The Dorian Yates Leg Workout!


In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about Dorian Yates’ leg routine and how he built his unbelievable lower body.

Dorian Yates was by far the best bodybuilder in the world in the 1990s. He won the Mr. Olympia title 6 times in a row from 1992 – 1997 and beat many bodybuilding legends including Kevin Levrone, Flex Wheeler and Nasser El Sonbaty.

Dorian is best known for having one of the greatest backs of all time. However, he also had an unbelievable lower body. His legs were absolutely massive and perfectly balanced out his huge upper body.

When it came to training his legs Dorian broke all of the traditional bodybuilding rules. Dorian trained his legs with a low volume, high-intensity style using mostly machine exercises. Dorian used a variety of machine exercises such as leg extensions, leg presses and hack squats instead of traditional back squats to build his legs.

If you hate traditional bodybuilding leg routines and want to use high-intensity workouts to build up your legs then the Dorian Yates leg workout is for you!

Here is the exact leg workout Dorian used during the peak of his bodybuilding career. Check it out:

Dorian Yates’ Leg Routine

  • A1: Machine bilateral leg extension, 1 working set of 8-10 reps to failure**
  • B1: 45 Degree Leg Press, 1 working set of 10-12 reps to failure**
  • C1: Machine hack squat, feet narrow, 1 working set of 8-10 reps to failure**
  • D1: Lying bilateral hamstring curl, feet neutral / dorsiflexed, 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure**
  • E1: Romanian deadlift to mid-shin, 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure
  • F1: Standing unilateral leg curl, feet neutral / dorsiflexed, 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure**
  • G1: Standing calf raise, 1 working set of 10-12 reps to failure**
  • H1: Seated calf raise, 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure**

**Perform 1-3 forced reps after reaching failure with the help of your training spotter.

Here is the training video for this workout:

This may look like a simple leg routine. After all, Dorian simply performs 2-3 exercises each for his quads, hamstrings and calves. In reality Dorian’s leg routine was completely different from what any other professional bodybuilder was using in the 1990s.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important aspects of Dorian’s leg routine. Here is a brief outline for the rest of the article:

  • Part 1: Dorian Trained His Legs With Intensity!
  • Part 2: Dorian’s Quadriceps Routine
  • Part 3: Dorian’s Hamstrings Routine
  • Part 4: Dorian’s Calf Routine
  • Part 5: Dorian’s Training Split

Now let’s take a closer look at some of the training principles that Dorian used to train his legs.

Part 1: Dorian Trained His Legs With Intensity!

Most of the bodybuilders during the 1990s were training with high-volume programs featuring lots of sets, reps and exercises. Dorian tried these high-volume workouts when he first started training. However, he quickly figured out that he couldn’t recover from these high-volume leg workouts.

Instead Dorian got his best results using a high-intensity training style where he performed 1 working set to failure per exercise. For each exercise Dorian performed several warm up sets to get his body ready for his heavy set. Once Dorian was ready he performed his 1 all-out working set to failure for that exercise.

On most exercises Dorian even trained beyond failure with a high-intensity bodybuilding technique called “forced reps.” Just take a look at the following leg extension video:

Dorian performs 8 reps of leg extensions all on his own. The 8th set is an absolute grinder but he is able to complete it on his own. Dorian then completes another 3 reps with the help of his spotter.

His spotter helps Dorian through the concentric or lifting portion of the rep and Dorian has to lower the weight back down all on his own. These extra reps are called “forced reps” because your training partner is helping you through the concentric range after you reach muscular failure.

Dorian used forced reps because they let him overload his muscles beyond the point of muscular failure. They also helped him to eccentrically overload his muscles because he was lowering the weight down all on his own during the forced reps.

Dorian used forced reps on almost all of his leg exercises. The only leg exercise where Dorian didn’t use forced reps was stiff legged deadlifts because it just isn’t safe or practical to do so.

One of the reasons for Dorian’s unbelievable leg development is he always controlled the eccentric or negative phase of his reps. It didn’t matter if it was a regular rep or a forced rep: he always lowered his weights under control. You can click right here to see a video of Dorian performing machine hack squats:

Just look at that control! Dorian isn’t using momentum to move the weight. Instead he is using nothing but his muscles to lower his bodyweight back down to the bottom position. Controlling the negative phase of your reps is so important because the lowering phase of your reps is where you build the most muscle mass!

Here is Dorian Yates himself talking about the importance of lowering your weights under control:

I believe the reason Dorian trained his legs so hard is that he recorded all of his workouts in a training logbook. In fact Dorian recorded every single workout of his professional bodybuilding career in a training logbook. Every time he went to the gym he knew exactly what he had to do to beat his previous workout.

If he leg pressed 1,000 pounds for 13 reps then he knew he had to bump up the weight to 1,010 pounds and shoot for the same 13 reps. These small weight jumps add up over time.

Dorian believed that if he got stronger over time in bodybuilding rep ranges then his legs had no choice but to grow. It’s hard to argue with Dorian’s logic!

Part 2: Dorian’s Quadriceps Routine

When Dorian first started training his legs he performed barbell squats just like everyone else. Dorian figured he had to include squats in his training program if he wanted to build a world-class pair of legs. There was only one problem: he hated barbell squats!

Dorian had a really hard time feeling his quads working during squats and he didn’t feel like they were helping him become a better bodybuilder. One day he injured his knee performing barbell squats and he said “That’s it – I’ve had enough! I’m going to find a way to grow my legs without squats or I’m going to die trying!”

Dorian started training his quadriceps using machines like leg extensions, leg presses and hack squats and his legs immediately started to grow.

Most people think the leg extension machine is almost useless for training the quadriceps. Dorian ignored everyone else and started using leg extensions first in his routine. He pre-fatigued his quadriceps so he didn’t have to use as much weight on his other leg exercises such as leg presses and hack squats.

Just take a look at the following video:

It’s easy to see how Dorian built his quads with this isolation exercise. Just look at that training intensity! I can almost feel my quads twitching just watching that video! When Dorian trains people he insists that they start their leg workouts with leg extensions to pre-fatigue the quads. It is a crucial part of the Dorian Yates leg workout!

Part 3: Dorian’s Hamstrings Routine

Dorian used some simple, “old-school” exercises such as leg curls and stiff-legged deadlifts to train his hamstrings. This is a really smart way to train the hamstrings because it works both functions of the hamstrings!

The hamstrings perform 2 functions:

  • Knee flexion
  • Hip extension

In other words the hamstrings help you bend your knees (knee flexion) and perform deadlift type motions (hip extension). If you want to maximally develop your hamstrings then you have to include exercises that perform BOTH of these functions.

In an ideal world you would include both knee flexion and hip extension exercises in each of your hamstrings workouts. One of the things that I LOVE about how Dorian trains his hamstrings is he knows which exercises to use forced reps on.

Dorian always uses forced reps on his leg curls. This is an awesome (and painful!) way to train your hamstrings. Many world-class bodybuilding coaches such as John Meadows are also big fans of using post-failure training techniques on leg curls.

Just take a look at the following video of Dorian performing kneeling leg curls:

Talk about intensity! Dorian performs 5 regular reps on his own followed by 2 forced reps. The hamstrings have a ton of fast-twitch muscle fibers and respond really well to these lower rep ranges.

On the other hand Dorian NEVER performed forced reps on exercises like stiff-legged deadlifts. In fact he never even went to true muscular failure on this exercise. Instead he stopped the set when he knew he couldn’t complete another rep in good form.

You can click right here to see Dorian performing stiff-legged deadlifts. Just look at his form: Dorian does everything he can to emphasize the deep stretch in the bottom position. He even stands on a small platform to increase the stretch on his hamstrings in the bottom position. It’s no wonder Dorian was able to build up such impressive hamstrings!

I strongly recommend you follow Dorian’s lead and train your hamstrings with leg curls and stiff-legged deadlifts in low-medium rep ranges. 

Part 4: Dorian’s Calf Routine

Most people don’t know this but Dorian had an unbelievable pair of calves! They were absolutely massive and they perfectly balanced out the rest of his lower body. Dorian’s calf routine wasn’t complicated. In fact, it was incredibly simple.

Dorian used two calf exercises:

  1. Standing calf raises
  2. Seated calf raises

It’s a good idea to include BOTH standing and seated calf raises in your routine because they work slightly different muscles. There are two main calf muscles:

  • The Gastrocnemius
  • The Soleus

The standing calf raise works both of your calf muscles but it primarily targets the gastrocnemius. This is the calf muscle at the top of your lower leg. Here is Dorian giving a perfect demonstration of this exercise:

Even on exercises like calf raises Dorian trains beyond failure with the use of forced reps. Talk about intensity!

On the other hand the seated calf raise primarily targets the soleus. This is because the gastrocnemius doesn’t work when your knee is fully bent.

The soleus is a slow-twitch muscle so you should probably use slightly higher rep ranges on this exercise compared to the standing calf raise. I strongly recommend you follow Dorian’s lead and include calf exercises with your knees straight and calf exercises with your knees bent.

Dorian proved to the world that you don’t need to use a ton of volume to build a world-class pair of calves. Two total sets performed with out-of-this-world intensity is more than enough!

Part 5: Dorian’ Training Split

Finally let’s talk about the training split that Dorian used to become the 6x Mr. Olympia champion. Dorian used a modified version of the typical bodybuilding “bro-split.”

Dorian used 4 separate workouts and trained each body part one every 6 day. 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!

This looks a lot like the body part split that most professional bodybuilders used. However, there is a big difference: Dorian trained each body part once every 6 days rather than once every 7 days like everyone else!

This may not seem like a big deal. After all, how much of a difference can this really make? In reality it made a HUGE difference for Dorian! Dorian was training each body part 17% more often than his competitors. Over time that adds up to a HUGE amount of extra muscle growth.

If you are interested in copying Dorian’s leg routine then I highly recommend you give the Dorian Yates training split a shot. 

Conclusion

Dorian Yates is one of the most famous and successful bodybuilders of all time. He broke all the rules and used a unique low-volume / high-intensity training program to build his world-class physique.

Dorian’s leg training routine was especially interesting because he shunned the barbell squat in favor of various machine exercises like the leg extension, leg press and hack squat machine.

If you haven’t made any progress with the typical high-volume bodybuilding-style leg workouts then you have to give Dorian’s leg routine a shot. I think you will be surprised at how effective it can be.

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

These are the best resources available anywhere in the world on the Dorian Yates training program. Let’s wrap things up with one of my favourite Dorian Yates quotes:

“That’s a good weight… for a small woman.” 

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

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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