Dorian Yates Back Workout From Blood and Guts

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Dorian Yates Back Workout

Dorian Yates’s back workout consisted of 8 exercises with eight total top sets that took about an hour to complete in Temple Gym. 

In the Blood & Guts film, you can smell his desire to retain the Mr. Olympia title.

After watching this film for the first time in high school, I imagined myself as Dorian whenever I did reverse pulldowns. 

I’m super excited to lay out this workout for you to try.

Dorian’s Workout for Back Development

Before the back-day workout, Dorian would do 5 minutes of dynamic stretching for his lower back, scapula, hips, and hamstrings.

This consisted of supine trunk rotations and standing walkout planks.

He performed two pre-exhaustive sets at 50% and 70% of his top set for his first exercise.

These pre-sets didn’t surpass eight reps (I counted) in the original Blood & Guts.

Each movement had a maximum intensity top set taken to muscular failure in the 6-8 or 6-12 rep range.

He rested for as long as he needed leading up to the all-out sets to prepare mentally and physically. 

His Back Workout

Dorian always looked at the previous workout in his training journal. 

His goal was to increase by reps or weight in the impending session. 

He’d aim to do pullovers for eight reps with slightly heavier weights (85 lbs) if he previously did eight reps with 80 lbs, for example. 

  1. Nautilus Pullover
    • Warm-ups: 2×6-8
    • Top set: 1×6-8
  2. Hammer Strength Pulldown
    • Warm-up: 1×6-8
    • Top set: 1×6-8
  3. Yates Row
    • Warm-up: 1×6-8
    • Top set: 1×6-8
  4. Hammer Strength Row
    • Top set: 1×6-8 each arm
  5. Machine Reverse Fly
    • Top set: 1×6-12
  6. Dumbbell Reverse Fly
    • Top set: 1×6-12
  7. Glute Ham Raise
    • Top set: 1×6-12
  8. Partial Deadlift
    • Warm-up: 1×6-8
    • Top set: 1×6-8

Workout Split Schedule

  • Monday: Chest/Biceps
  • Tuesday: Legs
  • Wednesday: Rest Day
  • Thursday: Back/Rear Delts
  • Friday: Shoulders/Triceps
  • Weekends: Rest Days

Related: Dorian Yates’ Workout Routine To Build Muscle

His Recovery Protocol

Dorian’s training style was structured around rest and nutrition.

He trained his back muscles every 6-7 days to prevent overtaxing his nervous system. 

In the meantime, he was training other muscles, following a protein-rich meal plan, doing 30-45 minutes of moderate cardio, and sleeping 8-10 hours daily.

Overview of Dorian’s Exercise Selection

Dorian trained his back through horizontal and vertical planes to account for the fact that it is one of the largest muscles in the body.

1. Nautilus Pullover

He loved starting with the Nautilus pullover to isolate the latissimus dorsi without exhausting the biceps.

This gave him a better mind-to-muscle connection in his lats throughout the session. 

  • Hand placement: Hold the handles with your palms facing you and keep your fingers relaxed.
  • Substitution: Cross-bench dumbbell pullovers give the lats a good stretch contraction but not as good of a concentric contraction as the Nautilus machine. 
  • Form Tip: Press your upper arms into the pads to move the weight instead of pulling with your hands.

2. Hammer Strength Pulldown

To accentuate the lower lats and upper back, he followed the single-joint pullover with pulldowns. 

  • Body Angle: His torso was perpendicular to the floor.
  • Hand placement: Dorian utilized a shoulder-width underhand grip. He stresses against using the wide-grip pulldown as this isn’t biomechanically optimal for the lats. 
  • Substitution: Band or cable pulldowns are worthy options. 
  • Form Tip: Slightly arch your upper back at the bottom of the movement without leaning backward excessively. 

3. Yates Bent-Over Barbell Row

Dorian believes barbell rows are the best exercise for building a great back.

He did them more upright instead of having the typical parallel to the floor torso angle.

This took the pressure off his lower back to focus on the lats and mid-upper trapezius muscles. 

  • Body Angle: His torso had a 45 to 70-degree angle, forging the term “Yates Row”. 
  • Hand placement: Dorian alternated between an underhand and overhand grip with his hands just past shoulder width on the bar. 
  • Substitution: Sometimes, he did one-arm dumbbell rows for back symmetry. You can do Yates dumbbell rows as well. 
  • Form Tip: Face forward by about 10 feet and maintain a slight arch in your spine. 

4. Seated Machine Row

After bilateral rows, Dorian did these unilaterally to ensure his back remained symmetrical.

  • Body Angle: He set the seat high enough so that his stomach was against the support pad (directly underneath his chest). This way, his torso remained utterly vertical to the floor.
  • Hand placement: He held one handle with a neutral grip and rowed unilaterally. 
  • Substitution: Some days, he performed seated cable rows, pulling with both arms simultaneously. 
  • Form Tip: Squeeze your shoulder blade as you pull, then when your arm is extended, let the resistance stretch it forward. 

5. Machine Reverse Fly

Dorian did one set of the seated lateral raise/reverse fly combo machine to isolate his mid-lower traps, rear delts, and rhomboids. 

  • Body Angle: His upper body was positioned on the top rim of the chest pad and angled parallel to the floor. 
  • Hand placement: His arms were pronated and straight, with a slight bend in the elbow.
  • Substitutions: I’ve seen Dorian have clients do the reverse pec deck, as most gyms don’t have the old-school machine from the film. I’ll be doing band pull-aparts since I don’t have either machine. 
  • Form Tip: Swing your arms out and back, using your elbows to guide the movement.

6. Dumbbell Reverse Fly

Dorian followed the machine variation with dumbbell reverse flies, emphasizing scapular retraction to work the lats and upper back more intensely. 

  • Body Angle: He assumed a hinged forward standing position to angle his torso horizontally with the floor. 
  • Hand placement: His palms faced inwards, unlike the machine version. 
  • Substitution: Reverse pec deck is a great way to hit the same muscles via deep scapular retraction without dumbbells. 
  • Form Tip: Drive your elbows toward the ceiling like you’re trying to squeeze a pencil between your shoulder blades at the top.

7. Glute Ham Raise

Dorian placed the barbell over his upper traps, which can be dangerous for the neck.

So instead, hold the bar with your arms straight toward the floor like you’re deadlifting.

He intended to strengthen the lower back, although the glutes and hamstrings are also heavily engaged. 

  • Substitution: Seated good mornings help isolate the back with less glute and ham involvement. They also don’t require a specialized machine like GHRs do. 
  • Form Tip: Stop the upward phase when your torso rises just above parallel with the floor to increase tension on your back. 

8. Partial Deadlifts

He did partial deadlifts with less weight to focus on the erector spinae after his back was pre-exhausted. 

  • Hand placement: Overhand grip the bar at shoulder width apart.
  • Substitution: Use a set of dumbbells instead. 
  • Form Tip: Keep your elbows tucked to engage the lats. Lower the bar to knee height after the initial pull off the floor.

Dorian’s Back Training Philosophy

Dorian studied and implemented both Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer’s HIT training method early on.

The grand scheme is to train your back a single time per week with a relatively low volume.

This is unlike a lot of people who train their back two days per week using a high-volume approach. 

He noticed a lot of improvement in muscle tissue recovery and growth, believing ever since that the best way to build a thick back is with a HIT approach

Form Principles

Dorian’s goal wasn’t to move as much weight as possible.

Rather as much as needed to take the target muscle to failure within a given rep range. 

He implemented form principles to gauge whether or not he was working the correct muscle or recruiting additional muscles to assist in completing the repetitions. 

  • Achieve a full contraction:

Slightly arch your spine to put the lats and upper back in an advantageous position biomechanically.

This helps pull through a full range of motion. 

You should only do forced positives and partial reps in combination with slowed negatives if you have a training partner to push you past concentric failure like Dorian did.

  • Hold for a count of one during the concentric:

You’re going too heavy if you can’t hold the contraction for a 1-second count without using momentum.

Dorian only goes against this rule for certain horizontal back exercises like bent-over rows because of the extra strain from gravity. 

  • Control the eccentric:

Control the resistance when releasing the weight to the starting position “because more muscle damage is occurring during the negative, yeah”.

  • Utilize a close reverse grip:

The lats are anatomically designed to move the arm to the side of the body from overhead (shoulder extension).

During lat pulldowns, this is easier to do when the palms are facing you at shoulder-width apart on the bar, for example. 

  • Your hands are hooks:

Only grip tight enough so you don’t drop the bar during each exercise and drive through your elbows to guide the movement.

This prevents forearm and bicep fatigue, allowing you to put maximum stress on the back without cutting a set early.

You may have also noticed Dorian wearing wrist straps in Blood & Guts to shift the load onto his back.

Scaling the Workout to Your Training Age

Your current training age is an important consideration when determining how many sets, reps, and exercises you should do with the high-intensity training method. 

You must be in the zone and learn proper form before working a muscle to or past failure.

Below are my recommendations to help you progress from novice to advanced while doing HIT. 

Novice Adjustments

If you’ve been training for less than a year, you should focus on reverse grip pulldowns, barbell or dumbbell rows, and reverse flys (in that order).

For each exercise, do two working sets of 10-12 reps but don’t go until failure (leave two reps in the tank).

This is how you’ll master the lifting mechanics before training with maximum intensity. 

Intermediate Adjustments

Increase to 5 exercises after training for a year or so.

Place rows toward the beginning and deadlifts at the end, then fill the gaps with pulldowns, pullovers, and reverse flies.

Do one all-out set for each of them after 1-2 warm-ups. 

Advanced Adjustments

After committing yourself to the bodybuilding world long enough, you should be able to feel the right muscles being worked in nearly every exercise you perform. 

This is when Dorian’s unedited back workout awaits you.

That’s not to say you can’t interchange his chosen exercises with your personal favorites. 

Why Listen to Dorian Yates?

Dorian is a legendary bodybuilder and one of the first mass monsters to win a major contest.

He didn’t win just one, though.

Thanks to his grainy physique and wide back, he became the reigning Mr. Olympia for six consecutive years. 

His bodybuilding career paved the path forward and earned the respect of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, such as Ronnie Coleman (successor) and Lee Haney (predecessor). 

DY is a personal trainer nowadays, and many of his clients see significant results, especially on their backs. 


How Did Dorian Yates Train His Back?

Dorian Yates trained his back with 1-2 warm-up sets and one maximum effort set for 6-12 reps using variations of 7 different exercises, including:

1. Lat Pullovers
2. Lat Pulldowns
3. Bent-over rows
4. Seated Hammer Strength or cable rows
5. Reverse flys
6. Hyperextensions
7. Partial Deadlifts

How Many Hours a Day Did Dorian Yates Workout?

Dorian Yates would work out for 45 minutes to an hour per day, depending on which muscle group he was training. 

What Is the Most Optimal Back Workout?

The most optimal back workout should include at least 1 compound exercise (e.g., lat pulldowns, t-bar rows) and 1-2 accessory exercises (e.g., dumbbell shrugs, straight arm pulldowns).

Do your compounds with higher sets and lower rep ranges (3-5 sets x 5-10 reps) and 2-3 sets x 8-15 reps for accessories. 

What Is the King of All Back Exercises?

Pull-ups are the king of all back exercises for recruiting the entire back through a significant range of motion to build size.

You can also make them easier or harder to fit your strength level.

How Often Did Dorian Yates Workout?

Dorian Yates would work out four times weekly, hitting each body part once every 6-7 days. 

Why Did Dorian Yates Not Squat?

Dorian Yates did not squat because he damaged his right hip in 1988.

He replaced barbell squats with leg presses, hack, and Smith machine squats and still noticed a lot of progress in his legs.

How Many Reps Did Dorian Yates Do?

Dorian Yates would commonly do 10-15 rep warm-up sets. He’d then do 6-8 rep working sets for his upper body and 10-12 reps for his lower body. 

Do You Have the Guts?

Dorian Yates has been retired for a long time but is still known for having one of the best backs in history.

You can assume his workout will require guts and possibly spill some blood. 

Try it out to test your mental and physical fortitude without spending all day in the gym. 


Eric De Cremer
Eric De Cremer

Eric is an NCCA-accredited Certified Personal Trainer and competitively trained powerlifter. Feel free to contact him anytime at!