Dorian Yates Workout Routines

“Dorian Yates ushered in the era of the mass monsters in the ’90s.” – various journalists

I never set out to redefine the standards for muscle mass and density over the course of my six-year reign as Mr. Olympia. To me, bodybuilding was all about creating the best-developed physique I possibly could, and along the way I suppose I did help to ‘usher in’ a new era in the early to mid-’90s. Prior to that, it was unheard of for bodybuilders to compete at over 250 pounds in peak condition. Just a few short years after I did that at the 1993 Mr. Olympia, the mental barrier had been knocked down and there were no shortage of pros tipping the scales above that previously ‘unattainable’ mark.
My training style was unorthodox, borrowing heavily from the influences of men like Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer and lower in both frequency and volume from what just about every other bodybuilder at the time was doing. But once people saw the results I was achieving, interest in my ‘Blood and Guts’ style grew exponentially. My training video and book of the same name were quite successful, and many thousands of bodybuilders used my methods with success. There was nothing overly radical about the ideas of training briefly with high-intensity and allowing for proper rest and recovery, but most bodybuilders had gotten caught up in the typical ‘more is better’ mentality and it was holding many back from making the mass gains they were truly capable of.
This month, I will outline the principles I successfully employed to become the largest Mr. Olympia champion the world had ever seen up to that point in the history of the sport.

How Often Should You Train?
This depends on the individual and his or her recovery ability, which does vary from person to person. The one concept to always keep in mind is that the process of muscle growth happens only when a muscle has been stimulated via intense stress, such as would occur with intense weight training, and then the muscle is allowed time for adequate recovery and overcompensation. If you train too often, that vital last stage of overcompensation (growth) never occurs. One analogy I often used in my seminars was that of rubbing sandpaper on your palms to create calluses. If you rubbed your hands raw and bloody every day, they would never have the chance to heal up and form thicker skin. A callus is nothing but the body’s way of handling the stress of repetitive friction, just as bigger and stronger muscles are its response to the stress of intense weight training. A muscle will only grow if that adaptation is given time to take place. How long that recovery process takes will depend on various factors, including whether or not an individual is using anabolic steroids (which will speed up the process).
Generally speaking, I recommend that a given body part be trained once every six to seven days. You may need slightly more or less time. Just recently a personal training client of mine had a lot of things going on and was only able to hit legs once every 10 days instead of his usual once a week. To his surprise, his strength went up. Apparently he needed a bit more time for his legs to recover all along and just never realized it. So training a body part once a week is a good starting point, but you do need to see if a day more or less works out better. You also always need to keep in mind that systemic recovery needs to be addressed in addition to the recovery of individual muscle groups. Every time you train intensely, your nervous and endocrine systems undergo significant stress. Personally, I never liked to train more than two days in a row. If I ever did, I found that my performance started to suffer noticeably. There are some rare individuals who can make gains training as often as six days a week, but the vast majority of people I have worked with do much better training about four times a week.

Exercise Selection
The most effective exercises for stimulating muscle growth are multi-joint movements like the squat, bench press, deadlift, chin-up, and dip. The musculature of the human body was never meant to work in isolation. All the compound movements put a great deal of stress on the belly of the muscle in the mid-range of motion, which is usually their sticking point as well. If you lock out your knees at the very top of a squat, you’ll note that there’s no longer any stress on the quads, hams, and glutes. In the middle of the rep, there is tremendous stress on that whole area. Isolation exercises are more effective at providing stress at either the full stretch or the peak contraction of the movement. Think of leg extensions, cable crossovers or preacher curls. To fully tax the length of any given muscle, you should perform both a basic compound movement and an isolation exercise. For example, the chest always needs a pressing movement as well as some type of flye (which could be a dumbbell flye, a cable crossover, or a pec deck). Isolation movements do have their place, as they allow you to work the muscle from various angles. This was one point I dissented with men like Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer on. They advocated full-body workouts, using just one key exercise per body part, whereas I never felt this would be suitable for a bodybuilder aiming for complete development of all muscle groups. Just as an example, an overhead press would provide plenty of stress to the anterior or front head of the deltoids, but very little for the lateral heads. That’s why I always did some type of lateral raise in addition to presses.

The fact that different exercises actually do work specific parts of a muscle to a greater degree was proven in the early ’90s by Per A. Tesch in his book titled Muscle Meets Magnet. He used an MRI machine to test a wide variety of exercises. Incline presses did work the entire pectoral muscle, but the MRI reading showed that the upper chest was being stressed more, for example. I had learned that by my own practical experience in the gym. For instance, leg presses gave my quads good overall mass, but I didn’t notice much of a flare and sweep unless I also did hack squats. The book showed that the only type of triceps movements that stimulate the long head of the muscle is an overhead extension. So your triceps would have a different look to them if you included an overhead extension regularly or not. But the key point here is that you do need both types of exercises for best growth results.

Training Volume
A very popular misconception that has been around for many decades is that increasing volume is the most effective means of stimulating muscle growth. If that were the case, you wouldn’t need heavy weights and you wouldn’t need to train to failure. That begs the question: how many sets should you do? If three sets are better than one, why not do 10 sets, 20, 50, or 100 sets? Training with a very high volume demands light loads and low-intensity, and it won’t stimulate muscle growth. Think about a guy who digs ditches for 8 hours a day. If high volume was so effective, the ditch-digger would have the shoulder, back, and arm development of a pro bodybuilder. His volume is very high, but his intensity is low, as are the loads of dirt in his shovel. Or, consider a man who operates a jackhammer all day at a construction site. I can stimulate more triceps growth with one intense set of skull-crushers than he can operating that jackhammer for 8 hours.
I discovered that one heavy, intense set of an exercise, once I was properly warmed up, was all it took to stimulate maximum growth. Anything beyond that did nothing but cut into my ability to recover and grow. After training with more of a standard bodybuilding volume approach for a while, I had read Heavy Duty by Mike Mentzer. He stated that most bodybuilders were massively overtraining, and that made sense to me. Once I cut back on my training volume, I saw immediate and significant gains. Some would argue that I was genetically-gifted and would have grown anyway. I am sure I would have had a decent physique no matter what I did, but I know I would never have been able to build sufficient mass to become Mr. Olympia if I hadn’t trained with high intensity and low volume. One major mistake that most bodybuilders make is to increase training volume over time, feeling that this is how ‘advanced’ people should train. The problem is that we all become much bigger and stronger over years of training, but our ability to recover never improves much. As you are able to work the muscles heavier and harder, they actually need less actual exercise and more time to recover. Most bodybuilders do the complete opposite, with longer, more frequent workouts. It’s also why most bodybuilders fail to ever make much in the way of gains after their first couple years of training. Just to illustrate, suppose you start out only able to squat 95 pounds for 10 reps; that’s not putting too much stress on your muscles and your nervous system. A few years later, you can squat 500 pounds for 10 reps. That will put a great deal more stress on your system as a whole, and your body needs time to recover.

Rep Range
This may go against what others have recommended, but I always found the optimal rep range for upper body exercises was 6-8. Occasionally I would go as high as 10 reps, but never more. For lower body training, I went just a bit higher: 10-12 reps, occasionally as high as 15 for the leg press. I never felt anything beyond that was effective, because it meant the resistance would be too light. And just to make it clear, I did train many others with all types of genetics, and these rep ranges still proved to be the most effective.

Training Intensity
While training at maximum intensity is a good thing, too much of anything can be detrimental. Eventually your nervous and adrenal system would burn out and you would become grossly overtrained. The remedy that I found for this was to cycle my training. I determined that I could train all-out, to failure and beyond, for periods of five or six weeks before starting to feel run down. At that point, I would take two weeks and stop my sets just short of failure. This was enough to allow full recuperation and ‘recharge the batteries’ so I could launch into another intense training phase. Still, it is important to note that without maximum intensity, maximum results in terms of growth can never be achieved.

Rest and Recovery Outside the Gym
Rest and recovery needs vary among individuals. In my competitive days, I always aimed for 8 hours of undisturbed sleep every night, plus an hour nap in the afternoon. This actually follows the natural circadian rhythm of the human body. You’ll note that in many Mediterranean countries, businesses shut down for an hour or 90 minutes every afternoon for a nap. In Latin American countries they call it a siesta. They all recognize that we all experience a natural energy dip in the afternoon, and a nap is a perfect way to recharge. Of course, I recognize that as a professional bodybuilder, taking naps is a luxury that many people simply can’t take advantage of. I always avoided any extraneous physical activity outside the gym, because my training and recovery were that important to me. I wouldn’t do anything in particular that could result in an injury. My wife at the time was always on me to go skiing, but I couldn’t take the chance of breaking a leg and being unable to train for a few months.
Whether or not you go to these lengths depends, first, if you are able to, and second, if gaining muscle is that critical to you personally. Keep it all in perspective. If you don’t make your living bodybuilding and don’t plan to, don’t miss out on anything you’ll regret later on in life.

Eating for Mass
Protein provides the raw building blocks to grow new muscle tissue, so make it your priority. I always aimed for 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight. Take that number and divide it by six, and that’s how much protein you should be consuming at each of your six daily meals. The remainder of your calories should come from complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. To gain muscular bodyweight, you must consistently take in enough calories to support growth. Just as you shouldn’t miss workouts, missing meals is a no-no and will definitely slow your progress. I always thought of my meals in terms of building a house. Every day I was laying more and more bricks down. Just as training heavy and hard over time yields significant results, so does eating quality food day after day. Treat your eating just as seriously as you do your training.

The Value of Patience
They say that patience is a virtue, and nowhere is that more true than in bodybuilding. A great physique is not built overnight. You can put on a great deal of weight in a short amount of time, but most of it will be in the form of useless, unappealing body fat. When it comes to gaining solid muscle mass, it takes time.
Many great workouts and many great meals, together with a lot of quality sleep, add up gradually into amounts of muscle that can transform an average person into a veritable Hercules. Along the way, it’s important to set small-term goals to keep you constantly moving forward. You may want to add a half-inch to your arms, three pounds of bodyweight, or 20 pounds to your squat. Each one of these becomes a few more steps forward in your long journey.
Finally, I highly recommend that you keep a written record of your workouts and meals so that you can chart your progress, as well as note trends and see what’s most effective for you. If you work hard, observe the above principles, and you’re in this for the long haul, you will one day have an exceptional physique that’s well worth the effort.


My Full Training Routine (circa 1995-1997)

Training Split
Day one: Delts, traps, triceps, abs
Day two: Back, rear delts
Day three: REST
Day four: Chest, biceps, abs
Day five: Quads, hams, calves
Day six: REST

Workout One
Warm-up: 10 minutes on stationary bike, followed by gentle stretching of all muscle groups to be trained (done before all workouts).

Body Part Exercise Sets Reps Poundage
DELTS Smith machine presses 1* 15 120
1* 12 240
1 8-10 340
Seated laterals 1* 12 2 x 50
1 8-10 2 x 70
One-arm cable laterals 1* 20 35
1 8-10 70
TRAPS Dumbbell shrugs 1* 12 2 x 140
1 10-12 2 x 185
TRICEPS Triceps pushdowns 1* 15 80
1* 12 130
1 8-10 180
Lying barbell extensions 1* 12 100
(with EZ-curl bar) 1 8-10 140
One-arm pushdowns 1 8-10 70
1-arm Nautilus extensions 1 8-10 Full stack
ABS Forward crunches 3 20-25
Reverse crunches 3 12-15
*Represents warm-up sets

Workout Two

Body Part Exercise Sets Reps Poundage
BACK Hammer Strength machine 1* 15 135
Pulldowns 1* 12 220
1 8-10 285
or (alternated each workout)
Nautilus pullovers 1* 15 220
1* 12 320
1 8-10 440
Barbell rows 1* 12 285
1 8-10 375
1-arm Hammer Strength rows 1 8-10 245
Cable rows (overhand grip) 1 8-10 Full stack
REAR DELTS Rear-delt Hammer Strength 1 8-10 2 x 55
Bent-over dumbbell raises 1 8-10 2 x 95
LOWER BACK Hyperextensions 1* 8 310 (bdywt)
Deadlifts 1 8 405

Workout Three

Body Part Exercise Sets Reps Poundage
CHEST Incline barbell press 1* 12 135
1* 10 220
1* 8 310
1 8 425
Hammer Strength seated 1* 10 220
Bench presses 1* 10 220
1 6-8 350
Incline dumbbell flyes 1* 10 2 x 75
1 8 2 x 110
Cable crossovers 1 10-12 2 x 90
BICEPS Incline dumbbell curls 1* 10 2 x 50
1 6-8 2 x 70
EZ barbell curls 1* 10 100
1 6-8 140
Nautilus curls 1 6-8 120
ABS Forward crunches 3 20-25
Reverse crunches 3 12-15

Workout Four

Body Part Exercise Sets Reps Poundage
QUADS Leg extensions 1* 15 130
1* 12 200
1 10-12 270
Leg press 1* 12 770
1* 12 1,045
1 10-12 1,265
Hack squats 1* 12 440
1 8-10 660
HAMSTRINGS Lying leg curls 1* 8-10 130
1 8-10 180
Single leg curls 1 8-10 50
CALVES Standing calf raise 1* 10-12 900
1 10-12 1,300
Seated calf raise 1 10-12 250

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