“Normal People Shouldn’t Do This”: Pro Bodybuilding Coach Critiques Dorian Yates’ Workout Routine

The “Shadow” of Dorian Yates looms large over the world of bodybuilding, long after Yates himself retired from competing at the 1998 Mr. Olympia. Flash forward a quarter of a century and Yates’ blood-and-guts bodybuilding workouts continue to influence how gym rats hit the weights. But is Yates’ training style out of date? 

Pro bodybuilding coach Joe Bennett set about answering that question in an ongoing YouTube series. Bennett, dubbed “the Hypertrophy Coach,” is one of the best bodybuilding content creators in the business — and he’s got a bone or two to pick with Yates. 

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We’re going to run through the main criticisms Bennett levies toward Yates’ bodybuilding back workouts and dig deep into the science to see whether The Shadow’s training style stands the test of time. 

Editor’s Note: Bennett is producing a multi-part series examining Yates’ various bodybuilding workouts. You can find the first entry in the series here

Dorian Yates Back Workout: Pros and Cons From Joe Bennett

“He’s a great bodybuilder to study,” Bennett remarked, referring to Yates’ methodical approach to bodybuilding contest prep and the rituals associated with training for high-level physique sport. But were Yates’ back workouts equally commendable?

On May 27, 2024, Bennett reviewed one of Yates’ classic back workout training videos in which he performs a series of common back exercises: barbell rows, machine rows, reverse flyes, deadlifts, and so on.

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Barbell Row

The barbell row is a classic back-building exercise, so it’s no surprise to find it in Yates’ workout routine. But Bennett urged caution: “Most ‘normal’ people won’t work their lats very well doing rows the way Yates did.” 

The Good

Personalization: “I’m pretty sure I heard Yates say that [barbell rows] were a lat exercise for him,” Bennett said. Yates opted to row with a more upright torso, body momentum, and elbow flare than most coaches would recommend.

Alignment: “His upper back is in a great position to work,” Bennett remarked on Yates’ decision to row with his torso at a 45-degree angle. A more upright torso will generally favor muscles like the traps, rhomboids, and rear delts instead of the lats. 

The Bad

Form: Heaving the weight during barbell rows will allow you to lift heavier, but it does apply tension and force to the muscles in your posterior chain and lower body. Bennett took no issue here, but you may want to master rows with an isometric, non-moving torso before intentionally cheating your form. 

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Single-Arm Row

Any back workout worth its weight should include at least one single-arm exercise that allows you to work each half of your back independently. Yates opted for a seated machine row, but not for the reason you might think. 

The Good

Range of Motion: Bennett praised Yates’ decision to row with one arm at a time, as it allowed him to elongate his range of motion and better stretch his lats. As one of the biggest bodybuilders of the ‘90s, Yates needed to make certain adjustments to his lifting technique. 

Spotting: “You can ‘fix’ poor loading profiles with a good spotter,” Bennett said, referring to the assistance Yates received through portions of the range of motion, allowing him to eke out some forced reps on each set.

Customization: Bennett discussed how Yates had to change his row form to accommodate his enormous body, urging viewers to not replicate the flared-arm position he employed. “Generally speaking, smashing your triceps into your lats is a great cue,” Bennett said. 

[Read More: Do Different Row Grips Matter?]

The Bad

Load Profile: “This machine’s loading pattern isn’t great,” Bennett said of the equipment Yates used for his single-arm rows

Our Suggestion: If you don’t have the assistance of a spotter, you might want to look for an option that provides a smoother resistance curve and more movement flexibility, such as a seated cable row

Rear Delt Flye 

Regarding rear delt exercises, Yates performed two variations of the same flye motion, both on a prone machine station and bent over with a pair of dumbbells. Bennett strongly preferred the former. 

The Good 

Posture: “He’s in the right place,” Bennett said of Yates’ hip hinge on the dumbbell flyes and arm position when using the machine. To isolate your rear delts, sweep your arm out to the side without engaging your traps and elevating your shoulder.

The Bad

Equipment: Bennett took issue with Yates’ decision to perform machine and dumbbell rear flyes. Dumbbells have an inconsistent resistance curve — the motion is too easy at the beginning when the muscle is stretched and too hard at the end. Emerging hypertrophy research generally indicates that’s the opposite of what you want. (1

Our Suggestion: The rear deltoid performs horizontal shoulder adduction; it pulls your arm around your body when held aloft. You can get a better and more precise stimulus by using an adjustable dual-pulley cable station for this movement pattern.

Back Extension

“People don’t realize how [bodybuilding training] changes when you’re 280 pounds and in great shape,” Bennett remarked. He’s getting at Yates’ decision to pre-exhaust his lower back with extensions before performing deadlifts. “Normal people probably shouldn’t do this.”

The Good 

Load Management: By intentionally training his lower back prior to deadlifting, Yates elevated the relative intensity of deadlifting without having to load up ultra-heavy weights.

Equipment: Bennett discussed using a glute-ham raise machine or a 45-degree back extension and how the leg support affects load profile. Yates’ decision to use the former placed more torque directly onto his lumbar spine. 

The Bad

Exercise Order: “I probably would have swapped the order,” Bennett noted of the one-two workout finisher of back extensions and deadlifts. Generally speaking, your workout should progress from “big” multi-joint movements to “small” isolation exercises.

Our Suggestion: If you really want to deadlift on back day, do your pulls at the beginning of your workout when you’re fresh. This allows you to maintain proper technique and increase strength more efficiently, (2) but beware of the energy cost of heavy deadlifts and how they impact the exercises that follow.


“[Yates] was a pretty low-volume guy,” Bennett said, commending The Shadow’s prioritization of intensity across a few heavy compound exercises. In this workout, Yates opted to perform deadlifts as his final exercise. 

The Good 

Posture: “It’s a good idea to keep a neutral spine on this exercise,” Bennett remarked of Yates’ back position.

Tempo: “It’s awesome,” Bennett said. He continued, noting the precision with which Yates transitions from the eccentric to concentric phases of the movement. 

The Bad

Technique: “[His technique] is a bit closer to a Romanian deadlift than a conventional deadlift,” Bennett said. Yates opted to keep his knees in a static position and not allow the weight plates to touch the floor between reps.

Exercise Order: According to Bennett, most “regular” bodybuilders may not want to end their workouts with deadlifts the way Yates did. At his level of size and strength, Yates could bend the rules, and his barbell, more than most. 

[Related: The Best Lifting Straps for Deadlifts]

The Final Grade

“Overall, it’s very evident why [he] had the back he did,” Bennett concluded after putting Yates’ bodybuilding back workout through the wringer. He’s right — Yates, to this day, boasts one of the best backs in Men’s Open bodybuilding history. 

‘Optimal’ training should be more like Dorian’s.

Joe Bennett

The only “nitpick” Bennett touched on related to exercise order, recommending that most people perform deadlifts early into their back workouts rather than at the end. Whether deadlifts are good for building muscle in the first place is a whole different can of worms, but we’ll take Bennett and Yates at their word this time. 

[Opinion: Deadlifts Suck for Building Muscle]

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Pedrosa GF, Lima FV, Schoenfeld BJ, Lacerda LT, Simões MG, Pereira MR, Diniz RCR, Chagas MH. Partial range of motion training elicits favorable improvements in muscular adaptations when carried out at long muscle lengths. Eur J Sport Sci. 2022 Aug;22(8):1250-1260. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2021.1927199. Epub 2021 May 23. PMID: 33977835.

Simão R, de Salles BF, Figueiredo T, Dias I, Willardson JM. Exercise order in resistance training. Sports Med. 2012 Mar 1;42(3):251-65. Doi: 10.2165/11597240-000000000-00000. PMID: 22292516.

Featured Image: @thedorianyates on Instagram

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