Written by Ron Harris
15 July 2019


Dorian Yates Opens Up On Drugs, HD Training & His Childhood


Few men in the history of our sport have been as mysterious as six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates. During his competitive days, he was known as “The Shadow,” a taciturn and somewhat intimidating man who shunned the spotlight, preferring to toil away in his dungeon of a gym in industrial Birmingham, England, far from the sunny beaches of California. His training methods were a radical departure from the high-volume standard, and his “Blood and Guts” training video inspired a whole generation to rethink the true meaning of intensity. Unlike many other champions, he retired and stayed retired, after his 1997 victory never once hinting at any comebacks, and not even worrying about trying to maintain the 300-pound physique that had redefined the standards of pro bodybuilding in the early-to-mid 1990s. Dorian’s Temple Gym is still the hardcore basement torture chamber that served as the setting for every workout of his competitive days from 1985 to 1997. As for Dorian, he’s a bit lighter but still a very solid 245 lean pounds. More than anything else, he’s a man who marches to the beat of his own drum and neither asks for nor requires anyone else’s acceptance or approval. I spoke with Mr. Yates to delve a bit deeper into what makes him tick, and give him the chance to discuss several somewhat controversial subjects.


RH: First off, I think most people who know anything about you understand that you’ve always been your own man and done things your way rather than follow the herd and accept the status quo. Was this something instilled in you as a child, or is it simply your personality?

DY: That’s a good question, as so many times it’s difficult to say if certain things are a product of heredity or environment. One thing that certainly contributed was the fact that I had to learn to look after myself at a young age. My father died when I was 13, and I left home and went off on my own “to the big city,” Birmingham, at 16. So I didn’t have that luxury of a family supporting me. It led to me learning to think for myself and obviously making my own decisions about my life. That’s probably why bodybuilding appealed so much to me. It was all down to you whether you did well or didn’t, not teammates or a coach. Even though others did seek out coaches or trainers for bodybuilding even back then, I chose to study nutrition and training in-depth on my own. I was very interested in it and became a real student. Ironically, back when I went to school, the only subject I was interested in was history, and I did very well in that. One key ability I feel I had even in the very beginning of my bodybuilding career was that I could decide for myself what worked and what didn’t. I was always an independent thinker who questioned things rather than simply accepted that everything I read or was told was the truth or the best way. It’s something I instilled in both my children as well, even when they were at school. It’s important to question things in life and form your own opinions. Otherwise you will have your opinions dictated to you.


RH: Your training style definitely had a major influence on the bodybuilding world. Since your reign as Mr. Olympia, most bodybuilders now train body parts once a week instead of twice, and pay far more attention to recovery than generations past. Yet your one all-out work set to failure after warm-ups never really caught on. Most bodybuilders still insist on doing three to four sets per exercise. Why do you feel that is?

DY: The obvious answer is the pervasiveness of the “more is better” mentality that most of us have. It’s always tempting to do a little more. Even Mike Mentzer, who was the most vocal proponent of very brief workouts, confided in me that he used to sneak in extra sets here and there. It’s not easy to hone your focus and apply 100 percent intensity of effort into one set on a consistent basis. It’s significantly easier to put 90 percent into three to four sets. And I’m not saying it isn’t effective. There’s no denying it does work— just look at the physiques of the top guys who train that way. I simply feel my way, one set to failure, is more effective and more efficient.


It should be said that I didn’t reduce to one set until after I’d won my first Mr. Olympia title in 1992. Up to that point, I had been doing two work sets. It wasn’t until after I’d gone out to Los Angeles and trained with Mike Mentzer that he convinced me to try paring it down to just the one. Immediately I saw progress without any other variables being altered, so that confirmed to me that the minimum amount of volume would produce the best results, since it allowed for superior recovery between workouts.

One thing most people don’t understand is that advanced trainers need to pay more attention to recovery than beginners. Beginners don’t have the strength and the focus yet to generate truly high intensity and tax the muscles and central nervous system the way advanced trainers do. But most guys add more and more volume as the months and years go by, and typically stop making progress.


RH: You wrote a column in MD over two years ago now where you were not only open about your steroid use as a competitor, but actually gave your off-season and contest-prep cycles. Instead of being praised for your honesty, you were accused by some of lying and understating how much you used in reality. First question, what reasons would you have to do that, and second question, why is it so hard for some to believe you did not require mega doses of drugs to look the way you did?

DY: Why would I lie? Look, if I didn’t want to tell the truth, I wouldn’t have bothered to talk about it. I would just avoid the subject like many do. Steve Blechman at MD didn’t ask me to do this, and it wasn’t your idea either. (Note: I do work with Dorian on his column and often suggest topics, but the column is always his words and thoughts with his final approval before printing.) It was my idea because I wanted to put some reality out there, since there was so much misinformation out there online. I have no secrets to hide. I’ve been retired for going on two decades, and I’m not concerned about losing any supplement contracts— I own my own supplement company!

It’s not hard to understand why the amounts I listed would be hard for some guys to believe. They might be taking two, three or five times what I was taking and still don’t look like a pro, much less Mr. Olympia. So surely I must be lying and used even more than they are! There is a belief among many that equates success in bodybuilding purely to drugs. More drugs equals more success. Unfortunately, the key factor in all of this is genetics. If you don’t have the right genetics, it doesn’t matter how much you use. You need great genetics, then a great work ethic, then drugs on top of that. Without the first two, the drugs won’t matter much.


RH: Drug use has certainly escalated over the past couple of decades. I have personally spoken to guys getting ready for regional amateur shows who are easily using twice as much as the average pro in the ‘90s was. Who do you blame for the “more is better” mentality that seems to have become ingrained in this current generation of bodybuilders?

DY: It’s just human nature. You can always look at another person’s success in two ways. You can have a positive view and be inspired by them, asking how can I do that too? Or there is the negative view, where you are resentful and jealous and seek to diminish the other person’s success any way you can. One way some bodybuilders do that is to always assume anyone with a better physique is using more drugs than they are. Let me be honest here. I did use higher amounts of drugs than what I listed, and it was in preparation for the 1997 Mr. Olympia. The steroid doses were increased, and I also added in insulin. It was not my best look, not even close. All the higher amounts of gear and the insulin did was diminish my muscle quality and give me a distended belly. I see that look on a lot of guys these days.


Not only does more drugs not make for better physiques, it’s putting more stress on organs like the heart, liver and kidneys. It’s sad to see so many health problems and even premature deaths among bodybuilders in recent years, but I can’t say I’m surprised. This might stir up yet more controversy, but I seriously doubt any bodybuilder needs to use more than 1,500 milligrams a week of steroids. Think about how much doctors prescribe for testosterone replacement therapy: typically 200 milligrams a week. There are guys out there using 5,000-8,000 milligrams per week. That’s up to 40 times what your body needs for normal function! Steroids aren’t as dangerous as a lot of other drugs out there are for you, but they aren’t harmless either. Using them in very high doses for years and years is certainly taking a huge risk with your health and ultimately, your life.


RH: Do you feel you’ve always been misunderstood? I recall when you first started competing in the IFBB, some accused you of being a former skinhead because you have a tattoo of Doc Marten boots with the word “skin” above them. Yet in more recent years, you’ve gotten tattoos of Bob Marley and a Māori tribal design. Should we all just stop trying to figure you out?

DY: If someone wants to expend his energy trying to analyze me, sure, go for it. Most people want to put a label on you so you fit into this box nice and neatly. But I don’t fit into any box. I’m just me. I always got a laugh out of that skinhead thing, to be honest. Skinheads in the U.K. back then were not racist at all. I think it was different in the USA, where they are associated with neo-Nazi groups. We weren’t like that. As for Bob Marley, he was the closest thing to a hero or an idol I’ve ever had, and I love his music, and reggae in general. Skinheads in the U.K. used to listen to reggae along with punk rock.

That Māori tattoo has a very special meaning for me. The inspiration for it was my younger sister Tanya, who passed away when I was 5 and she was only 3. My youngest sister Lisa has no memory of her at all, and my parents and grandparents have all passed on. So I’m the only person left who still remembers her, and I wanted to honor her memory. The tattoo is called a maku, and it was done by a Māori priest. It’s a traditional tattoo in their culture that tells your story: you, your life and the people in it. Traditionally it’s done with a hammer and a sharpened bone, but mine was done with a tattoo gun and needle. It was in New Zealand, where I was honored to have a reception right at the airport to welcome me by a group of Māori warriors. Interestingly enough, Bob Marley had the same welcome when he visited there many years ago. Mine is posted on YouTube under the title “Dorian Yates Amazing Māori Welcome to New Zealand.”


RH: Final question for you, Dorian. What would you say is your basic philosophy about life?

DY: My basic philosophy is that we’re all just expressions of consciousness. Reality is an illusion. Things like the color of someone’s skin, religion, nationality— it’s all an illusion really. That’s why I found it amusing that anyone would think I have any type of viewpoint that said I or anyone else is better than another person or group of people. It really says more about them than it does me. We’re all from the same source. We are all born, live a time here, and then we die. So in the end, we are all the same. To discriminate against others based on these categories we have created in our minds to divide people into different factions is ridiculous. As athletes especially, we learn that. I don’t look at anyone and judge them based on how they look, what God they pray to or don’t, or the language they speak. What kind of person are you? How do you treat others? That’s all that matters.


Ron Harris got his start in the bodybuilding industry during the eight years he worked in Los Angeles as Associate Producer for ESPN’s “American Muscle Magazine” show in the 1990s. Since 1992 he has published nearly 3,000 articles in bodybuilding and fitness magazines, making him the most prolific bodybuilding writer ever. Ron has been training since the age of 14 and competing as a bodybuilder since 1989, and maintains the popular website www.ronharrismuscle.com, most notable for its blog “The Daily Pump.” He lives with his wife and two children in the Boston area.