I have to admit, I debated long and hard about running this interview. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with it and I have nothing against Dorian Yates. In fact, I'm under the impression that he's a good guy. The thing is, this is an interview that could have appeared in any bodybuilding magazine. In other words, Dorian doesn't really talk about drug use or anything that's really "newsworthy," at least from a Testosterone point of view.
However, after much soul searching, I decided to run it anyway, critics be damned. Dorian was the very best in his field for a long, long, time, and he generally refuses to do interviews with other magazines. The interview may lack a Testosterone "edge," but fans of Dorian will enjoy it nonetheless.
When you think of hardcore training, which professional bodybuilder's name pops right to mind? If you think of serious work in the gym and a no-bullshit training ethic, you're probably thinking of Dorian Yates.
Throughout his professional and competitive career, Yates was regarded as "The Shadow," someone who didn't run his mouth too much. He just showed up for contests and kicked everyone's ass. Always in tip-top condition onstage, his unwillingness to flap his gums for entertainment only added to the mystique. The man would be near 300 pounds with skin like transparent parchment. The other competitors would take one look at him and know they were fighting for second place. Until injuries forced him to retire, nobody could touch him.
Since retiring, Dorian has begun his own supplement company bearing his name and likeness and has been highly visible at bodybuilding shows and expos, but what he's continued to do is not talk too much to the press. Still very popular and remaining something of a man of mystery, Dorian Yates consented to a wide-ranging interview with T-mag.
If you're the most hardcore bodybuilder in the biz, what better forum?
Testosterone: The perception in the bodybuilding public is that you worked harder than anybody else in the world. In this whole equation, what role do anabolics play? It's a level playing field in the sense that everyone uses whatever they want to use, but for you, what was the most important part of this equation?
Dorian: Like you said, it's an even playing field as far as drugs go. All the guys pretty much have access to the same thing. So how do you separate first place from tenth place? Is it only hard work? Do the judges know if someone else worked as hard as I did? In addition to hard work, there's meticulous planning, working hard all year round, and eating correctly all year round so you get maximum results. It's making sure you get your rest.
For me, it was almost an obsession every day. I was doing whatever I could to optimize my training all year round. I wasn't taking two or three months off after the Mr. Olympia like some of the guys were. I wasn't eating at McDonald's in the off season, then twelve weeks before a contest deciding "Now I'm going to start eating properly." A lot of the guys I was competing against, that's what they were doing. The reason I was able to beat them was that work ethic and the dedication to training all year round, which wasn't really a problem for me because I love to train. That was the difference.
Sure, there are people I've beaten, that if I could get my head inside their body, it'd be scary. But fortunately they didn't have the mentality to do it.
T: You seemed to just walk out onstage and intimidate them through personality and confidence. Was that part of the plan?
Dorian: I never went to the Mr. Olympia wondering whether I was going to win. I went there knowing I was going to win. It was a foregone conclusion in my mind because I already did all that work all year round. I knew some of the guys I was competing against were not as committed. I went in with all guns blazing. Of course I was very confident and believed I deserved to win, which gave me a lot of mental energy and strength. I think people could sense that.
T: Earlier in your career Mike Mentzer was taking a great deal of credit for putting you on the road to "Heavy Duty" training. Did you ever train with Mentzer, and was he ever really associated with you in any way?
Dorian: When I first started training, I read as much as possible; it was trial and error in the gym. I read a lot of stuff by Arthur Jones [Nautilus inventor], and Mentzer was in the magazines at the time. Through trial and error I noticed that if I went over a certain amount of volume in the gym, my progress would come to a stop. I'd become overtrained. I was always training with a lot of volume, high intensity, along those lines.
I met Mike Mentzer after I won my first Olympia in '92. I was at Gold's Gym in Venice doing photo shoots and met Mike. Of course he was someone I'd admired when I started training, and we were talking about training principles and so on. He had a personal training business and felt that when he was still competing he still overtrained, even though he was doing a lot less than everybody else. He felt it was possible to do even less, in terms of volume, and get even better results.
So yes, I did a few workouts with Mike and we exchanged ideas. He did have some input in my training at that time. I tried to reduce the volume a little bit more, but it was a minor adjustment because I was already training like that. So it's not correct to say Mike trained me. We did maybe three workouts together in Gold's Gym.
T: So he was an influence, like many people have been an influence?
Dorian: Yeah, he was an influence. I'll learn from wherever I can learn. I've probably learned many things from people during my career, but it would be incorrect to say anyone trained me or coached me or anything like that. You should never be too big to be able to pick up tips and learn. You have to keep an open mind. Mike was one of quite a few people who had some influence.
Of course, it was good for Mike's business to be associated with me, which I didn't particularly mind. Great, if it was going to help him. I wouldn't want anyone to take credit for training me 'cause it wouldn't be correct. Even if someone was training me, there's a whole bigger aspect to the sport than that. There's the nutrition and pre-contest prep and everything, which would be a totally different ballgame than when Mike was competing.
T: What about in your coming-up years? Did you ever employ a strength coach?
Dorian: No, I didn't use a coach. One of the things that attracted me to bodybuilding was that it's an individual endeavor. In any case, I didn't have access to any strength coaches or anything like that, so I'm pretty much self-taught as far as training and nutrition goes. I just read everything I could and used trial and error and instincts to separate what worked from what didn't work. That was what was exciting about bodybuilding to me.
When you get up on the stage, then it's win or lose, down to me and me alone. That's why I'm not really a team sport player. I'd always feel that someone on the team might let me down. That was what attracted me to it, but the sport has changed a lot, maybe since more money is available. A lot of guys are now using coaches, nutritionists, gurus, all this kind of stuff. To me, it takes away from the beauty of the individual sports. If guys are relying on others for advice, it's like they don't want to think for themselves.
I was always meticulous about keeping a training diary, keeping records of my nutrition and everything I did so I could find exactly what worked for me. Nobody knows your body better than yourself.
T: So you kept an accurate food diary for all your years as a pro? Did you weigh your food?
Dorian: Yeah, even in the off season I was weighing my food.
T: Were you strict with what you ate?
Dorian: Yes, that way I could calculate exactly what I needed. For example, if I'm not gaining weight, I could increase my intake four or five hundred calories. That way I'm not guessing.
T: It's difficult to increase or decrease calories in small increments, isn't it?
Dorian: Without keeping an exact record of what you're eating, yeah. If you're keeping a log, you can take away twenty-five grams of oatmeal here or twenty-five grams of rice there.
T: What's your take on Synthol and other spot-enhancing oils?
Dorian: Enhancement, well, that's a matter of opinion really, isn't it? We all know pro bodybuilders use steroids, growth hormone, all that, but that's just enhancing your ability to synthesize protein, recover from your training and so on. You still have to have the God-given genetic ability. You still have to go into the gym and train. You're just enhancing your natural ability with those types of things. I classify Synthol almost as having an implant.
It's got nothing to do with sport. To me the sport is about work ethic, hard work, and everything, and as far as enhancing the physique there may be people who have skill at using Synthol, but usually it distorts the physique. You get ugly lumps in places and it's obvious. The IFBB is now supposedly doing something about it. I don't quite know how they're going to do so, if there's any test they can do. Synthol use is not good; that's my opinion. It's potentially dangerous as well.
T: True, nobody knows the long term effects.
Dorian: Even the short term effects, people are getting infections from unsterile product.
T: Let's talk training. Some feel it's important to strengthen all the little ancillary muscles. Do you feel that's important as well?
Dorian: Maybe more for specific sport-strength training, but I don't know if it's that important for bodybuilding. I do believe in using the combination of free weights and machines. With free weights you'll develop some of the smaller muscles; with machines perhaps you won't.
You don't have that balance and control aspect; it's more isolated. So people say to me, "free weights or machines?" and I say I use both of them. They both have advantages and disadvantages so I use a combination. I don't do any specific training for those small muscles. The only thing I've done is rotator cuff strengthening exercises from time to time.
T: Do you ever use Smith machines and do you have any strong opinions about that piece of equipment?
Dorian: Yeah, I used them for pressing movements, like incline press and shoulder press. I used it for squats, as well. I was brought up in the era of Tom Platz and he always said, "You've gotta squat; squats are the greatest thing for your thighs." Obviously it was true for Tom Platz. He had a good structure so that when he was squatting, the majority of the stress was taken by his quadriceps; his structure was quite short. So I was religiously squatting for the first five or six years that I was training. My legs were okay but they weren't great, until I began experimenting.
Then, squatting on a Smith machine, I could position my body so it was much more isolated on the quads, less glutes and lower back involvement, didn't have to worry about the balance aspect. Actually my legs improved a lot when I was doing Smith squats, hack squats, leg presses – I could isolate the thighs a lot more. So actually I used the Smith machine quite a bit for squatting.
T: That's fascinating because that flies in the face of so much advice.
Dorian: If it works, do it. If it doesn't, don't. My attitude is, don't agonize over why.
T: Do you have a favorite manufacturer of machines?
Dorian: I was employed by Hammer Strength for a long time, and the way that came about I was actually using some of their machines in my training. I thought they were excellent. Some black and white pictures appeared in a magazine of me using their machines and they were popular; fans loved 'em 'cause they were real workout photos, which is something I insisted on with photographers. I didn't want to do all that posed shit with light weights and water sprayed on me wearing a pair of sunglasses. I thought it was bullshit. Nobody trains like that!
T: You just answered one of my next questions!
Dorian: (laughing) I think I had a major influence on the way bodybuilding photography went. Up to that point you had to pose, have the lights all there, spray on some sweat, oil up and all that kind of stuff. I really didn't want to do that. I said, "Come on, let's take some workout photos. I don't even need to take my shirt off. People want to see that inspirational moment of effort." The photographers were reluctant at first. I think Chris Lund was the first to do it, and now if you look at everyone's photographs they're all pretty hardcore workout photos.
So anyway, we did some photo shoots with Hammer Strength equipment in them, the Hammer people got tremendous feedback, so they approached me and asked if I'd be interested in endorsing their machines. I was, because I believed in them. They gave me various pieces so I could use them in my training back in England. So Hammer Strength was one of my favorite manufacturers.
Also one of my favorites was the old Nautilus machines, like the pullover machine, which I use regularly in my gym, the bicep and tricep machines, and the leg curl. Some of those pieces were really excellent. I'm talking about the older pieces; the new ones are more tailored to the general public, have weight stacks on them and everything. The old Nautilus machines were excellent.
T: Do you still own Temple Gym in England?
Dorian: Yeah, I still own the gym in England. You know, it's tiny compared to American gyms, it's only 3000 square feet.
T: Some American gyms are like nightclubs.
Dorian: Yeah, they're huge. Sometimes they're too big and distracting. The first time I came here I found it difficult to train in the gyms because they were so big and so open. And people have a habit of sometimes approaching me while I was training, which I wasn't used to.
My gym is 3000 square feet, but in that I've got everything you need. I only have two leg presses, but they're the two best ones you could get. A lot of gyms you go to are good for chest or good for legs, but you've got to go somewhere else for the other bodyparts. If you have 20,000 square feet you shouldn't have that problem if you know about equipment.
T: What else about America did it take a while for you to get used to?
Dorian: Coming from England, I'm used to people being more straightforward. If you don't get on with somebody they just tell you and it's okay. But here, people are more superficial; everybody loves you, but behind your back they don't.
T: In general, or in the industry?
Dorian: In general in the States, probably more in California.
T: What's the most unusual thing you've seen happen in the gym?
Dorian: I've seen some strange things. In Europe, Germany and Holland, for example, what I found unusual is they have a seating area in the gym where everyone would be smoking. That's something I could not understand. It's very odd; they serve drinks and the air would be thick with smoke. They'd be separate from the training area, but it would still be strange to see that in a gym. In California you can't even smoke in a restaurant, much less in a gym!
Of course, Gold's Gym in Venice is someplace where I always see unusual people. It's interesting, but I found it somewhat difficult to train there. It's great to sit up on the balcony and do your cardio, which I find to be mind-numbingly boring usually, but I can sit up there for forty minutes and watch people and it just flies by.
T: Did you employ periodization in your training?
Dorian: No, not really. When I was younger, still guilty of overtraining, I'd go all out all of the time, until I noticed a pattern of my getting sick. I'd get really bad sore throats, colds, my immune system would get really run down, then I'd have to take a week off from training to recover. That was the pattern. Then it evolved into me training really heavy for six weeks, then backing off a litle bit for maybe two or three weeks.
T: Your body forced you into it, once you began listening.
Dorian: Yeah, it wasn't planned, but it was something I noticed. I couldn't work out that way fifty-two weeks a year.
T: For instance, the way you trained in your workout video, Blood and Guts, you didn't do that five days a week all year 'round, right?
Dorian: I'd work out like that for probably five or six weeks, then back off, short of failure, no forced reps or any high intensity techniques like that. I was probably still guilty, in those two or three weeks, of overtraining. I thought I was backing off, but I probably wasn't all that much.
T: Did you change your workouts when you were dieting for a show, as opposed to not dieting?
Dorian: No, I didn't change them at all. That's the kind of training that was building the muscle; that's the type of training that would keep it there. To me, getting into shape for a competition is just a matter of reducing your bodyfat. Weight training is not an effective tool for that, so I relied on reducing my caloric intake and doing more cardio over a reasonably long period like twelve or thirteen weeks.
T: Do you use lifting straps or gloves?
Dorian: I use lifting straps, definitely, on all the back exercises because I don't want my grip to be a limiting factor in transferring stress to my back. Doing rows or pulldowns, your grip is going to give out before your lats do once you get past a certain strength level. I don't use gloves. I like to feel the bar in my hands and they just get in my way.
T: Did you do pull-ups at your heavy bodyweight?
Dorian: Yeah, I used to. We used to do them with maybe an extra hundred pounds, stuff like that. Maybe not full range pull-ups, though. But after the bicep injury in '94, I stayed away from pull-ups because the stretch position on the bicep wasn't right. Then I was relying on machines a lot more, particularly the Hammer pulldown machine and the row.
T: Hammer named one of the rowing machines after you, didn't they?
Dorian: Yeah, the "DY Row", which was a reverse grip row which I contributed to the design of.
T: What time of day did you train?
Dorian: I used to train in late morning, like 10:30 or 11:00. That way I could get a couple of meals in before I went to the gym. I don't like to go on an empty stomach or first thing in the morning. Get a couple of meals in, be alert, get warmed up.
T: How long did your average workout take?
Dorian: Average was 45 to 50 minutes, I'd say. Got in, did the job, got out again. Get your nutrition; get your rest. That's when you grow, not when you're in the gym.
T: Some have called you the strongest professional bodybuilder who's ever lived. Are you?
Dorian: I don't think so. I've seen some of the poundages that Ronnie Coleman uses and I don't think I could ever duplicate that. Ronnie's probably stronger than me; he comes from a powerlifting background. Greg Kovacs is certainly a very strong guy; I've seen some of the weights he uses...
T: So you've seen him workout? Are those crazy weights we read about real?
Dorian: I've seen him work out on a video using some pretty impressive poundages. I have this reputation for training heavy and all that, but people are surprised when they see me train. I'm very precise with the movements. I'm not interested in lifting weights from point A to B. I'm interested in putting stress on the muscle and stimulating growth. I want to do a full range contraction, controlled negative, everything like that. So I could probably lift more weight, if I wasn't using strict form, but that's not my goal in bodybuilding.
T: That's probably the single best advice anyone could give in this field.
Dorian: I'm in Orange County right now, training with Milos Sarcev, and Milos is surprised at how precise the movements are and how slow I'm doing the movements.
T: Do you pay attention to time-under-tension?
Dorian: I've never sat there with a clock and timed 'em, but I train the muscle to failure. I know what type of rep range I react best to and the reps are fairly controlled. I hold in the contracted position, make sure I get a full stretch, and slow down the negative. So I wouldn't know how long I'm under tension, but I'd guess it's a total of probably only about thirty seconds or something.
T: For a bodybuilder, do you consider supplements or food to be more important? And I don't mean anabolics, I mean supplements.
Dorian: Well, they're both important, but obviously food is the most important.
T: If you're eating six or seven times per day, how many of them are food meals and how many are shakes?
Dorian: I generally do fifty-fifty; one meal solid food, the next one supplements, at least for the protein. A meal for me might be an MRP plus a scoop of Pro Peptide, which is our protein. That brings the protein up to about sixty-five grams. Then maybe a baked potato or a bowl of rice for carbs. Alternatively, it could be a couple of chicken breasts and a baked potato. It's pretty much the same thing.
With the supplements, the protein is even superior; with our combination of proteins it may be even better than eating solid foods, unless you're going to have a meal with one chicken breast, one egg, etc., combining different proteins. I pretty much have chicken breasts or egg whites one meal and the next will be a protein shake.
T: I talked to you in March at the Arnold Classic and you're still big and looking good. Did you take time off after you retired?
Dorian: Not really time off training, but my training was very restricted, mainly due to the injury and the surgery I had. I was training a lot lighter and was more interested in just trying to stay fit. The lightest I got was 255 pounds, which is by no means small, but people were used to seeing me at 300 pounds so they were saying "he stopped training" or "he's sick" and all that. I didn't particularly want to be 300 pounds. I didn't need to be 300 pounds, you know? So my priority was recovering from the injury, staying healthy, then gradually, the last six months or so, I've been able to step up the pace in the gym and train a bit heavier.
I've been going through personal problems, so maybe going to the gym is my form of meditation, taking out my negativity there. That's my place of solitude I return to. My reaction to stress is rather than let it destroy you, use it for something positive.
T: Do your injuries bother you today? Any long term physical effects?
[Editor's note: for those of you who don't follow professional bodybuilding, Dorian tore and detached both his tricep and bicep on the same arm, at different points in his career.]
Dorian: It's not like they bother me in any way with pain, but mechanically my left tricep is now weaker than it used to be. I had the surgery and it's fully functional, but mechanics have changed somewhat so it's not as strong as it used to be. On some exercises it hampers me, so I have to train around it.
For example, if I was to do free weights, bench press or incline or stuff like that, the left arm would not be locking out as well as the right one, especially the last few reps, so I simply use machines or use Hammer Strength, where it's not really a factor. Otherwise it could possibly lead to injuries in other places. For instance, if you start having an imbalance in your training, you could transfer it to your shoulders, something like that. So I train around it. It does hamper my training to a degree, which is why I decided not to compete any more. If I was going to compete, I wanted to be 100%, which really wasn't possible.
T: Why did you start up a supplement company?
Dorian: I've always studied nutrition, supplementation, stuff like that; obviously it's played a big part in my training. I had a friend in England who was already in the supplement business, making and selling supplements, so I started talking with him. I had a lot of ideas and said, "If you're interested, then I'd like to implement these ideas and make some really high quality supplements. They're going to be effective and cutting edge." So that's eventually what we did. Kerry Kayes and I formed the company and it probably took us eighteen months to get the products on the market.
It wasn't a case of "All right, let's get Dorian's face and buy some standard whey protein, which everyone uses, and put the label on there and sell it." I mean, that would have been easier, probably would have made more money in the short term, I don't know, but in any case, I wasn't interested in that and my partner wasn't interested in that. I think I've got a good name in the industry. I take a lot of pride in everything I do, so I wouldn't want to be associated with anything that wasn't of the highest quality.
T: Are you happy with where your company is right now?
Dorian: Yes, we're doing well in Europe and making progress in the States. There's just so much information to get across about our products, especially protein products, but people don't understand unless we take time to educate them. I probably learned more about protein in the last two or three years than I did my entire career.
It's not as simplistic as people think. One product is forty grams of protein, another one's forty-five, so that's going to be better? It's not as simple as that. There's a whole range of effects protein can have on your metabolism, with growth factors and so on, which are usually lost in the processing they use with proteins.
I've been involved from the beginning. That's the agreement I had with Kerry, my partner. Kerry runs the day-to-day business, but when it came to the formulation and presentation of the products, even the design of the logo, the box, all that, it all came down to me, because at the end of the day it's my image on the products.
T: I keep reading rumors on the internet that you're going to come out of retirement and/or compete in the Masters Olympia.
Dorian: Rumors are always good for business. Sometimes I'm not a big fan of the internet because basically you can put anything on there with no responsibility. It's one of the things I don't really like about bodybuilding – the rumor mill. I've been seriously dead at least four or five times! I'd hear strange stuff like I used to take my blood out at night, freeze it, inject it with growth hormone, then inject it back in in the morning! I didn't really see the logic in that, but it sounded good, you know? So that's one of the things I don't like.
To be Mr. Olympia is the ultimate accolade in bodybuilding. Why would you then want to do the Masters Olympia? There would be no point. Financially it's not worth it, either. I have no interest in the Masters Olympia. Once you've won the Mr. Olympia, there's no way to go, unless you're going to win it again. The Masters holds no appeal for me. Great for other people if it keeps them motivated, but I think it would really be an anti-climax after winning the Mr. Olympia.
T: I hear you're moving to the States. Is that right?
Dorian: I'm planning to relocate to the States later in the year. What I'm interested in is training people, seriously committed athletes and bodybuilders, all kinds of athletes, training and also contest preparation. I've got quite a lot of interest in that at the moment. I'm looking at Las Vegas or southern California. I'm spending a good bit of time out here just looking around.
At the moment Vegas is still relatively affordable. I was speaking to Paul Dillett and he's out there at the moment, training people, and making a good living from that. People have money there. There's quite a few Gold's Gyms out there, so I'm looking at that or maybe Orange County. I'm not really a big fan of Los Angeles or Venice; I can take it in small doses.
T: I hope it works out. Thanks for the interview.
Dorian: My pleasure.
Even if you don't care much about pro-bodybuilding as a sport, you have to admire Dorian's work ethic, his quiet confidence, and most of all his "takin' care of business" attitude. Even if you never plan to step on stage yourself, you can learn something from Dorian. The Shadow knows.