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Without Dorian Yates, high-intensity training (HIT) may have ended up as just another dusty relic of the ’70s like mood rings or beanbags. Lee Labrada did a modified version of HIT in the ’80s, but he was celebrated for his aesthetics, not his warlike workouts. It took a one-man “British Invasion” to once again make HIT relevant. During Yates’ six-year Mr. Olympia run (1992–97), high intensity reached a new-level of acclaim and influence. In the final chapter of our three-part HIT series, we examine Yates’ version of HIT and see how it continues to shape bodybuilding workouts today.
Before 21-year-old Dorian Yates picked up weights in 1983, he picked up books, reading all he could about training science. It was Mike Mentzer’s Heavy Duty that won over the Englishman.
Then when he toiled in the dungeon-like Temple Gym, Yates modified Heavy Duty via experimentation. He did four to eight working sets per body part. He also put a Mentzerlike emphasis on low reps, doing six to eight for most body parts (more for legs and abs). As he advanced, he pushed these sets beyond failure, usually with two to three forced reps, but he incorporated dropsets, rest-pause, and partials on occasion. In 1988, Yates won the British Championships weighing 226 pounds—46 pounds heavier than he was five years prior. And he was about to launch the most consistently superb pro career of all time: 15 wins, two losses (both seconds).
By the time Yates hoisted his first of six consecutive Sandows, he had settled on a training style of typically just one all-out working set per exercise. However, before this apex set, he pyramided warmup sets. And he sometimes did as many as three such warmups, going increasingly heavier. This led to a common misconception about his workouts. Some people observed him battling weights in person or on video and declared—aha!—he actually does a normal quantity of volume. Pfft. In fact, the confusion merely highlighted the difference between his working sets and those of most bodybuilders. Pyramided sets at moderate intensity were his warmups—mere preparation for the final (beyond failure) set of an exercise. To him, that was the only set that truly mattered.
“IF YOU FEEL YOU CAN ATTEMPT A SECOND SET, THEN YOU COULDN’T HAVE BEEN PULLING OUT ALL THE STOPS DURING THE FIRST SET.” — DORIAN YATES
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As with Arthur Jones and his protégé Casey Viator in 1971–73 and Mike Mentzer in 1979–80, Yates inspired a new generation of bodybuilders in the ’90s to give HIT a chance. Once again, few stayed with the strict, low-volume dogma for long. But this time HIT had lasting effects. Post-Yates, most bodybuilders put more emphasis on pushing some sets to failure and beyond. Several neo-HIT philosophies developed, including Doggcrapp, Beyond Failure, and Max-OT. (We’ll explore those in future Training Styles.) And a lower training frequency became the norm. Pre-Yates, hitting body parts once every seven days was nearly unheard of. Today, it’s the most popular split among advanced bodybuilders. HIT was never the revolution its greatest proponents declared it would be. Nevertheless, the insurgent philosophy developed by an eccentric equipment-maker over four decades ago continues to influence how bodybuilders train and recuperate today.
YATES’ HIT BASICS
YATES’ HIT TIP SHEET