With this years Olympia promising to be one of the most exciting of all time, with Ronnie Coleman defending his title as he shoots for number nine, we at Bodybuilding.com thought it pertinent to interview one of the greatest Olympians ever to grace the stage, Dorian Yates.
In this interview Dorian reflects on the training and nutritional strategies he used while preparing for his six Mr. Olympia titles. He also discusses the Olympia as it is run today and gives his thoughts on the future of bodybuilding.
Variously described as "the Beast of Britain," "the Shadow," and the bodybuilder who started a new trend in massive muscularity, while revolutionizing bodybuilding training, Dorian Yates could be the most original bodybuilder in the history of the sport.
From humble beginnings as an outsider - a loner who spent time in a correctional facility as a youth - and underdog - a man many thought would never make it as a pro bodybuilder - Dorian, through his disciplined mindset and Blood and Guts training methods, not only became the greatest bodybuilder in the world for a period - a six-time Mr. Olympia from 1992 through to 1997 - but changed the direction of bodybuilding through his insistence on doing things his way.
First of all, Dorian would bring to the stage a package so massive and freakily conditioned that throughout his career as Mr. Olympia no one would come close to defeating him on size and hardness. His level of development set a new standard in bodybuilding excellence, one that is being favorably looked upon, and replicated by many in the sport, today.
Secondly, as a practitioner of high intensity training - and a fan of Mike Mentzer's Heavy Duty philosophy - Dorian formulated his own approach to building size, the Blood and Guts method, and became a walking testament to its efficacy. Dorians unique training system emphasized a variety of exercises to hit the muscle from all angles, and was both short (no longer than 45 minutes) and very intense. It is still widely used to great effect today by many in the sport.
Having retired from bodybuilding after the 97 Mr. Olympia - injuries had prompted an early exit - Dorian set about taking his hardcore training approach to the masses, through various media and his Temple Gym complex. Today he runs a Temple Gym franchising business, judges and promotes bodybuilding contests, trains select clients, and is advisor to many in the bodybuilding/fitness industry. Clearly Dorians heart is still in bodybuilding. His legacy can be seen in gyms and on stages the world over.
[ Q ] Hi Dorian. What is happening in your life these days? Any new projects or ventures?
The main thing I am involved in at the moment is the franchising of Temple Gym. I have put a package together that is available for all kinds of gyms. Some of the other franchise packages out there are a bit restrictive as far as minimum size requirements and this kind of thing.
Our package is flexible. Temple Gym is well known as a hard-core gym, but we are not catering only to hard-core clients, we are catering for fitness and even ladies only, in some cases. Actually, we are just signing our first gyms up now, so we are in the early stages. If you become a Temple Gym and want to buy equipment, flooring, lighting and stuff like that, you will get these for a lower cost.
We will be doing clothing and accessories as well. Obviously the publicity that is generated through the name for these gyms will bring more income.
[ Q ] What level of involvement do you have in bodybuilding now that you have retired?
I have been involved on a number of levels. I co-promoted a few shows in England and Holland - Grand Prix's. I am still doing appearances, seminars, talking engagements as well as training a few people. Also, I just started doing some judging this year in the professional ranks, with the pro show in New York and probably will do the Mr. Olympia as well.
I Just Started Some Judging This Year.
[ Q ] As far as judging goes, what are your views on the new criteria that encourage competitors to present more streamlined mass?
Well I don't think it is a big change. The best overall package will win. But I do think it is a good idea to keep things aesthetic - especially when we have people coming onstage with lumps and bumps all over the place from injecting oils. I don't think this is a positive way to go, so the criteria is good if that gets eliminated.
[ Q ] In your view, is bodybuilding heading in a good direction? Do some changes need to be made at the top?
It is hard to say. I think there were more people coming through from the amateurs every year in the 90s, so things probably need to start at a novice and junior level. It is a bit hard for me to say because I am in Europe much of the time, not in the States, but I think the shows are still very popular in the US, a little less in Europe now. More people have diversified into fitness there.
[ Q ] Has the quality of physique seen on the pro stage these days changed much compared to when you were competing as a professional?
I don't think the physiques have changed radically. I think a lot of people are trying to go the size route. My sole goal when getting ready for a contest was not building a lot of size, although when I was coming up pure muscle size was still very important. I was always really concerned about coming in very sharp conditioning wise.
I think that is lacking a little bit now, and it has occurred over the past few years. You go to a pro show now and you see a couple of guys who are in really good shape and the rest of the lineup is so-so, or not so good. Back when I was competing in the Olympia I think you saw a lot of guys who were in really good shape.
There was a greater emphasis on conditioning, but now you see guys going for size at the expense of conditioning. It seems strange me saying that, as I was known for my muscle size, but it was not my priority in getting ready for a contest. Obviously I carried a lot of muscle but my main thing was to come in super-ripped shape.
[ Q ] Of course you were famous for your level of conditioning, as you brought a grainy appearance to the stage that is still talked about today. Did you do anything special to acquire this appearance?
There are no magic tricks, as it is a year round job. Staying in fairly good condition in the off-season, then getting ready over a long period of time, nice and slowly and really trying to aim for near-off being in contest condition two to three weeks before the show. Then it's just a case of fine-tuning things a little bit, manipulating water levels and so on.
If you are planning to do something radical in the last few weeks to change something, I think you are approaching it in the wrong way. People are doing all strange manner of voodoo practices with chemicals and different things in the last minute, in the hopes they are going to do some kind of magic.
If anything, this approach is likely to be detrimental. If you are in shape coming into the contest you can just cruise, or maintain, or go up and down. Things are easier to manipulate.
[ Q ] So you would always be in good shape a few weeks out?
Yes, usually about two to three weeks before. I would finish my training at Steve Weinberger and Bev Francis' gym in New York. Coming away from there and hopping off the aeroplane into Europe, I would be pretty much in contest shape. You could ask me to step onstage the following day and it wouldn't have been a problem.
[ Q ] In all your years competing as a pro, what kind of skills and abilities did you gain? How do you use these in your life today?
I think the main thing I gained were the mental skills: goal setting was something I learned really early on - both short and long term goals, and achieving what you want to get. Also, the determination and the strength of character that you build by putting yourself through the challenges of the sport. That transcends into most areas of your life as well.
[ Q ] As a six-time winner of the Mr. Olympia you are clearly one of the best ever. What gave you the most amount of satisfaction as an Olympia winner?
I think it was an achievement coming from the background I came from. I didn't really have any support when I started. The facilities in England at the time were pretty poor compared to the States, and the attitude of people over here was like, "you can never beat the Americans." It was almost like the Americans were seen to have two heads and stood twelve feet tall.
It was an American sport, so people over here didn't give me much of a chance to beat the Americans. Then there was all the talk of politics: "You don't know the right people and you are not in all the magazines, and nobody knows you." I think I disproved all those feelings, and they turned out to be myths. I think you can be successful no matter where you come from, if you have got what it takes and are determined enough.
[ Q ] You obviously proved you had what it took to beat the worlds best. Did you feel you had to bring something extra special to the stage to be noticed?
Yes probably. My philosophy was,
That was my approach. I get a bit annoyed about people always complaining about their placing's because they "Haven't been around long enough," or "Haven't payed their dues," or "Don't know the right people and it is all politics." I just think it is BS and I proved that so I could back that up.
[ Q ] There were many times in your career where you could have chosen to walk away from bodybuilding due to various circumstances in your life. What motivated you to continue on to ultimately achieve what you did?
I just think I'm a stubborn bastard. I don't give up that easy. There were a couple of times when I could have quit. In 94 I had a biceps tear, which could have potentially put me out of the contest or ended my career, but I decided just to soldier on and do my best as always and it worked out.
I Just Soldiered On.
The 97 triceps tendon injury was even closer to the contest. I still managed to get through to the contest and win it although that did prompt me to retire, because that injury was something that was really interfering with my training to a degree that I felt I wouldn't be able to give it my best in the future. That ultimately forced my hand a little bit, but it (retirement) would be something that would be coming sooner or later anyway.
[ Q ] How exactly did you train around the triceps injury?
Before the contest I simply didn't, because it was that severe I couldn't train, I couldn't even extend my arm properly and couldn't pose. As I said I always had a policy of always being in good shape pretty far out from the contest, though I really couldn't do any weights. I was just doing some cardio and maintaining my diet, while trying to get all the swelling and bruising down from the injury - that was the main thing.
I didn't really decide I would step onstage and compete until the last few days. I didn't know if I could make it or not, I just didn't want to give up. But I gave it my best and was able to do it. I had surgery shortly after the contest to repair the tendon.
[ Q ] I guess the mental strength required of you to compete under these circumstances would be one of the things that allowed you to separate yourself as an athlete from your fellow competitors?
I think that is what always separates the guy who is in first place from the guy who is second or third at that level in any sport. Most guys at the top level are very gifted athletes so what separates one from the other is usually the mental aspect.
[ Q ] Ronnie Coleman said recently that his career is his life and he spends most of his time preparing for the Olympia. Did you ever adopt a similar philosophy?
Yes I did. Looking back, maybe I was too extreme - I wouldn't give myself any slack. Ronnie is so dedicated and that is why he is Mr. Olympia, but even Ronnie would probably tell you he takes a couple of months off training a year. I never allowed myself more than a week off.
Even when I was on vacation after the Olympia, I was looking for gym to train in. Not only was it 24 hours a day, it was 365 days a year. That may have been a little too extreme, but that is what got me there from that little backstreet gym in England to becoming Mr. Olympia. I was reluctant to change it.
[ Q ] What did drive you to be the best bodybuilder in the world?
I was always driven to be different. I didn't start out planning to be Mr. Olympia I just wanted to be the best that I could be, but my goals changed as I went along. I wanted to be the British champion, and then I wanted to be a pro, then Mr. Olympia.
Maybe in the back of my mind when I was an amateur training for the British Championships I wanted to be Mr. Olympia, but it is almost too far away so you don't focus too much on that, just on what is more immediate.
I can't put my finger exactly what it is, but some people are just really driven to be outstanding. That is something I have always been. If I wasn't a competitive athlete I probably would be competitive in something else. Open more gyms or bigger gyms. I was never destined to be a nine to five average Joe. No disrespect to anyone who chooses that, but it has just never been me.
[ Q ] You obviously loved bodybuilding and competing on the Olympia stage. What as it about bodybuilding that you loved most?
There are a few things: first, the fact that it is an individual sport. I tend to be very much an individual and do my own thing. Being part of the team wasn't very appealing. What I loved was going into the gym and challenging myself mentally and physically, and just challenging my personal limits.
That is why I could never understand professional bodybuilders that would take two or three months off training a year, because why would I do that when I enjoy it? I still train to this day. Maybe not to that extent as there maybe is more variety there, I am doing more cardio also, but I love to go in the gym and train. It is not a chore for me.
[ Q ] What is your training schedule these days?
I usually train with weights three times a week. On three other days I will do some form of cardio - jogging or stationary cycling - or some martial arts. It depends on what I feel like doing. I like to have more variety in there these days.
[ Q ] Do you have any specific training goals?
Just to keep fit and healthy, and stay in decent shape - that's it. Also, I try not to irritate the injuries I have built up over the years.
[ Q ] Was there a particular Olympia win that stood out for you?
The one that stood out for me was the '93 Olympia, which was my second appearance. '92 was the first win so that would seem like the obvious answer, but '93 was the year I put it all together. It was quite ironic - I was still finding out about my body and in '92 I did come in a little light due to over dieting.
In '93 I avoided that mistake and came in about 17 lbs. heavier and freaked everyone out, and they thought I was on some super drug or something like that. It was nothing like that - it was just about me learning how to prepare for the contest and doing it properly by not sacrificing muscle size.
[ Q ] That would have to have been one of the more amazing transformations in pro bodybuilding history. Did you do anything special in order to achieve what you presented at the '93 Olympia?
I had a good year of training and I was still a relative newcomer and probably put a good seven or eight pounds on that year, which was a great result for somebody at that level. The other 10 lbs. was simply muscle I dieted off the year before. I was very analytical and would take pictures every week getting ready for the contest.
I would take body weight and body fat measurements. I could always look back over my preparation to see where I went wrong and where things were working or weren't working. Just putting a good game plan together was important for me.
A Good Game Plan Was Important.
[ Q ] What got you started in bodybuilding? Were you athletic to begin with?
I was doing some karate when I was younger. At one point when doing a short spell in a youth detention center I came across weights and amongst all the other guys I was strongest one. I really enjoyed the weights there and I guess that spurred me to do something positive about it.
[ Q ] Your high intensity, Blood and Guts training has been frequently talked about. What is it about this system that gave you such great results?
It is high intensity training to stimulate growth tempered with rest away from the gym. I think if you look at the way the pros train now you can see the influence this system had on them. In the late 80's people were still training six-times a week, training each body part twice a week.
I came along with a totally different philosophy, which is based on high intensity training. Various people promoted it before: Arthur Jones from Nautilus and Mike Mentzer with Heavy Duty. But I think I came up with a system that was more practical and had an influence on the way everyone trains. I think that is why guys these days are carrying more muscle - they are not in the gym overtraining all the time.
[ Q ] Could you explain this system in a little more detail?
It is the intensity of the exercise that is important not the duration. If you do one set that is adequately intense enough to stimulate any muscle, then you are not going to gain anything, even if you do 99 or 100 such sets. If you do one set that is intense and to failure, then you have triggered the muscle growth.
Doing another set at that point is not going to give you any more. It is just going to make it more difficult for your body to recuperate. So that is the reason for doing fewer sets.
Working To Failure Triggers Muscle Growth.
[ Q ] How does your system differ from the Heavy Duty style of training?
There is a bit more variety in the number of exercises used. Mike was very limited in the number of exercises he would use, using mainly machines. For the full development of the physique for a bodybuilding contest you have to develop different aspects of the muscle, so you have to train it from different angles. That is why you need a variety of exercises - not just machines, but free weights. Free weights are far superior to machines in the long run.
[ Q ] Do you use the Blood and Guts methods today?
Yes, I usually do shorter workouts - 30 to 40 minutes. I just don't train much beyond failure and certain exercises have to be avoided because of the injuries I have. I am more interested now in maintaining a certain amount of muscle mass and keeping my body fat fairly low, and keeping fit. My goals are a little different. There is not a vast different in the training I do compared to what I did.
[ Q ] I understand you have some involvement with jamcoretraining.com.
Yes, Jamo is my friend and Jamcore is his site. I am helping him out by working on there as a consultant in the bodybuilding section. We have filmed some workouts that are going to be available to the members.
There is also lots of good bodybuilding advice. Jamo also has people from various sports on there: from surfing to martial arts. People can get a variety of advice and I'm helping out on the bodybuilding end of things.
[ Q ] What would be some of the suggestions you give to beginning bodybuilders who want to train safe and remain injury free?
Obviously learning the exercise and doing it properly is important. Correct form is only going to protect you from injuries, and you can get the most out of the exercise. The only mistake I made really was to train in a super high intensity fashion the last six weeks before the show, when my body fat and energy levels were very low, and calories were restricted.
Your injury risk at this time is a lot higher. I didn't get injured through incorrect form; it was just really pushing the accelerator to the floor all the time when it really probably wasn't necessary. You should gear more toward maintaining muscle mass at six to eight weeks before a show, whereas I was training like it was the off season, which would be a muscle building time where you would use a different routine.
You are unable to build muscle without sufficient calories and rest. You are not getting these when you are getting ready for a contest and trying to reduce body fat.
[ Q ] Speaking of calories, how high would you go in the off-season and pre-contest?
My highest intake was probably about six thousand. Pre-contest I wouldn't go much below four thousand.
[ Q ] What is your approach to nutrition?
High protein, and, personally speaking, I need a fairly high amount of carbs, and a low to moderate amount of fats. Obviously the variable thing is the carbohydrate intake - I would reduce these as the contest approached, whereas the protein would remain fairly consistent, as would the fats. I was never one to go really low on carbohydrates - I needed a certain level for my high intensity workouts.
[ Q ] What kind of fats were you taking in?
Some essential fats and small amount of fats that were in the protein as well as a couple of egg yolks. I used to use a certain amount of medium chain triglycerides (MCT's) when getting ready for a contest, as an alternative source of energy. They were quite a good appetite suppressant as well.
View Top Selling MCT Products Here.
[ Q ] What are the specific benefits of using medium chain triglycerides?
They burn quite quickly. They are like carbohydrates except they don't have any effects on your blood sugar levels. High blood sugar causes a release of insulin that can make it hard to lose body fat. Some people use them as a total energy source and cut the carbohydrates out altogether, but I used to use them in a moderate way and felt that worked well for me.
[ Q ] What other supplements would you take or recommend?
A good quality protein supplement was something I was always a big believer in. You have to get a high amount of protein, and this is not always easy to do from whole foods, as well it is a burden on the digestive system. So a good protein supplement would be the number one supplement that was always in my diet. Also I would take extra vitamin C, about two to three grams a day. This helps with recovery and the immune system.
View Top Selling Vitamin C Products Here.
[ Q ] What are your thoughts on some of the newer supplements hitting the shelves?
They all have many benefits. The newer forms of creatine are very effective. Sometimes people get carried away with supplements, and don't eat the good basic foods. You have to do that first and then put the supplements on top of this - then they will be effective. If you are not getting the right amount of calories from proper foods, then the best supplements in the world are not going to do much.
[ Q ] Changing the subject Dorian, what are your views on the way bodybuilding athletes are treated compared to athletes from other sports?
I can only talk from my own experiences - I haven't really had any complaints. I came to the states as an unknown and got second in my first pro shown, The Night of Champions. There were almost 30 people onstage, and I had no pre-show publicity, I didn't know any of the judges or the promoter or anybody.
Then I went on to win the Mr. Olympia. I probably wasn't flavor of the month for some people, but this didn't prevent me from winning the contest. I can only speak from my own experiences.
[ Q ] So politics wasn't an issue for you? Bringing the right package to the stage was?
If you are consistently good enough then people can't deny you. It is as simple as that.
[ Q ] What were some of your better physical qualities as a bodybuilder, do you think?
Obviously I carried a lot of muscle mass and my trademark was to come into a show in super hard condition. I think my muscles had a certain quality and density from all the years of heavy training that a lot of guys didn't have.
One thing that I think people underrated me on - it was never really mentioned because of my sheer physical size and condition - was my balance and proportion. Not only from muscle group to muscle group, but from upper body to lower body. My skeletal structure and everything else was there and in good balance.
[ Q ] As we all know, Ronnie Coleman is getting ready to defend his title for the ninth time this year. Who do you think will eventually take over from him as the best bodybuilder in the world?
Well, Jay Cutler is the obvious next Mr. Olympia at this point, because he has been close to Ronnie once or twice, although I don't think it was as close as some people think. I think Ronnie was the winner every time. You also have Dexter who is quite good, although maybe not big enough. There is no real obvious winner there I think, so if Ronnie steps down it will mix things up.
[ Q ] Do you think with the new emphasis on aesthetics will make it easier for smaller competitors to break through and realise their goal of winning the Olympia?
Well, there has been this whole debate for years. I think the guy with the best package will win and all things being equal, the bigger guy is always going to look better than a smaller guy. Unless someone smaller is really outstanding, he is not going to beat a bigger guy,
At the end of the day it is bodybuilding and people want to see muscle up there. If there are no really huge guys up there with the quality and balance, you will see the smaller guys coming through.
[ Q ] What kind of bodybuilder would you like to be remembered as Dorian?
The feedback that I get from the fans is that I am somebody they can relate to, and somebody that has inspired them because they can see some kind of similarity in our backgrounds. They think I am approachable and down to earth. I have overcome a lot of obstacles in getting there and I hope this inspires a lot of other people.
[ Q ] What are your plans for the future, both business-wise and on a personal level?
To stay fit and healthy is the main thing. I will always be involved in bodybuilding to some degree with the gym business or the nutrition business, so people will still see me around.
[ Q ] Thank you for this interview Dorian, all the best.
Thank you David, look forward to seeing it.