When you gather the best athletes in the world and pit them one against each other, head to head, toe to toe, what makes the difference? They all have good genes, they all excel at the sport they love, they all want to be number one, and all of them are talented. What makes the difference between number one and number two? For Dorian Yates, the answer as simple as this: work ethic. Dorian Yates had a work ethic that way nobody else had before him, to the exclusion of everything else. And using his work ethic he blew his competition away, not once, not twice, but 6 times in a row.
Dorian revolutionized the sport introducing a new era of mass. He was the only one capable of presenting a physique over 250 pounds, 265 pounds at his best, that was absolutely shredded. He was so big and so well defined that he really had no competition. He took his training to such an extreme that the only reason his undefeated streak stopped was because of injury he caused to himself by training too hard.
Unlike the Californian bodybuilders, Dorian didn’t have any time for magazine shoots or parties. He didn’t take one day off for 10 years. All he did was eat, train, study, sleep, razor sharp focus, non-stop, for 10 years. This is not at all unheard off for top athletes. Unbelievable results require unbelievable work ethic. Michael Phelps, the most prolific swimmer of all time, with 23 Olympic gold medals won, 28 total, and 26 Guinness world records trained 365 days for 6 years straight before the 2004 Olympics. He did not miss one day of training, not for his birthday, not for Christmas, not even when he got sick. Vince Lombardi, the greatest NFL coach in history, and one of the biggest names in any US sport said “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect”. What Dorian Yates did in his Birmingham dungeon of a gym, far away from the Californian high life was as close to perfection as one could get.
But where does this ethic come from? What is it in the mental capacity of an athlete, in the emotional make up of a competitor that fuels such outstanding performance? With Dorian, it started quite young, when at the age of 13, his father unexpectedly died of a heart attack. Sadly, a year later, his mother’s new partner and soon to be husband also died of a heart attack. After this, his mom left Birmingham for the farm Dorian grew up in, leaving him alone in the city at 16. Crashing on a friends couch, he started life on his own. Having to fend for himself with no father figure to rely on or show him how to become a man, he had to get smart fast. This traumatic series of events jolted him out the comfortable way of life he was accustomed to, and by his own admission, if this turn of events hadn’t had happened, he would have probably not become a champion.
“If you’re comfortable you’re not gonna put yourself through that kind of extreme pressure and pain.”
Dorian learned early that as an athlete there is a spiritual side to the training and to the discipline.
The first time he remembers excelling in athletics and tapping into unknown powers, was for a charity run around a 400 meter track, organized by his school to raise money for a mini bus. He went round people’s doors, signing people up for his list for a 5 pence / lap donation. But that wasn’t the main reason he was doing it. The challenge was if he could outrun a lightweight boxer friend of his that could run all day long. After 20 laps around the track they were the only ones left on and although he felt like dying Dorian kept telling himself – I’m not gonna give in, I’m not gonna give in – as he kept on running. “I remember just going through something when i just didn’t feel anything anymore, and i was just going round the track“. Not too long after, his competitor dropped out and Dorian was the only one left. For fear of missing the FA Cup final broadcast, his teacher eventually stopped him after 45 laps.
At the age of 18, while crossing the city to go to a party, Dorian and his friends came across the broken window shops left after a day of rioting in the city center. Reaching for a hat off a dummy, a friend of Dorian’s caused the dummy to collapse and take the rest of the shop’s window with it. The police soon arrested them and sentenced them to 6 months in jail each. This experience was yet another turning point in Dorian’s life. In jail, noticing that he was stronger than everyone around him he started lifting weights. Receiving encouragement from prison officers and never wanting to come back to prison, he decided to focus all his energy into becoming great at bodybuilding and turning his life around for good.
Just like Hernan Cortez conquered the Aztecs with a small army after burning his own ships, losing everything and having nothing to go back to made Dorian conquer the world of bodybuilding.
“Mindset was something I already had, and I wanted to see how far I can take it.”
Soon, he started studying and training regularly at the now infamous Temple Gym. Dorian got his training philosophy from Arthur Jones, an eccentric American multi-millionaire that got rich by single handedly inventing the workout machines that we see in gyms all over the world today. His Nautilus exercising machines revolutionized the gym industry. Jones was a maverick in the gym and bodybuilding industry, holding strong opinions, sometimes directly opposite to the accepted norms of the time.
Having never been a professional bodybuilder himself, his opinions were and, to some extent, are criticized as misinformed to this day. He invented HIT – the High Intensity Training – a program that built on his long held beliefs that most people were wasting their time in the gym. He famously once said: “If race horses were trained as much as most bodybuilders train, you could safely bet your money on an out of conditioned turtle.” He didn’t make many friends and he didn’t care for any. He thought “A workout can be hard or a workout can be long. There is no such thing as a long, hard workout.“
In a time when Arnold Schwarzenegger was winning Mr. Olympias using long training sessions and free weights, Joneses machines and short workout session advice didn’t go down well with many people. Nevertheless, Jones was fixated on intensity as the most efficient way to growth saying “When the intensity of an exercise is increased, the amount of exercise must be reduced. When you train harder, you must train less.“
After a meeting with Mike Mentzer, a famous bodybuilder adopter of H.I.T., Dorian was convinced to fully implement this grueling, intense style of training. He summed up his mental programming: “That’s all I did, I trained, I ate, I slept, I studied. All my mental focus was lasered on that thing that I was doing. I wouldn’t do nothing else: I wouldn’t go to movies, i wouldn’t go to dinner, that was all I did and that’s why I could beat people that could be argued were more gifted than me, but they weren’t willing to do that, so that’s what it’s all about. I’m going to the gym to get results and I’m gonna do whatever it takes, and if it takes 30 minutes once a week or it means training ten hours a day, everyday, whatever it is – I’ll do it!”
Many people thought his 45 minutes, 4 times a-week training was a joke, but if anyone tried it, nobody wanted more after 45 minutes. Dorian went to extreme, he went to failure and beyond it with forced reps, and controlled negative reps. His philosophy was if you can’t push it up, you can still hold it on the way down. He exhausted both the negative and the positive, until the muscle was totally drained. “If you can’t lift it, you can’t lower it, it’s total failure“. If one did that, then it was time to move to the next exercise.
Kevin Levrone, one of his most famous competitors said about the Shadow: “Dorian Yates didn’t have the best genetics, but he had a work ethic that was far beyond normal, that’s why Dorian Yates won six Mr. Olympias, because of his mindset, a mindset of a warrior and a champion. Dorian had to train all year round because, let’s face it, he wasn’t genetically balanced, so he had to work that much harder. His was all mental. He didn’t have the best genetics, he didn’t have the best shape, but in his mind he was a raging bull, he was a go getter, you couldn’t stop him, and he was as hard as a piece of stone.”
And that is what he became, a Greek god-like figure of muscular perfection, chiseled in stone. His mindset transformed his body into an Olympian, 6 times in a row. Just like the earth’s crushing pressure creates diamonds, his beating his body into submission, crystallized the perfect work of art.
His training and work ethic produced never seen before results, changing the game forever. Even Levrone admitted: “If it wasn’t for Dorian Yates, I wouldn’t have pushed myself to train as hard and as heavy as I did, because i wanted to beat him. Every time you saw him he was all blown up, he was getting bigger and bigger. He took the game to another whole level.“