In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about Dorian Yates’ shoulder routine and how he built some of the biggest, strongest shoulders of all time.
Dorian Yates is one of my favourite bodybuilders. He won the Mr. Olympia title 6 times in a row from 1992 – 1997 and outclassed many bodybuilding legends such as Flex Wheeler and Shawn Ray. When Dorian was on his A-game everyone else was fighting for second place!
Dorian was known for his big, strong shoulders. In his prime Dorian could overhead press 315 pounds in the smith machine. Check it out:
Talk about a huge overhead press!
Dorian had a very unusual training style: he performed 1 all-out set to complete muscular failure per exercise. He trained this way even for a smaller muscle group like his shoulders.
He performed as many warm up sets as he needed to get ready for his heavy set. But when he got to his heaviest weight he trained all the way to failure and left nothing in the tank!
On smaller exercises like dumbbell lateral raises Dorian even used forced reps to train beyond failure. A forced rep is where your training partner helps you lift the weight so you can perform 1-3 extra reps after reaching failure.
So how did Dorian organize his shoulder training? Dorian trained his shoulders twice per week using an unusual bodybuilding-style training split. Check it out:
The Dorian Yates Training Split
- 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 trained his shoulders directly on his shoulders / triceps day and then again on his back / rear delts day. On his shoulders / triceps day Dorian focused on his front and rear delts using exercises such as overhead presses and dumbbell lateral raises.
Here is Dorian’s primary shoulder workout that he performed on “day 4” of his training split. Check it out:
Dorian Yates’ Primary Shoulder Workout
- A1: Seated smith machine overhead press, 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure
- B1: Seated DB lateral raise, 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure**
- C1: Standing unilateral cable lateral raise, 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure**
**Perform 1-3 extra forced reps with your training partner after reaching failure
Here are the shoulder training videos:
Dorian starts out his shoulder routine with a heavy overhead pressing exercise. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is!
Too many bodybuilders believe that you can get maximum shoulder development with side and rear delt isolation work. In my experience this is flat-out wrong!
Overhead presses are absolutely essential for building big, strong shoulders. Some of the world’s best bodybuilders like Dorian Yates and Arnold Schwarzenegger used overhead presses as a core part of their shoulder routines and it shows in their physiques.
After his main overhead pressing variation Dorian moves on to a couple of side delt isolation exercises. On both of these exercises he performs 1-3 forced reps after reaching failure to absolutely annihilate the target muscle.
I really like Dorian’s choice to use dumbbell and cable exercises to train his side delts because these 2 exercises overload different points in the strength curve. The seated dumbbell lateral raise overloads the shortened position of the strength curve while the cable lateral raise targets the stretched position.
Now let’s take a look at Dorian’s rear delt routine that he performs towards the end of his back / rear delt training routine. Check it out:
Dorian Yates Rear Delt Workout
- A1: Bent-over machine reverse fly, 1 working set of 10-12 reps to failure
- B1: Bent-over DB reverse fly, 1 working set of 8-10 reps to failure
Here are the rear delt training videos:
Dorian keeps things nice and simple for his rear delt workout. He picks a couple of basic rear delt exercises and trains them as hard as he can in the 8-12 rep ranges.
The rear delts have a higher percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers and usually respond best to higher rep ranges. Dorian probably figured this out on his own and used the correct rep ranges to target this slow-twitch muscle.
It’s actually pretty rare for an elite bodybuilder to perform rear delt exercises on their back day. Most bodybuilders perform their overhead presses, side-delt isolation exercises and rear delt isolation exercises all on the same day.
For example this is how Ronnie Coleman structured his shoulder day.
At the end of the day both approaches work. Dorian probably threw the rear delt exercises on his back day because his shoulder / tricep workout was long enough as is!
Dorian’s shoulder workouts may look simple. Looks can be deceiving! In reality Dorian used several advanced bodybuilding techniques and strategies to build up his cannon-ball delts. For example:
- Strategy #1: Dorian Trained With Intensity!
- Strategy #2: Dorian Trained To Beat The Logbook!
If you want to build a pair of cannon-ball delts like Dorian Yates then these training tips are for you. Now let’s take a closer look at each of them:
Strategy #1: Dorian Trained With Intensity!
Dorian Yates was known for his high-intensity training style. But what does “high-intensity” really mean? It means Dorian trained balls-to-the-wall on every single set. He made sure that he had NOTHING left in the tank once the set was over.
Just take a look at the following video of Dorian performing cable lateral raises:
Dorian performs 6 reps on his own all the way to failure. You can see how painful this is just by looking at Dorian’s face! After the 6th rep Dorian performs 3 extra forced reps with the help of his spotter.
Dorian starts the movement on his own and then his training partner provides some help right when Dorian hits his sticking point. Dorian’s partner provides just enough help to get the weight moving again and nothing more.
If you have never performed a set to failure with 3 forced reps then you have NO IDEA how painful this is!
Dorian believed that performing 1 set to failure per exercise was the fastest and most effective way to build muscle. Here is Dorian talking to Joe Rogan about his unique training style:
If you want to perform 1 working set per exercise then you HAVE to train this way. Remember, you only get 1 chance per exercise to create a stimulus for growth.
If you cut the set short before you hit failure then you won’t get anything out of Dorian’s routine! But if you have the guts to train as hard as Dorian then you will build shoulder size and strength incredibly fast.
Strategy #2: Dorian Trained To Beat The Logbook!
It’s almost impossible for the average bodybuilder to understand how Dorian trained so hard year-round. It didn’t matter if he was training shoulders or legs or any other body part: he always gave 100% of his absolute best effort on every workout.
How is this possible? Is Dorian secretly a T-900 Terminator sent back in time by SkyNet to become one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time before eventually wiping out the human race?
In reality Dorian’s “secret weapon” was his training logbook. Dorian recorded all of his workouts during his competitive bodybuilding career in his training logbook. Before every workout he looked back at his logbook to see what kind of numbers he had to beat that day.
Here is what his logbook might look like before his shoulder workout:
- A1: Seated smith machine overhead press, 1 x 6-8
- LT: 315 x 6
- B1: Seated DB lateral raise, 1 x 6-8 (+ 1-3 forced reps)
- LT: 50’s x 7 (+2 forced reps)
- C1: Standing unilateral cable lateral raise, 1 x 6-8 (+1-3 forced reps)
- LT: 65 x 6 (+3 forced reps)
By the way, the “LT” symbol stands for “Last Time” and the “TT” symbol stands for “This Time.” If you have any trouble reading this shoulder routine then check out my article on how to read a training program.
Dorian’s goal was to beat the logbook every single time he trained. This could be as simple as adding 5 pounds to the bar or getting an extra rep.
Dorian didn’t actually beat the logbook every workout. However, over the course of a month he almost always got stronger on all of his exercises. These small strength increases added up to huge strength gains over the course of his career.
If you want to use a high-intensity routine like Dorian Yates’ shoulder workout then you have to use a training logbook. It will motivate you to train all-out on every set and to make strength gains over time.
Dorian Yates was one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. He had a massive upper body complete with cannon-ball delts sitting on top of his shoulders. If you are looking for a new shoulder routine then I highly recommend you give Dorian’s shoulder routine a shot.
Just make sure that you have the guts to train with his high-intensity training style!
If your nickname in the gym is “candy-ass Nancy-boy” then you better pick a different routine. Dorian’s shoulder routine will eat you up and spit you out alive!
“No matter what you do, you first have to have a vision… to see your goal, to believe in it, have faith in it and chase it. And then it’s fun to chase it. If you don’t have a goal or a vision, then you have nothing.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck with your strength training journey!
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