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Strongman Doug Hepburn and Mad Cows


Study the posts on most training forums and you can make one conclusion: regardless of exercises used, regardless of the split used, rest is the key to growth. Period. End of story.

But back before the information overkill era, there was a different style of training that was popular. What was this secret training style? Full body workouts.

Proponents of full body workouts generally hit the gym three times a week, blasting their muscles primarily with heavy compound exercises, and lifting through soreness. Resting a muscle for a full week would have been considered laughable to most of these hardcore old-schoolers.


Back in 1953, a cross-eyed and club-footed Canadian strongman by the name of Doug Hepburn became a world champion weightlifter. At the world championships in Stockholm, Doug crushed the competition and brought home the gold.

What complex, rest-filled program did Doug Hepburn use to pack on mass and strength? Well, let’s put it this way…if Doug Hepburn posted his training program on a lifting forum today, the sharks would swarm and laugh him out of town. Doug performed simple and heavy full body workouts three times a week. Rest, as we know it, wasn’t on Doug’s radar screen.



Bench Press




Bench Press




Bench Press


Doug Hepburn was the first man ever to bench over 500 pounds. He also had a 760 pound squat and 705 pound deadlift. Doug also hated eating meat, and routinely drank 3 quarts of milk during his workouts.


Around the same time that Doug Hepburn was setting Canadian lifting records, a herculean lifter by the name of Steve Reeves took home the 1950 Mr. Universe crown.

Known for his great V-taper, Steve Reeves sported 18 inch guns and 26 inch thighs. And like Doug Hepburn, Steve Reeves believed in training full body workouts, three times a week. And regarding rest and over-training, Steve believe that if you performed more than 3 full body workouts per week, you were over-doing it. Quite a contrast in philosophies from the modern day, eh?


Bench Press

Military Press


Barbell Curl

Tricep Extension


Calf Raises




Dumbbell Military Press



Dumbbell Curl

Tricep Extension bench Press


Calf Raise

Back Raise

Hanging Leg Raise


Upright Row

Incline Press

DB Row

Concentration Curl

Lying Tricep Extension


Standing Calf Raise




Also in the 1950’s, a lifting trainer by the name of Vince Gironda became a central figure in the world of bodybuilding. Vince helped train the first Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott, as well as becoming a very popular trainer to the stars.

But unlike some of his proteges, Vince believe in full body workouts 6 days a week. Yes, you read that correctly; SIX days a week. And instead of cycling down training intensity, Vince’s trainees would increase the number of sets they performed over the course of 4 weeks. Talk about hardcore.

While Vince Gironda’s program seems insane and counter-intuitive to everything we know, multiple Hollywood stars successfully used the routine to get in top shape for the big screen.


While you might think that full body workouts have gone the way of the dinosaur, they have not. Eastern Bloc countries have been training their athletes with this method for decades, destroying American athletes year in and year out.

But there are some trainers in the Western world who are beating the full body workout drum. Madcow1 has popularized a 5×5, 3 day a week full body workout that is working wonders for those brave enough to forget everything they known about rest.

Another full body proponent, Mark Rippetoe, is gaining quite a following on bodybuilding message boards. His books, Starting Strength and Practical Programming, outline a simple, 3 day a week, full body workout.

So, before you dismiss the old-school methods of training, consider some of the bodies that were built on such little rest.

NOTE: For more information on training theory and rest, please read Understanding Training.

Mick Madden
Mick Madden is the primary content manager for Muscle and Brawn. Questions? Please visit the forum.
  • Mark Hepburn Nov 14,2011 at 7:16 am

    John, a very interesting claim to be Doug’s grandson since Doug never had any children. Doug was my father’s cousin; their grandfathers were brothers, Alex and Andy. PLease explain your claim of Grandchild as I have the complete family histgories as done by Doug’s Aunt Olive, a well respected historian in her own right. Doug and I were great friends until his untimely death. I organized his service. Where were you? These routines are fairly close to Doug’s. I have all of Doug’s old notes on lifting, nutrition, etc. I also have the originals of Doug’s routines. IF you doubt my credibility then please contact the (past) President of BC Weightlifting and former Olympian, Guy Gravette. Please communicate with me about your relationship with Doug. Sincerely, Mark Hepburn (

  • Mick Madden Nov 1,2010 at 5:27 pm

    Hi Shams,

    If you have specific questions, check out the forum:

    We’d be glad to help…

  • shams Nov 1,2010 at 1:56 pm

    please can i ask questions about strenght in body building?

  • Steve Feb 17,2009 at 11:03 am

    Great comment Colin, and great link. Thanks.

  • colin Feb 17,2009 at 5:52 am

    Ya totally cool with the info, I From Vancouver Island which is in British Columbia, Canada, and have been a part of many years the BCWA (British Columbia Weightlifting Association). The Book called Strongman By Tim Thurston, and look up as, good article on Doug Hepburn.

    Franco Columbu – was a powerlifter before a Body builder and personally was stronger and a great body Builder of the 70’s then Arnold , for pound for pound.

    Power Lifters – Have a huge problems with injury because lack of correct training in high intensity.

  • Steve Feb 13,2009 at 7:01 pm

    One of the issues I try to bring up when talking about bodybuilding training is that strength builds muscle. This is often ignored. Doug had plenty of muscle mass, as do most powerlifters.

    It is best for a bodybuilder to get strong before they start getting into splits, etc. A lifter who has a 1200 natural total will have some decent muscle mass.

    Thanks for your input Colin.

  • Steve Feb 13,2009 at 6:57 pm

    Thanks for the heads up Colin. The guys IP was from Canada so I thought he might be legit…

  • colin Feb 13,2009 at 3:48 pm

    Doug hepburn never had any kids man So don’t blow smoke up, he never got married to , o ever adpated any child. maybe cousin, or related but not grandfather. so eat it

  • colin Feb 13,2009 at 3:45 pm

    The biggest problem that all you speak off , that Doug Hepburn was working on been the strongest man alive and he proved it, Not been the best body builder, not the biggest guns and the best overall athlete. Olympic weightlifting and bodybuilding are totally two different things. Doug lived in a totally different world back then, especially Canada in Vancouver. The Head Coach wanted Doug to be on the American team because of his theory and results. Doug Hepburn is the God Father of modern Power lifting not body building

    Olympic weightlifting
    Clean and Jerk & Snatch ( Clean and Press until the 1970’s)

    Bodybuilding ( just look well shaped muscles and body portioned)

  • Steve Feb 6,2009 at 11:18 pm

    John…Doug generally didn’t train like this, but he did in preparation for the 1953 World Championships. Please re-read the full article…

    And as far as your claim that Doug was your grandfather…it stands unsubstantiated.

    There are numerous sources for this information…

    Brian Carson

    What would Pisarenko Do?


    And I believe you are misunderstanding what a full body workout is. It is a workout of several compound lifts meant to train (most of the body) for strength and/or power, instead of the bodybuilding splits that are so prominent today.

    The point of this article is to show that full body workouts, even those that don’t specifically train every muscle group each and every workout, are viable. You are splitting hairs.

    Surely you can’t be stating that training the bench press and squat in a single workout isn’t a full body routine? Because that is what you just posted.

    A workout of squats and bench, or deadlifts and bench, or cleans and bench, or whatever other variation, is a full body workout.

  • john Hepburn Feb 6,2009 at 10:44 pm

    My grandfather did not do full body workouts and was very much against them. He preferred split workouts using 2 lifts a day, not 3….not sure where you got this info but it is far from accurate in my grandfather’s case.

  • Steve Oct 24,2008 at 6:40 pm

    Johnny G:

    Please re-read my article. Nothing you say disagrees with the facts in my article. The point of my article was this: Steve Reeves did full body workouts three times a week. This fact was presented in the article. But, set totals were not provided.

    You state that my view on Reeves’ workout is totally inaccurate. I didn’t include set totals in my article because the total volume of sets wasn’t the point. It is my opinion that you think I am representing Reeves’ workout as “one set per exercise.” This is untrue. Again, for Reeves and Hepburn above, the point was to show FREQUENCY of the exercises performed, and not a glimpse at a routine in its entirety.

    Again, this article is a look at training frequency, and not a study of the specifics of Hepburn, Reeves and Gironda’s training routine. And it certainly isn’t an article promoting HIT.

  • Johnny G Oct 24,2008 at 6:38 pm

    your view on Steve Reeves workouts were almost totally inaccurate – He did 9 sets per bodypart – he did as you say a total workout, but it consisted about 60 total sets – read his book which I have an it is called (Building the Classic Physique) -program goes as follows( 9 sets each starting with Shoulders:Chest:Back:Biceps:Triceps:Legs: then he would do just a few sets of Neck:Forearms:Abs:Calves )- Offdays he did PowerWalking with a little abs or some gymnastics – His workout could last long as 2.5 hours – So let us set the record straight and if any of your readers do not believe me they can purchase Steve Reeves book on his official website

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