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Until the 1990s, pro bodybuilding favored tapered and aesthetic physiques, which gave way to a formulaic approach to contests that consisted of high-volume workouts, 20 to 30 sets per session. But in 1992, an Englishman named Dorian Yates stepped onstage at 5’10” and weighing in the high 240s, looking like an anomaly among freaks.
He sported thin skin stretched over thick muscle—a look that would later be known as “grainy”—yet still maintained a tight waist and balanced proportions.
He went on to win six consecutive Mr. Olympia titles, the highest honor in the sport, and singlehandedly ushered in a new era of bodybuilding—where mass monsters ruled. With that, his unique style of training also became more popular among bodybuilders and gym rats looking to put on serious muscle.
Yates’ freakish size can be attributed to the way he approached training. While many bodybuilders believed that pumping out rep after rep was the key to building large, dense muscle, Yates took a different path.
Inspired by former golden age legend Mike Mentzer—whose book Heavy Duty preached a high intensity, low-volume approach to training—Yates adopted a similar plan, aptly named High-Intensity Training (aka HIT).
Yates would perform only eight to 10 sets for bigger muscles and four to six for smaller ones, with one to two warmup sets, where he pyramided up in weight, and just one working set. As for reps, Yates favored a range of six to eight reps for his upper body and eight to 15 reps for his lower half, as legs respond better to more volume.
It may not sound like a lot, but consider that his warmups were performed with weights and for reps that most would consider working sets. And Yates’ final sets were always all-out grinders that were taken to failure and beyond with techniques like rest-pause and forced reps.
In the words of the man himself: “If you feel you can attempt the second set, then you couldn’t have been pulling out all of the stops during the first set.”
It should be noted that there is nothing wrong with using less weight for higher reps. In fact, a 2008 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that training with lower weights and higher reps is still effective for building size and strength. Less weight is also easier on your joints.
However, there is something to be said for lifting heavy weights for less reps. After all, increasing the strength of your muscles allows you to lift more weight, and lifting heavier weight is a new stimulus for your muscle to adapt to. Ipso facto, the more weight you can lift, the more your muscles will grow—also, throwing around heavy weights is just more fun.
You can follow a HIT routine for four to six weeks before backing off, or implement it as a method of shocking your muscles. Either way, adequate recovery—allowing a muscle to rest for one week, getting more sleep, and proper nutrition—is a must to grow, no matter what your training routine is.
Despite being decades removed, Yates’ methods are anything but archaic. Give it a try yourself and stronger, denser muscle is just weeks away.