Saturday, February 29, 2020

Power for Bench Pressing - Doug Hepburn (1967)

Article Courtesy of Liam Tweed

Doug Hepburn

Phil Grippaldi - 465

Gene Roberson - 507.5

Ronnie Ray - 415

The newly organized sport of Power Lifting (article published April 1967) has chosen for its criteria as to the test of unadulterated strength, various power movements affecting major portions of the body. In the formulating of the competitive tests it did not take long to decide the inclusion of the Two Hands Bench Press. Any authority would quickly place this outstanding test of upper body power at the top of the list.

One could say, however, that the Bench Press has gained great popularity only in the past few decades. By this I mean the application of the exercise as a major part of the training routine. In substantiation of this all one need do is check the poundage hoisted in this lift by the top strongmen of a former era: Cyr, Saxon, Goerner, etc. A modern day lightweight would have the mentioned mortals at odds to protect their reputations in a bench press contest under our present official conditions. 

When I was recognized as one of the strongest (this is going back a decade or so) there were only very few men who could bench press 400-plus in a correct manner. Now we have a young fellow named Casey (who, incidentally could have purchased my course on bench pressing, as a Pat Casey from the West Coast ordered one several years back), who has bench pressed 600 plus - a magnificent accomplishment indeed; take it from one who has felt the heavy ones lying across the pecs. 

Note: I coulda sworn I transcribed that Hepburn Bench Press course onto this blog already. The Press course, sure. Dang, I must've forgotten to do the bench one. Some day when I wanna spend half an hour, maybe 45 minutes looking for it, well, yeah, I coulda sworn. 

I don't want to digress too much but I have a little story concerning heavy bench presses that may be of interest. It is about my first and only attempt at a 600 pound bench press. This is going back to about 1956 or thereabouts. The place was Portland, Oregon, during a lifting exhibition. In the preparatory training period before the exhibition I had been bench pressing 550-560 regularly.

I remember one training session especially when I succeeded in bench pressing 550 pounds for 5 individual single repetitions; it was at this time that I toyed with the idea of attempting a 600 single for a personal record, but discarded the impulse, as I wanted to save the effort for the actual exhibition. Upon looking back I am convinced that had I attempted the record at that time I would have succeeded. 

Now there is one point that I want to make clear here and now - in fairness to Casey and other top benchers of today I must admit that the style I utilized when bench pressing 500 plus would never pass under present competitive ruling. The utilization of a collar-to-collar hand spacing considerably shortens the pressing distance. This, coupled with a moderate bounce off the chest makes bench pressing in this manner a sort of two arm lockout after a minimum press. Those who possess a large chest, especially through from back to sternum, need only press the bar a matter of inches after rebounding the bar off the chest. 

In my case I noted that after I had completed a heavy bench press the measurement from the bar to chest level was a matter of 8 to 10 inches. At the time that I was capable of a 580-600 pound bench press in the above fashion my best effort under present regulations would have been at the most 520-535 pounds. It is to be mentioned, however, that at that time I had never specialized in closer grip bench pressing. Still, 600 pounds is a lot of iron regardless in what manner it is pressed. When I look back now to that exhibition in Portland, although i failed with the 600 I believe I did something that will make even Casey sit up and take notice.

I started with 500 and for my second try took 550. This went so easily that after a moment of deliberation I called for 600 pounds. At the same time I asked that there would be NO SPOTTERS. The reason for my request is that sometimes a spotter, especially if inexperienced, will touch the bar prematurely when over-excited, assuming that the lift is going to fail. This has happened to me on numerous occasions. Because of this it is my feeling that only highly experienced bench pressers should act as spotters during competitions.

I had brought my own specially built bench to Portland with me. This bench is so constructed that the heaviest bar can be removed off the supports by extending the arms approximately one-half an inch. I found that it is easier and simpler to remove the bar without assistance. With assistance, and the bar positioned a fraction of an inch off the balance point, a limit attempt will usually fail; you just can't afford to jockey around with a limit bench press before lowering to the chest. Actually the bar is taken off the stands and lowered to the chest in ONE movement (or at least that is the way I found the most efficient). I never wasted time and energy positioning it correctly over the chest. This reminds me of what a famous gunfighter was supposed to have said when he was asked how he could shoot so accurately with such speed. His answer was, "I aimed before I drew my gun." I don't know if this is true or not as the gunfighter is now reposing at boot hill. Whether gunfighter or weightlifter, there is always going to be someone faster or stronger - that's why I chose weightlifting!!!

Well, as I was saying, after preparing myself, and assured that no spotters were near, I quickly removed the bar from the stands and lowered it IN A CONTROLLED MANNER to the chest. I use the word "controlled" as the bar is not dropped to the chest but DIRECTED to an EXACT point on the chest. I found that in my case this point is immediately below the pectorals where they attach to the chest. (When utilizing a rebound off the chest the bar is lowered to approximately four or five inches above this point, then allowed to drop the remaining distance; there is a minimum chance of missing the correct point on contact on the chest from this close distance.) If, however, the point of contact is improper, the overall pressing movement will be adversely affected. In other words, a possibility of experiencing a failure. 

In my case, at the Portland exhibition this could have been the cause of my losing the lift. I am more inclined to think, however, that the cause was simply that of excitement, coupled with the fatigue associated with traveling to unfamiliar surroundings. 

The 600 bench proceeded well enough to approximately the halfway point, then a strange thing occurred (Casey take note). Instead of continuing upward the bar began to curve INWARD TOWARD MY FACE. Before I realized it the bar was out of control and I found myself trying to FRENCH PRESS 600 pounds. I managed to regain some control of the bar and succeeded in preventing it from landing on my face, but severely tore the muscles in my left shoulder in doing so. Even so, I consider that I got off lucky. 

So there I was with A FULL 600 POUNDS RESTING ON MY NECK - AND NO SPOTTERS. I can still hear the gasp from the audience; they figured I was a goner, and they weren't the only ones who were entertaining such thoughts. I can see the headlines now: "MAN THROTTLED BY 600 POUND BARBELL." It might have even made Time magazine. They could always say that "Hepburn died with his lifting boots on." I can joke about it now, but let me tell you it wasn't very funny at the time. 

I was in the process of blacking out before the spotters overcame their amazement and got the blasted thing off my poor neck. I tried to say "thank you" but all that came out of me was a croak. It seemed that I had somehow lost my voice . . . temporarily, I hoped. It wasn't until afterward that I realized how easily I could have ruptured my own throat. If this had happened I would have been in serious trouble indeed. 

As the saying goes, "The show must go on," so after a short rest I proceeded to demonstrate a series of heavy presses from the shoulders while standing. This was my second mistake, as I soon discovered. 

I started with 390 and pressed it easily enough but as the press was progressing I felt the muscles of injured shoulder tear like paper - as a matter of fact I could HEAR them tear. Strangely enough there was little discomfort as this occurred. Experience has shown me that this is usually the case when the muscles are warm (this differs in the case of muscular "charlie horse" or cramp). 

Of course, I may be the exception in the above instance; in a previous case I tore a muscle in my knee and could feel the muscle tear. As it happened, the only way I can describe the feeling is that it felt "itchy." The injured muscle never did completely heal and bothered me every time I I did any sort of leg work. When the muscle cools off after being injured, if severely, there is intense pain - something like the freezing coming out of a tooth, I remember one time when I stood in a hot shower for several hours and the thought of coming out was extremely distasteful.

Bench pressing with the extreme wide hand spacing increases the possibility of shoulder or chest injury as this method of pressing directs greater leverage on the pectoral and deltoid shoulder connections at the front of the armpit. I feel that pressing in this manner exclusively will detract from maximum arm, shoulder and chest development and that the closer method should be used in conjunction - in other words, for maximum development use both methods. 


Thursday, February 27, 2020

Hepburn's Bench - Charles A. Smith

Article Courtesy of Liam Tweed

Note: Here's one of the few articles published that links Charles A. Smith to Hepburn as his trainer and coach. 

When you coldly mention 500 pounds, even to the man totally uninterested in weightlifting, you give him no idea of the "feel" of such a colossal weight. I'm not what you'd call a weak man, but tto me the poundage Doug Hepburn is capable of using for REPETITIONS in the bench press is something that roots me to the ground as securely as if I was a 200 year old tree. 

In half squats for instance, 500 pounds finds me well aware I've taken a workout. A full squat is impossible, a dead lift difficult, a bench press with 500 something I can only dream about. 

Imagine then the amazing strength of the man who was the first to bench press 500, and then smash the record to smithereens five months later with 25 pounds more, and still show no sign of having reached his limit. 

How does he do it? 
How did he train for it? 

In the early part of 1953, the question asked Doug most frequently was, "Do you ever expect to make a 500 pound prone?" Now to every weight trainer, 500 pounds is a mythical figure, and until Doug came along, to even suggest that it would one day be accomplished would be asking for a torrent of scorn and sarcasm to descend upon one's head. 

It is interesting to note that only three short years ago, a 400 pound bench press was sufficient to elevate you into the ranks of the weightlifting immortals. Around late 1950, the record stood at 408 pounds and was held by Johnny McWilliams. There were a few men who claimed to have exceeded 380, and one, Marvin Eder, was treading closely on the heels of McWilliams. 

But since Doug Hepburn began to train on the bench press, not only has he pushed the lift to unprecedented heights, but his feats have also encouraged others to train on it, and have been responsible for the development of a situation in which a bench press of 400 pounds is considered nothing remarkable. At present, there are at least two men who are capable of 450, and one who can exceed that figure, Marvin Eder, who has made 480 at a few pounds over 200 bodyweight.

Let's examine the reasons why Doug Hepburn has used the bench press so extensively. Doug first began to take an interest in the "King of Lifts" around the same period McWilliams was busy breaking the record. At that time Doug could standing press around 330 pounds, but was anxious to improve this figure. Practice of the bench press brought his standing press up to 360. Thinking he could increase this further with more Olympic press practice, he eliminated the bench press from his routines against my advice, for a period of six months. The result was that he lost power in the anterior deltoids, pectorals (and these, despite what others say, play a large part in overhead lifting), and triceps. Analysis of his training, plus constant prodding from me, made him realize why he was unable to advance beyond a 360 standing press. It was obvious that his previous bench pressing had done much to pack his Olympic press with Basic Power. 

From this time on, Doug has used bench presses in his training, advancing his pressing ability to a degree that surpasses anything he previously possessed, despite the fact that he performed only occasional limit attempts at the standing press. As his bench press increased so did his standing press rise. Just before he performed a 500 bench press, he was capable of 5 repetitions standing press with 365, 380 for 2 reps, and 400 for a single. At the Mr. Eastern America show, he pressed 410 from the shoulders, 460 bench press from the chest, and 175 pounds done in a one arm military.

Since that time his pressing power, both in the standing and bench press, has increased by leaps and bounds. Not only has he smashed the world Olympic press record with a lift of 372 pounds, but he has pressed 385 pounds 3 reps after the weight was lifted to his shoulders, and has also pressed 425 for one rep after taking the weight off squat racks . . . STANDING PRESSED 425! On occasions, Doug has added as much as 20 pounds in one week to his bench press limit. 

As Doug's trainer and coach, the man responsible for planning his training programs, I felt that once he could make 8 reps with 400 pounds in the bench press, he would be able to perform a single rep with 500. With this in mind, Doug began to head towards this amount of reps and poundage. Within three months, his gains were so rapid that he could bench press 400 pounds 7 reps, and had increased his record to 490 (his previous record being 465). He was at last within grasp of that fabulous "500." The day came on May 28th, 1953 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Before ten witnesses, including Roy Hilligenn and Nick Krushinsky, Doug at last bench pressed 500 pounds in impeccable form. The poundage was well within his power and the Canadian Hercules realized that he had not even approached his potential power in the lift. How right he was was proven some time in October of 1953 when he finally zoomed to a colossal 525 bench press.

How does Doug execute the lift and how does he train to reach such amazing figures? How is he able to so constantly increase his incredible pressing power? These are questions that intrigue all classes and types of weight trainers. 

First, both Doug and I agree that proper apparatus is necessary. The bench must not be too wide or too narrow. Too wide and you are unable to put the full power of the arms and shoulders into the lift. Too narrow and your balance is affected. A bench should be just wide enough and not too high. 15 inches is high enough.

At all times, the lifter must handle the weight himself, using a pair of low squat racks, just as Doug does, adjusting the racks to the proper height, so that when they are placed at one end of the bench, the end where the lifter places his head, he can take off the loaded bar and press right away. Doug never worries about getting stuck with the weight across his chest. I have taught him to lift without collars, so that all he has to do if he cannot get the weight off his chest is to tip the bar to one side and slide the plates off, then let the plates off the other end of the bar. Doug has handled weights in excess of 570 pounds in this manner.

The shoulders should be well under the bar when you take it off the racks. Otherwise you expend valuable energy getting the bar into pressing position. 

The legs should also be extended, since this will guard against unconscious body arch, a cause for disqualification. 

Hand spacing is important too. For record purposes, a collar to collar grip is not advisable. Doug uses a hand spacing in which his elbows are perpendicular to the floor, enabling him to make full and coordinated use of the triceps, deltoids, and chest muscles. 

Here is the present bench press schedule followed by Doug, the one he used to increase his lift to 525 pounds. 

Doug works out two or three times a week, according to how he feels. He always performs 5-8 sets of a minimum of 5 repetition to a maximum of 8 repetitions. I have been careful to make Doug see the folly of training when he wasn't in the mood for a workout. In handling extremely heavy weights, it is always best to "make haste slowly" as the old saying goes. Pushing yourself when you are tired, or when you are mentally disinclined, will quickly lead to a period of staleness.

Perhaps I can make myself a little clearer on this point. Plane designers when they were striving to produce a plane to break the sound barrier found the ordinary rules of aerodynamics didn't apply. Let's take 400 pounds as the Mach 1 of weightlifting. You just can't hurl yourself against such a weight, you can't FORCE yourself with such a poundage, because it is so heavy, so immense, that energy reserves are depleted and fatigue products build up more quickly. A TIRED MUSCLE IS MORE SUSCEPTIBLE TO INJURIES!  

So, I have always had Doug take his time. The result has been that Doug has been able to make steady, continued progress. 

Doug takes three poundage jumps (warmup sets) to reach his training weight. The reason for this is that he believes in thoroughly warming up. First a warmup weight, 320 pounds 8 reps is used, then 350 8 reps, next 380 8 reps. Then he drops down to 330 performing 6 reps, then 360 for 6 reps, and finally 400 6 reps. In the last poundage, he goes all out to get 6 reps in:

320 x 8
350 x 8
380 x 8
330 x 6
360 x 6
400 x 6

It is Doug's opinion, and one shared thoroughly by me, that there is no lift to equal the bench press for building all types of pressing power and building the upper body. 

"Years ago," says Doug, "when I was looking forward to the time when I could bench press 400, I felt sure that when that time came I'd be able to make a standing press of 330 . . . then when I began to go higher in my bench press and reach close to 450, I began to think of a 380 standing press. With each advance made in the bench press . . . I mentally associate this with advance with a standing press increase. Today, capable of a 525 bench press, I can also standing press 425 and press jerk 470 . . . and I am thinking in terms of even higher standing presses and jerks. One day I hope to make a 575 bench press. And I feel sure that when I can do this . . . and I WILL do it . . . I'll be able to press 450 from the shoulders and jerk 500 pounds. And that's the very day when I'll begin to train for a bench press of 600 pounds."

Who knows? Perhaps this giant of power, the man who has paved the way for others to follow, inspired and thrilled by his feats, might easily go beyond this. 

To Doug Hepburn, all things in the World of Weights are possible.         

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Descending Sets for Bigger Arms - Dennis DuBreuil (1976)

Andy Jackson 

Bill Starr 

Having experimented for some time with a different kind of arm routine, I would like to share the results with the readers of IronMan

Although I am interested in heavy lifting, like many lifters, I see no reason not to include a little bodybuilding in my workouts. Iy has always helped my lifting and has done a little for my appearance. Like most people in the iron game, I am very impressed with a pair of big arms, and was not at all adverse to having them myself. 

In the first article dealing with descending sets [IronMan, January 1974], I mentioned that because of childhood diseases I was a very slow gainer, in many cases a non-gainer, and frequently a retrogresser. Most writers advise hard gainers to work hard on just a few exercises, stressing muscle group movements such as bench presses and squats. This is still good advice, as long as progress is being made. 

But what happens when you work hard on a basic routine and the lifts reach a still low level and refuse to go up? Do you continue to do them regardless of the fact that you are getting no results? Or do you try something else? 

In my own case, after all the years I have trained (about 13 of them) I found that when a muscle or a lift reached a plateau the answer was always to work it harder. Not necessarily longer, but harder

In this article I would like to tell you about a routine I used on my arms. I realize that there are a lot of arm articles published and you may have started to feel that there is a certain sameness to them, but hang in there . . . this article is so different it may actually work for you!      

My arms didn't seem to grow much over 16 inches no matter what I did for them. Then when I heard about the Nautilus machines developed by Arthur Jones I thought perhaps that was the answer. Like many of the readers of this magazine, I realized that I would never be able to buy one of those machines, let alone a set of them. However, I thought I understood them well enough to build some of them which would be serviceable enough to show results. I hope to cover this more thoroughly in another article, but for the moment let me say that the machines I built were good enough to push me quite a ways past my previous sticking point so they must have had some value. 

Note: Articles on his home made isolation machines appeared in IronMan - November 1975 and March 1976. 

Remember, too, that if the strength curve of the pulleys were not exactly correct some of our best exercises generate a strength curve that is almost entirely wrong. 

In any case, after a couple of months my arms were over 17 inches. As I write this article my arms measured over 18 inches cold this morning at a bodyweight of 225 pounds. In fact, it is getting harder and harder to convince people that I am the original hard gainer. Would you like to have this problem? 

First, let me tell you the basic idea of the descending set. If you have been reading IronMan for any length of time, you know that most authorities feel that a muscle will not grow bigger and stronger unless it is worked at or near its limit. In other words, if a muscle is not worked hard, it won't grow and that is that. 

Because of this you also know that the last one or two reps in a set are the ones that produce growth because they are the hardest ones. 

But what would happen if every repetition in a set was maximum? 

In order for this to happen we must reduce the weight every repetition to allow the next rep to be completed. I realize you have been hearing a lot about compound sets in which you do several reps and then reduce the weight so that you can do still more reps, but I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT THIS. 

Compound sets still contain a lot of reps which are not maximum. We are going to carry this idea to its logical conclusion and make every rep maximum. 

In my first article about descending sets I mentioned that I developed the idea independently. I now find that Richard A. Berger and Hardage did some successful experiments along this line. 

Note: If you're one of those types, the article you're looking for was published in Research Quarterly in 1967 - "Effect of Maximum Loads for Each of Ten Repetitions on Strength Improvement" by Richard A. Berger and Billy Hardage. 

I found mention of the article in this awesome book that came out in December of last year: 


It's always great to see a book on training and its history that includes in its note/reference section Your Physique, Physical Power and some of the others along with yer research studies.  
Table of Contents

Chapter 1 -
Before Barbells: Strength Training, Athletes, Physicians, and Physical Educators from the First Olympic Games to the Twentieth Century

Chapter 2 - 
Building the Barbell Athlete: Bob Hoffman, Joe Weider, and the Promotion of Strength Training for Sport, 1932 - 1969

Chapter 3 - 
The Science Connection: Thomas Delorme, Progressive Resistance Exercise, and the Emergence of Strength-Training Research, 1940-1970

Chapter 4- 
Pioneers of Power: Strength Training for College Sports before 1969

Chapter 5 - 
An Emerging Profession: Boyd Epley and the Founding of the National Strength and Conditioning Association

Chapter 6 - 
Bridging the Gap: The National Strength and Conditioning Association and Its Impact

Chapter 7 - 
Strength Coaching in the Twenty-First Century: New Paradigms and New Associations

In Memoriam: Dr. Terry Todd.  


Whew . . . slightly sidetracked there, but for a good book cause! 

Continuing  with the original article . . . 

I use two different kinds of descending sets. In one, I do one rep and then decrease the weight each rep. In the other, after the first rep I decrease the weight and do one strict rep and one in slightly looser style, then lower the amount of weight, do two more and so forth until I do from 5 to 10 reps. In this article we will be talking mostly about the single descending set, the type in which the weight is reduced between every rep. 

How much weight do you take off each rep? This may vary a little with the individual, but basically a certain percentage seems to give good results and will give you a starting point. To do 5 reps you will reduce the weight by 25%. Let us use the barbell curl for an example:

Do one rep with a weight that allows only one good rep. Reduce the weight by 10% and do another rep. Take off 7.5% of the starting weight and do another rep. Remove 5% and fight out another rep. Off comes 2% and gut out another rep. 

That is 5 reps and every one will seem like all you can do.

This is a whole different animal than doing 5 regular reps, and the result is different, I assure you. 

I usually do only 5 reps so this is all I need, but if you continue a descending set in this manner the increments get pretty small. 

I have not found that the results are less if I pause for several seconds between reps, but this seems to be an individual thing. Some do better to go through the set with almost no pause between the reps.

Now for the routine itself. 

I use the tricep and bicep machines I built but they are not easy to build and since most of us do not have access to Nautilus machines, I will write this routine for a barbell. I have tried this too and it works well, but not as well as the machines. 

Starting with a weight that will allow only a single, squeeze out one good rep. You or your partners remove 10% of the weight and now you will be able to squeeze out another good rep. Take off 7.5% of the starting weight and fight out another rep. Take off 5% and do a fourth rep and then only removing 2.5% will allow a fifth rep. 

Do 2 sets of Reverse Curls in this manner. Then go the regular Barbell Curl and do 2 sets in the same style. At the end of your second set of five single reps take off a little more weight and do 5 quick reps for pump. These reps are done continuous with the last 5 descending reps making the last set 10 reps.

And that is the total workout for the biceps! 

Don't be tempted to do a lot of sets. This training is very intense and you do not need much. In fact, you cannot stand much. However, do adapt this routine to your own physical and psychological needs (there's that "temperament" deal again). You may need more or less than I do and you may want to speed up the tempo of the workout or slow it down, but I suggest you start with this routine as written and then work from there. 

The triceps are next. 

Use either the standing triceps extension of the lying version. For short periods of time you might want to try both. Do 2 sets of your choice of tricep extension, doing a descending set of 5 singles and adding 5 pump reps on the end of the 2nd set. 

If you only use one type of extension and you are an advanced man, you may want to do 3 sets, no more. It is very easy to over-train with this kind of workout and it is important to keep the number of sets down. 

But remember . . . each rep is a teeth gritting, result producing rep. 

With other types of training you can certainly train longer, but you cannot really work harder in the sense that your muscles are forced to produce more power for the same number of reps. 

Pre-exhausting the muscles works the muscles longer, but does it actually work them harder? 

I am not knocking these other types of training and have used them myself. What I am saying is that the descending set pushed my arms up further than any other method has pushed them. 

Below are some figures of how much I reduce different weights each rep. I round off my exercise weights to the next highest figure. I also round off the amounts I take off to the next highest figure. So even if I start an exercise with 90 lbs., I remove 10 lbs. after the first rep instead of 9 lbs. and I remove the other decreases as though it were 100 lbs. starting weight rather than 90. 

There is nothing magic or "official" about these figures but they are a place to start. 

100 lbs. (minus) - 10 lbs.
90 lbs. - 10 lbs.
80 lbs. - 5 lbs.    
75 lbs. - 5 lbs. 
70 lbs. 

150 - 15
135 - 15
120 - 10
110 - 5

200 - 20
180 - 15
165 - 10 
155 - 5

250 - 25
225 - 20
205 - 15
190 - 10

300 - 30
270 - 20
250 - 15
235 - 10

350 - 35
315 - 25
290 - 20
270 - 10

400 - 40
360 - 30
330 - 20
310 - 10

To make it clear . . . start with the large poundage and work down to the smaller one. The small numbers to the side of the heavier weights are the decreases. 

Remember, you can't work harder than every rep maximum and that is the name of the game. 

Yeah, I think you're gonna enjoy that book! 

But, what the is?


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