The Heavy-Duty Life and Career of Dorian Yates – Muscle & Fitness

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The Dorian Yates story sometimes seems to have come from a 1930s movie.  A “Dead End Kid” or a character out of “Boy’s Town”, a self-confessed juvenile delinquent who discovers that sport can be the path out of a problem youth and to find future success.
Dorian Yates was a “bad boy” as a teen but what saved him and led to his fantastic career was bodybuilding.  “The first time I picked up a barbell,” he says, “there was an instant connection.  It didn’t take long before serious training and building muscle became the main purpose of my life.”
Dorian was the first of the so-called “mass monsters.”  Lee Haney was big but Dorian’s physique contained more hard slabs of thick muscle.  He was “aesthetic” by bodybuilding standards, but not to the degree of many classic competitors, like Serge Nubret, Frank Zane, or Larry Scott.  Joe Weider used to distinguish between lean and shapely “Apollonian” physiques (Zane) and thicker, more massive “Herculean” ones (Dorian).
He was close to 300 pounds off-season and was a forerunner to some competitors today who weigh over 300 pounds in contest shape.  With so many huge bodybuilders in the pros, the IFBB Pro League created the 212 and Classic Physique divisions to give a competitive platform for their size.
Dorian Yates’ bodybuilder career hit the ground running.  He entered the 1984 Birmingham Novice and finished first.  Two years later he won the heavyweight class of the British Championships and the next year took the overall.  Not bad for a “beginner.”
Of course, Dorian Yates went on to win six consecutive Olympia titles from 1992 to 1997 and has the fifth-highest number of Mr. Olympia wins in history, ranking behind Ronnie Coleman, Lee Haney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Phil Heath.
But one thing Dorian Yates is remembered for, in addition to his competition success, is his decision to adopt the kind of “high intensity” training principles advocated by Nautilus inventor Arthur Jones and Mr. Universe Mike Mentzer.  This training style is designed to radically increase the intensity of each rep and set and to allow for much shorter workouts.  Instead of just positive and negative reps, HIT adds things like doing forced reps, forced negatives, assisted partial reps, and other techniques designed to stress muscle beyond what would have been achieved using conventional techniques.
The Nautilus gyms and training style created by Arthur Jones featured a line of machines that patrons were expected to use for one extended set, each for an intense 20-minute workout, and then be done.  Having trainers in and out in such a short period was obviously good for business in that room was made for a lot more gym members to cycle through their workouts.  This was a good business model, but not necessarily an ideal way to build a bodybuilding physique.
Of course, no advocate of HIT whether Dorian, Mike Mentzer nor Casey Viator built their early physiques using this kind of workout approach.  They all started with conventional workouts and pivoted to HIT later in their careers. One interesting observation here is that just about all of those bodybuilders had Herculean bodies – thick, powerful, and very mesomorphic.  So, their bodies all had thicker and more powerful connective tissue which could stand up to the stress of HIT.  You must wonder how somebody more slightly built like Frank Zane would have stood up to this level of stress.
Even the powerful Dorian Yates suffered from this approach of training by the end.  He ended up suffering a series of injuries and I remember reading an interview in which he confesses he knew he was sacrificing his body in his quest to win championships using HIT but was willing to pay this price for success.  His career ended in large part due to torn biceps and triceps, the latter just three weeks prior to his final contest, the 1997 Mr. Olympia, which he won in spite of the injury.
It is very difficult for pro athletes, training intensely over decades, not to suffer injuries.  This kind of comes with the territory and is one reason why so many in a variety of sports are forced to stop competing at relatively young ages.  HIT puts such stress on the body that the risk of injury is markedly increased. With so many top pro bodybuilders being close to or older than 40, you won’t find many risk their bodies by resorting to this kind of super-stressful training technique.
After severe biceps and triceps injuries, Dorian Yates was forced to retire from competition.  Fortunately, after retirement, Dorian proved himself to be a capable businessman – like other past champions such as Lee Labrada, Rich Gaspari, Shawn Ray, and the aforementioned Lee Haney.  And, of course, Arnold.  Dorian went on to open a successful gym and created several businesses, including a supplement line.
As far as I was concerned as a photographer, it was always easy to work with Dorian.  There are bodybuilders who are very creative as posers, ones I can collaborate with and make suggestions for poses that make more dramatic photos.  That was not the case with Dorian.  He had a few basic poses he was comfortable with, ones that showed off his physique to its best advantage, and that’s what he stuck with.  I would no more ask Dorian to adopt a more “creative” pose than I would expect the presidents on Mount Rushmore to follow my posing suggestions.
Learn how the six-time Mr. Olympia built his physique.
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