Dorian Yates Biography: The Making of ‘THE SHADOW’

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Dorian Yates is one of the most successful bodybuilders in history, winning six Mr Olympia titles, whilst being undefeated between 1992-1997. Dorian is a legendary figure in the sport, as he changed how bodybuilders thought about their training, with his Heavy Duty philosophy becoming a hit. This was the methodology of HIT (high intensity training) using weights.

Dorian’s nickname was “The Shadow“, because in his era all the pro’s were craving the spotlight, being photographed for magazines left, right and center (soaking up the limelight).

Whereas Dorian would do the opposite. He would hide in the SHADOWS year round. You’d never see or hear from him; it was as if he dropped off the face of the earth.

Other bodybuilders’ eagerness to be viewed as stars made them weak. Whilst they were prancing around living their celeb lifestyle on Venice Beach, California in the sun, Dorian was sweating blood and tears in the basement of his gym (which resembled a dungeon). Temple Gym was a no thrills, old school gym with cold-looking rusty weights… just how Dorian liked it. Then when it was competition time, Dorian would come out of the SHADOWS, take home the trophy; then disappear into the darkness again.

It was his tough mentality, and train like Hell attitude, that won Dorian so many admirers. He made his competitors look like vain amateurs, who never fulfilled their potential. No one could take themselves to the place Dorian did when he trained in his dungeon. This is the place you must go to if you are to surpass your genetic potential. Dorian was the antithesis of vain, where he’d remain covered up all year round; wearing baggy t-shirts out of the gym, that only came off when he stepped on stage.

Dorian Training in His Gym

In this article we’ll be looking at the life of Dorian Yates and discovering how he carved out such a successful career and life.

Early Years

Dorian Yates was born in Sutton Coldfield, England in 1962, but grew up in Hurley, a small village in Staffordshire. Incidentally, Eddie Hall the world record holder for the deadlift also grew up in Staffordshire – must be something in the water!

In 1975 his father died of a heart attack while Dorian was only 13 years old, and the family subsequently moved to Birmingham. Dorian’s mum found a new partner while in Birmingham, but tragically he also died of a heart attack within 12 months of knowing her.

By 19 Yates was hanging out with a group of skinheads (it is important to note that in the late 1970s and early 80s skinhead culture was based around punk music rather than the far-right nationalism that it became associated with in the late 80s).

In 1981 Dorian Yates became involved in the notorious riots that swept Britain. The Handsworth riots were based in Birmingham and were a reaction to the much better-known Brixton and Toxteth riots. Dorian and some friends were caught damaging a tailor’s shop and were consequently arrested. He was sentenced to three months in a youth detention centre. It was here that Dorian decided to focus on bodybuilding, as to avoid spiraling down into a life of crime.

young dorian yates

Within 3 years he would become bodybuilding’s British Champion. Within 11 years he would become the best bodybuilder on the planet, winning his first Sandow trophy.

Bodybuilding Career

When you listen to Dorian Yates speak, you realise that everything that he does is against the grain. He built his physique using methods that were completely different to every other bodybuilder at the time.

Using a variation of the High Intensity System developed by Mike Mentzer and Arthur Jones, Dorian’s sessions would be short, sharp, and to the point. At the time (and still to this day) the most common method that bodybuilders use is long slow sessions that can last several hours.

Yates was the first (and so far only) bodybuilder who was not based in the United States to win Mr Olympia, completing all of his training in his own gym in Birmingham, England. Yes, there have been many bodybuilders from outside the US, but they had all moved to the US to train. The idea being that if you surrounded yourself with fellow pros (in the US) it would elevate your game.

dorian yates

This is probably the case, but Dorian Yates bucked that trend. Training alone and using his own methods, Dorian created a physique that would change bodybuilding forever. He became the first mass monster, a bodybuilder with a physique that looks impossible. Instead of concentrating on aesthetics and symmetry, Yates focused on building as much mass as humanly possible.


In 1990 he entered his first professional bodybuilding competition “The Night of Champions” and came second to Algerian bodybuilder Mohammed Benaziza. The next year he would come back and win The Night of Champions. 1991 was also the year that he entered Mr Olympia for the first time, narrowly losing out to 8 time winner Lee Haney.

With Lee Haney’s retirement after the 1991 Mr Olympia, there was a vacuum that needed to be filled. Yates took his opportunity with both hands, beating the great Kevin Levrone to become the first British Mr Olympia in 1992. He would never lose another bodybuilding competition again.

Between 1992 and 1997 he won 13 bodybuilding contests. Six consecutive Mr Olympia titles and 8 Grand Prix titles (mostly in England). He gained the nickname “The Shadow” because he had a habit of surprisingly entering tournaments at the last minute and winning them, something that must have frustrated many second-placed bodybuilders!

Dorian’s has admitted to using anabolic steroids for twelve years up until his final Mr Olympia (where he retired due to injury) and has been refreshingly honest about it.

Since retiring from professional bodybuilding, Dorian Yates has opened numerous gyms around the world, been involved with several supplement companies, and released a couple of autobiographies. He is married to Gal Ferreira Yates, a Brazilian fitness model and has a son called Lewis who is well on his way to a bodybuilding career of his own.

dorian and lewis yates
Father and son (Dorian and Lewis Yates)

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