Friday, December 21, 2018

The Private Life of the World's Strongest Man

The Private Life of The World's Strongest Man: Doug Hepburn
by Clyde Gilmour

In public, Doug Hepburn is a squat mountain of muscle renowned for his astounding feats with the barbells. In private, he is a shy fellow who sings tenor, doesn't like girls, plays golf and composes wistful poetry. 

Young Doug Hepburn

A little later in life.

Doug Hepburn, Vancouver's rotund and moody Hercules who sings tenor and writes wistful poems for recreation, is the official international weight-lifting champion and thus the leading claimant to the awesome status of Strongest Man in the World. He has raised 700 pounds from the floor to his knees. On several occasions he has hoisted more than 400 pounds to arms' length overhead from the shoulders. 

His incredible chest measures just three inches short of six feet in circumference. His biceps, 21 inches around, are larger than the ordinary man's thighs. Hepburn sometimes consumes a dozen eggs in a quart of milk before breakfast, so there is a lot of fat in this total weight, which is about 285 pounds. He is of average height (five feet, nine inches), but there is nothing average in the phenomenal power he generates.

This formidable Canadian, who will be 28 on September 16 (article originally published in Macleans, June 1st, 1954), won his world title in Stockholm in August, 1953. He triumphed despite the handicap of a withered right leg, inherited from childhood surgery which straightened a congenitally deformed foot, and despite the pain of a sore ankle which almost forced him to withdraw from the contest at the last moment. Hepburn's victory made him the idol of the muscle-worshiping Swedes and other enthusiasts attending the meet. Even the Russians, tossing aside their masks of taciturnity, made the arena rebound with shouts of "xopowee woy!" - Russian for something like Good Show!

Doug in Sweden

Hepburn is in training for his next big test, the British Empire Games, to be held this summer from July 30 to August 7 in Vancouver at a new stadium costing $1,500,000 and seating 25,000. He'll try to beat Dave Baillie of Montreal, holder of the Canadian weight-lifting title, which world champion Hepburn has never won. Barring accident or injury, or the onset of one of his sieges of melancholia, he is an overwhelming favorite and already his ardent boosters are visualizing him as an Olympic champion at Melbourne, Australia, in 1956.

   The British Empire Games Weightlifting Team: 
Kneeling, left to right: David Baillie, Douglas Hepburn.
Standing: Lionel St. Jean (coach), Gerald Gratton, Jules Sylvain, Charlie Walker (manager),
Stan Gibson, Guy Dubé, Keevil Daly.
According to the strength-school advertisements which offer to transform skinny weaklings into Samsons, any male as significantly endowed as Hepburn should be striding through life with leonine self-confidence, envied by men and constantly pursued by panting feminine admirers. The facts, he admits, with rueful candor, are quite to the contrary.

Although he is gratified by the universal acclaim and numerous honors that have come to his since Stockholm, Hepburn is still shy, sensitive and a worrier.  He frets about his health. He often has difficulty in getting to sleep. He owns only one suit of clothes, the same outsize powder blue single-breasted he bought with funds donated by the Vancouver public before he flew to Sweden.

His only income, while preparing for the Empire Games, is the $150 a month he has been getting since last call as a so-called "bodyguard on call" to Vancouver's mayor, Fred Hume. This money comes from the sports-minded mayor personally, not from civic revenues, and allows Hepburn to keep his amateur standing instead of turning professional or selling his name and fame by endorsing bar bells and other athletic equipment.

One bar-bell company offered him $400 a month to plug its products but if he'd taken it a shadow would have been cast on his amateur standing. He's also had tempting offers to turn pro wrestler but has refused because "I don't want to become a complete phony" even for "all that dough." So that his salary from the mayor would go further, early this year big Doug gratefully accepted an offer of free lodgings and improvised gym facilities in the home and business premises of an old friend named W.H. Gunn, proprietor of Farm Boys' Poultry Service Ltd. He practices his lifts in a small warehouse at the rear of the store. Until he moved in with widower Gunn and the latter's sons, John and Bill, he had been bunking rent-free with three other strong men in the same tiny room at the back of the Grandview Barbell Club. 

Sonorous official recognitions, Doug Hepburn has discovered, are one thing, and petty personal indignities are another, and he has had plenty of both. Weight lifters, it seems, are regarded as moronic apelike buffoons by many people and are fair game for ridicule at any season. It is a familiar experience for Hepburn to be asked, "Well, Doug, how does it feel to be all brawn and no brains?" He invariably replies to such badinage, "I wouldn't know. How does it feel to be neither?"

Because his moon face and balloon contours make him look deceivingly like an ordinary "fat boy," Hepburn is still sometimes treated with more derision than deference by leaner men whom he could rip apart with his bare hands. The epithet "tub of lard" has been flung at him in a public place, and in Oakland a sports columnist referred to him as "an oversized meatball" while the Canadian was visiting in California a few months ago. 

As for women, Hepburn shuns them completely, branding them as "dissipation" and dangerous to his training. His enjoyment of golf, a game that he likes, is marred for the strongest man in the world when he sees scrawny teen-aged girls driving the bar farther than he can. "It's humiliating," he sighs. 

His Aunt Verna, Mrs. J.D. Fraser of West Vancouver, says she has a hunch Doug "will settle down in time, get married and lead a normal home life," but there is no sign of it in his present attitude. Unlike the swooning cuties in the muscle ads, the girls seldom pay him any attention, although he has a friendly grin.   

Says the strong man bleakly, "Women aren't interested in strength - not my kind of strength, anyway. Oh, maybe some of the older women are different but most of the young ones don't seem to have much to them. All they think about is good times and good looks - good looks, meaning the body-beautiful boys on the beaches, with the wavy hair and the narrow waists and the tricky oils and lotions that make their muscles real pretty in the sunlight." 

An indication that Hepburn may be exaggerating his own lack of appeal for the ladies came not long ago when columnist Jack Scott of the Vancouver Sun wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece which mildly posh-poohed the "iron game" (weight lifting) and remarked that most women seemed to prefer puny little men in need of mothering. Scott soon reported a storm of protests from his readers. One subscriber, male in gender, challenged the columnist to "a half hour on the mat." Another, female, praised the massive Hepburn and told Scott witheringly, "When you're up against a woman, you'll find she prefers a man!"

When Hepburn went to Hollywood last winter to appear on a TV show, Art Linkletter's House Party, the audience, mostly women, gave him a big hand. He lifted the 200-pound Linkletter above his head.

It is characteristic of Hepburn, a man who is accustomed to doing things the hard way, that even when grappling with insomnia he gets nowhere with methods suitable to ordinary mortals. He has his own bizarre system of inducing shuteye. He lies sprawled in bed like a beached whale and imagines himself in some dreadful emergency, then tries to figure out a solution.

"Like for instance," the brawny bachelor says with a serious air, "I'm trapped upstairs in a burning house, too high to jump and with every exit cut off by tremendous flames. Or else maybe I'm tied hand-and-foot on the floor of some gangster's apartment, and I know from having overheard a conversation that a couple of ruthless gunmen are arriving in exactly five minutes to kill me. By the time I've decided how to deal with that fictitious situation, my real worries are temporarily forgotten and I go to sleep like a baby."

A dabble in amateur psychiatry, evidently founded in part on the plots of psychological movies he has attended, Hepburn has evolved a theory to explain his own nocturnal ventures into make-believe woes and crises. He thinks they are merely an escape hatch from his awareness of the far-from-imaginary troubles and obstacles that have afflicted him all his life.

A factor which contributes to his insomnia is his inability to scratch his own back when it's itchy. He can't reach it because of his massive muscles. He's peevish about this and snaps that "a bear can't scratch his own back either, except against a tree, but bears get along okay."

 Doug, at six months, with his Father Ivan.

Douglass Ivan Hepburn was born cross-eyed and with a badly turned in right foot, in Vancouver General Hospital. It was a difficult birth; the makes left by the obstetrician's forceps are still visible on his face. Both his parents had moved west from Ontario - big rugged Ivan Hepburn from Hope Bay, and slim petite Gladys Rundle from Port Perry. Doug was their only child. Muscularity and athletic skill were in his paternal legacy. Ivan Hepburn had boxed and sprinted and played hockey, rugby and semi-pro baseball in Alberta before going to the Pacific coast. Doug's great-grandfather, Simpson Hepburn, a Bruce County farmer who died around the turn of the century, was renowned for his strength and was said to have once knocked down, with a single blow of his fist, an ox which had suddenly turned on him in the field.

Causes of Despondency

Andy Hepburn, Doug's grandfather, was still in robust health this spring at the age of 85 (1954), dwelling alone in a three-room shack at Horseshoe Bay, B.C. The future strong man's ancestral strains were Scottish and Irish on his father's side and English and Irish on his mother's.

The marriage of Ivan and Gladys Hepburn ended in divorce in 1931 when Doug was five.

 Doug the Sailor, age four. 

Within a year his mother was married again, to William Foster - a salesman, like her first husband. Things were tough in those depression years, and Gladys Foster worked as an adding machine operator to help pay the household bills. At school, Doug's bad eyes and his twisted foot were often ridiculed by his classmates. He stayed away from the school parties and used to hurry home well ahead of his parents, sitting alone in the kitchen nursing his loneliness, telling himself stories, flexing the imagination which today concocts his go-to-sleep midnight thrillers.

People who know Hepburn well are convinced that his occasional sloughs of despondency are caused by emotional wounds suffered in his rather unhappy childhood - the broken home, his eyes, his crooked foot. Also, he worries about his future. Even under prolonged questioning he cannot seem to decide what to hope for. At various times he foresees himself as a circus strong man, physical culture trainer, strength lecturer to youth, a beer parlor bouncer or "maybe a bum on skid row when I'm fifty." 

Hepburn says his despondency in 1952, which made him drop training and miss Olympic Games, was due mainly to discouragement over scant recognition for lifting exploits.

Childhood operations straightened his eyes and his foot but left him with his right ankle "frozen," the calf muscle atrophied. Today his normal calf measures 17 inches, the other about 13.  

Snatch, Hastings Street Gym, circa 1950.

He tries to hide the shrunken leg behind the other when his photo is taken in gym attire. "I honestly believe I'd have been a world champion several years ago if I'd only been blessed with two normal legs," Hepburn says.

This spring he bought corrective shoes for the first time to offset the fact that his right leg is an inch and a half shorter than his left. But his body has grown used to being lopsided and when he tried lifting weight with these shoes on he wrenched his back.

At Kitsilano High School, a deep-chested classmate named Mike Poppel awakened Doug's interest in tumbling, hand-balancing and weight lifting. 

 Michael Adrian Poppel
January 24, 1929 - December 29, 2014. 
First Mr. British Columbia at age 17. 

[Also worth noting here is Phys. Ed. instructor Gordon Gillespie, who encouraged both Poppel and Hepburn in their early years.]

Doug was slow at first but soon began to "grow like a cake in the oven," according to Poppel. An obsession with super-strength had filled his mind long before he finally left school at the mature age of 20, still only halfway through Grade Eleven. He had often quit before that, sometimes for months at a stretch, and says now that he always felt "sort of trapped" in a classroom. "But I'm proud of one thing," Doug added recently. "I never actually failed an exam." 

With the money from odd jobs - an a logging camp, in a sheet-metal works, as assistant to a veterinary surgeon, as a lifeguard and as a beer-parlor bouncer - he bought tremendous amounts of food. His muscles expanded, as so did his jowls and middle. 

One one typical day at the height of this dedicated gluttony, Hepburn drank a quart of milk in his basement and then ambled to a restaurant for the following leisurely breakfast: a large steak, six boiled eggs, five thick slices of toast with plenty of butter, three or four more glasses of milk, a bowl of soup and two bowls of pudding. As mid-morning snacks to tide him over until lunch he carried to the beach four quarts of milk, six bananas, several oranges and peaches and half a dozen tins of tomato juice. Lunch consisted of fish-and-chips or another steak, with all the usual trimmings. Hungry again in a couple of hours the tireless gourmand consumed more milk and fruit to console his empty spots until it was time for dinner - another steak usually, or perhaps two large tins of spaghetti, each tin containing normal portions for six persons. A couple of big hamburgers and more milk before bedtime finished the busy day. 

A stunned dietician, informed of this daily regimen, recently computed that Doug's daily intake during his beefing-up years must have been around 10,000 calories. Average for a normally active man not on a reducing diet is 2,500. The Canadian Dietary Standards, published by the Dept. of National Health and Welfare, recommend 5,200 calories for a man weighing 200 pounds and doing extremely arduous physical work all day long.

Hepburn eats less now, and has never been overly fond of sweet desserts. Besides, he has almost reached the body weight he deems most desirable for his super-strength - 290 pounds (at 5' 8.5"). He is still a vast consumer of proteins. 

 Original Ray Beck photo, courtesy of Jan Dellinger.

Fortified by this sort of nourishment and constantly toughening the hard muscles underneath his lard, young Hepburn soon began ringing up impressive total in his lifts. By the fall of 1948, when he was 22, he was lifting [pressing?] well over his own weight, which by that time was about 215 pounds. A year later he'd hit 300. He began toppling local, British Columbia and Canadian records, but for a long time few Vancouverites paid much attention to him. The sports pages mentioned him occasionally.        

Later photo of Doug back-lifting six Vancouver Canucks players.
December 30th, 1958, Kerrisdale Arena. 
Yvon Chouinard's 236-page document on The Origins of Canadian Olympic Weightlifting
(June 30, 2011) is Here:

Venturing afield, he did well in U.S tournaments but still got scant recognition. When Canada started holding preliminary trials for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, Hepburn was despondent and didn't compete. Spurred back to training, he lifted at Portland Ore., in November of that year, and became the third man in the world to ring up an official total of 1,000 pounds in the three Olympic lifts.  

British Columbia Amateur Weightlifting Trophy presented to Doug Hepburn. 
The trophy is engraved with the words "3rd official 1000-lb. total in the world - 3 Olympic lifts. 
1st Steve Stanko | 2nd John Davis | 3rd Doug Hepburn. Date 1952. 
BC Sports Hall of Fame Collection. 

Spike Jones Was Competition

These three Olympic lifts are the Clean & Press, the Snatch, and the Clean & Jerk, all done with two hands. Each starts with the barbell resting at the lifter's feet and ends with it held at arms' length above the head. Each has a special group of techniques relating to its title. Hepburn, a big man with a fondness for little jokes, has been known to reply politely, "I'm in the cleaning and pressing business," when people wonder how the world's champion developed his physique. 

It's probable that he'd never have become a champion had it not been for Harry Brown, a quiet Vancouver postal employee who is national chairman of the weight-lifting community of the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada. Brown spark-plugged a dogged, bedeviled but finally successful campaign to raise funds to cover Doug's trip to the 1953 championships in Stockholm. As appeal to the public through the press for mailed donations brought in not a single cent. A jazz concert for the cause was attended by fifteen persons - Spike Jones and his musical madcaps were performing in town the same evening. But the fans dug deep to "help our strong man" at a baseball game after Doug had displayed his strength between innings, and a Canadian Legion weight-lifting show fetched enough revenue - bolstered by a few generous private gifts - to put the drive over the top. 

with $1,300, a sprained ankle and no coach or trainer to exhort him to victory, Doug flew to Sweden.

Residing austerely in a Stockholm sports institute, the mighty Canadian gave no heed to the inviting glances of pretty Swedish girls, who admire weight lifters the way Canadian girls admire Hollywood movie stars. Wincing and gritting his teeth every time he applied pressure on his sore ankle, he threw his titanic energy into the task of dethroning the veteran champion, a grim Brooklyn Negro named John Davis. And he did it, with a three-lift aggregate of just over 1,030 pounds. Davis was second with 1,008; Argentina's Humberto Selvetti third with 991. No one else had ever totaled as high as Hepburn at the world championships, although he and others have done even better in lesser contest or in the comforting privacy of their own gyms.

"My victory," Hepburn said later in the somewhat pedantic words he often employs, "undoubtedly means a certain amount of fulfillment. But I won't be satisfied until I have reached my ultimate potential, and perhaps set a mark that will withstand all future competition." 

Mayor Hume and other notables gave the champ a rousing home-town welcome at Vancouver's airport. Doug's photographed face, with or without the mustache he keeps growing and removing, soon became familiar to newspaper readers. In separate polls, subscribers of both of Vancouver's afternoon dailies, the Sun and the Province, overwhelmingly voted for the strong man as British Columbia's athlete of the year. Each paper gave Doug a big congratulatory banquet. He also won the Toronto Star's Lou Marsh Memorial Trophy as Canada's outstanding athlete, selected by a board of Toronto sports officials.

Hepburn Awarded Lou Marsh Memorial Trophy (1953):

Doug topped the annual Canadian Press poll of the country's press and radio sports writers and broadcasters as the athlete of the year. This spring the Newsmen's Club of B.C. acclaimed him as the British Columbian of the Year, a distinction previously held by such eminent non-weight lifters as Premier W.A.C. Bennett and Dr. Norman MacKenzie, president of the University of B.C.

Working out now in his poultry-shop gym for the approaching British Empire Games, Doug Hepburn is ever conscious of his No. 1 rival for the unchallenged title of Strongest Man in the World. It is Paul Anderson, a roly-poly behemoth in the Tennessee town of Elizabethton, only 21 years old but already the claimant of a three-lift total surpassing Hepburn's Stockholm aggregate by 35 pounds.

Doug Hepburn, John Grimek

When riding high on one of his buoyant moods Hepburn has told friends he thinks it's possible that he is the strongest man who ever lived. In that rarefied department another Canadian, the late Louis Cyr, is probably his prime opponent. Cyr, with a physique like Hepburn's, lifted 545 pounds "with one finger," according to the 1953 edition of the Encyclopedia of Sports, "but the details are not established." Around 1890-92, if the old stories can be believed, Cyr used to crouch under a platform on which twenty persons with a total weight of about 3,000 pounds were standing, and slowly lift the platform from the floor. Harry Brown says thoughtfully, "It sounds super-human, but actually the platform would be raised only an inch or two, just enough to clear - and I think Doug Hepburn, if he set his mind to it, could do exactly the same thing." 
Note the Grip in this One Arm DB Lift.

Biblical and mythological strong men bring out a plodding skepticism in Hepburn's philosophy, sometimes enlivened by traces of Irish humor. His enjoyment of Cecil B. DeMille's movie of Samson and Delilah was marred by his feeling that Samson, played by Victor Mature, used faulty technique in uprooting the pillars of the pagan temple of Dagon. Hepburn, who owns an 18-volume encyclopedia and browses through it occasionally, is equally unimpressed by Hercules' storied feat of cleaning, in a single day, the appalling stables of Augeas, befouled for thirty years by 3,000 oxen.

"Okay, so he could clean some stables," Doug said recently, with a perfectly straight face. "But could he clean - and press, of course - 400 pounds under proper Olympic conditions?" 

In addition to his withered leg, which continues to be a serious handicap in his lifting, Vancouver's strong man has been oddly bothered for about a year and a half by something he cannot explain; a perpetual ringing in his ears. Sometimes it's in the right ear only, sometimes in both. Says Doug darkly, "I can forget about it for an hour or two but it's always there when I stop and listen - that high, high symphony inside my head." He hasn't been to a doctor about it, and says he won't unless it gets worse.

For the fun of it, he sings impromptu harmony with a few of his muscular pals. His tenor voice is clear and light, with a pleasant quality, and he can belt out a good ringing top A when he feels like it. Hepburn also plays the mouth organ with better than average ability, plays chess and checkers, shoots a bit of pool or snooker, reads light fiction and his encyclopedia, goes to the movies, and recites Spartacus to the Gladiators to anybody who'll listen. 

"Spartacus to the Gladiators" is included in this Hepburn post: 

Doug was a choirboy but now seldom goes to church. He believes in God, whom he calls "a Mighty Power," almost as though the Deity were a super weight lifter.

He's a Gentle Giant

A man of letters himself, Hepburn is a fairly frequent contributor to such esoteric journals as Muscle Power magazine. The Psychology of Handling Heavy Poundages was one of his most successful treatises in those pages, and another was How I Developed My Press. 

Hepburn is an advocate of "clean living" but he's not stuffy about it. He drinks no hard liquor and smokes no cigarettes. A glass of beer or a bottle of stout are among his occasional enjoyments, and he likes the fragrance of a mild cigar.

Like most men possessed of super-strength, he hasn't been in any fights since school days. As a tavern bouncer, he gently ejected a few drunks but none ever waited in ambush later to attack him on his way home. Hepburn is not a bellicose man but he has a prideful knowledge of his own extraordinary powers. "If I ever turned pro," he said not long ago, "I wouldn't be afraid to step into the same ring with Rocky Marciano - provided I could fight him my own way." 

As an amateur poet, Douglas Ivan Hepburn says he has no literary pretensions but doesn't mind stating that he can "turn the stuff out fast, any time I think about it." This year, for Mother's Day, he sent a brand new poetic tribute to his mother, who now lives in San Diego, Calif.

If he ever does find a girl whom he can adore and settle down with after his status as the Strongest man in the World has been solidified beyond all dispute, he already has a title in mind - but no verses yet - for a Hepburn poem in her honor: 

"I Get a Lift Out of You." 

Note: For more information on Doug's training methods and recommendations, search this blog.
The full series of his training booklets, as well as other articles, are here:

Strength and Bulk
The Hepburn Method
The Olympic Press
also includes article on The Importance of Mental Attitude

The Squat: 

The Deadlift: 

The Curl: 

There's more if you look around a little. 








Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Strict Curl - Tim Henriques

Note: This is an excerpt from "All About Powerlifting" by Tim Henriques.
Great Book! Well Worth the Purchase.

A traditional powerlifting competition consists of 3 exercises: the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. When all three lifts are performed that is called a full meet.  Sometimes powerlifters will compete in only some of the exercises. Usually the squat is the one that is dropped. This is because the squat takes the longest to perform at a competition and requires the most equipment (and qualified spotters); the squat is the hardest exercise to do; previous injuries normally limit the squat more than any other exercise. If a lifter competes in both the bench press and the deadlift, that is called a push/pull competition or an Ironman competition, and the two lifts are added together to produce the lifter's score. Some lifters compete in just one exercise, called a single lift competition. The most popular version of this is to just perform the bench press, but single lift deadlift competitions are becoming more popular and occasionally you can find a single lift squat competition. 

While most powerlifting organizations stick with the Big Three (squat, bench, dead), some organizations have added a fourth lift: The Strict Curl. It is possible the curl can be added to the bench and the deadlift, where all three lifts are added together. This is usually called a Powersports competition or occasionally a Strongarm competition. The very first powerlifting competitions consisted of the Curl, the Squat, and the Bench Press. The strict curl can also be contested as a single lift, either at the end of a full meet or along with other single lift events.    

Types of Curls

There are two types of strict curls that can be performed at a meet. Only one will be used at a particular meet - if you are interest in competing in a curl competition, it would behoove you to find out which type of curl the lifters will be performing. The traditional strict curl is a standing bicep curl, using an EZ Bar, performed up against the wall. The butt and upper back must be placed against the wall, and they must remain against the wall throughout the entire lift. It is significantly harder to curl up against the wall as opposed to performing a freestanding curl. Generally lifters will lift 10-20% less performing a curl up against a wall as opposed to standing straight up; even when you are using strict form while standing up. The benefit of curling up against the wall is primarily for judging purposes. It is hard to judge a standing curl because the lifter may have just a little swing forward or backward; saying the body must remain against the wall makes the judging very easy - either you remained against the wall and you successfully curled the weight, or you didn't remain against the wall (curling the weight is then irrelevant), and you didn't curl the weight. 

A second type of curl is a standing strict curl, which is a bicep curl using an EZ Bar, performed in a standing position. The legs must be held straight and locked. The weight is curled up near the chin, and the upper body must remain basically upright during the lift. A significant swing either forward or backward is considered cheating and the lift will not count, although without the benefit of the wall this "swing" becomes reasonably subjective. It is okay on both types of curls for the elbows to move forward. It is this author's opinion that if curls are contested in competition, they should be performed up against the wall to facilitate fairness of judging for all competitors across all federations.

If one is not competing, other types of curls can be performed. These include dumbbell curls, preacher curls performed on a preacher curl bench, hammer curls performed with the hands held in a neutral grip, and reverse curls with the hands in a pronated (palms down) position. Lifters can train curls on machines, cables, dumbbells, and barbells; various other types of resistance can be used as well. 

Minimal equipment is necessary to complete a strict curl. Most curl competitions will involve the use of an EZ curl bar, which is the cambered bar used most often for curls. It is critical that an EZ Bar be used and not a straight barbell, as using a straight bar for biceps curl maximum attempts is extremely hard on the wrist joint. Regular use of a straight bar for curling will often lead to tendinitis in the wrist and elbow joint. The heavier the weight you use and the less flexible your wrist and arm are (bigger arms are generally less flexible), the harder the straight bar is on your wrist. Since you must train heavy on a regular basis to have a high 1-Rep max, this is a recipe for disaster. I would even suggest that if someone were to compete with a straight bar on the bicep curl (which in my opinion should not occur), they should still train with an EZ Bar on the majority of their sets to save their wrists and elbows.

Article on Training the Two Hands Curl by Jim Halliday Here:
One on The Two Hands Slow Curl by Charles Smith Here:

Most EZ Bars weight 15-20 pounds and, just like with a regular bar, you should count the weight of the bar. If you don't know how much your particular EZ Bar weighs, just weight it on a scale at the gym(EZ Bars are actually often 16.5 or 22 pounds because they're made to be 7.5 or 10 kg.).

The second thing you will need is a sturdy wall to lean up against (avoid leaning against a gym mirror and/or just plain drywall as you might damage both of those structures). If you want to save yourself some effort, you can bring a flat bench over and set the bar on the bench, reducing the need to deadlift the bar up each time you lift it. Lift up against a sturdy and reasonably broad wall at least 12". Curling up against a power rack, for example, will not give one the necessary support and is likely to result in lower weights being lifted. In a competition there should be either an official, sturdy curl platform or you can go up against the wall - once we had to curl up against the squat stands, and that was not at all appropriate.

Proper Technique

The curl requires the lowest skill of any of the contested lifts, but that does not mean that technique is unimportant. Indeed, it is reasonably common to see lifters make significant technique mistakes when performing a competition strict curl, which can be avoided by following these guidelines.

Hand Position

Hand position in a strict curl is crucial for maximum performance. When using an EZ Bar, lifters will have two main choices: a narrow grip or a wide grip. Lifters can choose either grip. Most lifters choose the wide grip. However, I have seen exceptional performances with both grips - select the one that allows you to lift the most weight.

You can use a narrow grip by gripping the first bend in the bar. A narrow grip is generally (but not always) better for people with narrower shoulders and/or with more flexible wrists. The narrow grip places more emphasis on the long head of the biceps brachii (the outer head), which may be useful for bodybuilding purposes but doesn't do that much for strength. A wider grip is used when gripping the second bend in the bar. This grip is normally (but not always) better for people with wider shoulders and/or less flexible wrists. I would say the wide grip is the grip most commonly used in bicep curl competitions, but there are enough exceptions that I would experiment with both to see which one you are stronger in. The wide grip places more emphasis on the short head of the bicep brachii (inner head). There is not a huge difference in strength between the two heads of the biceps: pick the grip that you feel the strongest on and use that one - don't worry too much about specific muscle recruitment of a part of the muscle.

It is imperative that one grab the EZ Bar in the correct position. When you grip the EZ Bar, the angle of the bar must match the angle of your hand. The angle of the hand when supinated is such that the hand (going from the pinky to the thumb) points out slightly. The part of the bar being held must match this angle. Lifters will occasionally grab the EZ Bar with the bar angled toward their body; this will feel awkward and will result in a poor performance. If it feels weird, it probably is.

Lifters should take a closed grip (thumbs opposite fingers) and should grip the bar reasonably tightly when curling.  

Foot Position

Foot position is also important in the curl. The rules generally state that when a lifter is up against the wall, the heels must be no more than 12" away from the wall. I would suggest you mark the floor where you train in order to know how far away your heels can be. The heels should be as far away as possible while staying within the rules. In addition, taking a wide stance, squat width or wider, will likely add support and will also decrease the chance of the hips coming off the wall. Pointing the toes out moderately will likely be the most natural, comfortable foot angle combined with the wide stance.

With a standing curl, there is a distinct advantage to staggering your feet by placing one foot in front of the other, thus I would suggest that you use that method. Put one foot in front of the other and lock your legs. Generally you lock the legs because it is required by the rules. The legs must start and stay locked during the exercise. Staggering your feet helps with your balance. The weight will want to tip you forward as you curl it, so you in turn will try to pull it backward with your back. Imagine if someone were going to push you either from the front or from the back and you had to resist the movement. Would you stand with your feet symmetrical, about shoulder width apart, or would you stagger them? Of course you would stagger them. It is quite easy to push someone over if their feet are in line with each other, even if they are spread out. Staggering the feet makes you less likely to lean back as you curl the weight.

Staggering the feet also gives another advantage. When you stagger the feet it breaks the line of the torso running to the legs. This makes it harder to judge if the body is staying completely upright or not. By staggering your feet, you can often start the curl by leaning forward 5-10 degrees. This lean forward can give you some crucial momentum which you can use to lift more weight. This is the main reason it is easier to curl standing up - even if you stay strict - than it is to curl against the wall. You can't lean backward at all, but if you start leaning forward and then move backward just a bit as you curl, you end in the correct position, but you used some momentum to lift the weight. A staggered foot position makes this harder to notice and judge. Having your feet spread but in line with each other makes any body lean to the front or the back very noticeable.

The negative of staggering your feet is that it causes you to twist your hips and spine. Twisting the spine at the bottom will cause it to twist back in the opposite direction to compensate for not being straight. Regular use of this method can promote an imbalance in the body and it might lead to injury. You can try switching the lead leg so one side does not become more dominant than the other. Personally, I recommend that on your regular sets when training for the curl you perform the curl with the feet spread but in line with each other - the same position you would take for the majority of your standing exercises. Only stagger the feet when the weight is very heavy for you. The staggered foot position is not normally a hard position to get used to; most people feel very comfortable with it right away or after a bit of practice. Remember, normally we want to by symmetrical when lifting weights to ensure the muscles develop evenly, but sometimes it is okay to be symmetrical in the effort to lift more weight. The pros and  cons of a staggered foot position apply to basically all lifts, not just the bicep curl. It should be noted that many athletic positions involve a staggered foot position due to the increased balance and stability in that position.

Head Position

Head position in the curl generally follows one of two trains of thought. The first is to keep the head in line with the body and reasonably stable throughout the lift. I would suggest you perform most of your training reps like that. The second school of thought is to use a bit of momentum from the head and neck to assist with the curl. It is minor but it might make a small difference. In this example, start the curl with your head looking down (most commonly lifters look straight ahead, which will signal the judge to give the "Curl" command, and then you can look down after receiving the command). AS you curl the weight up, look up at the same time. The logic is similar to deadlifting: by looking up, the chest and thorax will follow, putting one in a stronger position to finish the curl. Even if one is curling against the wall, there is generally not a rule that mandates that the head stay in contact with the well - the head can move if you wish to do so. Keep in mind that significant head motion - especially looking to one side or the other - is associated with decreased neural drive during most lifting motions (e.g. looking to the side while squatting or deadlifting is particularly unwise and can result in injury.).

Mike Casabona
155.4 at 165.

Raw Records: 

100% Raw Strict Curl Forum:

General Form for Performing the Strict Curl

To perform a wall strict curl in a competition, you will approach the EZ Bar and take a grip on it. The same guidelines apply in terms of wide or narrow grip to a wall curl as they do a standing curl, and generally lifters will use the same grip for maximum performance whether up against the wall or standing upright. Depending on the organization you lift in you may or may not get a command to pick up the weight. Once you pick up the weight, you will take a step backward and lean against the wall.

The rules generally state that your butt and upper back/shoulders must remain against the wall throughout the lift. As you lean up against the wall, place your feet out in front of you. You will need to keep your legs straight the entire time - do not bend the knee. There is no benefit to using a staggered step when lifting against the wall, so have a symmetrical stance. Do not keep your heels too close to the wall; they should be pretty far out in front of you. If the federation limits how far your heels can be from the wall (often it is 12 inches), generally you want to be as far out as possible. You should feel that if the wall was suddenly removed you would fall backward. In addition, have a fairly wide stance. Having a wider stance makes it a little less likely to pop your hips off the wall, which is the number on problem in a curl. When you are leaning against the wall make sure you straighten your arms because you have to start the curl with your arms straight.

Once you are in the proper starting position, the judge will tell you to "Lift" or "Curl" and you will curl the weight up. Take a deep breath and hold it, brace yourself, and then curl upward. Your upper arms will likely move forward some, and this is fine. Push yourself back into the wall and be sure your butt remains against the wall; it will likely have a tendency to come off the wall when you are lifting heavy. You may find that curling your wrist back to you (flexing the wrist) is desirable once the weight is a little higher than halfway up. You will be lifting the weight up to your throat, nose, or chin. Once you have successfully completed the lift, hold the weight in that position. The judge will say "Down" and then you can return the weight to your waist. You must keep your back against the wall on the descent; letting the weight drop rapidly can easily pull you off the wall. It is better to lower with control - if you have the strength to lift it up you have the strength to lower it with control. At that point you are finished, or the judge will say "Rack" and you can set the weight down on the ground or in the racks.

 - The lifter approaches the bar in the rack and takes his grip.
 - The lifter walks back against the platform.
 - Gets into the start position and waits for the "Start" command.
 - Begins to curl, keeping the elbows back and the bar close to the body initially.
 - Flexes the elbows and begins to bring the elbows forward.
 - Grips tightly and presses the upper back into the support at the sticking point.
 - Curls the wrist to reduce the moment arm of the resistance.
 - Pushes the elbows slightly forward.
 - Drives the bar toward the face.
 - Holds the end position and waits for the "Down" command.
 - Initiates a slow negative.
 - Maintains the angle of the elbow and brings the elbows close to the body.
 - Keeps the upper back against the wall during the negative.
 - Holds the finished position and waits for the "Rack" command.
 - Re-racks the bar.

Standing Strict Curl

As he name implies, you are standing straight during a standing strict curl. You will approach the bar just like the deadlift. Depending on the organization you lift with, they will either give you a command to pick the weight up, or you can just pick it up. Once you have your grip stand up with the bar and hold it at arms' length, as though you had just finished deadlifting the bar. Now you want to get your feet set.

Once you have gripped the bar, lifted it up, and set your feet, you will get the command to "Lift" or "Curl" the weight up. Take a deep breath in, hold it, lean forward just a little bit if you can, and then curl the weight up to your chin area. The end position of the curl will vary depending on your own biomechanics, but most people finish the curl near the throat, nose, or chin. The bar should not be any higher than the forehead, and it should be higher than the collarbone. It is okay to allow the upper arms to move forward as you curl; in fact, that is encouraged. If you try to pin your elbows by your sides so the upper arm doesn't move forward you will be very limited in the total weight you can curl. Most people finish with their upper arms having moved between 30 and 45 degrees. If the upper arm moves about 90 degrees forward, then you probably moved it too much, and you probably lost power as you did so. As you curl the bar up to your face, continue to hold your breath to keep the trunk very tight. Once your elbows are bent about 90 degrees, you may want to curl your wrist toward you (flex the wrist) as you lift the weight. This will help bring the weight closer to your elbow, thus decreasing the moment arm of the resistance force. I would do this only on very heavy sets with very low reps, as too much wrist movement will often aggravate the wrist. At no time should you let your wrist bend backward during the curl.

Hold the bar near your throat, nose, or chin and the judge will say "Down." Return the bar to its starting position at arms' length. This is not hard and should not be a problem for you. Once the bar is in the starting position again the judge will say "Rack" indicating you should place the bar on the ground, or you can just set it down, as the lift is over.

If you do move your body during the curl, you lean forward right as you begin the curl, and then, in the first half of the movement, you lean backward. This should be a relatively quick and explosive movement, but remember this is a strict curl, so it must be subtle. The purpose is to get some momentum to drive the weight past its sticking point, which is about halfway up during the curl or just beyond that point. Even if you do get some body movement involved, you can't lean backward; you must start forward a bit. If you start totally straight up, any lean backward will result in our whole body leaning backward, and you probably won't get the lift. If you wait to lean backward until the end of the lift, it will tend to be a slower, more noticeable extension of the trunk. I should point out that in suggesting that you lean forward, the lean is initiated from the hips so your trunk is straight (not rounded); it is just inclined forward a bit (as though you were getting ready to perform a triceps pressdown). Then when you lean back the lean comes from the hips again - the trunk remains completely straight; it just reclines backward a bit. Throughout the entire lift the trunk will remain locked in position with the chest up; it will just tilt forward and backward slightly to get some momentum.

Things to Do While Strict Curling:

 - Lock the legs straight to start the lift.
 - Take a wide stance.
 - Have heels far away from the wall but within the limits stated by the rules.
 - Take a proper grip on the bar.
 - Drive you upper back and butt into the wall.
 - Start with your arms straight to begin the lift.
 - Take in a big breath before you curl.
 - Squeeze the bar hard.
 - Keep the forearms locked or slightly flex/curl the wrist forward.
 - Get your elbows under the bar as soon as possible.
 - Hold the bar at the top position.
 - Lower the bar under control.

Things NOT to Do While Strict Curling:

 - Start with the knees bent or bend them during the lift.
 - Take a narrow stance.
 - Have your heels close to the wall.
 - Grip the bar at an awkward or improper angle.
 - Exhale before you have completed the curl.
 - Allow your wrists to bend backward (extend) while curling.
 - Pin your upper arms back against the wall.
 - Use too much momentum to drive your butt or shoulders off the wall.
 - Expect to lift the same weight against the wall as you do when standing upright.
 - Let the weight free fall on the negative.

Flexibility/Mobility Problems

The strict curl doesn't require the same flexibility of mobility as the Big 3. The joints stressed by the strict curl include the elbow, shoulder and the wrist. The wrist is the joint likely lacking the flexibility necessary for a good curl; many lifters lose the ability to fully supinate their wrist as their training career progresses. Forearm stretches can help with this, as can ART/massage performed at the elbow and wrist. Lifters can use a barbell for curls but treat this as a stretch and go light. In addition, performing back exercises with a supinated grip (chin-ups, 45-degree bentover rows, reverse grip lat pulldowns) all will force the wrist into that fully supinated position.

Common Problems

The most common problems that occur when people train the curl include: using too much weight, using a limited range of motion,j and using an improper grip on the bar.

Regular gym goers like the idea of big arms and strong biceps; if you grew up watching Arnold movies, it is hard not to equate muscular arms with strength. In an effort to attain those "big guns" people often go too heavy and use a cheat curl involving significant body momentum. A little cheat can be fine but when the lift looks like a clean or a mini-seizure, that is not ideal. Of course, lifting up against the wall (and keeping your butt there) immediately fixes this issue.

The second big issue is using a limited ROM. In this instance lifters will not extend their elbows on each rep. One doesn't necessarily need to fully extend the elbows on every training rep, but if one is curling and it really looks like the elbow is locked at a 90-degree angle and the movement is actually at the shoulder (and the trunk), again, that is not ideal. Chronic training like that can result in shortened muscles and tendons crossing the elbow, resulting in weakness when one does have to straighten the elbow (as in the beginning of a competition strict curl).

Finally, lifters often take an incorrect grip on the bar, and they will hold the bar in the opposite direction from what is ideal. This fact can be compounded because not all curl bars are the same - some have a very significant level of camber and others are near straight. Curlers should be aware that there is not a "standard" competition curl bar and that the angle of camber might vary from one competition to another; that is just the way it is currently.

Common Cues for the Strict Curl

Good Grip
Good Set-up
Wide Stance
Legs Straight
Arms Straight
Big Air
Curl Wrists
Head Up
Lower Slowly

Common Competition Mistakes in the Strict Curl

Lifters will make a few common mistakes in a competition. Luckily, with some preparation, these can be relatively easily fixed. These mistakes include:

Not understanding the difference between a standing curl and a wall strict curl. Many lifters will curl in the gym standing up, see the weights lifted in meet results, assume they will do well and then attempt those same weights up against the wall and be quite disappointed with the results. Even a super strict standing curl is noticeably easier than a curl up against the wall.

Not being aware of the weight of their curl bar. This isn't a mistake made in competition per se, but it affects what happens in competition. A lifter will curl in the gym and assume their bar has a certain weight, for example, assuming it is 25 or 35 pounds. Most curl bars are closer to 15 or 20 pounds; thus the lifter is overestimating what they can actually lift. In the curl, that amount of weight makes a big difference, and again the result is disappointing for that lifter. The solution is to actually weigh any curl bar you are going to train with on a reputable scale, then you will know for sure what the actual weight is.

Gripping the bar in the wrong spot. This has been covered at length, but don't let the excitement and nerves of a competition throw you off your game. Know exactly where and how you like to grip the bar, and make sure you take that grip on each rep. Proper grip position is just as important on the curl as it is on the bench, perhaps even more so.

Making too big of a jump in weight. A small increase in the strict curl can make a big difference. You have to remember part of it is the percentage of what you are lifting - if you curled 150 pounds and then jumped to 160 for the next attempt, that is the same percentage increase as someone benching 300 and going to 320, or squatting 450 and then going to 480 - not ridiculous but big enough to feel. The second part of that is, because the curl is an isolation exercise, the pounds-per-rep value of each rep isn't as significant. If you can squat 450 x 3, you know you have a decent amount of strength still left in you. You might be able to curl 150 x 3, but that isn't a promise that you will be able to get 160. My standard advice for those performing the strict curl is to go up 10 pounds after their first attempt and just 5 pounds on the subsequent attempt. Federations should (and usually do) allow lifters to increase the curl by just 2.5 pounds if they wish, and even that weight can make a big difference at maximal poundages.

Allowing the butt to come off the wall. This can be fixed by two things. One (and the only thing you can do in the moment of competition) is to take a wide stance and drive your hips into the wall. The second thing is to lower the weight, but once the attempt has been turned in this is not an option. Don't let your butt come off the wall in training or that motor pattern is likely to show up again come competition time.

Finally, lifters will receive red lights for lowering the weights too fast and letting their upper back or butt come off the wall on the way down. To correct this, simply perform a slow negative with the weight and don't celebrate (or relax) until that final command is given and the lights are up on the scoreboard.

technical Rules of Performance

Presented below are the official rules for the Strict Curl. Rules can vary from federation to federation; these particular rules apply to the 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation. These particular rules are focused on performing the strict curl up against the wall. A simple explanation follows if necessary.

Strict Curl:

1) The lifter will face the front of the platform. The bar shall be held horizontally across the thighs with the palms of the hands facing outward, and fingers gripping the bar. The feet shall be placed on the platform with the knees locked and arms fully extended. The lifter shall have their shoulders and buttocks firmly against a wall during the lift.

The lifter will face the platform, using a supinated grip. The feet are flat, the legs and arms locked to begin the lift. The upper back and butt must be against the wall.

2) After removing the bar from the racks, the lifter must move backwards to the wall to establish his starting position. The lifter shall wait in the starting position for the Head Referee's signal. The signal will be given once the lifter is motionless and the bar is properly position with your Head Up and Chin Up and arms extended fully down. The Head Referee's signal shall consist of an upward movement of the arm and the verbal command "Curl."

The lifter will grab the bar, move backward against the rack, and get into the proper position with head and chin up (looking straight ahead).

3) Once the curl command is given the lifter must bring the bar up to the fully curled position (the bar near chin or throat with palms facing backward). The knees must remain locked and the shoulders and buttocks against the wall throughout the entire lift.

The lifter will curl the bar up, knees stay straight and body stays against the wall.

4) When the lifter has reached the finished position, the Head Referee's signal shall consist of a downward movement of the hand and the verbal command "Down." The signal will not be given until the bar is held motionless and the lifter is in the apparent finished position.

Once the lifter is in the finished position, they will receive the Down command.

5) At the completion of the lift, the knees shall be locked and the shoulders and butt firm against the wall, and the lifter will need to wait for the signal to replace the bar. This will consist of a backward motion of the hand and the verbal command "Rack."

Lifter must keep legs locked and shoulders/butt against the wall on the way down. Lifter will then receive the Rack command to set the bar down.

6) The legs and hips may not be used in any way for momentum to complete the lift. Lifter may not lean back to assist in bringing the weight up. Any thrusting of the legs or hips for momentum is not allowed. The feet must remain flat and motionless throughout the lift.

You can't use your legs or trunk to help; feet must stay flat and can't slide during the lift.

7) Any raising of the bar or any deliberate attempt to do so will count as an attempt.

Once the lifter tries to lift the bar up it counts as an attempt.

8) The lifter may, at the Head Referee's discretion, be given an additional attempt at the same weight if failure in an attempt was due to an error by one or more of the loaders.

If the head judge agrees, the lifter can retry the weight if the bar was misloaded. 

9) This lift will be judged by 3 referees.

10) The back part of the heel cannot be more than 12" from the wall. There should be a line (tape) designated on the floor where the heels cannot cross over.

Heels must be 12" or closer to the wall; there should be a mark designating this spot on the curl platform.

Causes for Disqualification of the Strict Curl:

1) Any downward movement of the bar before it reaches the final position.
2) Leaning back to assist the lifter in raising the weight.
3) Shoulders or buttocks coming off the wall during the lift both while going up and down.
4) Failure to stand erect with the shoulders square and buttocks flat against the wall at the completion of the lift.
5) Failure to keep the knees locked and straight during the lift.
6) Failure to keep the feet flat during the lift.
7) Stepping backward or any foot movement such as rocking the feet.
8) Lowering or racking the bar before receiving the Head Referee's signal to do so.
9) Bouncing the bar off the thighs or bending the back to assist the lifter in starting the upward motion.

Does a Strict Curl Have any Value?

The question of the value of any exercise is relatively subjective. Does the bench press or the squat have any value? Of course, to a powerlifter, the answer is Yes. I think we can make the argument that a to a lot of people those exercise exercises have value because when you get good at the powerlifts you are also getting good at a very large number of exercises. If you are interested in health, physical fitness and aesthetics, the classic powerlifts do have a lot of value.

But what about a bicep curl?

There are two common knocks against bicep curls. the first one is that the curl is an isolation exercise, which means it involves just one main joint. It is true that a bicep curl is generally considered an isolation exercise (although technically there often movement at the shoulder and/or wrist as well as well as at the elbow), but to me that doesn't necessarily mean its value should be reduced. The only way to test the strength of a smaller muscle group without also involving a lot of other muscle groups is to perform an isolation exercise. You can't test the strength of the biceps without doing bicep curls. Things like rows and pull-ups would involve the biceps but would place more emphasis on the lats and other muscles.

The second knock against the bicep curl is that it is not a functional exercise. This comment is often applied to all isolation exercises with the observation that muscles don't work in isolation - they work together. The word "functional" has several definitions but to me the most applicable is, "Does the exercise mimic activities that we do in everyday life?" Using that definition, I would sat that bicep curls are perhaps one of the most functional exercises one can do. Bicep curls would clearly be more functional than a bench press and, as pointed out earlier, than a squat. Again, the definition of functional we are using is that the exercise as performed mimics the activities of daily living.

People perform bicep curls in real life all the time - using concentric, isometric, and eccentric actions. Lifting your grocery bags out of the cart of out of the trunk of your car is a bicep curl. Curling your book bag up to your shoulder is a bicep curl. Holding a tray of food or a baby in the crook of your arm is a bicep curl. We use our biceps in their basic function - elbow flexion - all the time, and we often use them while the rest of our body remains relatively stable. To me the idea that a bicep curl is not functional carries no weight whatsoever.

It is true that you generally get more bang for the buck performing compound exercises (2 joints or more) versus isolation exercises. But isolation exercises do have value, particularly for the muscles that are always going to be synergistic in the compound exercises. These muscles include the biceps, triceps, and hamstrings. Isolation exercises for the larger muscles like the pecs, lats, and glutes carry less value because the compound exercises for the same muscle groups generally hit that group better, but all exercises have their place.

Why a Bicep Curl?

It is a fair question to ask why a bicep curl should be included as the 4th contested lift and not another exercise such as a skull crusher or a calf raise. I am not sure there is just one concrete answer to that question. The bicep curl measures arguably the most important muscle not really measured in a powerlifting competition, which is the biceps. Remember, the big three hit almost every main muscle in the body with the two insignificant exceptions being the biceps and the calves. In an effort to measure true total body strength, the bicep curl does have some use by filling in a few gaps left from the big three. The bicep muscle is probably the most famous muscle there is; if you ask someone to flex a muscle without specifying which one they will almost always flex the biceps. Big arms (for better or worse) are symbolic of a person's strength. The bicep curl is a free weight exercise that can produce good aesthetic changes to one's physique, and it is a lift that is often practiced in gyms. You do not need much equipment to perform the lift in a competition, you don't really need any spotters for safety; and, as mentioned earlier, the lift is easy to judge, especially if done up against the wall.

Note: Placing a sheet of paper between the lifters back and the wall has been used to judge upper body movement in the past. If the paper falls, the lift is nil.

competing in something like a skull crusher would be much harder to judge, would require good spotters, and there would be a strong correlation between the good bench pressers and those lifters good at the skull crusher; thus, it would be somewhat redundant.

Apparel for the Strict Curl

You don't need much special apparel for a strict curl. Comfortable shoes with good grip are important - you don't want your shoes to slide on the platform as you are pressing into the wall. All lifters in a competition need a singlet. You can wear a belt is you wish while strict curling, but because one is up against the wall, a belt doesn't have much effect. If you are performing a standing curl, the belt is much more important in bracing the core.

Wrist wraps are likely the most important piece of useful equipment for the curl. The curl places a lot of stress on the forearms and often lifters will let their wrists bend backwards slightly, thus decreasing potential force production. The wrist wrap can help the lifter keep his wrist stable and thus aid in curling more weight. Chalk, of course, can help one keep their grip on the bar.

Starting Out

Many lifters have performed curls in their training, but not many of them are used to completing a strict curl against the wall. Many are curious as to what they can actually strict curl; to find a very quick estimation of the strict curl maximum, I suggest the following;

Strict Curl for the average trained male -
40 x 3-5 reps; then add 10-20 pounds and perform 1-3 reps. Repeat this until a challenging rep is completed or failure occurs. An example might look like this:
40x5, 60x3, 80x3, 100x1, 120x1, 130x1 (hard).

Strict Curl for the average trained female -
20 x 3-5 reps (empty bar); then add 5-10 pounds and perform 1-3 reps. Repeat this until a challenging rep is completed or failure occurs. An example might look like this:
20x5, 30x3, 40x1, 50x1 (hard).

The chapter continues on from here, with much more very interesting material. For example, have you ever heard of a Barbell Curl Throw? Plyometric, develops explosiveness. In this example the lifter will curl the weight, but at about the halfway point they will throw the weight up in the air and then catch it as it falls back to the ground. Much like a jump squat or an explosive bench press throw, the idea here is to turn on all of the motor units and muscle fibers to ensure that everything fires well when it comes time to max out. Start light with this exercise as it can be relatively jarring on the elbows.

Here's a great article by Tim Henriques on The Strict Curl for max weight:

A great book! 768 pages and well worth owning. 





Saturday, December 15, 2018

Doug Hepburn - Reg Park

Thanks to Liam Tweed! 

Doug Hepburn: 
The Training Methods of the 1953 World Heavyweight Weightlifting Champion
by Reg Park (1956)

This is the third series of articles in which we outline the training methods of famous weight-lifters, the two previous articles having covered Kono's and Stogov's routines respectively.

Doug Hepburn is the only citizen of the British Empire ever to win a world weight-lifting title. He was also the first of the postwar power men and his achievements and subsequent effects on the physical culture fraternity as a whole are only now being felt. Today, six years after Doug's feats first became known, the possibilities of power training to both lifters and body-builders are more than ever recognized and respected, even by those lifters who tended to place technique above all other training principles. Doug's rapid rise to success was as follows: 

In 1950, a fellow in Vancouver, Canada, wrote to that famous weight-lifting authority Chas. Smith of New York, telling him of a young man from his home town by the name of Doug Hepburn who was lifting tremendous poundages. At first Chas. was skeptical, but after entering into correspondence with Doug, he believed that maybe after all Doug really could perform the fantastic feats he claimed. 

Early in 1951, Doug paid a visit to New York and immediately upon his arrival Chas. Smith took him to Val Pasqua's gym in the Bronx where Doug broke the longstanding gym records on every lift he performed, and these included: 

a near 600 lb.squat
over a 400 lb. bench press
340 press
300 press behind neck

all of which were performed after sitting up three days and three nights over the 3,000 mile journey from Vancouver to New York.

In November, 1951, Doug paid another visit to New York and it was on this occasion that I first met him, since we were billed to appear on a show together. At the show bench pressed 450 lb. and squatted with 600. He took 630 on the squat and just failed to come up right, but the following day the twelve 50-lb. discs which had been used on the squat bar were weighed and found to be nearly 2 lb. per disc overweight, so in actual fact, Doug had just missed a 660 full squat.

In 1952, Doug entered the heavyweight class of the American Junior Nationals, which he won with the following lifts: 369 (W.R.) - 290 - 360 = 1,100. Later that year, he lifted in the American Senior Nationals and took second place to the then world champion John Davis, who went on to win the Olympic title that year in Helsinki.

In April, 1953, both Davis and Hepburn lifted at Yarick's Big Oakland Show. Davis performed the Olympic lifts, while Hepburn did a 660 squat and a 450 bench press, and went on to clean and press two 155-lb. dumbbells and then to 165 lb. dumbbells - total weight 330, after having been handed them to the shoulder. This is the greatest dumbbell press ever performed. A few days earlier in Yarick's gym, Doug had cleaned and presse3d two 142's for 4 repetitions.

Later in 1953, Hepburn flew to Stockholm to compete in the World Weight-lifting Championships, where he annexed the heavyweight title by beating the long reigning champion John Davis. Doug's winning total was via 381 (W.R.) - 297.5 - 369 = 1047.5.

Doug's last contest as an amateur was in the 1954 British Empire Games which were held in his home town of Vancouver, British Columbia. He again won the title by beating his closest rival and fellow Canadian Dave Bailie, with the following lifts: 370 - 300 - 370 = 1040. 

Later that same year, Doug entered the ranks of professional wrestling, but more recently opened up his own gym in Vancouver. That very briefly covers the highlights of Doug's career to date, and I shall now outline some of Doug's training methods which I know you will find both interesting and enlightening, for they indicate that he has given a great deal of thought to the question of getting the utmost results from his workouts. 

 Weight at Time of Photo: 280.

Here are his views on the very important subject of gaining weight, and I quote from one of his letters:      

"I have always maintained that the basic weight-gaining exercises are performed with a barbell and that dumbbells should be used primarily for specialization. I believe that the foregoing movements are all that is necessary for gaining the maximum in strength and muscular bulk. First and foremost is, of course, the Deep Knee Bend. 

 Photo taken at Yarick's 1953 show in Oakland, California.
665- lb. Squat.
"This exercise should be performed at the BEGINNING of a workout period, as I think that the trainee should not deplete himself on other minor exercises such as the Two Hands Curl, etc.,at the commencement of a workout as the returns in increased bodyweight are negligible due to the fact that the biceps and other assisting muscles form a very small portion of the trainee's muscular bulk. On the other hand, the Deep Knee Bend influences the large muscles of the hip and thigh region, which incidentally forms over half of the trainee's muscular bulk.

"The other primary weight-gaining movements are, Two Hands Dead Lift, Two Hands Press, Bench Press, and Rowing Motion with a barbell. These aforementioned exercises cover every major muscle group in the body and if performed conscientiously will see the trainee well on his way to his goal, which is in this case . . . maximum muscular bulk."

 450 Bench at the same show.

 Some time ago, I had the quite natural desire to become the first man in Great Britain for Press 300 lbs. Learning of this, Doug wrote to me as follows: 

"Here is how I trained on the Press and what I would like you to do . . . 

warm up with a poundage approximately 40 lb. below your limit, do 2 reps, then jump your poundage 20-25 lbs. and try to do 6 sets of 2. You will probably tire after 3 or 4 sets and will only be able to make one rep. However, keep at it until you can get your 6 sets of 2 reps. When you do this, increase your warmup and training poundages by 5 or better pounds. Your warmup and training poundages should increase proportionately . . . get me? Try a limit when you feel that your training poundages warrant it . . .i.e., if your training poundages increase by20 lbs. then I feel that your limit should jump at least 15-20 lbs.

"Train no more than twice per week on the Press and do 6-8 sets of 2 reps. Between these workouts bench press WITH THE SAME GRIP YOU USE ON YOUR STANDING PRESS. CONCENTRATE ON YOUR CLEANING AND ALSO DO HEAVY SQUATS IN SETS OF 5 REPS. This will improve your body power. 

When Buster McShane and I decided to publish articles on the training methods of famous lifters, we naturally set about collecting as much data about the respective lifters as possible, and Doug in this respect was most cooperative. The following is Doug's reply to our letter to him in which we requested certain information, his reply to which was as follows: 

Dear Reg,

Here are the answers to some of the questions that you asked.

I must admit that I always trained in a rather unusual manner, something in the manner of Paul Anderson. I have always believed that the heaviest weights possible should be used, as this tends to make the lifts (Olympic, etc.) seem lighter both physically and mentally. I have come to the conclusion that the One Rep System is the ultimate for producing the limit in strength. 

I have found that long, hard workouts often cause exhaustion and although endurance is achieved the muscle tissue is torn down to a great extent and it takes too long to rebuild. Strength and endurance in regard to lifting limit weights seem to be in different categories. However, one can overdo the strength routine and get to the point where it is an effort to walk a flight of stairs and I have found that I tend to get extremely lazy (even to the extent of slacking in the actual workouts). I also found that although I was the strongest I was only good for two or three lifts. However, I could really explode with them and I actually believe that I can lift more at this time. I am a specialist so I am willing to sacrifice my condition for world records no matter whatever the cost, from the aesthetic or from the condition standpoint.

The routine that I used prior to the British Empire Games was this: 

Squat - 
work up to a heavy poundage, i.e., 450 x 1 rep, then 
500, 550, 600, 650
700 for 5 singles (minimum 5 minute rest between the heavy poundages)

Deadlift - 
first starting off with High Pull singles:
350, 400, 440, 475, 500, 520
after 440 I utilized the metal hand grips, something the same as used by Anderson. These enabled me to concentrate on the pulling muscles without tiring the hands. If you are interested I can draw you a diagram of these metal clips as I think they really help.        

Doug did better than send us a diagram of the metal clips he uses for high pullups and deadlifts - he sent us actual photographs. The top photo shows the clip with the cloth through the hole at the top; the bottom one shows the cloth tied around the wrist with clip on the bar - resting in the palm of the hand. 

The Hepburn letter continues: 
Incidentally, these high pulls are a great chest and shoulder developer as they are sort of a combination of an upright rowing motion and bent rowing movement.   

After the 520 high pulls (I did about 5 singles with this weight, resting 3-5 minutes between each), I would continue on with the deadlifts and worked up to singles with 700 lbs. Believe me, when you try a cle3an with 370 or so after this the weight feels like a feather. 

I NEVER COMBINE UPPER BODY MOVEMENTS SUCH AS PRESSING WITH THIS ROUTINE. I think that the upper and lower body should never be worked at the same time when working for maximum strength.

One day layoff . . . I never worked to a strict routine and sometimes took two days layoff . . . I believe in working certain muscle groups thoroughly and then giving them a good rest.You can see that by training the upper and lower body separately that YOU CAN  WORK OUT AND STILL REST CERTAIN PORTIONS OF THE BODY . . . for when you are bench pressing and military pressing from the racks the lower body is still resting.   

Press Routine: 

Bench Press, using the same grip as used in the standing press. Wide grip bench presses do not help the standing press as much as bench pressing with a closer grip. I always pressed with a dead stop at the chest in the bench press, for when you bounce the weight in the bench press you do not help your starting power in the standing press. 

So, bench press, single reps, working up to heavy training poundage: 
1 rep with 380, 400, 460
480 for five singles.

Standing Press, taking the bar from racks: 
1 rep with 350, 370
380 for five singles.
This is the routine that I used to standing press 430.

All for now, Reg. Hope this proves interesting to you, and if you wish I can write to you regularly and you can print this info in your mag, from time to time.

[Yours sincerely,

Finally, Doug's best lifts are: 

Bench Press with 3-second pause at chest - 502
Regular Bench Press - 560
Olympic Press off stands - 430 x 1, 400 x 4
Two Arm Curl - 245
Deadlift with clips - 750
One Arm Press - 195
Jerk From Shoulders - 500
Side Press - 250
Clean & Jerk - 371
Crucifix with two 100-lb. dumbbells
Clean and Press - 330 x 9 at the end of a workout
Power Clean with no knee dip - 350


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