Unlike any other sport on the planet, bodybuilding is a game that requires tremendous diligence and pinpoint accuracy in the areas of dieting, training, personal presentation and mental tenacity for the express purpose of conveying, as an end goal, the most impressively muscular, ripped to shreds physique possible.
Given bodybuilding could be considered as much a science as it is a blood and guts, balls to the wall pursuit for physical excellence, it is not surprising that it has attracted many who, through meticulous planning, analyzing and theorizing, have pioneered specific approaches to building muscle and stripping body fat.
And while there is undoubtedly some validity to each of the different bodybuilding "approaches" (high reps versus low reps, short workouts versus long workouts, high fat diets versus low fat diets, and so on), one would have to agree that an empirically sound system of training and nutrition, based on experience and a profound understanding of all bodybuilding components and views on the subject would hold the most weight, so to speak.
Enter Dorian Yates. Well before he won his first Mr. Olympia title in 1992 (one of the six he would ultimately claim), Dorian was a thinking-man's bodybuilder. Having read all available literature on training, nutrition and psychology as it pertains to performance improvement, the man variously described in bodybuilding circles as The Shadow (partly for his ability to come from nowhere to overwhelm his opposition) and The Beast From Britain (based on his savage approach to training, tenacity and killer instinct in the gym) had sifted through screeds of information before adopting an approach that would take him to the top.
Today, Dorian teaches other bodybuilding aspirants all they need to know to reach their genetic potential. With his no bullsh!t attitude, combined with intelligence and insights seldom seen within elite level sport, he pioneered and revolutionized bodybuilding training, establishing a previously unseen degree of muscle mass and conditioning to become a flag bearer for extreme size, proportion and shape. Indeed, it could be said that two periods define the modern bodybuilding age: BD (Before Dorian) and AD (After Dorian).
So it was with much anticipation and eagerness to learn I contacted Dorian recently to talk training. I was not disappointed. In characteristic fashion Dorian cut directly to the point to give insights that were at once profound, extremely motivating and commonsensical. A common problem within bodybuilding today is the training confusion that exists, which often leads to many mistakes made and years of frustrated effort yielding few measurable results.
Seeking some good, solid answers on common bodybuilding queries, and knowing of the amazing success Dorian achieves with all of his clients, I decided to go directly to the top. As well as learning about what it take to be a champion, in the following interview you will get a unique glimpse, and never before published insights into the life and thoughts of Mr. Olympia, the gym warrior known as Dorian Yates.
[ Q ] I would like to explore how you trained when you first began bodybuilding through to your peak as an Olympian. Was high intensity style training a constant throughout your professional career?
I always trained like that (High Intensity with its emphasis on few sets and maximal effort) so there wasn't a huge difference. I just cut back a little bit from '92 onwards. Generally, before that I was doing two sets to failure. A lot of people get confused because it has been put out in the magazines that Dorian does one-set training. I never did one set per exercise: what I did was one set to failure.
I did the warm up sets before that and how many I did would depend on the exercise and where it was in the routine. The idea was to warm up and prepare that muscle for the maximum set because that was the one that counted, where you are overloading it and you are putting stress on your body that it is not used to and it is going to react by growing slightly bigger and stronger: that's the idea. Prior to '92 I was doing two sets to failure, so I would do maybe a couple of warm-up sets and then one set to failure, then probably drop down the weight probably five to ten percent for the next set to failure.
Obviously, if I've been to failure with 100 pounds and I have six to eight reps, then if I did 100 pounds on the next set I wouldn't get those six to eight reps because of the fatigue, so I would have had to drop down. After '92 I cut back to doing just one set to failure. So those were the major differences, but I always trained along those lines anyway.
[ Q ] So going beyond the initial one set to failure would defeat the purpose of training in such a manner?
Yes, if you complete that one set to failure and push it to the absolute limit that is going to be sufficient stimulus and intensity. So doing it again is not really going to give you anything additional and might possibly be more stress for your body to recover from, so it may be harder to recover, and without recovery you are not going to grow.
[ Q ] And recovery is the other side of the high intensity training equation.
Yes, it is not all about training hard. If you do too many sets and too much volume overall, your body is just going to be spending all its time trying to recover and not overcompensating because it doesn't have enough resources for that.
[ Q ] Describe the training program you used when you first began bodybuilding?
I started messing around in my teen years but didn't really begin training properly until the age of 21. I did a lot of reading prior to that - Mike Mentzer, Arthur Jones and all other notable bodybuilding authors - and just came up with a routine that worked for me. I noticed if I trained more than four times a week or more than a certain period in the gym, I didn't progress and became over-trained - I was pretty good at picking up on that early on.
It is fortunate that I am quite a secure person and my training flew in the face of what everybody else was doing as they were all just copying what the American bodybuilders did, as reported in the magazines. But it didn't take long before people were listening to me: it happens when you are Mr. Olympia. I was doing it that way, more or less from day one.
[ Q ] I suppose it is hard to argue against what you were doing when it worked perfectly for you and you were, after all, Mr. Olympia.
Yes, but it doesn't necessarily mean you know what you are talking about, but it does help to give you credibility (being Mr. Olympia). People do tend to listen to you when you have the title. But I was training along those lines pretty much when I started. I just experimented with different rest periods between the workouts - five, six or seven days - and I think you can also get away with overtraining, or at least doing more when you are less experienced.
When I first came into the sport, people had beginner's routines: three sets of this, three sets of that, three times a week. Then you had the intermediate routine, which was four times a week, with four sets per exercise. Then there was the advanced routine: six times a week, 20 sets total, which even included twice-a-day training.
But actually you can do more training and more volume as a beginner because you are not generating that much intensity. Let's say that you are just starting bodybuilding and you do three sets of squats to failure with 100-pounds. That's going to place a certain degree of stress on your body.
- Moving forward, you have been training for six years and you are doing 400-pound squats. That is four times the weight and a lot more stress on the body, but your nervous and immune systems, your recovery systems, haven't changed from day one. So as you get bigger and stronger and more advanced you are able to generate a lot more intensity and stress, but the ability of your body to recover from it - unless you bring anabolic steroids into the equation - hasn't changed.
So one set of squats with 400-pounds is probably more stressful then three with 100-pounds. Therefore as you get more advanced you should be doing less volume, provided the intensity is high.
[ Q ] Would it also be fair to say that the more advanced you become, the less growth potential you have left to exploit, as you have exhausted this early in the piece?
Yes, whatever you do in the first six months you are going to get a reaction. I have this theory that most people don't progress at all after the first 12 months. If you look at people in the gym, they stay the same month in and out, year in and out. Most of their progress was in that first 12 months.
Anything works then pretty much because your body is not used to it. As it gets more difficult you have to get smarter with what you are doing because your body is not used to it. But most people don't so they just spin their wheels most of the time.
[ Q ] So you yourself did respond well to the multi-set approach initially but needed to cut back to lower sets as you progressed?
My first routines were three times a week with a two-way split. Which was something different: everybody was doing a four-way split: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, as this fits in with the working week. So I tried a lot of different routines and that one I think worked out where I was training each body part twice every nine days. So it was an average rest of four or five days for each body part.
Later in my career I was doing one every seven days, so there were longer periods between the workouts, although I was doing more workouts, but they were shorter. When I first started, I split my body into two halves, two or three exercises for each body part with training three times a week. On a weekly schedule it looks like you are doing one workout twice and the other one once.
But if you look at the nine-day schedule you are doing, everything twice in nine days, that averages four or five days between each body part. The last routine I was doing was a four-day split over a week but it was four different workouts so it was taking a week to get back around to legs, back, chest or whatever. So I had to allow longer for each body part to recover because I was much stronger and more advanced.
[ Q ] And you were doing far fewer sets at this point?
Yes, I was doing a few less but nothing radical. I was always doing fairy low sets; when I started there were Arnold and Lee Haney, and everyone else training six days a week, 20-sets. I never got into that. I probably tried it for a week and then I was totally over-trained, and was getting nowhere.
I was always very good at picking up the signals. If it's not working, it's not working. But a lot of people will just persevere and because Arnold said so or Lee Haney said so and because it was all over the magazines, it must be right. But if your body is saying it's not right and you haven't progressed... if you are on a routine and have had absolutely no progress in a month then why is it suddenly going to start working in the second or third month?
It is the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, yet nothing is working, but you are still expecting different results. It's not going to happen, right?
[ Q ] Good point. But of course people will cite Arnold and Haney as guys who did get great results despite their comparatively long training sessions.
It might be that back in Arnold 's day they weren't doing hardly any cardio. I believe that nobody did six days a week all the time. Probably those guys did that a few months before the contest, because they just relied on the volume of training to burn more calories. That is an inefficient way of doing it but that is probably what they were doing. Then probably in the off-season they were doing less time in the gym and more basic heavy stuff and building up muscle mass.
But then look at how much physiques have improved since the '70s and '80s. Of course people are going to come up with the drug thing, but most of that stuff was available then so it was not solely people taking more drugs. We have also had greater advances in our understanding of nutrition and what really creates muscle growth, what training we really have to do, how to get more specific with the goals we are trying to achieve. Those guys were over-training all the time so they didn't get to that level of muscle mass.
[ Q ] What would you credit for giving you most of your initial muscle size?
First of all, get an eating and training schedule, but the absolute most important thing is consistency. You have to constantly assess things to make sure you are progressing and everything is working. But it is no good being all enthusiastic and training your butt off for a few weeks, then missing a meal or a workout, or going out drinking one night and having a sh!tty workout because of that. Every single workout counted when I trained, I didn't miss any meals and made sure I got my sleep. I was on the regime, nothing less. We can get into the different workouts and diets but you have to be consistent with it.
I was also very aware of the possibility of overtraining and I realized you had to train the muscle very hard to get a response, but you had to temper that with nutrition and recovery. You don't grow when you are in the gym; you are actually breaking the muscle down. You grow when you are outside the gym. I have a very simply analogy I use when I do seminars and it tends to work. I tell people if they had a piece of sandpaper and rubbed it across their palm until it was red and bloody and left it alone for a few days, it would heal up.
But it would heal thicker than before and form a callus protective layer. The reason it does that is because the skin is trying to strengthen itself, protect itself from that stress in the future; so if that happens again it will be able to handle it because it is stronger. But if you did that with the sandpaper on your hands and before it fully healed you went and rubbed it again, you are never going to get anywhere.
It is the same thing with training: you go into the gym and break the muscle down; if you allow enough time to pass and you have the right nutrients in place it's going to repair itself and make itself slightly bigger and stronger, so when the next time this guy comes along with a 50-pound dumbbell and stresses us we will be able to handle it. That is basically what it is. If you run the sandpaper over your hands after each healing phase has been completed you are going to get some thick f@cking skin on your hands.
[ Q ] Same principal when lying out in the sun. Lie there all day and get burned, or lie there for successively short periods and get a tan.
Yes, and that raises another good point. We are not all the same in our ability to tolerate that stress. It's the same thing with exercise and recovery ability. Not everybody can tolerate super-intense training. You have to monitor yourself. And some people will take longer to recover from the stress. That's why you have to listen to your body.
When I go in the gym and hammer legs I might be able to go back in five or six days but somebody else might not be able to because their system is not able to recover. If I go and lie in the sun for half and hour I'm going to get burned because I don't have that much melanin in my skin; I've got pale skin. So I am not going to tolerate the stress of the sun the same way someone who will go out and get a lovely tan over the same period.
- I would have to go for ten minutes, then rest, and then go again for another ten. I simply cannot tolerate it because my body is not set up to handle that stress. I think it is the same thing to a certain degree with training. Some people have just got very good recovery abilities.
[ Q ] People might look at people like yourself and the late Mike Mentzer and say that you progress well with high intensity style training because you have phenomenal genetics.
Well I have got great genetics but I think I made the most of them. I'm sure there are people out there with better genetics who have built great physiques with what I would say is not ideal training; less than ideal. If you look at Ronnie Coleman he trains real heavy, to his credit, but he trains quite often and most people just wouldn't be able to tolerate that.
[ Q ] And how important is form as it applies to High Intensity Training?
My philosophy was to use the weight as a tool to put as much stress on the working muscle as I could, not just simply lift the weight from A to B: that is power-lifting, which is a totally different game. I train quite a few people now. They come into my gym and I tell them we are going to do a certain exercise: bent over rows for example.
- I usually ask, "What is the usual max weight you would use?" The usual reply is, "300 pounds," or some excessive weight. I have those people using 150 to 200 pounds and getting a much better workout. I make them do it properly and focus on different mechanics, the correct conditioning and correct control - no momentum - so all of the stress is going on the muscle and they have the best workout ever.
They are not throwing around the kinds of weights they are used to doing, because that's what they are doing with them: throwing them around. They are using other muscle groups, using momentum to get the weights moving and the muscle that they are targeting is not benefiting as much as it should be.
So people sometimes get the wrong idea about my training: is it Heavy Duty? I never called it Heavy Duty, which is what Mike Mentzer called it. People think it is heavy, high intensity and it is all about the heaviest possible weight. Well yes, if you watch my DVD I'm using what could be considered heavy weights, but they are used in a controlled manner. I could use more weight if I wanted to, but I would get less out of it.
[ Q ] In tracing the history of the high intensity training system, it seems yourself, Mike Mentzer and Arthur Jones all have a different slant on how to best accomplish concentrated stress on the muscle. Is each of these approaches valid in your view?
I do know that, at one point, Arthur Jones recommended training the whole body during one workout and that simply wouldn't work as a bodybuilder. Mike was a little bit narrow in his opinions sometimes. You can never isolate a part of a muscle; it is all going to be firing to some extent. But certain exercises will emphasize certain areas of the muscle and you can almost to a degree - but not a massive degree - influence the shape of your body.
If you are doing a lot of overhead work for your triceps, the long head will be working a lot harder than if you were doing just push-downs. There are different aspects of the muscle that you need to work on to get full development. Just simply doing one exercise for a body part (Mentzer's approach) is just not going to do it, if you wish to become a complete bodybuilder. You're not going to get that complete look from every angle.
- , which used EMG (electromyographical) technology to measure muscle activity during exercise) who analyzed muscle fiber recruitment and he could see, in different exercises, where the muscle was most active. With the bench press, incline press and decline press, for example, he could see which portion of the muscle was working the hardest.
I always made sure I had a good variety of exercises and didn't do a barbell row and a dumbbell row together because it would be redundant: it is the same kind of movement hitting the same muscle fibers. If I had three or four exercises they would all be there for a reason.
[ Q ] So in that sense there is such a thing as isolation training?
I don't know if you would call it isolation training, but your would call it emphasis. For example, a hack-squat might emphasize your lateralis more than other quadriceps muscles and by doing that you may get more outer-sweep on your thighs. Obviously if you isolate the lateral head of your deltoid your are going to get more cap on your shoulders, more sweep, and it is going to be more aesthetically pleasing.
- I do a lot of stuff to emphasise lat muscles. A lot of people when they train their back think they're training lat muscles, but they end up training their rhomboids, teres and traps. They get good upper back development but the mid back and lower back is not fully developed. That is quite common. For the lats to really work and contract properly you have to arch your spine at the completion and control it; it is not easy. Everybody who has trained with me has improved his or her back because of the techniques we use.
[ Q ] With back training you emphasize elbows all the way back for a full contraction?
Yes elbows all the way back and then contracting. The spine must be arched for the lats to contract properly. If you do a bent over row with your back rounded it's impossible for your lats to contract. That's just basic biomechanics, but most people don't know that. What is the function of your pecs? It is to bring your upper arm down and across your body.
Most people don't know this. The bench press doesn't do that effectively so it isn't a very effective exercise. A shallow decline press is much more effective than a bench press, as there is much more pec involvement.
[ Q ] You don't often hear that exercise mentioned.
No, but that was my key chest exercise until I experienced my shoulder problems, and had to be more careful and begin using machines. I was doing 500-pound decline presses as my main chest exercise. If you look at Arthur Jones, he points this out; that this exercise is the most effective pec exercise.
[ Q ] People tend to think that the decline is more of a lower chest exercise.
That's what they think but I certainly didn't want more lower chest development. Bullsh!t it is for your lower chest: your whole pec area is firing.
[ Q ] With chest training it is a common misconception that you can isolate all of the individual fibers.
Well you can't isolate all the pec fibers as they all originate at the one tendon, so they are all going to fire. But you might emphasize an area.
[ Q ] Is it true that Mike Mentzer encouraged you to use the reverse close- grip lat-pull down?
Well he didn't have me doing that because I was doing that from day one. I was doing everything prior to my training with Mike. He did convince me to cut back my volume a little bit more but Mike made the most of his time with me from a business point of view. He was telling everyone that he was training me for the Olympia.
We did a few workouts together and he was a guy I really looked up to and learned a lot from through the magazines. It was great for me to work out with him, but it was a few workouts and the main influence he had on me was to cut down my volume a little. With all of the exercise selections, I was already on the same page.
[ Q ] The reverse close-grip lat-pulldown was an exercise that enabled you to gain much of your back size?
The reason I did the close reverse-grip pull down was to put the biceps in a mechanically stronger position. The regular-to-wide grip pulldown puts your biceps in such a weak position and your lats are never really going to go to failure because that is the weak link.
- So I tried to make that as strong as possible with a reverse grip. A fairly close-grip because your lats attach under your arms and lower down your back, so the further apart those two points are, the greater the stretch you are going to get and the greater range of motion.
Contrary to what most people think: that a close-grip will not give you as good a stretch as a wide grip. So there are two reasons for doing it. You have to use good control and arch your spine at the bottom when you contract. Then you will be using your lats more.
[ Q ] Another misconception: the wide grip being better at broadening the lats.
The wide grip will emphasize your teres more at the top - the small muscle group, near the rhomboids, around the shoulder blade.
[ Q ] Revisiting your partnership with Mike Mentzer for a moment. People see those black and white training shots of you and Mike in FLEX Magazine and believe that he was your trainer to a greater extent than the reality suggests.
No, Mike was never my trainer; I trained with him for a week or so when I was in LA one time. There were photographers taking pictures and it was good for Mike's business, people being led to believe he was my trainer. I don't know if he ever claimed that he was trainer but he didn't dispute it either.
I have never had a trainer; nobody ever taught me what exercises to do and how often I should train. It was good to meet others and exchange ideas: some of them were good, some weren't. Then I would move on. Getting ready for a contest in the '90s would have been a lot different than getting ready for a contest in the '70s, when Mike was competing. So we didn't even speak about nutrition or anything other than training really.
[ Q ] Was there any truth to the belief that through training with Mike for one session you woke the following morning to find your arms had become significantly larger?
We did this one workout with a Nautilus curl machine where we did rest/pause and negatives, and I did say to him, "F@ck, my arms are bigger today." So it wasn't bullsh!t, I did actually say that. But we didn't measure them or anything like that. They were larger the next morning because I did something I hadn't done before: the rest/pause reps, where you would do two or three super heavy reps, rest a bit, take some weight off then do another until you get the full quota of reps: usually six to eight.
[ Q ] You cross me as being a strong individualist. What is your view on these so-called training gurus of today that many bodybuilders employ to help? Would you use one to get into shape?
I think it is such bullsh!t, but maybe that could be my Englishness coming through. Everything is always more complicated and fancy in the States. At least that's the way we see it. Everyone (in the States) goes to therapy and all that sh!t, whereas we would simply say, "F@ck that, just get on with it." The thing that attracted me to bodybuilding in the first place was the fact it is an individual endeavor.
I enjoyed working out the best way to train, studying nutrition and doing my own diet and learning all about every aspect of this. To me that was all part of the challenge and when I stepped onstage, although I had moral support, if I won it was down to me and if I lost it was down to me. No excuses. A lot of guys in bodybuilding unfortunately are so insecure and they just want to be held by the hand and have somebody tell them what to do.
But I could never do that. It wouldn't matter how much I respected the person that was telling me, I would have to listen to the information, go away, assess it and ultimately make my own decision. If somebody said, "listen, this is what you have to eat and this is how you have to train and this is what you will have to take," I simply couldn't do that, whereas a lot of guys want somebody to hold their hand and tell them what to do all the time.
I think nobody could ever know how well your body reacts as you do, if you really study it and keep records. It's your body and you are with it every day. How can some guy looking at your pictures over the internet tell you what to do with it? I'm not a big fan of gurus. I think it is bullsh!t.
[ Q ] There is a huge industry built up around this very thing and people are spending exorbitant amounts of money for such advice.
I know and I would be like, "Hold on a minute, what contest was it that this guy won? What. you haven't been in a contest? So you haven't been in a contest but you are telling this guy how to get ready for a contest? Let me be an African tour guide for you. I haven't been there before but I will be your guide." What the fuck do they know about it if they haven't been there?
[ Q ] As an expert trainer yourself, do people look up to you more for the fact that you have the knowledge they need, or because of your six-time Mr. Olympia status?
I think it is firstly because I am a Mr. Olympia, but when they train with me, then they respect the training knowledge. Just because I'm Mr. Olympia doesn't mean I'm knowledgeable. I'm a good trainer because I'm very knowledgeable and I pass this on and take pride in doing that, explaining to people why.
I'm not a guy who goes into a gym with somebody and just stands there and counts reps. I've seen the so-called top trainers doing this. I saw a "top" trainer at Gold's Gym training Paul Dillett during a back session and Paul had way more arms than he could ever use, huge arms, but absolutely no lats.
He was doing a so-called lat exercise and he was just using his arms to do the exercise because they are very strong: he was using totally wrong body mechanics and this so-called top trainer was just standing there saying, "Come on Paul two, three, four, that's it buddy, come on, five." He should have been correcting his form and telling how he was doing it totally wrong, and explaining how to do it properly.
[ Q ] Obviously you would have taken the arms out of the equation and concentrated the majority of the stress on the back.
I would have chosen the correct mechanics, yes, so that the stress is going to the back. If you have a genetically strong body part, that part will take over all of the time. The body will always try to find the easiest way to lift the weight. It's almost like you have to override all of that and find the hardest way to lift it.
[ Q ] And Paul, in the example you used, clearly had stronger arms.
Yes, the certain trainer to the stars at Gold's wasn't doing anything; just counting reps: this is not teaching anybody anything.
[ Q ] Given your views on an individual's searching for the answers themselves, would encourage your clients to ultimately work for themselves?
I do help people with training and I help them with their diet as well, but I work with them, not for them. I get their feedback, which is very important because they know what's going on with their body. I'm very independent and that's why bodybuilding is good for me; the isolation of doing it for oneself is mentally suited to me.
[ Q ] During your six-year reign as Mr. Olympia, what separated you from the competition?
The mental side of things would be the simple answer to that. I was the guy who was doing everything differently and was pioneering in my outlook. That's how I was able to attain that degree of muscle mass. I wasn't thinking I want to be good enough to beat Shawn Ray. I wanted to be absolutely as good as I could be and I wanted to break the barriers.
I wanted to see how far I could go, how far I could take the human body. It takes a lot of determination and tenacity, and a degree of intelligence as well. So all of those factors probably set me apart. It was the mental side of things.
[ Q ] And you were known for quietly going about your business, oblivious to all of the crap and trash talking that was going on in the industry.
Yes, and that's why I found it beneficial to stay in England. People said I should move to the States and make more money, but I had way more distractions there. And my main goal, my number one goal was to win the Mr. Olympia and continue to win it and to improve my physique. I read in a pre (2008) Mr Olympia interview with Jay Cutler - and we now know the outcome of that - and he wasn't even passionate about trying to be the best he could be, or to be improved.
It was, 'I'm just going to be good enough to win the contest.' Well obviously that attitude didn't win him the contest. I can't relate to that at all. I was passionate about the training, I loved to train and push my body. It was a matter of pride as to how hard I could train, how much I could push myself. I will out-train everybody: that was my attitude. I will bury them! The fact that I was making money was absolutely great, but that wasn't my passion.
It seems that some guys look at it more from a business perspective and they do just enough to get by, an attitude that is totally foreign to me. My biggest drawback, though, was that I actually tried too hard; I was too passionate and pushed myself too much. This is why I sustained injuries. I wouldn't give myself a break.
[ Q ] So, in a sense, the process of preparing for the Mr. Olympia was more important than the competition itself.
Yes. The Mr. Olympia was a platform for me to display the end result of my training efforts. And people used to say to me at the contests, "Maybe you should smile, why don't you jump up and down when you win?" I already knew I was going to win, so it was no big surprise, so therefore why act like this? And for me it was sporting event.
You are not going to see Mike Tyson smile in the ring when he is knocking somebody out. You are not going to ask Carl Lewis to give a smile and a wave when he is running 100-meters. He's f@cking running 100-meters!
[ Q ] You were the quintessential warrior up on that stage weren't you?
Yes it was the warrior mentality mate and I was up there solely to beat my competition, defeat them. That was the mode I was in and everybody knew I was in that mode. Then eventually everybody was psychologically competing for second place.
[ Q ] It seems a little strange sometimes when a champion jumps up and punches the air and cries onstage but that could be the English influence coming through in me.
Well you can maybe understand this if it is a surprise for the first time, but after the second time and third time come on that's enough. Again maybe that's my Englishness no bullsh!t thing. It's like, "come on, what's this bullsh!t", you know.
[ Q ] Given bodybuilding success relies to a large extent on one's ability to project their physique onstage, that all-important presentation factor, it seems to me that this is something that would not sit to well with your given your stoical manner.
Yeah, the presentation factor was not something I was too comfortable with because I was a guy who mostly liked to go into the gym and train with weights, and build muscle. The whole onstage posing thing - just the very word posing - was all a bit gay to me, all a bit foreign. But I had to get comfortable with that and find my niche there. The way I presented myself was with very powerful, dominating classical music with a little rock muscle mixed in. This suited my persona and me. So that's one aspect of it.
[ Q ] What other factors went into creating the unprecedentedly massive, grainy look you presented?
Then you have got the nutrition aspect and the condition combined with the muscle mass and of course how you project yourself onstage, which can also influence people around you: judges and competitors. The whole range of factors is what it took me to present this look.
[ Q ] You were one of the few who simply had an unquestioned impact of power whenever you walked onstage. How would you contrast this to the dancing and gyrating we often seen onstage these days?
Well if that's what they think it is all about, that's their view. But I had my own and it was unique. And it is good that people are different onstage. If we are all the same it's going to be boring, right? I think the '90s, to me at least, was the best period for bodybuilding because there were a lot of different personalities up there, different physiques and attitudes. Now it is not all that exciting.
[ Q ] And there were more rivalries, friendly and otherwise, back then it seemed.
Yes that's right. There was Ronnie before Jay came along then the Ronnie and Jay thing. Ronnie was super-impressive of course. Now that Ronnie is gone you just don't seem to have those kinds of personalities up there.
[ Q ] If a younger guy came to you today and told you he was considering competing in bodybuilding, what advice would you give him?
Well if he was aiming to be Mr. Olympia I would tell him to forget about that. I would have him focus on the fundamental things that will give him the base he needs upon which to build an elite body, if he has the genetics to do this. I would say that goal setting is very important, and would even break it down to monthly goals.
Increase this much on your incline or leg presses, up your bodyweight by so much or put a quarter inch on your arms. Have these goals and make them achievable and break them down into even smaller goals: that is very important. Get a sensible training routine and get enough rest, enough protein, and enough calories and do everything consistently.
Don't get distracted or make the process too complicated. Don't keep chopping and changing; just get a good core and stick with it. In saying that, of course if it is not working you will have to look at changing things.
[ Q ] How serious should a beginning bodybuilder be?
Oh yes, you can be serious about achieving your goals but if you are going to start out saying "I'm going to be Mr. Olympia," it is just so way ahead that it is like deciding to climb Mt. Everest and standing at the bottom of this mountain and saying, "sh!t, I'm never going to get there." But if you got to one ledge, then another and another, eventually you might see the top.
[ Q ] Through objectively looking at a beginning bodybuilder, how would you determine whether they had the genetics to do well in bodybuilding?
By their structure, muscle belly length, proportions. If somebody has got structural defects like a long upper body and short legs or certain muscle groups have got shorter muscle bellies than others, and the person is smaller in certain areas, then those are going to be hurdles that are probably impossible to overcome. Sure you can balance things out a little bit, but I would look for somebody with overall good balance and proportions, and a good body structure.
[ Q ] To your understanding, what is most important: training or nutrition?
Okay, training is 100 percent, nutrition is 100 percent, and mental approach is 100 percent. It is like a tripod: you take one of the legs away and they all fall down. So that is bullsh!t and there is no such thing (that one bodybuilding factor is more important than they other).
What if you had an absolutely perfect diet? High protein six-times-a-day every two and half to three hours and all the supplements you can get, and you sit home all day and watch TV? Nothing is going to happen. So in this light how can nutrition be the most important factor? Conversely, if you went to the gym and busted your ass and just ate a slice of toast, nothing would happen either. So they are all as important as each other.
[ Q ] People are wont to be scientific when assessing their regime: for example, it is often said that nutrition is 70 percent and training is 30 precent of bodybuilding success.
These sound like guys that don't go to the gym too much. Put as much as you can into everything. Why would you want to limit yourself? I wouldn't like to put percentages on it because they are all important. If you are lacking in one area you are not going to get the best results.
[ Q ] Let me put it another way. If some kind of emergency situation occurred and you had to make a choice: miss a daily workout or a day of proper eating: what would it be for you?
If you put it like that it is a different question and I would miss the workout. If I miss the workout I'm not going to benefit from the workout obviously, but nothing drastic is going to happen, right?
It might even be beneficial to miss a workout if you are slightly overtrained. If you miss a day of eating then your body will go catabolic and you may lose some muscle. Putting it like that it is an easy question to answer but as far as percentages go, I think it is a silly debate.
[ Q ] Would you subscribe to the belief that people should use mass building exercises in the off-season and more shaping movements pre-contest?
Those are just bullsh!t phrases anyway: mass building and shaping. There are compound exercises, which are multi-joint exercises, which tend to give you the ability to build more size because the muscle functions optimally that way and more stress can be applied to the mid-range part of the exercise, where the muscle belly is functioning.
And there are isolation exercises, which move around one joint. They all have their uses and I don't think training should change one bit from off-season to pre-contest. It is just a case of manipulating nutrition and cardiovascular exercise. So no.
[ Q ] So you could even build a degree of muscle mass with the so-called "shaping", or, more precisely, isolation movements.
You could but they would not probably be as effective for building muscle mass because your body doesn't really function as well in isolation generally. What we call the mass builders, like the bent-over-row or squat, are multi-joint exercises and tend to hit the mid-range: there is not a lot of stress at the start or the end of the movement; it is all in the middle where the muscle functions best.
But isolation exercises have their benefits also. If you are just doing pressing you are not going to really hit that lateral head; you isolate the lateral head with the side raises to get the full development and that aesthetic look. If you look at a power-lifter, they use huge amounts of weights in pressing movements and bench-pressing, but they don't often have that shoulder cap you see on pro bodybuilders.
So they are both important and necessary ("mass builders" and "isolation movements") pre contest and off-season. It makes no difference. There is no such thing as a cutting exercise. This is just to do with reducing your body fat and this requires a negative calorie balance.
[ Q ] If something is lacking you are not going to wait until the pre-contest phase to address it anyway, right?
No, if it is lacking and you start to do it pre-contest then it is too late. Because you are not going to have the right nutrition to build muscle mass, and if you want to change something you have to build something. All your building work and changes are done in the off-season. Pre-contest you are basically just stripping the fat off and trying to maintain the muscle.
[ Q ] What are your views on the negative aspect of a repetition?
I believe it is important, if not more important than the positive part. So I always emphasize the negative part because more muscle damage occurs during the negative phase. And it's the damage that is repaired that makes the muscle grow.
[ Q ] How does it do this exactly?
Nobody really knows for sure. If you look at an Olympic weightlifter, for example, they do the lifting part, and then they drop the weight. So they don't do negatives as much apart from on the squatting motion. That could be why they have massive legs and comparatively smaller upper bodies. The idea is to emphasize the negative by slowing it down, because you're stronger on that portion. And occasionally you can do extra negative reps where it's practical.
[ Q ] And what exactly does the positive part of a repetition do?
They are both important. The muscle works in both phases so there should be equal attention to both. A lot of people think in terms of just lifting the weight. They will bench press, then drop it down and do another rep. They forget about the negative part a lot of the time, and I think this is a mistake.
[ Q ] Many believe that it is the positive, contracting part of the rep that provides the muscle pump.
They are both going to give you the pump and create extra blood flow and create muscle trauma. The negative part creates greater trauma, so it might even be more important for the pump. But we still don't know for sure so let's emphasize both parts.
[ Q ] There is also a belief that we can pump the muscles with short, sharp positive reps.
The pump is just extra blood flow to the muscle. Just because you pump it, it doesn't mean you are going to create any growth. I can increase blood flow to the area with a 20-pound dumbbell but it's not going to make me grow.
[ Q ] I would now like to discuss the specific exercises you used while training for the Mr. Olympia. You were known as having the thickest best proportioned back of your time, possible of all time. What exercises gave you most of your back size and what approach did you use?
Variety was my approach. Mostly close-grip pull-downs, close-grip bent over rows, one-arm rows, cable rows. Not all in one workout obviously. But the reverse-grip pull downs and rows are a staple. Whether it's a barbell row, a dumbbell row or a Hammer row, they are always going to be there.
[ Q ] Did you deadlift?
Yes I did deadlifts but I did them slightly differently: not from the floor. I did the first one from the floor and subsequent reps from mid-range level because the initial one from the floor is more quads and glutes anyway. I do them this way just to keep the emphasis on the lower back: the top two-thirds of the movement.
[ Q ] The rowing is done primarily for thickness?
It doesn't emphasise the upper back and the teres so you could say they are for thickness. But if you lats get bigger they get wide so there is nothing to separate the two (thickness builders versus width builders) really.
[ Q ] You legs also tended to be in a class of their own in terms of hardness, mass and complete development. What leg exercises did you emphasise?
Well, I was a big squatter in my early days. That's what everyone did and it was macho exercise as well. It was like if you don't squat then you are not even a real man. That was the attitude in the gym. And, of course, Tom Platz was the big guy around back then, with his massive legs and his preaching about squats. But there were times when I was forced to look at alternatives - from the free weight squat anyway.
I would always pre-exhaust before I got onto the compound exercises, but I did leg press, and hack squatting, or squatting on a Smith machine instead of going to squats. And I found I got much better development from these exercises than from just heavy squatting. It depends a lot on your structure, but it (the squat) didn't suit me. So hack squats, leg presses and pre-exhaustion with leg extensions.
For calves I did standing calves raises and seated calve raises, very heavy with full range of motion, controlled. But I haven't trained my calves now for over four years and they are still 20-inches. I trained them hard and everything, but genetically they were very good anyway.
[ Q ] I understanding your legs were pretty good before you even began bodybuilding.
Yes but my quads were not that great. I did a lot of work to get them up to that level.
[ Q ] Before you became a bodybuilder you were involved in running?
Nothing serious. I did some running and some martial arts. Actually I did do some long distance (running) when I was 12 or 13 years old.
[ Q ] There is a theory that if you have a background in some form of conditioning type training - like running - there is a greater likelihood that your metabolism will gear itself to burning fat at a faster rate than would otherwise be expected. Do you think there is any validity to this?
I don't know. I do know that genetically I have very thin skin. One girlfriend who was a beauty expert said my actual skin barrier is really thin, nothing to do with the subcutaneous fat underneath. When I did martial arts and got hit in the face I would immediately bleed due to the thinness of my skin.
So maybe my skin is suited to bodybuilding. Another thing is the fact my body fat is naturally low and evenly distributed. My son is the same, He eats a lot of fatty foods, McDonalds and stuff, but he still has visible intercostals and abs.
[ Q ] Does the fascial layer between the skin and the subcutaneous fatty layer have any bearing on the puffy appearance bodybuilders sometimes display?
I think there is a combination. Maybe there is intramuscular fat as well because a lot of muscles are dense. In my case, I didn't have any problems here: maybe it didn't come across as well in pictures as it did in person, but a lot of people would comment on that grainy look.
I think this was a combination of very dense muscle from many years of heavy lifting and very low body fat, and thin skin. And you have water as well. Right now I think there is a problem with the reliance on pharmacology with a lot of guys these days using insulin and so on. They are going onstage very full but they are almost looking puffy and spongy - the muscles look inflated and not hard.
Not rock hard. So it's water as well. A lot of guys are retaining water. It is a process of keeping your body fat very low, keeping your muscle mass and density with nutrition and losing body fat over a longer period of time rather than crash dieting and using diuretics.
[ Q ] Is it absolutely necessary to be doing upwards of one hour of cardio per day pre-contest?
It don't think that it is absolutely necessary and too much can be catabolic. There is a fine line. It is a tool to use to burn more calories. Without overtraining by doing too much weight training you can go more effectively into the recovery mode while being able to do a certain amount of cardio.
I used to keep it fairly moderate, as just a calorie burner. Stationary cycling or walking is what I used to do. This burns calories without raising your heart rate too, which burns carbohydrates, and where you enter into a catabolic state.
[ Q ] So with cardio it is about finding the right threshold where you are not working too hard, where you are burning purely fat calories?
I would never go over 120 beats per minute with cardio. Keep it moderate for fat and calorie burning.
[ Q ] You are obviously speaking for yourself with your own unique genetic predisposition, but others with a greater propensity for weight gain might need more intensive cardio.
I don't think so because if they do too much cardio and it becomes catabolic, they start losing muscle mass, and the metabolism consequently starts slowing down. So you can definitely do too much. We're not endurance athletes, we are bodybuilders. The idea is to build as much muscle mass as possible and to maintain it, so you have to be careful that you don't get catabolic.
[ Q ] And doing cardio twice as day for upwards of 45 minutes would be excessive?
I used to do 30 to 40 minutes per session maximum, but it was very moderate. I used to take my dog for a walk for 40 minutes. That would be one of my sessions. I'm just walking and burning calories; better than just sitting on my ass. But it wasn't taxing me and interfering with my recovery or leg training.
[ Q ] You wouldn't agree with High Intensity Training being applied to cardio?
It is better for your fitness but I'm not sure if it is better for losing body fat and maintaining muscle.
[ Q ] And your cardio would be done once or twice per day?
I would do it twice a day but would begin it when I started preparing for a contest, and as I got closer I would cut back because I was just using it as a fat burning/calorie-burning tool. And if I'm getting very lean and my body fat is down I don't need to do cardio.
I no longer need it. So I would actually do less getting ready for a contest, which is the opposite of what some people do. They are trying to lose fat desperately in the last minute and they end up losing muscle mass; they don't look hard.
[ Q ] So you would get to a certain point, before deliberately lowering your cardio.
Well if I don't need it anymore, then why would I continue doing it? If my body fat is low enough why am I going to do cardio?
[ Q ] Maybe because everybody else is doing it that way?
Well I never really came from that school.
[ Q ] Finally Dorian, what other some of the other ways you got ultra-shredded to achieve that grainy look that has seldom, if at all, been replicated?
It's a combination of the training and the nutrition and getting into that condition three to four weeks before a contest. I'm not starving myself and cannibalising muscle, or dehydrating myself too much those last few weeks before the contest, in a desperate race to try and lose weight.