Dorian Yates on High Intensity Training, Injury Prevention, and Building Maximum Muscle (#235)

“Freedom is not giving a f*ck.”

– Dorian Yates

Dorian Yates (@dorian_yates) is a six-time Mr. Olympia who took the extreme sport of bodybuilding to a new level. He’s one of my adolescent heroes whose innovations in training influenced what I later put into The 4-Hour Body (e.g., Occam’s protocol).

In this particular conversation, we dig into all sorts of topics that I’ve been dying to ask Dorian since I was a teenager. We discuss specific workouts, how he warms up, the realities of PEDs, common mistakes, his relationship to pain, self-talk when setting records (or bouncing back), his favorite books, and much more.  We don’t dodge controversy and get into plenty of details.


You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#235: Dorian Yates on High Intensity Training, Injury Prevention, and Building Maximum Muscle

Want to hear another episode about building muscle and strength? — Listen to this interview with Charles Poliquin. In this episode, we discuss, muscle-building techniques, how to become stronger, warmup routines, why people struggle to lose fat, and more (stream below or right-click here to download):

#91: Charles Poliquin on Strength Training, Shredding Body Fat, and Increasing Testosterone and Sex Drive

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Dorian Yates:

DY Nutrition | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube

Show Notes

  • My first encounter with Dorian. [08:35]
  • Dorian takes us on his journey from farm boy to urban juvenile delinquent — and how he discovered a passion for weightlifting. [10:02]
  • Why is it hard to find pictures of Dorian smiling prior to 1997? [14:03]
  • How did Dorian get the nickname “The Shadow?” [15:32]
  • Dorian describes the gym (aka “The Dungeon”) in Birmingham where he built his physique. [17:02]
  • What did Dorian’s workout look like during his peak? [19:02]
  • Dorian describes a leg day workout. [21:01]
  • What it takes to get results. [25:53]
  • How much rest does Dorian take between sets? [27:52]
  • What is the right way to do a bent row, and what compelled Dorian to focus on this technique? [29:50]
  • On the role of tempo in lifting and the difference between weightlifting and bodybuilding. [33:53]
  • How did Dorian connect with high intensity training pioneer Mike Mentzer? [36:32]
  • Thoughts on Nautilus inventor and eccentric Arthur Jones. [37:15]
  • What are the most common misconceptions and mistakes Dorian observes in newcomers to high intensity training? [40:56]
  • Dorian explains what his life was like in 1990 when he placed second in his professional debut at IFBB Night of the Champions. [42:46]
  • What was Dorian’s self-talk like when he didn’t place first? [46:01]
  • On competing with personal hero Lee Haney, and what it takes to change from a mindset of reverence to rivalry. [48:53]
  • What was Dorian’s relationship with pain while competing from ’92 to ’97? [50:56]
  • How much water weight would Dorian lose in twenty-four to forty-eight hours prior to a competition? [53:01]
  • Did dehydration ever play a role in Dorian’s injuries? [53:58]
  • On setting goals: “Instead of saying something, get a pen, get a piece of paper, and write it down. It just makes it a hundred times more powerful.” [54:47]
  • For Dorian, what occurs between having a plan and putting that plan into action? [57:54]
  • What has Dorian changed his mind about since his competition days? [1:00:31]
  • Dorian talks about including yoga and how he feels better at 55 than he did at 35. [1:03:19]
  • What does Dorian wish he could change about his competition-era training program? [1:09:23]
  • What was Dorian’s Plan B if bodybuilding hadn’t panned out? [1:12:43]
  • What is the best way for women to build beautiful, lean muscle: higher reps with light weights, or lower reps with heavy weights? [1:13:56]
  • Differences in training and nutrition for steroid-enhanced vs. natural lifters. [1:19:55]
  • On dealing with clinical depression when injuries forced him into retirement. [1:29:25]
  • What helped Dorian emerge from this dark period? [1:32:08]
  • What is Dorian reading these days? [1:33:47]
  • What would Dorian’s billboard say? [1:39:44]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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45 Replies to “Dorian Yates on High Intensity Training, Injury Prevention, and Building Maximum Muscle (#235)”

  1. Today is my Birthday.

    I’ve prayed for this Episode to happen for a few years.

    And today on my birthday, it got announced. What a coincidence.

    God is great!

  2. Just feeling the need to offer up my feelings, as if anyone needs to know. The past three episodes have been a major disappointment. The Marie Kondo one was not bad content-wise, but the format was unbearable. I am getting a feeling that the show is wandering a bit from the idea that I believe attracts the listeners: hackers and hardcore people who live by a system. Dorian Yates is a bodybuilder who is an incredibly poor example for health and longevity. Cory Booker is a politician, the episode was published in a time where no one truly buys into politics. And Marie Kondo, well, I already mentioned that one. The show seems to be slipping a bit into snake oil salesmanship. I miss DHH, Rhonda Patrick, all the health and nutrition people…the tech guys.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I expect about 10-20% of my audience to LOVE each episode, and I have variety for that reason. Much more coming soon that you’ll like. FWIW, Dorian and I get into his exact warmups and routines, which many people do like the Pavel, Poliquin, and other episodes for. Thanks for listening!


      1. Tim that 10% to 20% number is why you have such massive reach. No fear of criticism! Or a little fear 😉

        More than that, you get it: a few humans will LOVE what you do. Most will be OK with it. A few will appear to hate it but this is just their lack of clarity talking. As Rev Run says, haters are confused admirers. Or if someone offers critical feedback they are just seeing life through their own critical filters, projecting what they see in themselves.

        Tim interviews fascinating people from all walks of life guys. Brilliant people. Hardcore people. People who you may wanna criticize or pick apart, but people who are just neat studies if you take what you like from the chat and leave the rest behind.

        On a side note, love Dorian and diving in to the episode now. Hardcore bodybuilder here for 15 years – a while ago, those days has passed – but guys like Dorian and even Lee Haney before he influenced me and my lifting style. Ditto for Ronnie Coleman.

        Few realize how incredibly mentally strong these guys are, to do that to their bodies and to face, embrace and release fears so regularly. It’s insane. I was just a part time physique model and was fairly jacked and recalled all the fears I felt on that journey. Both in the gym, and doing stuff like waking at 3:30 to lift from 4 to 5 AM, before a full day of work, then heading back into the gym for afternoon cardio at 4 PM.

        Then I toned things down some but jumped into a higher intensity workout. Fabulous how things work out for ya when you focus your energy on form, on visualizing and how being in and out of the gym quickly, compared to the guys who futz around and lose their intensity and gaining potential.

        Thanks for sharing Tim.

        Signing off from Thailand.


  3. Love Dorian. Thanks Tim. Interesting to see WordPress as a sponsor – I don’t think I’ve ever seen/noticed them advertise.

  4. I’m sure there’s a better way to make a request like this, but I don’t know what it is. Have you ever considered interviewing Steve Martin? He checks all the boxes I think you would be interested in (creative, productive, successful, unconventional, etc.), seems to be a genuinely good person, and would certainly be entertaining. Importantly, I think he has a lot to offer beyond the entertainment he provides (which is still hilarious almost five decades after he became widely known).

  5. How does Dorian’s advice compare to Pavel Tsatsoulines advice? Are they contradictory to one another, since it seems Dorian is pro training to failure which is against Pavels recommendations.

    I didn’t manage to listen to the whole podcast but will do soon.

    1. They are compatible. Pavel is optimizing for strength, whereas Dorian is optimizing for hypertrophy (growth). I just wouldn’t try to blend both.

      1. Thanks Tim.

        By the way, I’ve seen Pavel update his recommendations on several training practices lately. For example, he’s now okay to train to failure on low-weight high-repetition sets.

        Would be great to have another episode with Pavel, was one of the most enjoyable podcasts ever. Wonderful info and great sense of humor 🙂

  6. @ Tim –

    In the bodybuilding World – I am curious as to where you draw the line between known steroid taker and real life?

    Arnold, Dorian – will you next interview Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Jose Canseco – and, promote that?

    I get it – just seems you are hitting the low hanging fruit and very popular peeps – without doing due diligence on whats commonly known.

    Will you talk to known pump and dump stock promoters, live in Asia for $300 a month like a king writers, and everything in between just because?

    Sometimes not chasing the people with huge followings and big names is better…

    Unless – you want Kim K’s number – as, she has the latest girls health tip you should know…

    1. Scott, please see my response to Vic and also watch the doc Bigger, Stronger, Faster.

      Dorian is not (as far as I know) a scam artist like the examples you give in a few paragraphs. He has been very open about PEDs that are part of his sport. Totally different, as far as I’m concerned.

      I recommend you listen to the episode, as we dig into all of that.



  7. This interview with Dorian Yates is Awesome! I’ve competed in bodybuilding so this was very relevant. Loved the concepts on High Intensity Training in which any person can learn from. Tim, please keep trying to conduct similar interviews in the future with weight lifters and bodybuilder icons. We all can learn from them regardless of ones level

  8. Dude!, are you serious? Idolizing a man who completely polluted his body (yes he did) with PED’s. Steroids. Growth. Synth. Etc etc etc!!!

    Come on man have you already forgotten poor ‘ol Lyle Alzado? Andreas Munzer? Mike Matarazzo? Mohammed Benaziza? Or Nasser El Sonbaty? Just to name a few.

    Really Tim, world class self-destruction should not be confused for world class performance. They are not the same thing. One leads to life, the other to an early disease ridden death.

    And yes I realize Dorian’s not killed himself, yet. But this is like interviewing Bernie Madoff before the fall knowing full well that the fall, is coming.

    BTW Arnold, Colombo, Haney, Flex, Dorian and Rambo, they were also my childhood hero’s until I grew up and realized their success in bodybuilding was in all honesty nothing more than a sad deal with the devil, AKA “Goldman’s Dilemma”. Google it. For the love of life please Google it. Right now!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Vic. I’m well aware of the risks of PEDs and appreciate the concern. I have used anabolics post-surgery with MD supervision and wrote a chapter about this in The 4-Hour Body. I don’t recommend the use of any drug without medical supervision, but I also think Dorian (and many of the top athletes using PEDs, as they nearly all do) have much more to offer than their past experience with the “chemical warfare” that is — for better or worse — part of their profession.

      Hope that helps!


      1. Totally agree. Steroids or not- Dorian and those at that level still have to put the work in. People think you just take steriods and end up looking like Dorian. Lol. Dorians level of work was unbelievable.

        Tim- loved the interview section about Dorians mental makeup and his self. This interview and the one with Poliquin have been one of my favorites

      2. Tim, I’m currently using a doctor prescribed steroid for an issue with my knee so I’m well aware of legitimate legal uses for such meds. But is that honestly the sub-text here? Not really.

        Unfortunately by interviewing this roid-monster, who could not conceivably be (ab)using steroids under a doctor’s supervision, you legitimize it. Not outright, but tacitly yes.

        You claim this person has more to offer than illegal drug abuse. That’s your opinion. My opinion is that you would be doing your readership a life saving favor by posting a crystal clear disclaimer, in BOLD TEXT, that none of the workouts used by this person should be attempted unless you are also abusing PED’s, that abusing PED’s will also ruin your health, may get you killed, and will get you thrown into prison when caught. Nothing world-class about that.

        And BTW, instead of calling it Chemical Warfare, which sounds kind of sexy actually, you ought to call it Chemical Suicide. Not so sexy.

  9. Tim,

    Just finished watching The Eagle Huntress, with the wife and 29 year old daughter! Remarkable!!! Thanks for the heads up.

  10. Tim, have been waiting for this interview since you mentioned you had just completed it. Understand all the haters out there running to the excuse that anabolics made him great, because they just werent genetically blessed physically and mentally. Pleade can you mention the great Mike Mentzer for ihis contribution to HIT training and who Dorian is a big fan. He has not recieved the full credit he deserves. Mike Mentzer is the real 1980 Mr Olympia, blind freddy could of judged that comp, but unfortunately politics and the IFBB machine gave the title to Arnold Schwarzenegger

    A topic which I would love to see you delve into more is increasing natural growth hormone levels in middle age men and women. I have been using intermitent fasting combined with workouts prior to eating and believe it has some great benefits. I am sure your followers would like to hear your thoughts. Forgive me if it has previously been covered.


    1. Appologies for not listening to the podcast before commenting about Mike Mentzer. Thought he may of been left out because he was not mentioned in the four hour body.

  11. I loved the episode and definitely got a lot out of it – training and life wisdom.

    Thank you Tim and Dorian! – Especially for the back-building details! Although I definitely don’t want that Christmas Tree Back (that by the way is totally impressive – I didn’t know people could do that), I’ve been looking for some workouts and exercises to build up middle and lower back – so thank you! I’ve used one of Dorian’s workout already!

    No matter what others say (the ones who didn’t like the content for one reason or the other) – I just believe when someone builds such amazing results in any professional sport – the person has a lot to teach to us all about goal setting, dedication, self-discipline, commitment, self-talk and self-management etc.

    Yes, he damaged his body a lot – but what pro-athlete, the best in his arena doesn’t?

    Pro-sports are not longevity optimized disciplines. Pro-athletes are not competing to be the happiest or longest living people. They compete to get results.

    I loved a piece on women’s training: that it’s the same no matter women or men (of course hormones make bodybuilding game a different one results wise and minor details).

    BS about the fear of bulking up for women and anyone made me smile, so familiar and so true! – it doesn’t happen overnight, it’s hard work and it doesn’t happen by accident!

    And I got another confirmation that most plateaus happen from “under-recovery”, I’m preaching it to my clients all the time, clients, who believe the more they train, no matter how much stress and down time they have – the better the results, that is a definite recipe for break down and forced down time at some point, and injures.

    The last piece on meditation and quantum physics and how life is a movie and our thoughts interact with the matrix of life creating our life experience – that just gave me chills!

    Thank you Tim!

    I’m learning from each episode so much! Best school ever! 🙂

  12. Dear Tim, just a mere suggestion. I would like you to consider having an episode with Ido Portal. If you are not aware of his work I think it would be something new. You are the only one who can get his work philosophy closer to our understanding. Thanks for this episode though. Great as always.

    1. Quick question for you Mr. Ferriss.

      In “Stealing Fire,” a book you are mentioned in quite a few times, they say that 90% of the body’s serotonin is located in the stomach.

      Using the Wim Hof Method you focus a lot of attention on the navel, as with other breathing techniques, do you think that meditation could be a fundamental solution to depression?

      I know KLove said he said he felt much better when he was using the Wim Hof Technique.

  13. Hi Tim,

    I know this is a long shot, but one of my very good friend’s birthday is coming up (May 10th). She and I are both OBSESSED with you!! We have read all of your books and listen to all of your podcasts. We are both still hoping you will make your way to D.C. So we can catch a talk or book signing in person 🙂

    Any way, my friend is the most incredible, bad ass you will ever meet. She’s a black hawk pilot in the Army part time, works in Intel full time, runs marathons, does crossfit, and of course follows your keto diet. I would love to give her something special for her birthday this year and that’s where I was hoping you could help out. She already has a copy of all of your books but do you think you could sign a book for her? Or anything really? Her name is Lauren Connelly and I promise you she is one of your biggest fans! Please reach out to me if you’re able to oblige my ridiculous outreach. If not, I will still go on loving you 🙂 thanks!!

  14. Thanks for bringing on Dorian! I love the weight training and body building episodes.

    It is obvious to anyone that PEDS are involved in any high level sports. People act like they are surprised by this and that was not even the meat of the interview.

    I’m more interested in the strategies and Dorian goes to great lengths to explain that gains are made through both intensity and recovery. It is a great reminder on what the focus should be when training.

    Tim you bring more to the table on fitness podcasts than podcasts dedicated to the topic. Love to see more of these!

  15. Tim this was probably one of my favorite interviews you’ve done all year! Would definitely love to hear Dorian back on the show. You guys covered a lot of great material. I would have liked to hear him talk more about the current state of bodybuilding; in particular, how most competitors are going strictly for mass and less emphasis on aesthetics. I wonder if he thinks this is damaging to the sport and if he foresees a shift coming.

  16. Loved this episode…particular as I had just finished one month of Geek to Freak training…the training was pretty on point-probably could have gone harder to failure (or past as Dorian says), and eaten more consistently and more overall. By day 30 I was disappointed with only 1kg gained…..55kg to 56kg. Weirdest thing tho…I started to tolerate-no, I was fully able to enjoy milk again where before I was lactose intolerant. Also weird is that once I cut back on the strict diet and training…I’m now at 58kg…so wondering if there is a lag effect?

    Because gym to me is like my me-time, I’m going 4 times a week now as opposed to 2. Also decided that to gain the mass whilst eating ridiculous amounts wasn’t for me so curious if there’s a more sustainable way to do it?

    PS. Cory Booker-didn’t see that one coming, he was a very enjoyable to listen to. Marie Kondo…I’m fairly organised as it is but to hear her prescribe the order of tidying was useful cos I’m easily distracted. Dorian….I didn’t think there was much else to learn about training but I was obviously wrong…great story too!

  17. Count me as one who loved this podcast. It was a fascinating look into the life of 6-time Mr. Olympia champion. Only regret is that I would like to know what type of high intensity program protocol he would recommend for “non enhanced” trainees…what exercises, sets, reps, recovery periods etc.

  18. Tim, simply – it was so cool to hear your mention your behaviour in reaching out to Dorian as a 16-17 year old. In following the podcast for so long, each nugget and vignette of your own journey is fascinating! Kevin

  19. Hello Tim! I want to start by saying I love you which is why I am taking the time out of my day to write this. There is this general trend circa episode 200-present in which it feels as if the light you used to have for pod-casting is fading. In the beginning, Tim Ferriss was a goofily child-in-a-candy-shop experimenter who was excited to ask world class performers things in which they haven’t been asked before. Recently, There have been more questions in which the opposite person replies first with something like “oh I get this question a lot.” I am not upset and I do not intend to severely judge you, I just want you to be conscious that your other die hard fans might be noticing this as well. Pod-casting can’t be a routine; Tim Ferriss always brings something new to the table! Respectfully, Zander Wiesehuegel.

  20. Tim

    I happened to absolutely love this podcast. Dorian, a long time hero of mine was drawn out by you with life long experience in the art of training and life. He did it tough and rose up among many when “they” said he would never be Mr O. I love the diversity on your show and totally disagree with listeners who want more nutrition and tech guys.

    Thanks for creating such a broad range of interesting human interaction.

  21. Hi, first time comment-er. I had a follow up question for Dorian. In an environment that’s so visually focused and “what have you improved this time” how could you disappear for long periods of time and then show back up to win another Olympia? It seems like having to hide what you’re up/progressing would take a toll on focus and drive.

  22. You’ve interviewed several power lifters, and I was wondering if you yourself have developed the perfect workout for heavy lifting? Do you recommend Barry Ross’s techniques or Pavel’s or a mixture of the two?

  23. Dear Tim and Dorian,

    I was going to skip this episode as I have no interest in bodybuilding and I judged Dorian. For some reason I decided to listen and as soon as I heard Dorian’s voice, his depth of spirit resonated and hooked me. I am so grateful it did-to you both for this content.

    I was in a yoga class this evening and the teacher instructed to complete a 90 second plank, and then a second one, and then he said “for those who want to complete a third final round”. Normally I would not want to and would prefer to hang out in child’s pose but I actually heard Dorian’s voice say “the final set-that’s where the magic happens”. And so I did. I was amazed how good I felt after and how it allowed for a deeper rest in shavasana, where I am often restless.

    It’s that little bit extra in everything that makes the difference. Thank you Dorian, you are a gift of inspiration-this is just the beginning of me stepping up my game. And Tim, I continue to adore you and the work you do!



  24. Wow! Tim. First great podcast. He is one of the best and most intelligent bodybuilders ever. He broke sport down to its purest form in my onion, changing it forever on how people look at training. Second, I cant believe how much heat you are getting from everyone because he used PED’s. They are greatly misguided and Dorian is one of the few who was in and out and used it to build on himself. Most of use drugs or did in our teens and 20’s just to get laid and party and be cool. PED’s dont come anywhere close to the real dangers of drugs alcohol but people buy into the hype and not the facts. Dr, Rand McClain out here in Santa Monica is my TRT doc and one of the more notable in the field ( Google him). HRT and steroids on the broader scale woulds be a great podcast.

  25. Awesome! The inner teenager from the 90s in me has also always wanted to have Dorian Yates be interviewed. But, dude, why did you not just come out and call it what it is – a Yates Row!

  26. Screw the haters man, this was an awesome interview. No BB ever tries to hide what they do to compete, well, most don’t, not like other major sports.

    Anyway, I’m an old school Lee Priest fan myself, which would be interesting too, seeing as how he was banned from IFBB for talking smack about IFBB, twice I think.

    Have you tried reaching out to Lyle McDonald? A bit of a curmudgeon, but he knows his shit for sure.

  27. I’m really waiting for Q&A part 2 with The Shadow. A lot of knowledge and a fantastic mindset here.

  28. Thank you Tim and Dorian. I was obsessed with Dorian during his Olympic years, voraciously consuming anything I could find in the old Muscle Mags. I did compete, which hindsight was overly arrogant :-), but he was VERY influential in me stepping on a stage, his intensity was so admirable. This podcast brought a idol of mine into my kitchen with what felt like a one on one life coaching session, very cool!

  29. Very interesting to hear from someone who has dedicated their life to such high standards of fitness and strength. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) offer multiple health benefits for men and women alike, right from burning more calories to improving heart health. I would definitely recommend that people interested in gaining fitness not only listen to Dorian Yates but also check out HIIT.

  30. Hi Tim & Co,

    Sorry if this is the wrong place to ask the following: I was wondering if you know if there is a way to repair a torn muscle (surgery most likely) that happened years ago? A friend told me it was possible but I’ve had a few Dr. Knife types tell me it is not possible to do surgical repair on an old tear. I remember reading about some awesome “fixes” you had done where “professionals” told you it was impossible. Thank you so much and hope you and yours are doing well! Best, James