April 12, 2021 10 min read

We all know about Arnold Schwarzenegger and his bodybuilding past. He’s probably one of the most famous bodybuilders out there, but if you want to study the greats and learn all of their tips and tricks, you can’t just focus on the most famous folks.

You need to expand your horizons beyond the names that get pushed in front of your face by TV. Dorian Yates is one of the greatest pro bodybuilders out there.

He has 15 major contest wins under his belt, he’s won Mr. Olympia six years in a row in the ’90s, and if you want to learn from the best, then you absolutely need to learn what you can about his workout routines.

Learning From Yates

Dorian Yates is one of the best weightlifters to get underneath a bar. He began hitting the weight in 1983 and began dominating a few years later. Once he hit his heyday in the ‘90s, he was practically undefeated during every single competition he took part in until he retired in 1997. He tapped out because of acute tears and subsequent pain in his upper arms around his triceps and biceps.

Even through those injuries in his last year, he was able to pull out one final win, making him one of the most decorated lifters in his day. He was a huge proponent of the high-intensity training (HIT) the Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer popularized. Which you’ll see in his philosophy regarding how often you should train.

If you’re trying to get your body looking anything like his. If you’re not big on HIT training, it’s pretty hard to argue against it in the face of his wide array of wins over the years. The high-intensity style he opts for seems to be an excellent way to build a decent amount of muscle.

Dorian Yates’s workout routines are great, they’re a proven way to get the results you want, and it’s basically impossible to argue against the results he ended up with on the other side of all of this training. He led an illustrious weightlifting career, and he scrambled to the top pretty quickly, considering the amount of time between him picking up the weights and his seemingly unbreakable streak of top-tier wins in the ‘90s. 

If he’s so great, why doesn’t he have the same name recognition as someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger? Well, that might have been by design. Peter McGough used to call Dorian Yates “The Shadow.” Yates would disappear for months at a time, training in silence, only to show up at contests, blowing his opposition out of the water.

People would always try to nail down when he would appear so folks could know ahead of time if they even stood a chance, but he would always remain tight-lipped and diligent until the very last second. That silent hard-working attitude combined with a rigid adherence to a HIT routine netted Dorian Yates well over a dozen first-place medals.

bodybuilder training at a gym

The Yates Workout

Dorian Yates, as we mentioned earlier was huge on Jones and Mentzer-style high-intensity training. He believed, rightly so, that one of the best ways to build muscle was to push your muscles to their limit in one big push, and rest long enough for them to recover. That’s why his workout was a four-day split.

This kind of routine gave him the room to constantly pull the high-intensity lever. The Yates workout plan is all about concentrating your maximum effort on a particular part of your body until you can’t possibly pull another full-power rep out of it, and then moving on to the next one on another day.

Every muscle group gets its time to shine, and every muscle group gets a few days to rest with this kind of split. It’s a remarkably simple way to build muscle but being remarkably simple doesn’t mean it’s not effective.Another important aspect of this workout plan is adding a little bit of cardio to your workout routine.

Having the cardio on your rest days is the most effective strategy. You want to get your heart rate up and burn a little bit of energy without cutting into your overall ability to get some high-intensity workouts in. Your training days are about expending as much energy as possible, so you really shouldn’t even have the energy for a solid thirty minutes of cardio in you anyway.

Day 1: Shoulder, Triceps, and Abs

This day is probably the one that takes the most focus. Your shoulders are prone to injury. If you’re going to be taking on this training, then make sure all of your shoulder exercises are done with proper form.

  • Smith Machine Shoulder Presses
  • Lying EZ-Bar Tricep Extensions
  • Crunches
  • Reverse Crunches

Day 2: Back and Rear Delts

Your back and rear delts get their own day because of how important they are for building a wide and fit-looking silhouette. You might think that back and rear delt day is going to be a cakewalk, but if you want this workout routine to work for you, then every day needs to be as tough as the last. Building up your back is hard work, and you need to dig deep to sculpt those muscles.

  • Dumbell Pullovers
  • Reverse-Grip Hammer Pulldowns
  • Wide-Grip Seated Cable Row

Day 3: Rest

Day 4: Chest, Biceps, and Abs

This day is probably the day that most people think of when they’re thinking of building muscle. Dorian Yates probably places these upper body exercises on their own day so you don’t spend all of your time throughout the week targeting the most obvious muscles.

His four-day split ensures that your routine travels deep into the land of your less frequented muscles. You’re building your entire body, not just the ones you’re used to showing off. Don’t let this day spill into your other days, and you’ll be well on your way to success.

  • Incline Barbell Bench Press
  • Decline Bench Press
  • Flat Bench Dumbbell Flys
  • Machine Preacher Curl

Day 5: Rest

bodybuilder flexing leg muscles in a gym

Day 6: Legs

We all know the meme. Never skip leg day. Dorian Yates was yolked all over. His legs were just as well-defined as his arms. If you’re going to dabble in bodybuilding, you’re going to have to take your leg days as seriously as every other day you’re working out.

If you’re worried about being sore and having trouble walking the next day, you should be taking active rest days, getting the right amount of protein, and never ever skipping your leg days. People have trouble with leg days because they forget to do all of the work that goes into allowing their bodies to recover quickly and effectively.

  • Leg Extensions
  • Leg Presses
  • Seated Hamstring Curls
  • Calf Presses

Day 7: Rest

Real Strength

This workout routine is excellent because of its inherent variability. When you feel like you’re leaving your workouts without hitting failure on all of your exercises, then you can add more weight, you can target down more specific muscle groups and movements when you’re starting to plateau, and you can slot in new exercises that target the same muscle groups when you get sick of doing the same thing week over week.

The four-day split also gives you several rest days. These rest days are going to be key for building muscle, allowing your body to fully recover between HIT workouts, and they’re great for the motivation and mental health it requires to hit the extreme goals of your new workout routine.

Warm-Up Sets

Dorian Yates always worked his way into a lift with a warm-up set. These warm-up sets are a perfect way to get your body ready for the high-intensity workout ahead of you.

Warm-ups are important, but especially so when you’re aiming for high-intensity training.

If you’re following the Dorian Yates workout, you’re going to be pushing your body until you’re not able to pull anything else out of yourself. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be intense, and you’re going to want to be limbered up when you’re pulling out all of the stops. The warm-up sets are one of the most important aspects of the entire Dorian Yates workout routine.

How Often Should You Really Work Out?

One of the most common questions folks wrestle with when they’re training is “how often do I need to do this?” It’s an important issue to chew over because if you’re over or under training, you’re just flat out wasting your time. There’s no magic bullet, but if you want to train like Dorian Yates, then you’re only grabbing the weights once a day.

Yates was known for never using a personal trainer to build all of the muscle that would win him all of those medals and first place slots, so it’s easy to want to discount his advice, but we’d advise against that. Think back to all of his wins, you don’t get that decorated by depending on luck the entire time.

He kept his nose to the grindstone, he pushed his body as far as he possibly could have, and he spent his time proving his worth on the stage. Yates is quoted saying “...when I go into my gym, I’m committed to investing everything I have, physically and mentally, in the most intense workout I can muster, and I won’t stop until I know there’s no way I can generate another maximum-strength rep for the next 24 hours.”

That’s what he meant by high-intensity training. He would do a lot of his sets until failure, rather than aiming for a pre-prescribed number of reps, and intuitively this makes a lot of sense, right? How many times have you left the gym after sticking to your workout plan, knowing you didn’t leave it all on the gym floor when you got back home?

High-intensity training is all about harnessing your body’s natural processes, specifically the process of hypertrophy. Your body builds muscle by rebuilding torn fibers, the pain you feel when you’re pushing your muscles to the brink is the pain of muscles being broken apart on a cellular level. HIT training wants you to push yourself as far as you can (safely) every single time you get up and start training.

By doing all of your exercises until failure, you’re making a promise to yourself and your muscles that you’re going to be getting the absolute most out of a workout every single time you make the effort to go out and hit the gym. Doing your exercises until failure means that you’ve done the most damage to your muscles you could possibly take during a single recovery period.

That’s the strength of the four-day split and the high-intensity training. That means that you should only be stuffing in one workout a day. Think about what you’re doing when you’re working out to your maximum potential every time. You’re saving yourself time by not having to create multiple slots in your day for workouts, and you’re probably not going to have the capacity to make it all the way through a second workout anyway.

It’s hard to argue with results. If you’re going to be following this workout routine, then you only need to be making space for one workout a day, and it’s a pretty good plan to do so. You’re not going to be devoting all of your free time to the gym, and this way you’re going to be able to live your normal life while also maximizing the amount of muscle you can build.

It might feel like you’re not going to be doing enough work, but if you’re taking the high-intensity route and really maxing yourself out while also taking your rest days seriously, then you’re going to understand pretty quickly why you only need to work out four days a week.

Strength training with dumbbells

Should You Try It?

Is this the kind of workout that everyone can implement into their lives? Surprisingly, the answer seems to be yes. The only thing that Dorian Yates had that you don’t was a head start. If you started today and built your way up incrementally, you could see yourself hurtling towards the same kind of results that he had.

This is a workout routine that’s built to push your body to its limits, and as long as you tailor your plan to your own limits, you’re going to be approaching the body-building problem from a pretty good angle. Dorian Yates was able to achieve his incredible success without a personal trainer and he got started in the ‘80s, way before the internet age.

You’re going to have the knowledge advantage over him, any stumbling blocks you find yourself running into can be worked around pretty easily with a quick search. There are a couple of gaps that Dorian Yates doesn’t often fill out, so if you’re aiming for high-level results like his, you’re going to have to do a little bit more digging.

He doesn’t talk a lot about what he did on his rest days or the kind of nutrition plan he kept up with, but it’s not hard to figure that out.Good rest days are active rest days. You want to set your muscles up for growth and recovery, so your rest days should reflect that desire.

When your muscles are damaged, they really only want one thing afterward.They want to rebuild themselves stronger than before. Rebuilding means coming back with more muscle fibers. Muscle is dense and tough, it’s rigid and strong, so you’re going to want to keep your body flexible.

Your rest days should reflect that with long static stretches and low-impact activity that encourages movement like walks, yoga, or lifting lightweights for limited numbers of reps.Rebuilding your muscles also means giving them the nutrients and the time to do that.

That’s why there are so many rest days in the Yates workout plan. These are days for giving your body the opportunity to redirect energy towards rebuilding your body.

You need to be keeping up with a diet of lean proteins, vegetables full of the vitamins and minerals your body craves for optimal function, and plenty of water, even on days you’re not working out.

A good diet in conjunction with an active rest day is going to flush lactic acids out of your muscles, it’s going to get blood into your damaged tissues, and it’s going to feed your hungry muscle fibers with protein and pump your body up much quicker than you’d expect.

Get Like Yates

Dorian Yates was a champion. He devoted himself to learning all about the mechanisms of his body and spent a lot of time hammering it into the best shape possible. His bodybuilding antics were only paralleled by some of the best in the world.

His system of maintenance and construction gave him a perfectly sculpted body that judges all of the world had no choice but to award with some of the highest professional praise. It wasn’t done with a mystery workout plan or any kind of secret special training though, and if you’re trying to climb to those kinds of heights, then you’re now equipped with the tools you’ll need to build a workout that suits your body and will grow with you when it’s time to climb even higher.


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