The Best Way to Get Big and Strong
What is your favorite workout for developing both strength and size? Anything new under the sun?
Although bodybuilders seek me out to learn the latest workout systems, the fact is that many of the programs I use are nearly a half-century old. I continue to use them for the simple reason that they work. One example is what can be described as The Modified Hepburn Method.
The workout is named after Doug Ivan Hepburn, a Canadian strongman born in 1926 who was considered the strongest man of his time. Hepburn’s amazing life is explored in Tom Thurston’s biography about him, Strongman (Ronsdale Press, 2003).
Born with a vision problem and a foot and ankle deformity, Hepburn started training when he was 15. By the age of 18 he could squat 340 pounds, bench-press 260, and curl 140. He went on to break eight world records in weightlifting and won the gold medal at the 1953 World Weightlifting Championships as a super-heavyweight. He was also the first man to benchpress 500 pounds, eventually doing 580—and consider that this was in the days before bench shirts. He could also squat and deadlift 800, barbell curl 260, and do a one-arm military press with 200 pounds.
The training method that Hepburn used involves exciting the nervous system first and then doing functional hypertrophy. I have found this method especially effective for building not just strength but also muscle mass.
I realize that some modern bodybuilders do not believe in performing low repetitions, but the fact is that fast-twitch muscle fibers do grow and they respond best to heavy weights and low reps. Need proof?
Eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman must have been a believer in this, as he was able to both squat and deadlift 800 pounds. Going back a few years, 1976 and 1981 Mr. Olympia Franco Columbu reportedly deadlifted 780 pounds at a body weight of 185, a lift that exceeded the world record. Arnold Schwarzenegger deadlifted 710 pounds in a competition in Germany in his early years before winning seven Olympias, and three-time Mr. Olympia Sergio Oliva was a champion weightlifter in Cuba before he came to the United States. Science aside, when you see that those four former Mr. Olympias (winning a total of 20 Mr. O titles) were using heavy weights and low reps in their training, you have to consider that low reps may have some value to a bodybuilder.
If your current training goal is maximal strength and hypertrophy and you are willing to work hard, let’s get down to some specifics of the workout. The heavy work of the relative strength approach will prime the nervous system and will make the functional hypertrophy loads feel lighter than normal. I have modernized it by adding the correct tempo and by setting a precise rest interval to maximize the athlete’s physiological adaptations.
An upper-body workout could look like the following program:
Notes: For both of these workouts, the slight changes in grips and angles aim at tapping slightly different sets of motor units, a technique that stimulates growth and provides incentive to keep working.
Train the Same Body Part Twice in One Day!
What is your opinion about two-a-day training? Are the benefits worth the investment in additional time?
Absolutely! In fact, in a recent scientific study involving recreational trainees and elite weightlifters who trained twice a day with six hours’ rest between workouts, the researchers found that training twice a day enabled the subjects to sustain maximal force output better than just training once a day. If you’re interested in trying it, let me offer a few tips.
First, it’s important to keep both training sessions short. I suggest starting with 20-minute workouts that are spaced four to six hours apart. Work up to 40- to 60-minute workouts—longer will be counterproductive. Eventually, as your body’s recovery ability improves, you can increase your workout time to 60 minutes, but no more.
Second, the training must be sequenced properly. I’ve found the best results are achieved when the same body part is trained twice on the same day. There are several options to accomplish this, such as the following sequence: compound exercises in the morning; isolation exercises in the evening. So if you are working the pectorals, for example, the morning session could consist of incline presses and dips, and the evening session would include dumbbell flyes and various cable exercises.
From experience, I prefer to work heavy in the morning, with higher reps at night (such as sets of four to six reps in the morning, and 12–15 at night). If you are more interested in strength development, your morning workouts should be in the one- to three-rep range, while your evening workouts should max out at eight reps.