In this comprehensive guide I will teach you how to build slabs of muscle mass with Dorian Yates’ shoulder and tricep routine. Dorian Yates is one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time and won the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding contest 6 times in a row from 1992-1997.
When I think of Dorian Yates I think of many things:
- His unbreakable will to win
- His out-of-this-world training intensity
- His passion for the sport of bodybuilding
Of course I also think about his unbelievable shoulder and tricep development! Dorian’s triceps looked like metal claws that were ready to fall of his arms and his shoulders looked like cannon balls sitting on the sides of his upper body.
Dorian tried the traditional bodybuilding shoulder and tricep workouts but quickly realized that they did nothing for him. Instead Dorian had to develop his own training style where he performed 1 all-out set per exercise.
Here is the exact shoulder and tricep workout that Dorian used at the peak of his competitive bodybuilding career. Check it out:
Dorian Yates’ Shoulders And Triceps Routine!
- A1: Seated smith overhead press, 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure
- B1: Seated DB lateral raise, 1 working set of 8-10 reps to failure**
- C1: Standing cable lateral raise, 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure**
- D1: Standing DB shrugs, 1 working set of 12-15 reps to failure
- E1: Standing bilateral straight-bar cable push down, 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure**
- F1: Ez-bar skull crusher, bar to forehead, 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure
- G1: Standing 1-arm cable push down, 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 are the shoulder training videos:
And here are the tricep training videos:
This may look like a simple shoulder and tricep routine. After all, Dorian is only performing 3 exercises for each body part. Nothing could be further from the truth!
In reality Dorian’s shoulder and tricep workout was incredibly well thought-out and completely different from what any of his competitors were doing. After all, there is a reason Dorian was called the “mad genius of bodybuilding!”
Here is an outline for the rest of the article:
- Part 1: Dorian Trained His Shoulders And Triceps With Intensity!
- Part 2: Dorian’s Shoulder Routine
- Part 3: Dorian’s Triceps Routine
- Part 4: Dorian’s Unique Training Split
Now let’s take an in-depth examination of the shoulder and tricep routine that helped make Dorian a champion!
Part 1: Dorian Trained His Shoulders And Triceps With Intensity!
When Dorian Yates first started lifting weights in the 1980s everyone was using a high-volume training style. High-volume workouts worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger and his friends in the 1970s so everyone thought that it was the way to go.
There was only one problem: Dorian didn’t get anything out of these high-volume workouts. In fact Dorian quickly over trained if he performed more than 1 working set per exercise! Dorian wasn’t about to give up on his bodybuilding dreams. Instead he developed a training style where he performed 1 all-out set to failure per exercise.
On most exercises he even trained beyond failure with forced reps. Just take a look at the following video of Dorian performing tricep pushdowns:
Dorian performs 8 reps on his own. His 8th rep is an absolute grinder and he barely gets it. This was hard enough but Dorian keeps going!
His training partner gives Dorian just enough help during the concentric or lifting phase of the rep so that he can bust out another 3 reps. His training partner may be helping him through the concentric range but Dorian is lowering the weight all on his own on every rep.
These 3 extra reps are called “forced reps” and they were Dorian’s favourite way to train beyond failure.
Dorian used forced reps on just about every shoulder and tricep exercise. The only exception was his overhead presses where he trained right on the edge of muscular failure.
In addition to forced reps Dorian used very slow, controlled negatives on all of his reps. Dorian believes that these slow negatives are key to maximizing muscle growth.
Here is Dorian himself talking about the importance of slow negatives:
It does not matter if Dorian was performing a dumbbell lateral raise, a tricep pushdown or a lying triceps extension: Dorian ALWAYS used controlled negatives on every rep that he did. The scientific research is very clear on the benefits of controlled negatives for hypertrophy so Dorian is absolutely correct here.
Sometimes I wonder how Dorian managed to train to failure on every exercise in all of his shoulder and tricep workouts. You have to be a machine to train this way year-round! Dorian clearly had an unbreakable will to win that few other bodybuilders share.
However, I believe one of the keys to Dorian’s training intensity was his training logbook. Dorian recorded all of his workouts in his training logbook. He wrote down everything including how much weight he lifted and how many reps he got on every exercise.
Before every workout he reviewed his logbook to see what numbers he had to beat that day. If he lifted 300 pounds for 7 reps at his previous workout then he knew he had to load the bar with 305 or even 310 pounds and shoot for 7+ reps.
Part 2: Dorian’s Shoulder Routine
Dorian’s shoulder routine was very simple but extremely effective. He used a combination of compound and isolation movements so that his shoulders had no choice but to grow. Dorian starts off his shoulder workout with a seated smith machine overhead press. For example:
The seated overhead press is the only exercise where Dorian does not perform any forced reps. Instead he performs one straight set to failure. I love that Dorian uses overhead pressing movements in his routine. Too many modern-day professional bodybuilders skip overhead presses in favor of endless lateral raise variations.
Isolation movements are great but when it comes to building shoulder size and strength nothing beats the overhead press.
One of the advantages of the overhead press is that it is much easier to progress on over time. You can work up to 200-400 pound overhead presses over many years. It is much more difficult to climb the strength ladder on shoulder isolation exercises.
After his smith machine overhead press Dorian moves onto two types of lateral raises to target his side delts. Here is Dorian performing his seated DB lateral raises and cable lateral raises:
These two shoulder exercises are great because the overload different points in the strength curve. The dumbbell lateral raises overload the side delts when they are maximally contracted while the cable lateral raises overloads the side delts when they are stretched.
Using exercises that overload different points in the strength curve is a fantastic way to stimulate growth without beating yourself up too much. Dorian also performs a couple of exercises for his rear delts but he performs them on his back training day.
You can read more about his rear delt exercise here:
Part 3: Dorian’s Triceps Routine
Dorian Yates may be known for his unbelievable back development but his triceps were easily his second best body part. Dorian never trained his triceps with compound pressing movements. Instead he used a variety of isolation exercises to train his triceps.
Dorian felt that his triceps were already receiving plenty of stimulation from his heavy chest and shoulder pressing exercises and that he only needed to “finish off” his triceps with some targeted isolation work.
Dorian starts his workout with heavy cable pressdowns. For example:
The tricep pushdown isn’t exactly the best “mass-building” exercise in the world. It doesn’t stimulate nearly as many motor units in the triceps as things like dips, close grip bench presses and lying triceps extensions.
So why did he start his workout with them? In reality he did this for safety reasons. Dorian was training with unbelievably heavy weights and he didn’t want to injure his elbow or aggravate his triceps tendon. Dorian was using the cable pushdowns to pre-exhaust his triceps with a very safe exercise and to pump as much blood as he could into his triceps.
After his triceps pushdowns Dorian moved onto his “meat and potatoes” triceps exercise: ez-bar skull crushers. You can click right here to see Dorian performing this exercise.
This is the exercise that Dorian relied on to build up his triceps. The skull crusher is a fantastic exercise to overload both the lateral head and the long head of your triceps. I recommend you perform this exercise exactly like Dorian by bringing the bar down to your forehead.
A lot of trainees bring the bar *behind* their head to try and hit their triceps harder. This is a big mistake! The only way to target BOTH the lateral head and the long head of the triceps with lying ez-bar extensions is to bring the bar to your forehead, nose or chin.
This is the only triceps exercise where Dorian does not perform any forced reps. The risk of injury is just too high when you start using forced reps on this exercise.
Finally Dorian finishes his triceps workout with 1-arm underhand tricep pushdowns. You can click right here to see Dorian performing this exercise.
Again I believe this was Dorian trying to overload his triceps without risking injury to his elbows or triceps tendon. Dorian eventually tore his triceps tendon right off the bone so you have to be careful no matter how you structure your workouts!
Part 4: Dorian’s Unique Training Split
If you want to copy Dorian Yates’ shoulders and triceps workout then you should probably copy his training split to make sure you have enough time to recover between workouts.
Dorian trained his shoulders and triceps once every 6 days using a unique bodybuilding training split. For example:
- 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 split looks very similar to a traditional bodybuilding “bro-split” where you train each body part once per week. The big difference is that Dorian cuts out one of the rest days and trains each body part every 6 days.
I believe this was a great decision by Dorian because he was training body parts about 17% more often than most other bodybuilders. Over the course of a year this adds up to a lot of extra muscle mass!
In my experience many trainees have a hard time getting stronger when they hit body parts only once every 7 days. If you love traditional bodybuilding “bro-splits” but have a hard time getting stronger training body parts once a week then I think you will LOVE the Dorian Yates training split.
If you are an intermediate or advanced bodybuilder and love to push yourself in the gym then you have to give the Dorian Yates shoulder and tricep routine a shot. It is easily one of the best shoulder and tricep routines ever invented.
In order to get the most out of this routine you have to train with intensity! In other words you have to push yourself all the way to failure on all of your working sets. I recommend you follow Dorian’s lead and train beyond failure using forced reps on every exercise except for the smith machine overhead presses and the lying triceps extensions.
Dorian wasn’t as genetically gifted as other bodybuilders during the 1990s such as Flex Wheeler and Kevin Levrone. That didn’t matter though: Dorian destroyed dominated the sport of bodybuilding for 6 straight years with a combination of hard work, an unbreakable will and an extremely smart training program.
If you want to learn more about Dorian’s unique training style then check out these articles:
- The Dorian Yates Training Program!
- The Dorian Yates Chest And Biceps Workout!
- The Dorian Yates Leg Workout!
- The Dorian Yates Back Workout!
- The Dorian Yates Training Split!
These articles will teach you everything you need to know about Dorian’s unique approach to training.
You probably won’t become the next Dorian Yates just by following his training program. However, if you can summon enough intensity in the gym then you might make some of the fastest gains of your entire life.
Here is one of my favourite quotes by Dorian Yates:
“One set at extreme intensity does the muscle-building job. It must be stressed that the one final, all-out set I do takes me to the very limit of my capabilities. If you feel you can attempt a second set, then you couldn’t have been pulling out all the stops during the first set. It’s not pretty, but it works.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
There are many different ways to squat. However, one of the most popular variations is to squat with your heels elevated. There are many ways to do this: you can use special squatting shoes...