A Couple of Strength Routines: Part II

In Part I, I covered Ladders. The second part will cover the Hepburn Power routines.

Doug Hepburn overhead pressing what appears to be 315 pounds...
I first read about this routine on Matt Perryman’s blog. Just so you know Doub Hepburn was the first individual to bench 500 pounds. According to Sean Katterle, he got his bench all the way up to 580 pounds. This was was in the 50’s when there was no supportive gear and little to no drugs being used in North America. Very impressive stuff.

This routine will again have you handling the same weight for multiple singles, this is known as the Hepburn A routine. Once this goes stale you move to the Hepburn B routine. You start with a weight that is heavy but isn’t your true 1RM. Something that you can do 2-4 reps with is probably a good start. You can also use 90% of your 1RM as a starting point. Doug said that he never had a set percentage that he used because it would be different for different people. Just find a weight that you can do 1 rep on that is heavy, and reasonably close to your true 1RM.

You are going to start with as many warm sets as you feel are necessary to reach your working weight. I use 3-4. If your bench is double mine, you may need 6-8. Again it’s highly individual. Once you reach your working weight you will do singles with it. You will start with 4 singles. Each training session you will add a single, all the way up to 10 singles. At that point you will increase the bar weight by 5 pounds and start at 4 singles again. You will eventually stall…

At this point you will switch to the Hepburn B routine. This is almost an exactly replication as the A routine but with a different amount of reps. You will use 3 instead of 1. So you will take 10-15% off what you were using for your A routine and use that for your B routine. You will start at 4 triples. Add triples to each training session until you reach 10 and increase the weight by 5 pounds. Doug said once you reach the same weight you were using as the A routine, then you could go back to using the A routine with even heavier weights. He felt that you could probably last about 4 months on each routine before going stale.

Here is an example of the A routine (only working sets shown):
Session 1: Bench Press (BP) 300×1,1,1,1
Session 2: BP 300×1,1,1,1,1
Session 6: BP 300×1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1
Session 7: BP 305×1,1,1,1

Let’s say our individual stalled at 315 pounds. We’ll take off 15% from that number, which is 265. Then we’d use that number for triples:
Session 1: Bench Press (BP) 265×3,3,3,3
Session 2: BP 265×3,3,3,3,3
Session 6: BP 265×3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3,3
Session 7: BP 270×3,3,3,3

I like using the ladders on chins and bench press. I don’t see why it couldn’t be used on many other lifts as well such as squats, deadlifts, overhead press and barbell curls. I think Doug Hepburn used his method on all his lifts. I’ve used it on myself and clients on bench press and overhead press with great success. I’m currently experimenting with high frequency training, you can read about here and here. I’ve done the ladder routine on bench up to 3x/week. The ladders on chins I’ve done up to 2x/week. The Hepburn A routine I’ve used up to 3x/week. My joints didn’t like this and I’ve since gone down to 2x/week each for bench and overhead press.

Now that you have some new artillery to add to your arsenal, get out there and blow it up!

A Couple of Strength Routines: Part I

There are a crap load of strength routines out there. There are many that tend to hide in the shadows, not really gaining in popularity. Why is this? Maybe because they aren’t sexy, or they’re incredibly hard, or maybe some people would find them boring and monotonous. For me, and for many other individuals, getting stronger matters, and the way you achieve this strength doesn’t matter… Just do something in the gym, crazy or not, and if it puts pounds on the bar people will use these routines.

I’m going to present two routines that I have been using on a variety of lifts. Part I will cover Ladders. Part II will cover the Hepburn A and B routines. These routines aren’t a pure program, it’s a specific method to use with a lift to get stronger. I’ve been experimenting with these routines on myself and on my clients and I have been incredibly impressed by both. Let’s get down to it!

Pavel knows his stuff.
The first routine is known simply as ladders. I first found out about this reading Enter the Kettlebell by Pavel Tsatsouline. He recommends it’s use for gaining strength in the overhead kettlebell press in his Rite of Passage program. There are a variety of methods and ways to use ladders. Let me begin with the most basic version. You choose a weight that you can do for 5-8 reps. This will be 5-8 hard reps. You’re going to start with three ladders using this weight that you used for the hard set of 5-8 reps for all ladders. Each ladders will have three rungs. So one ladder would look like this (each number denotes reps): 1, 2, 3. So all three ladders would be like this: 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3.

Now, there are three ways that I have manipulated the progressions. They all have worked well. The first one is how Pavel outlines it. You’re going to find your 5 rep max. If that’s assisted, bodyweight, or weighted it doesn’t matter, just find your 5 rep max. You will start with three ladders of three rungs the first time out. It’ll feel easy, and that’s perfectly fine. It will get harder over time and you will get a lot stronger over time.

Let’s look at the progression for this method. The next time you train the chin up you will add another ladder. So you will do 123,123,123,123. Next time you add yet another ladder 123,123,123,123,123. The next time out you will add a rung to as many ladders as you can. This is highly individual for instance one person might get 1234,1234,1234,1234,1234. Another person may get 1234,1234,123,123. You have to know how your body works and go from there. If the fourth rung is easy then go for 4 again on your next ladder. If it’s super hard and you don’t think you will get it again, then go back and just go up to 3 rungs.

The goal is to eventually work your way up to 5 ladders of 5 rungs each. At this point you increase the weight by 5-10 pounds and start back at 3 ladders of 3 rungs. This method obviously works well, but I actually haven’t used this exact method because it feels like it would take way too long. I just kept the ladders at three and would add rungs on those three ladders. Here is what it would look like for me:
Session 1: Bodyweight (BW)+70 123,123,123
Session 2: BW+70 1234,1234,2134
Session 3: BW+70 12345,12345,12345
Session 4: BW+75 123,123,123

The next method of ladders I used for bench press. I learned this one from Easy Strenth by Pavel Tstasouline and Dan John. My bench was complete crap because I hadn’t been training it too hard and I lost a bunch of fat. My max was honestly 285, and it was embarrassing. This was at the beginning of the year. I chose to use 255 as my first weight for the ladders. 123, 123, 123… It was super easy, but I kept going.

The next time out I increased the weight to 260 and again hit all 3 ladders of 3. It continued this way all the way up until I was at 295 pounds. I believe I finally hit a bit of a plateau and my training session looked like this: 123,123,12. The next time around I hit 123,123,123 with 295! At this point I switched to another routine that I’ll share in a bit. So over only around 2 months I went from struggling with 285 pounds to using over that weight for multiple sets! This method works incredibly well.

Be on the lookout for Part II.

Screening and Assessing… Why?

Many of my clients ask me what the reason is for my initial screen and assessment during our first training session together. In my opinion it’s negligent for me not to screen and assess a client. This article will go over the reasons that anyone who is looking for a personal trainer should be screened and assessed.

I’ve talked at length about the Functional Movement Screen in previous posts. I’m not here to promote the system although I have yet to find anything better. As Charlie Weingroff told me during his seminar, you should have some sort of objective movement baseline to compare your movement patterns to. You also should not be exercising in pain! Whether or not you use the FMS or not is moot. Just do something that follows the two principles above.

Here are my main reasons for screening and assessing:
1. With no screen, I don’t know if I’m adding strength to my clients dysfunctional movement patterns. Cementing their faulty movement patterns with strength will increase chances of injury and also ‘program’ into them, that faulty movement patterns are the proper way to move. They aren’t.

2. With no screen or assessment, you can’t make the safest program for your client. No I’m not one of those functional fruits that Jim Wendler loves to make fun of. If I could, I would have all my clients, including grandmas doing squats and deadlifts. Trust me, many of them can, they are just holding themselves back because their trainers in the past tell them these exercises are dangerous. For some individuals they can be dangerous! The screen tells me this.

3. Along the same lines as the above point, the assessment really tells me specifically what needs to be mobilized, stabilized, or lengthened. Yes I’m aware that true length is very hard to add. However, under the proper conditions, it can be used as temporary ‘armour’ to make things as safe and as effective as possible during their session.

I see many clients getting stretched at some point of their training session. For instance, if they are getting their hamstrings stretched you should ask, why? Are they sore? Are they short? Are they long? If your hamstrings are long, or at a proper length, why would you stretch them. It would be comparable to paying 20 thousand dollars for a 15 thousand dollar car. Completely pointless and inefficient.

4. It gives the trainer knowledge about the progression of exercises that should be used. If you’re teaching a child to ride a bike, do you tell them to just ride a two wheeler? No, you start him on training wheels (I’m told that training wheels aren’t used anymore, instead it’s those bikes where kids can just put their feet down instead of peddling) and eventually progress to a regular bike. This is the same as progressing resistance training exercises.

Deadlifts and squats rule, but it’s much easier to teach someone how to do them if you teach them simpler variations first. I’ve learned this from trying to prescribe deadlifts or squats off the bat. They would require too much coaching for them to do the exercise properly. If I regressed them to a different variation, then progressed them back, they would have the proper movement patterns ingrained into them, and they could perform these exercises with little coaching.

5. Gather injury history. This can be done in no time, but it very important. If I don’t know what kind of injury history a client has then I don’t know what exercises are contraindicated for that individual. If I was throw lunges and overhead pressing at someone with an previously torn ACL, and a rotator cuff tear than I would doing a very, very poor job as well as putting their safety at risk.

Those five reasons are good enough for me. I’m sure there are many other reasons out there that other coaches use the screen for. These are the reasons I use them and I’d say that many coaches screen for the same reasons given above. If you have a coach who doesn’t put you through any kind of screen and/or assessment process, you probably have a lemon!