Arthur Dandurand at "La Presse" newspaper office, standing beside the 335-lb. man he lifted off the floor and then bent-pressed overhead with one arm.
How I Trained to Break the Press Record
by Doug Hepburn, as told to Charles Smith (1951)
The advent of a new and great strength star has caused a sensation in the weightlifting world. Beyond any doubt, Douglas Hepburn bids fair to become the strongest man of all time, for his feats of power . . . sheer body power . . . leave one with the feeling that the impossible has been accomplished each time he takes a workout; so fantastic is the caliber of the lifts and the poundages he tosses around.
I well remember the first letter we had from Doug. So terrific were the lifts quoted in it that we absolutely refused to believe what he told us. “No man is that powerful,” I remember saying and the others around me nodded in agreement. Eventually we met Doug and at he at last began to get the recognition he deserved. As the correspondence from him in my possession reveals, he came to stay with the Weider Organization for the purpose of PERSONAL instruction by me. During the month that he lived with me and my family, I had ample time to study him, observe his reactions to certain things . . . his habits and his personality. Doug and I conducted conversations about various aspects that were hours in length. The notes I took filled five scrapbooks; the grasp he has of the fundamentals of Olympic lifting and its basic concepts leads me to believe that once he SPECIALIZES on the quick lifts, he will in all probability set records that will be with us for a long time.
Immediately after the Senior National Championships had taken place, our office was flooded with letters asking about this new World’s record holder. They wanted to know how he trained. What his development was like . . . how he compared with other outstanding lifters. Doug had impressed these correspondents tremendously. In his first competition, he had broken a world record on an extra attempt and had compiled a total that would have “placed” him in the Worlds championships. His press of 345½ was well within his power, for he experiences difficulty in cleaning a weight, having no style in the snatch and clean & jerk. But he CAN press anything up to 385 pounds if you put it into his shoulders for him or let him take it off the squat racks . . .
It is my belief that knowledge is USELESS unless it is shared by all. If you know what makes a man a superlative lifter, then it is your duty to spread that knowledge around instead of keeping it to yourself. It is with great pride that I present here the training views of Doug Hepburn, and how he trains for the press. This article was written after intensive correspondence with Doug and is set forth here practically in his own words, as told to me in his letters.
“From the first day I started training,” wrote Doug, “I have always been interested in feats of shoulder strength and the various ways in which you could press a weight overhead. At that time, I little realized I had the potentialities that would enable me to raise world’s record poundages, and it is my belief that today there are thousands of young fellows who are capable of pressing far beyond what they imagine their limit to be . . . and this they will do if they conform to the training methods I have followed.
“Like all tyros,” went on Doug, “I thought there were ‘secret’ methods that would enable me to take a short cut to strength. I found out that the only strength secret is HARD WORK. Fortunately for me, I stumbled blindly into the right path and used a series of exercises that strengthened my body in every way . . . I soon found out that BASIC BODY POWER is one of the main reasons for a man’s pressing strength. In pressing, the hips, thighs and lower back are just as important as the muscles of the shoulders and arms. So far as I am concerned, I can quit working entirely on the press and concentrate solely on leg and back exercises, and my press will suffer but little. By using squats and dead lifts, I can maintain my pressing power.
“Now this may seem strange, Charlie,” Doug continued, “but all through weightlifting history you find the strongest men have practiced these exercises as the main part of their training routine, and the greatest of them all, Johnny Davis, has utilized these movements and made them part of his workouts. These exercises give you that basic body power that seem to me to ‘throw’ that strength from an overall basis to a specific area when needed – as in the press.
“Apart from other specialized pressing training, I have found that 6 or 8 sets of TWO repetitions is the best training combination, and this view is also shared by John Davis. More than two reps puts too much strain on the muscles of the lower back and the lifter gets into an ‘unconscious habit’ of back bending. Then too, the choice of poundage is extremely important. There is a vast difference between training for speed and training for power; even the muscles of speed and strength differ as to texture and color. To improve your power, you must use an extremely heavy, near-limit poundage and I firmly believe, from the results I have obtained, that this is the only way.
“When I am working to get my record up, I will push my training poundages to the limit and I work on that press with these near-limit poundages only one day a week. I go stale if I train on the press more frequently. The other two training days I work on the squat and the two-hands dead lift utilizing the same principle back of my press training . . . low reps and heavy poundage for building power. I use 3 to 5 repetitions when training for maximum strength in a pressing routine . . . not on the actual press of course, but on the supplementary exercises that build basic power . . . the squat and dead lift. The BEGINNER should use a fairly light poundage, and a combination of two or three sets of 10 reps, or else he will find himself possessed of an injury to the muscles of the lower spine. Such an injury is hard to shake off.
“When I clean the weight for the press, I always pull it as high as possible. I also use a high split. Pulling the bar high enables me to settle it down comfortably across the shoulders. There is a reason for the high split too. If I didn’t use it, I would have to put a lot more effort into pulling the bar high. When I settle the bar into position, I place it well FORWARD on the chest. I find that I can get a much more powerful drive from this position.
“There are some lifters who have a press-commencing stance in which the bar is held in close to the base of the neck. It is my contention that a lifter using this style cannot utilize the full power of shoulder and pectoral muscles which play a major part in the execution of the lift. When I have the weight in the pressing position, I do not hesitate. I ram the barbell overhead with everything I have, getting as fierce a drive as possible. To wait too long is to court disaster because the weight of the bar across the clavicles causes pressure on the sub-clavicle artery and cuts off the supply of blood to the brain. This is the reason why so many lifters black out. I take a deep breath before I start to press, and breathe out as the barbell passes the crown of my head.
“You may have seen the mention of the pectoral muscles, Charlie,” went on Doug, “and because I believe they play an important part in the press, I have always included a great deal of bench pressing in my training. It has been my experience that as the power of the bench presses increased, so did the power of my Olympic presses increase proportionately. Another point in which I am at variance with some authorities is over the two hands curl. Most coaches claim that the practice of the curl will hinder a good lockout. My experience has been that it HELPS the lockout and here is why I think so. When I hold the weight in at the shoulders for a press, my biceps push against my forearms. I use this pressure as a ‘spring’ to gain additional momentum for the initial drive of the bar away from the shoulders.
“However, when it comes to the clean for the jerk, large biceps can be a handicap because you need to get the elbows well up. In fact you can even lose a heavy clean because of biceps development. When you have got the weight away from the shoulders, it is then that you will feel the benefit of those dead lifts. I can set my lower back and thus do much to eliminate those fatal words, ‘too much back bend’. All in all, my pressing is patterned as much as possible after the style of John Davis, who I think is the world’s most scientific presser. Once I acquire his actual pressing method, I feel my press will increase by at least 20 pounds.
“Apart from the actual press training, I have always tried to give my shoulder muscles as much work as possible . . . to work them from every angle and this has definitely helped me in Olympic pressing. At one period or the other during my training life, I have used alternate dumbbell presses, deltoid raises with a barbell, press behind neck, lateral raises with dumbbells, and all types of one and two arm holdouts. I have also used the handstand press-up a great deal, and this exercise alone will give great pressing strength. Many Olympic champions have used this exercise.
“Now for my training poundages. In the press I always warm up with a weight about 40 pounds below my training poundage (that is, the weight I will use when doing the 8 sets of 2 reps). If I am using 8 sets of 2 reps with 320, I warm up with 280, making two reps, then jumping to my training weight . . . 320. On my next pressing day, about a week from my previous workout, I try to add 5 to 10 pounds to my training poundage with the same combination of sets and reps. I warm up with 285, then jump to 325. I have used this system in all my training exercises, including squats and dead lifts 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 and a half with hardly any rest during the exercises and I PUT EVERYTHING I HAVE INTO EACH MOVEMENT AND REPETITION.
“Food,” Doug continued, “is an important part of your training. You can’t reach the high poundages if you live on salads and raisins, though some people seem to think you can. During the period I am training to break a world’s record, I eat as much as four times daily. I also step up my intake of liquids, drinking lots of milk and fruit juices. My protein and starch intake is also increased to give me plenty of energy. Sleep is another important training factor and for the last five years I have been getting at least 10 hours sleep a night. I do not observe regular hours nor do I have regular eating habits. I sleep when I am tired and eat when I feel hungry and I have never failed to achieve maximum results.”
Throughout Hepburn’s system of training runs a combined theme of hard work and common sense. He recognizes that you cannot hope to build power unless you use extremely heavy weights. He believes, as I do, in building basic power through using the strongest and largest muscle groups of the body. It is a theory that is not in any way new, but it is one whose efficiency has been proved time and time again.