The Doug Hepburn Power and Pump Method for Average Joes

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The Doug Hepburn power and pump 8×3 protocol (Program A) is one of my favorite training systems. It’s powerbuilding at its finest – brutal, hard work on basic exercises. No frills, no over-complication…just straight-forward mucking it out.

Program A basically works like this.

  • Train 4 days a week.
  • Perform each major lift 2 times per week – squats, deadlift and bench press.
  • Power work – Progress from 8 sets x 2 reps to 8 sets x 3 reps over the course of 4.5 weeks by adding one extra 3 rep set per workout. See the example below.
  • Pump work – Progress from 3 sets x 6 reps to 3 sets x 7 reps, and then 3 sets x 8 reps. Add one extra rep to one set each workout. This transition will take place over the course of 7 workouts.
  • Pump work is performed using the SAME movements, but with 20% less weight.

Power work progression

Please note that you are training each major lift twice a week. Because of this, it will take you 4 weeks to transition from an 8×2 to an 8×3. Once you do so, weight is added to the bar and you start all over again with an 8×2.

  • Week 1, workout 1 – 8×2
  • Week 1, workout 2 – 7×2, 1×3
  • Week 2, workout 1 – 6×2, 2×3
  • Week 2, workout 2 – 5×2, 3×3
  • Week 3, workout 1 – 4×2, 4×3
  • Week 3, workout 2 – 3×2, 5×3
  • Week 4, workout 1 – 2×2, 6×3
  • Week 4, workout 2 – 1×2, 7×3
  • Week 5, workout 1 – 8×3
  • Week 5, workout 2 – Add weight, start over with an 8×2

As you can see, it takes 9 workouts – or 4.5 weeks – to cycle through this progression scheme and get to the point where you add more weight to the bar.

Squats

Instead of using the same exercises for your power and pump work, you might want to consider quality alternatives.

Pump work progression

Pump work progression works in the same way, albeit with a lighter weight and a more rapid progression period.

  • Week 1, workout 1 – 3×6
  • Week 1 , workout 2 – 2×6, 1×7
  • Week 2, workout 1 – 1×6, 2×7
  • Week 2 , workout 2 – 3×7
  • Week 3, workout 1 – 2×7, 1×8
  • Week 3 , workout 2 – 1×7, 2×8
  • Week 4, workout 1 – 3×8
  • Week 4, workout 2 – Add weight, start over with a 3×6

As you can see, it takes 7 workouts – or 3.5 weeks – to cycle through this progression scheme and get to the point where you add more weight to the bar.

Tweaking the Hepburn A Program

Having run this program for an extended period of time, and after helping many lifters use this style of training, I have found that several tweaks make it more user-friendly. Understand that I am not trying to reinvent the wheel here, or tell you that Hepburn’s program doesn’t work. Far from it.

These tweaks simply provide options; options that might make the program more sustainable and enjoyable.

Here are some of the common complaints and/or observations I hear associated with 8×3-style training.

Dumbbell Curls

I recommend maximizing every set, or pushing it for as many quality reps as possible. By doing so you are progressing at a more natural – and likely a more rapid – rate.

Observation #1 – Progression takes forever and/or is tedious

If you are an intermediate or late intermediate lifter with a solid strength base, adding 5-10 pounds to a lift every 4.5 weeks is GREAT progress. If you have the patience to stick with an 8×3, it will pay off.

But for late beginners to early intermediates, adding weight every 9 workouts might be too slow of a pace.

Tweak – Instead of using an 8×2, I recommend considering a 5×2 or 6×2 and adding 5 pounds to the bar every time the cycle starts over. This allows you to add weight every 3 to 3.5 weeks, yielding a potential yearly progression of 75 to 85 pounds per lift.

I suggest using this more brisk pace if your squats, bench and deadlifts are below:

  • Squats – Under 315 pounds
  • Bench Press – Under 225 pounds
  • Deadlifts – Under 365 pounds

These numbers are simply generalizations, of course. If your strength levels are a little higher, and the prospect of a very slow grind doesn’t appeal to you, by all means try a 5×2 or 6×2. If you find that this pace of progression if too rapid, adjust and downshift to an 8×2.

Observation #2 – Not much exercise variation

Performing only a handful of exercises per week is too minimalist for some. Truth be told, because this program is something you run for an extended period of time, I find that using different exercises for your “pump” lifts makes the program much more enjoyable.

Also, being a powerbuilder at heart, I aim to build as much muscle and strength as possible. Adding in variations can create a potential for more muscle size. This size not only helps create that “70s big” look I am after, but the additional muscle base can also help with future strength gains.

I know Doug Hepburn did just fine using only a few exercises. No doubt. And Doug was far from being a small man. With that said, I think the average trainee can benefit from a broader base of lifts.

Instead of using the same exercises for your pump sets, you might want to consider the following alternatives:

  • Squats – Leg press, back squats, lunges, front squats
  • Bench Press – One arm dumbbell bench press, incline dumbbell bench press, close grip bench press
  • Deadlifts – Lower rack pull and power shrug combo, dumbbell rows, barbell rows

Observation #3 – Pump work progression is simply not aggressive enough

I’m simply not a fan of the slow grind approach Doug Hepburn recommends for pump work. It’s an excellent choice for late intermediate strength trainees who are scratching for pounds and ounces, but I don’t believe it’s the best progression method for the rest of us.

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Instead, I recommend maximizing every set, or pushing it for as many safe reps as possible. You can learn more about this in my book Massive Iron. By doing so, you are progressing at a more natural, and likely more rapid rate.

When performing pump work, push every set for as many reps as possible, stopping that set when:

  • Your exercise form starts to deteriorate.
  • You feel like you might fail on the next rep.

I suggest that when you are able to perform at least 7 reps for each of the 3 pump sets, add weight to the bar. Let’s look at an example.

Perhaps you’ve chosen to perform leg presses as one of your pump exercises. You hit the gym and your sets go something like this:

  • Set 1 – 400 pounds x 11 reps
  • Set 2 – 400 pounds x 8 reps
  • Set 3 – 400 pounds x 6 reps

Because you failed to reach 7 or more reps for each of the sets, you would NOT add weight the next time you perform leg presses.

The Power and Pump Workout for Average Joe’s

This workout puts it all together. It is for the late beginner to intermediate lifter who want to make rapid strength and muscle gains, but finds Doug Hepburn’s Program A to be rather tedious in nature.

Understand this is not the type of program you run for only 8 weeks. I suggest giving this approach at least 6 months, if not dedicating a complete year to it. This sounds like a long time – and it is – but the payoff will be worth it.

Before we dive in, a few program notes:

  • 5×2 Power Sets – Start with about 82.5% of your one rep max for a given lift.
  • Pump Sets – Start with about 70% of your one rep max for a given lift.
  • Pump Exercises – You may swap in equivalent exercise variations.
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If you hit a bad week and stall on your power sets, come back and try again the following. If you are unable to make progress, drop the weight by 5% and start the grind over. You may also want to consider increasing your daily calories slightly during this stall period. This may be the push you need to break through this plateau.

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Here is a sample schedule:

  • Monday – Squats and Bench Press Workout A
  • Tuesday – Deadlifts and Military Press Workout B
  • Thursday – Squats and Bench Press Workout C
  • Friday – Deadlifts and Military Press Workout D
Workout a
Squats and Bench Press
Exercise Sets Reps
 Squats – Power 5 2-3
 Bench Press – Power 5 2-3
 Leg Press – Pump 3 7+
 Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press – Pump 3 7+
Workout B
Deadlifts and Military Press
Exercise Sets Reps
 Deadlifts – Power 5 2-3
 Military Press – Power 5 2-3
 Dumbbell Row – Pump 3 7+
 Arnold Press – Pump 3 7+
Workout C
Squats and Bench Press
Exercise Sets Reps
 Squats – Power 5 2-3
 Bench Press – Power 5 2-3
 Leg Curl – Pump 3 7+
 Close Grip Bench Press – Pump 3 7+
Workout D
Deadlifts and Military Press
Exercise Sets Reps
 Deadlifts – Power 5 2-3
 Military Press – Power 5 2-3
 V-Bar Lat Pull Downs – Pump 3 7+
 Dumbbell Curls – Pump 3 7+
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Name: Steve Shaw

Bio: I don’t believe in magic training systems or rep ranges. My philosophy is simple: remain consistent, use the best possible exercises, focus upon progression and enter the gym looking to maximize each set. When you maximize each set, you maximize progress. Easy, obvious, insanely effective.