Eight Things I Learned from Dorian Yates

TAGS: training sessions, Dorian Yates, iron legacy, Mark Dugdale, bodybuilding

The year was 1992 and I was seventeen years old. On a Saturday night in April, I ventured out with my parents to the Paramount Theatre in downtown Seattle to watch my uncle Bill compete in the Emerald Cup. This was my first time attending a bodybuilding competition and I was mesmerized. My parents, bored out of their minds, wanted to leave early, but I begged them to stay to the end. I learned that at the end of local NPC contests, an IFBB pro bodybuilder typically did a “guest posing” exhibition. Tonight, the IFBB pro was a guy from England who placed second in the previous year's Mr. Olympia. Needless to say, Dorian Yates blew my mind.

From that day forward, I read everything I could about Dorian. He inspired me to train with a vengeance and step on stage, winning the NPC NW Natural Teenage Division the next year in 1993…the same year that Dorian won the first of six Mr. Olympia titles. Fast forward to 2007 and Columbus, Ohio...

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Prejudging just wrapped up at the Arnold Classic, and Christina and I returned to the hotel to eat and rest before I had to go back for finals that night. I ran to the restroom while Christina got us a table in the restaurant. Walking back to the table, I noticed some guy talking to Christina. It was Dorian Yates. He joined us for lunch, and I planted a seed that I had always dreamed of coming to Birmingham, England, to train at Temple Gym, otherwise known as the Dungeon. Four months later, Christina, two friends who were good with a camera, and I flew to Heathrow International in route to Birmingham to spend a week in the Dungeon.

The following list, in no particular order, includes eight things that I learned training with Dorian Yates:

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1. Active warm-ups are better than static stretching: Dorian explained that static stretching isn't beneficial in terms of a warm up. He favored more active movements to warm up your core and loosen up the lower back. Warm-up movements included multiple sets of alternating body weight lunge stretches, lying internal and external hip rotation, and bending at the waist and walking your hands out until you’ve reached a plank position.

2. I didn’t know crap about back training: For years, my back was a weak area, which obviously wasn't the case for Dorian at all. Under his watchful eye, I learned that I spent more time trying to move weight than work muscle. He said that I should be strongest in the eccentric portion of the movement, second strongest in the static hold, and third strongest in the concentric. In other words, as the muscle fatigues, I should fail first on the positive portion of a movement before I fail at the static hold in the contracted position or the negative portion of the movement. Muscle power matters more than momentum, and I wasn't engaging my back and holding the contraction.

3. One set to failure oversimplifies HIT: People often categorize HIT (high intensity training) as basically one set to failure. Sure, it typically includes performing one set to failure or beyond per exercise, but that’s an oversimplification. The warm-up or feeder sets to the working weight aren't just fluff. In fact, they're fairly intense with the only distinguishable difference being that you stop short of failure in the one “balls out” set.

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4. With proper motivation, the body can do amazing things: I see this at the gym when some young guy loads extra weight on the bar when a hot girl is in the area or when I'm training with John Meadows and find an extra gear.

I came down with the worst case of food poisoning in my life and it hit me just as I boarded British Airways in Seattle in route to Heathrow. I was so sick by the time we reached Birmingham that I struggled to get out of bed for two days. I feared that the entire trip would be a total loss. Two days later, with Dorian in my face, I found that the body can do amazing things if properly motivated. Keep this in mind the next time you’re training alone and want to puss out.

5. Sometimes it just boils down to genetics: We got a late start due to my illness, so over the course of four days or so, I trained nearly every body part with Dorian. At the end of our last workout, I mentioned that we never trained calves. Known for huge calves, I wanted to experience what Dorian did to make his so massive. He said that he had already put me through his “secret” calf workout. I was confused, so he said that he never really trained them. He was born with great calves. I realized that sometimes the guy with the best body part isn’t the right guy to emulate in terms of training method for said lagging body part!

6. The secret drug stack is BS: I never asked Dorian about steroids or other physique enhancing drugs. In 2007, I had been training and competing for thirteen years as an amateur and three years professionally. I never worked with a “guru” simply because I felt that I knew my body better than anyone else. Also, nobody garnered enough trust that I would hand them my health. Near the end of the trip, Dorian said that he appreciated my work ethic in the gym and the fact that I never inundated him with drug questions. Apparently, nearly everyone he meets leads the conversation with an inquiry into what drug stack he did to get so massive. Dorian said, “Here is the secret—there isn't any secret. Bust your ass in the gym. If you can’t do that, all the rest doesn’t matter.”

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7. Compete against yourself: Dorian said that he never focused on his competition. He didn’t train to beat this guy or that guy. In fact, the only context in which he ever thought about his competition was in regards to training intensity. Dorian went into the gym each day resolved that no competitor would train harder or more intensely than him. He said that if they beat him on stage, he would rest knowing that they didn’t outwork him in the gym. Bodybuilding often boils down to a matter of preference and opinion. Dorian and I are like-minded—compete against the physique in the mirror.

8. Back off intensity pre-contest: Our strengths are often our weaknesses. Such was the case with Dorian. His training intensity was off the charts. It’s likely what separated him from the competition, but it also led to his demise. Reflecting back, Dorian said that his biggest mistake entailed not knowing when to back off pre-contest. He indicated that the off-season is where the foundation is laid. Pre-contest is more about stripping away fat and water to display the work done in the off-season. All his injuries, including his career ending triceps tear in 1997, occurred in the weeks leading up to the Mr. Olympia.

The training sessions and discussions I shared with Dorian Yates in Temple Gym were all captured in a film titled A Week in the Dungeon.

Here is a trailer for that film:

Bonus facts

Fact #1: Dorian was never trained by Mike Mentzer. He trained with Mike one time and people then assumed that Mike was training Dorian. However, that was never the case. In fact, Dorian felt that Mike Mentzer’s heavy duty wasn't quite enough volume.

Fact #2: Immediately following an early bodybuilding competition defeat, Dorian went to the judges asking what kept him from winning. He was told that he needed to improve his back. Dorian said to himself, “Oh, yeah? I’ll show them!” Yes, he did.

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