Phil Heath has dominated Mr. Olympia for the past five years. If he wins again this weekend he’ll match Dorian Yates’ success of six consecutive wins in the 1990s, but who is Dorian Yates and how did he achieve his incredible success? Aidan Bricker finds out in this online exclusive interview…

In the history of competitive bodybuilding, few have had such an impact as six times Mr Olympia, Dorian Yates. Yates built a physique that revolutionised modern bodybuilding. He developed an unprecedented level of muscularity, which he combined with razor sharp conditioning to dominate the bodybuilding world during the 1990s. He did so by flying in the face of conventional bodybuilding wisdom, which stated that you had to perform a certain number of sets and reps in order to build muscle. Famous for his ‘blood and guts’ training style, Yates is still famous for his approach to training, nutrition and supplementation, and the protocols he used to develop one of the most impressive physiques in the history of bodybuilding.

HIT that

In addition to his six Mr Olympia titles, Yates is perhaps most famous for his notoriously hardcore training style. He did not believe in traditional bodybuilding training – which stated that you must perform a certain number of reps and sets per workout – built muscle effectively. Instead he adopted a High Intensity Training style.

Developed by Arthur Jones and championed by the bodybuilder Mike Mentzer in the 1970s, high intensity training – or HIT for short – is based on the idea that it is the intensity of exercise, rather than the volume, that stimulates muscle growth. Proponents of HIT argue that to induce muscle growth, sets must be taken to complete muscular failure.

Yates: ‘The intensity of the exercise is key, not the volume. The principle is that to trigger muscle growth you’ve got to go past a certain threshold of intensity. That’s the key to muscle growth. It’s not the volume of training, and all this nonsense that people talk about, “Oh you need to do a certain amount of volume, or volume influences muscle growth.” No it doesn’t. If it did, I would be in the gym training 12 hours a day. It is the intensity of exercise, that’s what triggers muscle growth and you have to put your body under an unusual stress for it to respond. You have to push it further than you did the last time you trained, because your body is not going to react to something to which it is already accustomed. So muscle growth is very simply an adaptation to stress. It’s your body adapting to a stress to try and handle it. You put stress on your muscles so they will become larger and stronger to cope with that stress.’

Stay on form

In training terms, this equates to a low number of heavy working sets performed at high intensity. Progressive overload is a key element of HIT, but as Yates points out, proper form should never be sacrificed if you want results.

Yates: ‘I don’t want people getting the idea that my training is just about lifting heavy weights. It’s all about quality. I did use heavy weights during my career but my focus was always on the quality of those sets. The weight is simply a tool to put stress on the working muscles. So if you’re lifting in the correct way then you’ll be putting more stress on the muscles that you are trying to build. Use very good and controlled form, don’t use momentum and try to focus your movements so that you’re directing all of your stress, or as much stress as possible, through the muscle you’re trying to train.’

Push it

A key part of lifting with proper form, as Yates highlights, is the eccentric, or lowering portion of each repetition. It is during this phase of the rep that the muscle is stronger, so it is used in HIT to push the body past the point of failure.

Yates: ‘I tell people to consciously slow the negative portion of the repetition down so that you’re working a bit harder on the negative. Then when you reach positive failure where you can’t lift anymore, you can get assistance from your partner to lift the weight back up again, before you slowly lower it down for a few more reps. So you’ll find that even when you reach failure with lifting, you’re able to do two or three more negative only reps at the end, which will completely deplete the muscle. If you do that for one set, you don’t need to do any more sets on that particular exercise.’

Time to heal

Training with such intensity necessitates proper recovery, which is the other half of the high intensity equation. As Yates puts it simply, ‘If you don’t recover, you’re not going to grow.’ In order to facilitate recovery, Yates advocates shorter sessions, and fewer sessions each week to ensure total recovery between each workout.

Yates: ‘Recovery is an individual thing. Your body doesn’t know what a week is, it just knows if its recovered or not. I believe spending longer than 45 minutes in the gym starts to be detrimental, so a 45 minute workout, four times a week is about the maximum you need to do, and you might need to train a little less frequently depending on your recovery ability.’

A week with Yates

Putting this together, an example HIT training split of the kind used by Yates during his career would look something like this:

Day 1: Delts, Traps, Triceps, Abs

Day 2: Back

Day 3: Rest

Day 4: Chest, Biceps, Abs

Day 5: Rest

Day 6: Legs, Calves

Day 7: Rest

Eat up

A key element of recovery is nutrition. As with every element of his training and recovery, Yates was meticulous with his diet to ensure that he maximised his results in the gym. Here are his recommendations on how you should eat to support your training:

Yates: ‘The first concern is getting enough quality protein; 1.5g per 1lb (0.5kg) of bodyweight was what I was aiming for and is what I recommend to most people, and that’s got to be broken up throughout the day into five or six small meals. Next up is your energy requirement, which comes predominantly from complex carbohydrates like oats, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, vegetables and fruit. Then you need a certain amount of fat, which you’re going to get anyway from eggs, chicken and beef, and then I would take an omega supplement from fish oil. That was pretty much it. I used to weigh my food, and I also used to keep a diary tracking my intake. That way I knew precisely what I was eating and could adjust my calories depending on whether my weight had stalled, or if I was putting on too much weight. Keeping records of your diet and training is something I really recommend – this whole game is hard work, so you don’t want to be guessing; you want to get the maximum out of your time and effort.’

Body boosters

Yates, who now owns and runs his own supplement company, DY Nutrition, has always been a believer in supplements to help recovery and support intense training. He was one of the first bodybuilders to supplement with branched chain amino acids and creatine, and has been at the cutting edge of the supplement industry ever since. As with his training, he stresses quality over quantity, and recommends a small number of high quality supplements. These include whey protein powder, creatine, multivitamin and pre-workout. This selective choice of supplements encapsulates Yates’s approach to bodybuilding. His training, recovery and nutrition were all monitored closely and nothing was left to chance. Apply this same dedication to your own training and nutrition, and you too will be able to push your body to its limits.

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