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The Perfect Workout by Dorian Yates

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  • The Perfect Workout by Dorian Yates

    During my six-year reign as Mr. Olympia, the one aspect of my program that garnered the most interest was my training. It was widely recognized as being more intense, meticulous, and purposeful than that of my peers at the time. Last month we went over the principles for building mass. This month I wanted to zero in on the workout aspect specifically. Millions of people go to the gym and work out every day. What makes their workouts any different from that of a champion, or a future champion? You’ll soon see that there is indeed a world of difference between simply going through the motions of a group of exercises versus the type of workout that stimulates muscle growth each and every time.

    A Perfect Workout is No Accident!

    To listen to most bodybuilders, you would think that great workouts are some random phenomenon that just happens once in a while when the stars are aligned just so. At the same time, they are often at a loss to explain a bad workout. They may be able to point to job or relationship troubles, lack of sleep, oncoming illness, or other reasons why their training was unproductive on a given day, but they still have difficulty making any meaningful connections between their better workouts and what led to those.

    I am here to tell you that great workouts are no accident, and the secret lies in having a clear plan to follow. I often liken it to a long journey and a map. With a clear course plotted and a time in which to arrive at your destination, you stand an excellent chance of getting there. If instead you wander around aimlessly with no real path set to where you want to go and no set timeframe in which to get there, good luck reaching your destination, or in our case, your physique goals. Forget about being ‘instinctive’ when it comes to your training. If you really followed your instincts, you wouldn’t be working out at all!

    Goal Setting

    The real key to improving your workouts is to have goals, both short- and long-term. If you’re not really working on achieving anything specific, why would you bother to train terribly hard in the first place? It’s critical that you have both types of goals. A long-term goal like turning pro or weighing 250 pounds when you’re just 170 now is too daunting. It can seem like making those things happen is going to take far too long, and you can easily get discouraged. Instead, break all long-term goals down into smaller ones, and set realistic time limits for each one.

    If you’ve only been training a year and your ultimate goal is to turn pro, set a goal to enter and win a novice competition first. For bodyweight goals or increases in strength, always take them in manageable increments at a time, like five pounds of muscle or 10 pounds on your bench press in six weeks. I used to include measurements in my own goals, especially when my goal involved bringing up a certain body part. Whatever your goals may be, you need to clearly define them in your mind. The next important step in this process is to write them down. Once something is down on paper or in a computer file for you to see, it instantly becomes stronger and more imprinted in your mind.

    Training Journal

    That leads us to what I feel is one of the most valuable tools in creating perfect workouts, the training log. I used my journal to write down goals and workouts every day from when I began bodybuilding in 1984 to the day I retired after the 1997 Mr. Olympia. Every month in the off-season, I would choose about 10 key exercises like the incline barbell press, barbell row, leg press and so on and set a goal for how much stronger I wanted to be in a month’s time.

    In addition to writing down all my workouts, I entered my meals and even my energy levels and moods. Every so often I would go back and study these pages, looking for trends. If I noticed that something was producing results, I kept it. If something else didn’t seem to be effective, I discarded it. This allowed me to gain a much better understanding of the various foods, exercises, techniques and so on that my particular body responded best to, so I could fine-tune my entire program.


    Visualization and Mental Rehearsal

    Another time I would always consult my training journal was immediately before leaving my home to go train. I would retreat into my office where it was quiet, and review my last few workouts and my goals. I noted the exercises I had done last time for the body part I was about to go train, how much weight I had used, and how many reps I’d gotten. I would then write out the workout I was about to perform, with all the same details.

    Many people have found success recently with a training system called DC, which emphasizes ‘beating the logbook.’ That’s essentially what I was doing many years before this system was around. As soon as it was all down on paper, I would close my eyes and visualize the entire workout. I could see all the exercises I was about to do, down to each set, and the weights I would use, what I was wearing, how my muscles would feel, everything. This way, the workout was already done before I had even stepped inside the gym. I simply had to follow through and follow the script in my head.

    I thought of bodybuilding as my mission in life. I was a warrior, and each workout represented a battle I had to win. It’s simply not possible for every workout to be better than the last, but I can honestly say I never had a bad workout in all my years of competing. If I ever felt myself feeling run-down or getting sick, I would not train that day. Why bother working out if you can’t give your best effort? That’s a mistake I see a lot of bodybuilders make.

    Making progress became harder and harder the bigger and stronger I got, but I knew I had to keep pushing through my previous limits. Your mind and body always want to quit when a set becomes painful or difficult, but if your goals are powerful enough, that’s not an option.


    Motivation: Do You Need a Training Partner?

    Many of you who saw my “Blood and Guts” training video know that I did tend to train with a partner. Back then it was a good mate of mine named Leroy. People assumed that because Leroy was very vocal during our workouts, I depended on him for motivation and encouragement. That wasn’t the case. I was always self-motivated by my goals, and therefore never needed any outside sources.

    But a good training partner or at least a good spotter is essential if you are going to train to true momentary muscular failure, and not just for safety reasons. Think about it for a moment— true failure in an exercise like the bench press is when you are in the bottom position and simply cannot budge that weight another millimeter. You can’t do that on your own, or else in the leg press you would be stuck, pinned to the pad quite effectively, with a half-ton of iron bearing down on you! Having a good spotter gives you the confidence to take your sets all the way to failure. You know that you won’t get stuck under a weight, so you don’t have to hold back any effort.

    It should be said that good spotting is almost an art form. A proficient spotter knows exactly how much to help toward the end so you can eke out that final rep, the one that takes you past where you’ve been before and into a new zone where you can grow.


    Concentration During the Workout

    It’s very important to maintain total concentration during your workout. Some people are able to talk and joke around between sets and switch right back to serious mode once it’s time for their set (Arnold, obviously as we saw in “Pumping Iron,” had that ability). For me, I never wanted any distractions. The only conversations I had with my training partner during the workout were regarding what was next, or how much weight to put on, things of that nature.

    I stared at the floor between sets as I never wanted to catch the eye of anyone else in the gym, which would invite conversation. Luckily, I owned the gym and everyone knew that when Dorian was training, you let him be. They all respected my workouts and what I was trying to accomplish in my sport. If you have difficulty staying out of conversations, I recommend the same thing— avoiding eye contact. You may also consider wearing headphones or ear buds to further discourage any unwanted interruptions.

    Of course, once my workout was over I would be perfectly friendly and talk to the other members at Temple Gym. The workout was when I was literally ‘at work,’ and once it was over I was ‘off-duty’ and available again.



    It’s worth mentioning that you can definitely use music to enhance the quality of your workouts. Music has long been known to be capable of changing moods. Some music can help you relax, and other music can put you in a state of excitement and aggression. You know the old cliché, “Music can soothe the savage beast?” It can also bring out the savage beast, so to speak. For about five years, every time it was time to train legs I would put in the Guns ’N Roses CD “Appetite for Destruction.” As soon as the first track, “Welcome to the Jungle,” started, I always felt a mix of nervous energy and trepidation. Leg day was the toughest workout of all, and I knew it was time to really challenge myself. We all have some type of music that gets us hyped up. Whether it’s hard rock, rap, or house/techno, use it to your advantage to stoke the fires of your perfect workout.

    Sleep and The Pre-workout Meal

    It also goes without saying that one must be well-rested and well-nourished to put forth his or her best effort in the gym. I always slept a solid eight hours a night plus an hour’s nap each afternoon, which took care of my rest. I usually trained in the late morning, so early upon rising I would have a large breakfast of egg whites and oatmeal with some fruit. That would be about three hours before my workout commenced. An hour before the workout, I would have a protein shake with no carbs, along with a strong cup of coffee and perhaps an ephedrine tablet (these were legal and widely-used at the time).

    My feeling on having only a light liquid meal of protein before training was that I didn’t want any big fluctuations in my energy levels as you would see with insulin responses to a meal containing carbs. Of course, this was all back in the early to mid-’90s, when we didn’t have any of the pre-workout supplements that enhance the pump and provide extra energy and mental clarity. Had they been available, I probably would have used them.


    Can You Make Your Workouts Perfect?

    If you’ve read and apply all the guidelines I’ve set out for you this month, you should never again ask yourself, “I wonder if I’ll have a great workout today or not?” It’s not up to fate. It’s all up to you, and it requires motivation, organization, and some prior preparation. Great physiques are built, one perfect workout at a time. The more perfect workouts you can string together, the closer you will be to that physique you dream of.

    Next Month

    For the first time, I’ll do a preview of the Mr. Olympia, giving my opinions on all the qualified competitors and a couple scenarios based on what is likely to happen based on past performances. Be warned ahead of time that personalities will not factor into my commentary. The physiques will be put under my microscope, and I call ’em like I see ’em.


    Trained by a Legend:

    Dorian Puts Me Through A Perfect Biceps Workout

    By Ron Harris


    A 10-minute period on the afternoon of Saturday, May 23 will go down as one of my life's top "How cool was that?" moments. I was trained by one of the men I look up to most in the sport of bodybuilding: six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates. Dorian, who lives in Birmingham, England, was at the Apollon Gym in Edison, New Jersey, to host his “Blood and Guts” seminar. I made the drive down from Boston to check it out. Considering it was Memorial Day weekend, there was a pretty good turnout of about 75 people who came to gain some wisdom from Mr. Yates. MD’s Robbie Durand caught it all on video and posted it up on the website for your edification.

    Once the seminar was over and people were filtering out, I confirmed with Dorian that he was still available to put me through a workout. I chose biceps for a few reasons.

    1) My biceps have never been very good. There would be no point in having Dorian help me work on something that's always responded easily, like my chest or quads. I certainly wasn't trying to 'show off' for Dorian— not that he would be impressed by anything I would have done anyway!

    2) It was about time to train bi's anyway. Normally I would have trained them the day before with shoulders, but I saved them for this.

    3) I knew the workout would be brief, and I didn't want to take up too much of Dorian's time. Something like back or legs would have taken much longer, and while in New Jersey Dorian certainly had other places to go and people to see.

    Normally I don't even like to train when I'm out of town, unless I can do everything exactly the way I do it at home— eat a good meal about an hour or 90 minutes beforehand, take my pre-workout nitric oxide and caffeine product, and be sure I am adequately hydrated by drinking plenty of water. None of those ‘conditions’ had been met for this particular workout, but that's the way the cookie crumbles. I was so psyched to train with Dorian that I shouted down those whining voices in my head. I let Dorian pick the exercises, of course. He wanted me to start with dumbbell concentration curls, an exercise I have done maybe a dozen times in the past few years. After warming up, he asked me what weight I could use, and I really didn't know. I picked up a 40.

    "You should be able to do more than that," he remarked. I told him maybe I could. After doing a couple reps with each arm, he told me to put it back and get a 45. He had me do just one set for each arm in rest-pause fashion, which I was used to doing for the two years I trained in DC style. Don't ask me how many reps I got, because I can only guess. It might have been something like 5, 2, and 1. Not too amazing, but then again my biceps have never been very strong relative to the rest of me. On this day, I called up every last ounce of their strength.

    Next up were barbell curls, and Dorian gave me the option of a straight or EZ-curl bar. The EZ bar is much less of a strain on my wrists. I was going to play it safe and just put a 25 on each side, but Dorian scowled at that. "At least put a 35 on, mate," he said. "Even that might be a warm-up." I kind of doubted that, but did as I was told. After a few reps, he said. "That's good, set it down and put 10s on."

    Again it was just one set, but the effort he demanded of me was significant. It would be easy for me to say that one set was the most intense I have ever done for biceps, but it probably wouldn't be the truth. Though not every single one of my workouts is legendary, I have always trained very hard on a consistent basis. But I will say this: Dorian coaxed a few more reps out of me than I ever would have done if I didn't have this icon in front of me telling me to keep going. I was not going to 'punk out' and give Dorian Yates anything less than 100 percent of what I was capable of. What he made me re-evaluate on this day was how I had deluded myself into believing I was always giving 100 percent. Not by a long shot!

    To say I am motivated now would be an understatement. The last time I felt this way was after the Ronnie Coleman workout weekend in February of 2005. I got to go through a full leg workout with Ronnie at Metroflex Gym that day. That, too, was an experience I will never forget and that I will always be grateful for. Both Ronnie and Dorian have an aura about them of both greatness and quiet confidence. Being in the presence of someone who was the absolute best in the world at what they did for a period of years is both humbling and vastly inspirational.

    Dorian has an extra special significance to me because he dominated his chosen sport both through incredibly hard work and determination as well as a superior intellect. He challenged the accepted philosophies about training and even nutrition, and forged his own path. Until Dorian came along with his ‘Blood and Guts’ style of training, which he admittedly borrowed principles of from both Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer, most bodybuilders were still training six days a week and doing as many as 20-30 work sets per body part. Dorian was living proof that harder work in less time with more time allowed for rest was a viable alternative and could actually deliver superior results for many. As for me, I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to ‘study under a true master’ of the art of bodybuilding!




  • #2
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    • #3
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