The Dorian Yates Back Workout | The Ultimate Guide!

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about Dorian Yates’ back routine and how he built one of the greatest backs of all time.

Dorian Yates was the most successful bodybuilder of the 1990s. He won the Mr. Olympia title 6 times in a row from 1992-1997 and outclassed many legendary bodybuilders like Kevin Levrone, Shawn Ray and Flex Wheeler.

Dorian was most famous for one thing: his unbelievable back development! His back was so thick and so wide that he looked like a silverback gorilla on the bodybuilding stage!

Dorian used a lot of old-school exercises like Nautilus machine pullovers, barbell bent over rows and deadlifts to build up his back. He also used high-intensity bodybuilding techniques like forced reps to destroy his muscles with 1 working set per exercise.

If you hate traditional high-volume bodybuilding routines then you are going to LOVE Dorian’s upper back routine!

Here is the exact back routine that Dorian used in the 1990s when he was the best bodybuilder in the world. Check it out:

Dorian Yates’ Back And Rear Delts Routine!

  • A1: Pullover machine, 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure**
  • B1: Hammer strength pulldown (supinated grip), 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure**
  • C1: Standing barbell row to knees, 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure
  • D1: Seated 1-arm machine row, 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure**
  • E1: Bent-over rear delt machine, 1 working set of 10-12 reps to failure
  • F1: Bent over rear-delt DB flys, 1 working set of 8-10 reps to failure
  • G1: 90 degree back extension, BB on back, 1 working set of 8-10 reps to failure
  • H1: Conventional deadlift from floor, 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure

**Perform 1-3 extra forced reps with the help of your training partner after reaching muscular failure

Here is the training video for this workout:

You may be thinking that Dorian’s routine looks a lot like other high-volume upper back routines. Nothing could be further from the truth! In reality Dorian’s back routine is completely different from anything you have ever seen. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important aspects of Dorian’s back routine.

Here is a brief outline for the rest of the article:

  • Part 1: Dorian Trained With Intensity!
  • Part 2: Dorian’s Upper Back Routine
  • Part 3: Dorian’s Rear Delts Routine
  • Part 4: Dorian’s Training Split

Now let’s take a closer look at some of the training principles that Dorian used to build one of the greatest backs of all time!

Part 1: Dorian Trained With Intensity!

Before we discuss Dorian’s actual routine we have to cover some of his general training principles. Dorian Yates was famous for his “high-intensity” training style. After warming up he performed 1 all-out set per exercise.

Dorian performed his sets all the way to true muscular failure. This means he actually *failed* on his last rep of each exercise. On many of his exercises he even trained beyond muscular failure with a high-intensity training technique called “forced reps.”

Forced reps are pretty simple to perform: you take your set to failure and then you perform an extra 1-3 reps with the help of your training partner. Check out this video of Dorian Yates performing 1-arm machine rows.

Dorian performs 5 perfect reps on his own. He gets a huge stretch and an awesome contraction on every rep. On his 6th rep his training partner helps him lift the weight through the concentric range. This is the “forced rep.” Dorian then lowers the weight back down to the starting position on his own nice and slow. He then performs 1 more forced rep with the help of his training partner.

Forced reps are an unbelievable tool for building muscular hypertrophy. They let you train beyond the point of muscular failure and extend the total time under tension of the set. They also allow you to overload the eccentric range of the exercise because you are lowering the weight back down on your own on these extra reps.

Dorian used forced reps on every exercise where it was safe to do so. This included all of his machine exercises like machine pullovers, machine pulldowns and machine rows.

On heavier exercises like bent over rows and deadlifts he skipped the forced reps as they would be very dangerous. 

One of the big reasons for Dorian’s insane back development is that he ALWAYS controlled the negative phase of his reps. He even did this on exercises like deadlifts!

Just take a look at this video of Dorian performing deadlifts.

Just look at how he controls the weight! On every single rep he lowers the weight with a true 1-2 second negative phase. If Dorian had to he could easily change the direction of the weight at any point in the range of motion.

The negative phase of your reps is SO important because this is the part of the rep that actually builds muscle mass. The scientific literature has proven over and over again that you build muscle mass when you lower weights under control, NOT when you lift them!

Other high-intensity bodybuilding coaches like Dante Trudel are also big believers in using controlled negatives. Here is Dorian Yates himself talking about the importance of controlling your weights on the way down:

I hope that drives this point home! It’s almost hard to believe that Dorian Yates could train all-out every single workout without burning out mentally. I believe the reason Dorian could train so hard every workout is that he used a training logbook.

Dorian recorded all of his workouts in a training logbook. He wrote down how much weight he lifted for every exercise so that he could track his progress. Right before he went to the gym Dorian looked at his logbook to see how much weight he lifted last time.

He knew that if he deadlift 500 pounds for 7 reps last time then he had to load the bar with 510 pounds and shoot for 7-8 total reps.

Dorian viewed working out at the gym as a “life-or-death” war with the logbook. There was no way he was going to go home knowing his stupid logbook kicked his ass that day!

If you copy Dorian’s back workout then I strongly recommend you record your workouts in a training logbook. Every time you go to the gym your goal should be to add more weight to the bar or perform more reps on every exercise. 

Part 2: Dorian’s Upper Back Routine

How does someone build the widest, thickest upper back the world has ever seen? That is a great question! Dorian believes that the Nautilus machine pullover is the single most important upper back exercise ever invented. Here is Dorian performing this famous exercise:

Dorian performs 5 full range of motion reps on his own followed by 3 forced reps with some help from his training partner. Talk about a high-intensity set!

Dorian prefers machine pullovers because they are one of the only exercises that isolates your lats through a full range of motion.With machine pullovers you have massive tension on your lats at the start AND at the end of the exercise.

Dorian used the Nautilus machine pullover to really isolate his lats before moving onto more compound lat exercises like pull downs and rows. Let’s take a look at Dorian’s form on barbell rows (click right here for the training video).

Dorian believes that this is the optimal way to perform barbell rows. He also believes that this is THE best exercise to train your lower lats and your lower spinal erectors. The key is to use an upright posture and really pull up and back with your elbows. If you perform the exercise correctly then you should feel a huge contraction in your lower lats.

Finally Dorian finishes off his upper back workout with the king of all back exercises: deadlifts. You can click right here to see Dorian performing deadlifts at the end of his back workout.

Why on Earth did Dorian perform deadlifts at the end of his workout? I’ll you why!

Dorian was an unbelievably strong bodybuilder. Even when he performed deadlifts at the end of his back workout he was still deadlifting 500+ pounds for reps! If Dorian performed deadlifts at the start of his workout then he might have to deadlift 800+ pounds for reps just to get a growth response from the exercise.

Dorian felt that he could reduce his risk of injury by performing deadlifts at the end of his workout when his back was already pre-fatigued.

If you are an advanced bodybuilder then you might want to follow Dorian’s lead and perform deadlifts at the end of your workout to keep yourself healthy. 

Part 3: Dorian’s Rear Delts Routine

Dorian Yates always trained his rear delts on his upper back training day. This was slightly unusual but it worked wonders for Dorian. He had some of the thickest rear delts in bodybuilding history!

Dorian’s approach to rear delt training was incredibly simple. He performed 1 all-out working set to failure on 2 separate exercises. Here is Dorian his two favourite rear delt exercises: the prone rear delt machine and the bent-over rear delt DB raise.

I don’t have much to add to these videos. Dorian just performs 2 all-out sets for his rear delts with picture-perfect form.

Dorian does use slightly higher rep ranges when training his rear delts compared to his other body parts. This is a smart decision because the rear delts have a large amount of slow-twitch muscle fibers. Slow twitch muscle fibers tend to grow best with high reps and more time under tension per set.

Part 4: Dorian Gave Himself Plenty Of Time To Rest And Recover

If you want to copy Dorian’s back workout then you should probably use his training split as well. Dorian Yates used a unique training split where he trained each body part once every 6 days. Check it out: 

  • Day 1: Chest / Biceps
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Shoulders / Triceps
  • Day 5: Back / Rear Delts
  • Day 6: Off
  • Day 7: Repeat!

Dorian’s training split looks very similar to the traditional bodybuilding “bro-split” where you train each body part once every 7 days. The big difference is that Dorian cut out one of the rest days and hits each body part every 6 days. This small tweak actually makes a big difference.

Dorian was training his back 17% more often than most of his competitors. Over the course of a year this adds up to a lot of extra muscle tissue!

The increased training frequency is also great for promoting strength gains. Most trainees find that they have a hard time making consistent strength gains training their back only once a week. By training his back once every 6 days Dorian was able to consistently beat his logbook and grow year-round.

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Dorian Yates easily has one of the best backs in bodybuilding history. Every muscle including his lats, traps, rhomboids, spinal erectors, rear delts and teres major was just unbelievable!

Personally I am in awe of how wide his lats flare out in the rear lat spread pose. It looks like he could start flapping his lats like a pair of wings and fly away!

If you want to build an upper back so thick, so wide, so unbelievable that people vomit when they see you then Dorian’s back workout has your name written all over it! While you’re at it you might want to try Dorian’s complete “Blood And Guts” training program. 

If you want to learn more about how Dorian Yates trained then check out the following articles:

I wrote these articles because I wanted you to know exactly how to perform Dorian Yates’ training program. The only thing that I can’t do is teach you how to train with Dorian Yates style intensity in the gym.

If your nickname in the gym is “Candy-Ass Nancy-Boy” then Dorian’s Blood And Guts training program is not for you. You have to know how to “flip the switch” and train like a gorilla on PCP to get the most out of this program.

Let’s wrap this article up with one of my favorite Dorian Yates quotes:

“Everything’s mental. You create your reality with your thoughts.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck with your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

What's going on! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen, I'm the creator of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to take your training to the next level, then you've come to the right place... My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world!

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