Dorian Yates Leg Day

Dorian Yates Leg Day

For this blog post, we’re going to be taking you through a true, ‘Blood & Guts’, high-intensity leg workout that six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates performed during his Olympia reign.

We’re gonna go into full detail here so, full attention please! Oh and this just might be the perfect source of inspiration for your own leg workout. So strap in, grab your pre-workout of choice, and join us on a true, heavy-duty leg workout from the depths of Temple Gym.

Specifically speaking, this will be during the off-season of 1993, in the lead up to the game-changing Olympia that would take place in September of that same year at the Atlanta Civic Center in Atlanta, Georgia. This venue would be the place where Dorian would set a new standard for the sport of bodybuilding by presenting a physique that would forever be etched in the minds of all bodybuilding enthusiasts.

But before we get into the workout itself, it’s important here to understand a bit about the backstory that would evolve Dorian’s training method for that particular Olympia. For years, Dorian devoured every bodybuilding magazine and book that he could get his hands on, he pretty much read them all.

Two names stood out in the industry to Dorian and their philosophy would inspire him when creating his own training methodology. Those names are Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer.

But out of all the names in the world of bodybuilding, why did these two stand out?

After all, Arthur Jones was an entrepreneur and Mike Mentzer had never won an Olympia title (although 1980 was a controversial Olympia). Of course, Mike was a decorated bodybuilder who scored a perfect 300 score at the 1978 Mr. Universe contest as well as another perfect score in the heavyweight division of the 1979 Mr. Olympia.

So although no Mr. Olympia titles were won, there was something else that caught the attention of a young Dorian Yates… enter, the philosophy of high-intensity.

It was originally Arthur Jones, the inventor of the famous Nautilus line of gym equipment, that would preach that it was the intensity of an exercise that would trigger the stimulus for muscle growth, and not the volume. This was then echoed into the mainstream of bodybuilding through the articles, interviews and arguably more importantly, the formidable physique that Mike displayed.

Hailing from the ‘Golden Era’ of bodybuilding where bodybuilders would often train for at least two hours, sometimes twice per day, what Mike did was the complete polar opposite. His workouts would be less than an hour and would be infrequent.

Mike was a philosopher who understood that it was the intensity of an exercise that would trigger muscle growth and was a free thinker. He went against the grain at the time in terms of training. This caught the attention of Dorian and essentially, it made sense to him.

But of course, never one to blindly follow advice, Dorian took onboard the principles of heavy-duty training and over the years, adapted them to suit his needs as a professional bodybuilder.

Now up until late 1992, Dorian performed 2 working sets.

Essentially after completing the necessary warm-up sets, Dorian would go to failure on an exercise, and follow up with another set of maybe a 15% reduction in weight and again, to failure, to really hammer the nail on the head and sure the muscle was exhausted.

It was after meeting with Mike Mentzer in LA where the two discussed in great depth about training, and after Mike observed Dorian training, he suggested that he reduce his working sets to just one, all-out set. Trusting the wisdom, experience and vast knowledge of Mike, the Shadow was soon after put through a biceps workout which he’d never forget.

It consisted of a few warm up sets, followed by a single, all out set to failure performed on the Nautilus biceps machine. In his own words, here’s how Dorian described how the set went down: 

“I remember Mike telling me that he believed that my training volume was still too high, (baring in mind that I had been adapting the HIT principles for almost 10 years at this point), and that he’d like to prove it by putting me through a biceps workout.

Now he told me that this workout would consist of only one real working set. But in this set, it’d do more for my biceps than all I’ve done for them in the past year.

So we headed to Gold’s Gym where at the back was the Nautilus biceps machine. We did a brief warm up set to get my biceps ready for the assault to come.

As I hadn’t trained with Mike often, he had to judge how much I could lift for this and he got it spot on! He proceeded to select the pin right at the bottom of the stack!

So here’s how the set went down.

Mike wanted me to fail between the 6-8 rep range, of course with immaculate form and the perfect amount of time under tension.

A 3 second positive, followed by 2 seconds in the static hold and finally, a 4 second negative. I got 7 reps here which totalled approximately just over a minute to complete… It felt like eternity!

But the job wasn’t finished yet.

After I got the 7th rep, Mike assisted me with an extra two forced reps but he added extra pressure on the negative phase by pushing down on the weight stack!

And if that wasn’t enough, he then stuck an extra 25lbs on the stack and helped push the rep up to the static hold phase where I had to hold it for a 15 second count. The weight stack gradually began slowly lowering and that ladies and gentlemen was true, extreme, heavy duty, high intensity training where the biceps were utterly exhausted.

After a rest, it was the same story for my left bicep.”

So from this moment onwards, Dorian would perform just one working set for his training and he experienced growth like no other… which all played a part for the 1993 Mr. Olympia!

So without further ado, let’s get into leg day with Dorian Yates in the Winter months of 1993.

The setting for the brutality to come would of course, be none other than the dungeon, the Shadow’s lair… Temple Gym. Located on Temple Street in the heart of Birmingham City Centre, this backstreet gym was hidden in the alleyway of Temple Street where only the brave would venture.

If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d probably never find it!
Now leg day for Dorian actually started a few days before the physical workout. The mental aspect of grasping the torture to come started to enter his mind a couple days prior… or could it be said that it was perhaps always somewhere in his mind! Leg day never truly leaves!

It was a mental workout before a physical one.

When the day finally arrived, it was two meals before training as always. Usually consisting of a whopping 200g of oatmeal, 12 egg whites, 4 whole eggs, 2 bananas, 2 pieces of toast with jam and of course, because he’s British afterall, a cup of tea.

His second meal would follow a couple of hours later and be a simple whey protein shake with a banana.
Since it was leg day, Dorian usually would consume a form of pre-workout. Back in the 90s, there was no ‘Blood & Guts’ pre-workout unfortunately, so on the menu was a couple of shots of espresso stacked with ephedrine.

Sitting down and pulling up his workout log, Dorian spent 10 minutes mentally preparing, rehearsing, visualising the next hour. He had his notes in front of him and he studied them meticulously, immersing himself in the numbers and words before him and noting down in his mind what he needed to do. If he got 11 reps on hack squat last week, then nothing less than 12 reps this week would suffice. Closing his eyes and visualising the workout to follow, the clothes he’d be wearing, the music that’d be blaring, the roars and yells, the smell of the gym, the touch and feel of the iron. War was coming.

Off he drove to the gym, a 20 minute journey from the outskirts of the UK’s second city, he arrived. Pulling up in his brand new BMW that he had treated himself to after winning the 1992 Mr. Olympia, through the alleyway and parking up in one of only two spaces. Before him lay those giant red, beckoning doors that served as the gateway to those hallowed grounds below. Greeting his training partners who were waiting outside with nothing more than a nod, the padlock was unlocked, the doors were open and one by one they descended down those steep stairs into the Underworld.

Now anyone who’d ever trained at the original Temple Gym will know that there wasn’t any cardio equipment, except for the foldaway stationary bike. Dorian began peddling away to get the blood flowing into his legs and increase his core temperature, for roughly five minutes. After this, his training partners climbed on and followed suit while Dorian began his stretching routine for 10 minutes which included various stretches such as the full hurdler stretch which he had no problem doing, considering he was 300lbs!

For leg day, the music would only ever be ‘Guns n Roses - Appetite for Destruction’, which seemed rather appropriate considering what was to come over the next hour. High-octane, energetic music was needed and this served as the perfect album.

The first exercise on leg day was always leg extensions. It serves as the perfect exercise to not only prepare the quads for the heavy compound exercises to come, but it also pre-exhausts them. The very first set was nothing more than 40% of this final working weight set, the tempo was always an explosive positive portion followed by a big squeeze at the top of the movement, and a slow, controlled negative. Usually 15 reps were performed here and soon after, another set where the weight increased by 10% was executed. It was building up, the energy was being generated, everything was leading up to the final, all-out set. However, another set was performed first. This time it was 70-75% of the final working weight and hitting 10-12 reps with immense control, but going absolutely nowhere near to failure.

After a minute or two break, it was time. The final, all-out set where everything was put into it. This was the one-shot he had to execute this set to perfection, or it’d be a week of dwelling on the fact that he hadn’t given it his all, and he was NEVER going to be in that position.

In he sat and gripped the side bars tightly on the Flex leg extension machine, with the pin placed right at the bottom of the stack, he'd also stuck on another 20kg plate! Although no words were spoken, the energy surrounding them drove all the passion they needed. On he drove upwards with an almighty, explosive force right to the top of the peak contraction, followed by a slow negative. 9 full reps were completed on his own and by this point, his insanely thick forearm veins the size of ropes were ready to burst, he gripped the handles even tighter as he headed into uncharted territory. Another two were completed with the slightest of assistance, but it was not done yet. As the pad reached midway up, his partner assisted again to help reach the peak contraction, now was the final negative portion. He did everything he could to resist the pad from coming down in a super slow motion. The set was complete, the first exercise was complete.

Over to the smith machine they went… squats were next. Now, Dorian had stopped performing free weight barbell squats in the late 1980’s due to a hip injury, so he sought out an alternative. And that alternative was the smith machine.

Anyone who has been to Temple Gym knows that this particular smith machine was heavy! Even with no plates added either side.

Dorian’s stance for this exercise was very close, heels almost touching together with the toes pointing outwards to help target that outer quad sweep. On the wall next to the machine was an A4 piece of paper. This contained a list of all the names who’d successfully completed a set of 10 repetitions with 5 plates per side on smith machine squats.
There was only ever one name on that list…

Since this was now the first compound exercise they’d perform, two warm up sets were completed. Approximately, 50% and 75% respectively of the final working weight set.
Anyone who has seen the famous ‘Blood & Guts’ training video would’ve seen Dorian training in shorts at some point in this leg workout. However, back in ‘93, he never wore shorts. In fact he wore two pairs of joggers which were tucked into his socks. For extra comfort perhaps, who knows. And actually, who cares? It worked and that’s the main thing.
For this exercise too, he wore elasticated bandages over his knees, they probably were nothing more than psychologically making him feel safer and perhaps giving an extra layer of warmth. After all, this was Birmingham in Winter!

Two warm up sets, full range of motion where his hamstrings almost touched his ginormous calves. Again, nowhere near to failure.
As always a controlled negative, followed by an explosive positive. Visualise your muscles as a big coil spring, so as the weight is coming down, the spring is getting compressed, then released with power. So control the weight and use it as a tool to put maximum stress on the working muscles.

Here it was, the final set. Dorian stalked the machine like a caged animal, just waiting for the chains to be cut so that he could unleash hell.

An animalistic roar was witnessed as he exploded up with sheer power and drive with the ungodly amount of 6 whole 20kg, plates per side. This was repeated until failure was reached, failure for Dorian on legs was between 10-15 reps. This was failure, no forced reps were needed, he’d already gone to that dark, deep place in his mind and came out the other side as the victor.

On he strode to grab his bottle of water which he swiftly took a swig from and spat it back out on the floor.

Next up, hack squats.

The third exercise in and the final one for quads. Now for this exercise, since the quads were already warm, just one ‘warm up’ was needed. This was going to be at 70% of their final working weight and served more of a rehearsal and to send neurological signals to the brain to prepare itself for what was to come.

Choosing the warm up weight when training with this level of intensity was critical. It had to be that sweet balance of not too heavy, and not too light - just right. It was never taken anywhere near failure but was necessary to help build that mind-muscle connection and prepare the muscles for the brutality to come.

Here it was now, the one chance to give everything possible to this exercise, the one chance to stimulate growth on this exercise.

In he stepped, placed his feet almost together with his toes pointed at ten to, and ten past the hour, he grabbed the handles and took in a deep breath before producing an insanely strong force which sent shockwaves surging throughout the gym.

It was energy off the charts, yet it was controlled aggression.

Rep after rep, with perfect form and full range of motion as he approached the true test. Those final few reps is where the magic happens, it’s a special place you go to mentally where the body, mind and soul all come together and you’re faced with a decision. Stop now, or battle through.

It’s moment like this that made him into the unstoppable force that dominated the Olympia stage.

As he barely came up for rep 7, it took everything to continue on. It’s these reps, the true challenge, in the words of Dorian himself; “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”

The lion let out a thunderous roar as those last reps came out. It’s a place deep inside where you get these reps, it’s an internal battle where you fight your way through.

It’s extremely hard to describe unless you’ve done it, but there is a verse from a song actually which quite perfectly describes his training philosophy as well as the mental feud that’d rage on.

That verse belongs to the song ‘Burning Heart’ by Survivor from Rocky 4.

“In the warrior's code there's no surrender

Though his body says "stop!", his spirit cries "never!"

Deep in our soul a quiet ember knows it's you against you

It's the paradox that drives us on

It's a battle of wills

In the heat of attack it's the passion that kills

The victory is yours alone.”

In his code, surrender during a set was never an option... it was all in! It just didn’t exist. They were all striving for the same goal working as a team which gave a unified sense of pride.

His body was screaming out to stop, yet his warrior spirit yelled ‘never’! Deep inside he went to a place to channel an inner source of power to brave this stress and to fight his way through those last reps.

Something was burning inside, it was indeed you against you. They could only motivate each other so much but at the end of the day, it was YOU who had to power through.

It was a battle of will, he had to choose his companions carefully on this quest, He had to be certain that they had that mental fortitude to be able to handle what was to come. And when he was deep into that final set and staring down into the dark abyss, in the heat of attack, when it was make or break, he ignited that spark which felt like a second wave of energy.

It’s a lonely, dark yet special place to enter. When your mind, body and soul come together in this place and work as your fuel, you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve.

Victory was here.

Failure was reached and quads were obliterated.

A short break was now needed, no more than a few minutes to refocus his mind to target hamstrings. He’d typically think of the hamstrings as being the biceps of the legs, so usually two or three exercises were performed with two being machine based.

After a brief rest, lying hamstring curls were next on the menu. Since it was the first direct hamstring exercise, he’d usually perform two warm up sets and as usual, 50% and 70-75% respectively.

He’d lock his hips into the machine and the pad would be placed just below his calves, a fierce and well executed curl to the top of the peak contraction where he’d hold it for a moment, below lowering slowly through a full range of motion for 10 reps for his two warm up sets.

Into the final set he went, driving with sheer focus and intent on each rep for 8 reps himself, before his partner would step in to assist with the slightest of touches for another couple of reps where he’d focus intensively on controlling that negative.

The set was complete, but one more hamstring exercise was needed to complete the upper part of his legs… stiff legged deadlifts.

Now the form here is crucial, it’s not a traditional deadlift, it’s not a partial deadlift, it’s a stiff legged deadlift.

He’d utilise his years of building his mind-muscle connection and shift the focus to his hamstrings and glutes, that was the target area and not the lower back.

As he’d control the barbell on the way down, the only areas of stress would be on his hammies and partially his glutes with his back being slightly arched and coming down to his mid-shin area he’d now drive back up through his hamstrings.

It takes practice to nail this but once you do, you’ll feel the difference.

You’ll often see people throwing around heavy weights with no real focus and intent, but Dorian’s form was always perfect and each rep was performed with precision and intent.

Now since the hamstrings weren’t gonna get any warmer, only one warm up was required before the all out set.

Of course with this exercise, no further high-intensity technique was required nor was it needed, he’d just perform to failure.

It’s a good time to actually bring up when he’d use high-intensity techniques such as forced reps, assisted reps, rest pauses and extra negatives. Only on one or maximum two exercises per body part were these ever used, there's no need to overdo it and tax the central nervous system.

After placing the bar down after his final set of 10-12 reps, the upper legs were completed. That’s five exercises done in around just 50 minutes!

Another brief rest before heading into the final two exercises, he could now see light at the end of the tunnel!

Two exercises for calves, standing and seated calf raises to target the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.

First up, standing calf raises on the custom made machine. Yes that’s right, Dorian actually had this particular machine custom made with 1,000lbs on the stack! Plus, two bars on either side on the shoulder pad to fit even more weight!

He’d typically perform just one warm up set here before the all-out set. One thing we’ve heard over the years is that “you need to train calves everyday because they are stubborn and you walk on them all the time.” Well, why is duplicating this with high reps going to change them. 

It’s simple… Train them like any other muscle group - heavy to failure and with real thought and meticulous attention to detail.

In he stepped, and up he drove with his calves, right onto his tip toes with a huge squeeze at the top, it was like a football was moving up and down when looking at the size of his calves! Right the way down through the negative portion till his heels were near touching the ground, before driving up yet again.

Roughly 12 reps for his warm up, before loading up the machine to 1,500lbs for 10-12 reps in which failure was reached.

Final exercise, the end was in sight just a few mere steps to the seated calf raises machine. Again, just one warm up set followed by his working set in which both were in the 10-12 rep range. Quite often with this exercise, his partner would give a slight assist on the final few reps to help him go marginally beyond failure.

Another leg day was completed.