, whose whole life revolved around either lifting weights or drinking his face off. Unfortunately it was because he was such a loser off of the lifting platform that he couldn't get any sponsorship to compete in the Olympics. He did set legitimate world records, but he only competed a handful of times because just couldn't get enough money together to perform internationally. Legend has it that he once ate a hot dog while positioned in a one-armed handstand on a barstool to get people to buy him drinks. It's very possible he was a savant. Tremendously impressive at one thing and total shit at everything else.
    And much like the majority of readers on this blog, he very rarely ever got laid and was a complete pussy behind all his muscles. It was his pacifism that destroyed his pro wrestling career.
    Up until not too long ago there was a website up with quite a few articles he had written himself. I'm not talking about the Deszo Ban blog either, which does have a lot of his articles strewn thoughout it (which are very good). No, this was his own website that he updated himself and he wrote some weird ass shit too.
    I've got some of his booklets around here somewhere. Any of his workouts take a long time to complete, especially if you take long breaks between sets like he did. You'd have to live in a gym just like he did. It definitely worked for him though.

  11. Hahaha. Whoops. Thanks Glen. In re his rest periods, I saw a lot of conflicting shit online. I, of course, didn't have the pamphlets he wrote. According to everything I read, he was a total fucking asshole, which is pretty much in line with what you said. Apparently they play his Christmas song on the radio in your neck of the woods, so I guess you guys have more exposure to Hepburn lore than do we.


    Glen, LSD was often used to treat alcoholism and it worked in a lot of cases. The doctors at his rehab probably dosed him in hopes of it working, but retards can't be fixed with drugs.

  13. He actually gets very little exposure off of the Internet, even up here. It's possible he gets more in BC but even there I doubt it's much. Anybody who isn't a strength athlete or a wrestling fanatic (or a wrestling geek) has probably never heard of him. That's a shame, really, because outside of hockey we don't have that many sports heroes in Canada. Maybe if he hadn't been a fucked-in-the-head rummy kids might be learning about him in school right now. If I've ever heard that Christmas song I didn't know it was him singing it.
    For a while he lived with some other jobless lush in a cabin in the woods where the two of them would get blackout drunk every day. Apparently this other freak would point guns at him and shit and have him scared shitless sometimes. He may have even been suicidal at one point.
    It's strange that the one and only talent he had he was the best in the world at, held back only by a physical disability that he had no control over. That and an epic self-destructive streak. One he finally came out of his booze-fueled depression he was a much scrawnier and older version of his former self but he was determined to make his comeback. He challenged all comers to beat him at his chosen pet lifts but by then no one was interested. He was finished.

  14. I swore he was, but the edit has occurred. Clearly, I spend a lot more time fact-checking the important shit, and very little time on jokes and pics, haha.

    What'd you think of Chest Pain? I've been rocking the holy fuck out of that shit.

  15. His opinions on overtraining is some deep shit.

    Awesome article too Jamie, you can tell you put a lot of work into it.

  16. Makes me want to drop acid.

  17. @Josh- Thanks, man. I'm trying to get back to more frequent and in-depth posting.

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