How Doug Hepburn Avoids Staleness
by Charles A. Smith
Many weightlifters and bodybuilders who have read of the amazing feats performed by Doug Hepburn have wondered how it is possible for him to make such steady and continued progress. It seems only a few weeks ago when I first read of Doug, pressing close to 300 pounds for a new
But, apart from his schedules, just how did Doug manage to avoid that bugbear of all lifters – staleness while handling near-limit poundages? How did he avoid training boredom, overwork and lack of enthusiasm? How was this progress possible? The answer is simple! By so arranging his schedules so that in addition to avoiding physical staleness, mental staleness was bypassed as well.
There have been numerous articles and booklets published on this all important problem. Written usually by authorities who know their subject well, the opinions expressed by these “greats” of the Iron Game are to be respected. I do not even propose to place myself in the same category as these “greats” but merely wish to express my own opinions and ideas on the matter. Perhaps Doug’s methods can help not only beginners, but advanced men. The effectiveness of his training is shown by the fact that since I have been guiding him he has increased his official total from 905 to 1000 . . . in on year!
Staleness can also be called overwork. When the term is applied in a physical sense it is found in the lifter who has undertaken a course of training in which the amount of energy and endurance required daily is more than can be regained during periods of rest. In other words, the lifter works so hard that his USUAL period between workouts is not sufficient to allow him to recover from the effects of the exercise.
What are the symptoms of staleness? The lifter who has gone stale will wake in the morning, even after eight or nine hours sleep, feeling tired and lacking in energy or ambition. He is drowsy during the day. He cannot follow any complex mental operation. His meals are not enjoyed, particularly lunch and dinner. His temperature is sometimes below normal. He often loses weight. The skin is pale and flabby and the muscles appear to lose their elasticity while the eyes are dull. Interest in exercise ceases. Blood pressure is low and pulse rate increases on even slight exertion. The posture appears dejected and the individual is easily aggravated by minor annoyances.
Any man who continues to train five and six days a week over a long period will inevitably go stale unless he takes certain precautions, and it matter not how powerful and well built this person happens to be. It is noteworthy, however, that staleness is almost always confined to men who have lots of drive and ambition. Many fellows have been training for years but never experience staleness and think they are immune to it. In nine cases out of ten the reason why they don’t go stale is simply that they lack the drive to train themselves into a condition of overwork. These persons will, of course, never reach their maximum attainment.
So much for the “disease” and its “symptoms.” Now, how can it be combated and how, at the same time, can the lifter maintain a high peak of power efficiency? Actually, the problem is an individual one with each lifter obliged to consider his own case on its own merits. But there are general or basic rules and these apply to ALL. There are, of course, varying degrees of staleness. A man can train for a month or two and make steady gains in power and development. Then all at once he’ll cease progressing and even, though he eats plenty of nourishing foods, will not increase his bodyweight. He may have been driving himself to the limit in his training, striving to add a single repetition or a couple of pounds, yet fail continually to gain them. There is only one thing to be done in a case like this and it always constitutes a SURE CURE . . . TAKE A SHORT LAYOFF FROM ALL TRAINING ROUTINES.
The lifter or bodybuilder not only needs freedom 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. Visits to the movies, good music, books and companionship can help the recovery from staleness as much as rest. The diet should be high in PROTEIN with especial care taken to see the organs of elimination function regularly. Increased intake of water can aid in this. Fresh fruits, salads, vegetables and certain dried fruits such as seedless will help, along with vitamin supplements.
Most sensitive weight trainers will take a layoff as soon as they observe a stale period coming on. Thus they nip it in the bud and prevent any further serious developments. In lots of cases, three or four days off from training and they are all ready to start in again. But there are others, who instead of resting up will try and TRAIN their staleness away. Now, STIFFNESS is not to be confused with STALENESS. You can work stiffness out of a muscle with a good training session, but you CANNOT get rid of staleness by working harder in an attempt to surpass the plateau. Thus the condition of staleness is often aggravated by the lifter’s stubbornness and then it often means a man will have to lay off for as long as three to six months.
But these cases are rare. However, when they do occur, a long rest from weight training is a MUST. Not only is the body in a state of chronic fatigue, but the mind and the nervous systems are also in a state of exhaustion. Forcing oneself for lengthy periods when a time of rest is needed will cause undue frustration and worry, and could, if carried to an extreme, result in a complete nervous breakdown of overwork. While I do not suggest that this would actually happen, or that a lifter would be so foolish as to continue his training against plain warnings from Nature, it could occur.
In combating staleness it would be well to remember certain important points.
1. The greater the frequency of a muscle’s contraction, the more rapid the approach of fatigue.
2.) If a sufficient rest interval is allowed between contractions no great fatigue is apparent.
3.) Excessive mental work hastens muscular fatigue and vice versa.
4.) Marked fatigue in one group of muscles will diminish the capacity for work in other groups.
5.) Fatigue is reduced faster, or is retarded by rest, wholesome food, correct schedules of exercise, sufficient sleep and LACK OF WORRY.
A glance at Doug Hepburn’s training programs will show how closely he has tried to avoid any adverse features. For instance, let’s take points one and two. Hepburn will NEVER start handling heavy poundages before he first warms up with a series of lighter weights. Thus he avoids any muscle strains and kindred injuries and makes sure his muscles are in the best possible condition to handle heavy weights efficiently.
His lifts are restricted to two . . . at the very most three if he feels he has an excess of energy to burn. These lifts consist of the one he is striving to improve, which may be the press, or his pull in the clean, or the snatching style. The second lift is a basic power movement . . . either the squat or the deadlift. The third, if he still feels energetic and has no trace of a tired feeling is either the bench press or the curl.
Doug keeps his repetitions low and the poundages around 85% to 95% of his best lift. To combat the fatigue that could be brought on by the use of extremely heavy resistance and frequent repetitions, he takes GENEROUS REST INTERVALS BETWEEN EACH SET OF REPS. Eight sets of two or three repetitions outside of the warmup poundages is the combination of sets and reps used. Doug does not hurry his workouts, but takes his time and discourages any influences that would tend to make him speed up the training.
The very moment Doug ceases to make progress with a given schedule, or reaches a point where he feels he has obtained all he can from specialization on a particular lift, he chooses another. If he has been training on the press, he will drop that for the snatch or hang clean. Likewise the squat, which will be dropped for the deadlift. Also with the curl, which will be replaced by the bench press. Thus any tendency toward frustration through failing to make progress and consequently WORRYING about it is nullified. Altho Doug is not entirely of a placid, easygoing nature, he deliberately and at all times cultivates a cheerful attitude and, where his strength and exercising routines are concerned, is always full of confidence and enthusiasm regardless of outside influence or events.
The above training system takes care of any tendency to overwork the body as one unified group of muscles, as well as keeping the mind fresh. Constant change in programs as soon as they have fulfilled their purpose keeps enthusiasm of both mind and body alive.
Doug’s diet is very high in protein. Meat, eggs and cheese are prominent in the diet, as well as lots of milk and fruit juices. Doug only eats when he feels hungry, gets plenty of sleep and relaxes immediately after he has finished his meals for half an hour.
Hepburn has always stressed that it is not good to have only one interest in life. Unfortunately, this is true of many lifters. Your interests must be in balance if you expect to develop a healthy mental attitude towards training and thus help to combat staleness, which will in turn quickly cause muscular fatigue, for mental staleness is a two-edged sword.
There is only one way of defeating a condition of prolonged fatigue or staleness, which has in turn upset the lifter’s mental attitude towards training . . . TAKE A LONG LAYOFF. Forget all about barbell training. Take up some other activity . . .anything so long as it takes your mind off lifting . . . stamp collecting . . . community work . . . music . . . tiddly winks . . . anything so long as barbells are banished and the new interest completely takes their place for a while.
There is consolation to be found in the fact that this type of layoff is but a temporary one and the time will come when weight training can be resumed. While one must always have enthusiasm for lifting to succeed, since it is the very essence of success, it should be controlled so the lifter never loses sight of his goal and does not, because of his enthusiasm, overtrain.
While it is always essential to train hard, one can if common sense is used, know exactly when to ease up and thus avoid any overtrained condition. A Common Sense approach in training can do more for the lifter than any of the so called “Greatest Coaches” in the world, and, as you can see from Doug’s exercise philosophy, can also do much to produce an outstanding strength athlete.