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Dorian Yates Back Routine – Workout Your Back The Yates Way

No physique is complete without a thick, wide, defined back. From a lower back and traps like a tree trunk, to lats like a great sprawling canopy, containing the largest collection of muscles in the body, it is the back that gives you that prized V-shape. Having an iron-sturdy, built and strong upper and lower back, feels great and is good for posture, as well as injury prevention.

Dorian Yates built what many would call the greatest back in bodybuilding, ever. Few would dispute it as the thickest and widest. Ever the innovator, Dorian used a potent mix of his own takes on training standards and more, to pile slab after slab of prime British beef behind him. Many can gain from incorporating the innovations he used in his lifting techniques.

The Workout

1 – Hammer Strength Pulldowns or Nautilus Pullovers


Dorian would interchange these two starting lifts. Hammer strength pulldowns would be done with an underhand grip.

The Underhand, Narrow Grip

This is a grip favoured by Yates in almost all of his lat exercises, due to the superior range of motion it offers. He was not shy in dispelling what he called the wide-grip myth, and this makes perfect sense. At full extension, the narrow grip stretches the lats to a far greater degree, engaging the much neglected lower portion of the muscle. At full contraction, the elbows can be pulled in and back much farther, for a better squeeze. A wide grip also puts the biceps in a weak position, setting them up to fail first.

Dorian loved Nautilus pullovers. Barbell or dumbbell pullovers can be done on a bench if you don’t have access to a Nautilus machine, but the range of motion isn’t even close. The Nautilus allows over 180 degrees of movement, by far the greatest range of all lat exercises.

Employing low-volume and high-intensity for all of these lifts, Dorian would perform 1-2 warm-up sets, followed by 1 or 2 (at a push) working sets to absolute failure, utilising partial and negative reps to devastate the muscle fibres. Dorian always found the 6-8 rep range most effective for packing on the beef.

For those not well versed in the heavy duty methods-

Perform 1-2 warm-up sets, followed by 2-3 working sets of 8-10 reps

2 – Pulldowns

Again, the underhand, narrow grip is favoured here. Pulling into the mid-chest, arch your back and push your chest up to meet the bar for really good lat activation. Think of your hands as hooks and pull your elbows powerfully down and back.

Perform 1-2 warm-up sets + 2-3 working sets of 8-10


3 – Underhand, narrow-grip barbell rows


This was Dorians’ king mass builder, a row but with his own twist. Standing more upright than many, almost 45 degrees to the floor, Dorian would take a shoulder width, underhand grip and pull the weight cleanly into his stomach, smashing the entire lower lat area. This grip is awkward at first so start with lighter weights until you become accustomed. It certainly gives a different squeeze. Sometimes Dorian would substitute these for Hammer Strength one-arm rows.

Perform 1-2 warm-up sets + 2-3 working sets of 8-10


4 – Seated Cable Rows

This is the only lat exercise Dorian often did with a wide grip. Take a wide, straight bar and pull into your stomach, again arching your back to fully activate all of the lats.


Perform 1-2 warm-up sets + 2-3 working sets of 8-10

5 – Deadlifts


Dorian was a great advocate of putting deadlifts at the end of his back workout. He always stated that, being a bodybuilder, his sole interest was tiring and rebuilding muscle, not hitting PB’s on powerlifting movements. He also believed that the potential for injury is high with deadlifts,so performed them at the end when his back was pre-exhausted, therefore lifting a lighter weight. But don’t think the differences stop there! Ever the economist, Yates rarely performed a full deadlift, instead preferring to only lower the weight to just below the knees. This, he said, was because in the bottom third of the lift the lower back is at full stretch, with the glutes and hams taking all of the work. That, he states, is for another day. Stopping the negative phase short also keeps constant tension on the lower back.

Perform 1-2 warm-up sets + 3-4 working sets of 8-10

A Note On Form

Dorian Yates built his back using ultra-high intensity, low-volume workouts. He achieved this by fully implementing the mind-muscle connection and educating himself on the physiology of his body. Many only concentrate on the positive phase of lifting, before simply allowing the weight to fall back. When the 6 time Mr. O lifted, a powerful positive phase was followed by a one second squeeze at full contraction, and a slow, controlled negative phase. What many don’t realise is that the sacred positive phase is actually the weakest part of any lift. Whatever weight you can lift, you should be able to hold 25% more, and effectively lower 25% more again. So, give attention to every phase of your lifting and defy conventional thought to shock your back into new growth, the Yates way, today.

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