Doug Hepburn was a legendary Canadian old school strongman who also won a gold medal in the World Olympic weightlifting championships in 1953. Hepburn was the first lifter to bench press 500 pounds and also squatted 600 pounds at the advanced age of 54. One of the most exceptional things about Hepburn’s strength-related antics was his simple approach to programme design. During all his years training, Doug seldom performed anything other than a few basic lifts and used a type of training often referred to as “easy strength”.
Easy strength is a confusing principle. It means lifting heavy but not hard. By lifting heavy but not hard, you can be assured that you make progress week on week for long periods of time, never push yourself so hard that injuries become likely and minimize your risk of suffering burnout.
Modern training programs are usually all about creating lots of fatigue and muscle trauma whereas old school lifters like Hepburn tried to avoid fatigue like the plague as it meant they would have to wait longer between workouts.
So what is easy strength? In a nut shell, it means performing relatively low repetitions – between one and five – with a moderately heavy weight and making sure that your rests are long enough that at no point do you have to grind out the last couple of repetitions of your set. The weight is heavy enough to feel challenging but you should feel you could do a few more reps. The secret to easy strength is that you save those extra reps for next time you work out. If, at any point during your workout you start to feel fatigued, you stop your workout and save your energy for your next training session.
This type of training takes patience and self-control, especially if you are used to chasing a pump or doing tough all-out sets. But, here’s the thing – if you stay with this type of program for a 12 months or so, by the end of the year you may have increased your strength by such a large margin that you’ll wish you training this way from the very beginning of your training career!
This approach to training may seem too easy and too simple to work but that’s where you need to have a little faith. Hepburn set dozens of records using this very simple form of training and many old school lifters used similar approaches to great success. By keeping a few “reps in the bag” and not training to failure, your body is better able to recover from your workouts and, subsequently, gets stronger, quicker.