Dorian Yates' Grainy Look

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  • Dorian Yates' Grainy Look

    Dorian Yates' Grainy Look

    The 6-time Mr. Olympia Reveals How He Achieved It

    This idea for this article came to me shortly after the legends seminar held at the Masters Mr. Olympia contest in Miami a few years ago. Because there were so many of us onstage and so many great questions, we were forced to keep our answers brief. But moderator Bob Cicherillo asked me about the “grainy” look I was known for throughout my competitive career, more to the point, what is it and how did I achieve it? Because I get this question so often, it made sense to elaborate on it here.

    What is the “Grainy” Look?

    Prior to me becoming Mr. Olympia, the term “grainy” had never been used to describe a bodybuilder’s condition. You heard all the other terms still in use today such as ripped, shredded, peeled, etc. But when I came along with this entirely new look, apparently none of those terms would suffice. If I had to describe “grainy” myself, it would be a combination of very thin skin stretched over super dense muscles that could only have come from years of extremely heavy and intense training. And when I say heavy, I mean it. Others talk about training “heavy” for sets of 10-12 reps. If you can get as many as 12 reps with a weight in good form, then it’s really not that heavy, is it? For upper body, the vast majority of my sets were done for five to eight reps. People who train this heavy have a more powerful look. When you look at Branch Warren or Johnnie Jackson, you can tell straightaway that they are extremely powerful men. There’s just a different look to the muscles. Ronnie Coleman would definitely also fit into that category. Conversely, you can have a guy who has just as much size, yet because he trains more for a pump and for higher reps, the muscles look almost like balloons filled with water, not solid and dense at all. The ‘90s star Paul Dillett comes to mind. So now that we have defined the grainy look, how did I get it? I would attribute it not only to my Blood and Guts style of training, but also to two other distinct factors— genetics and extreme condition.


    Oddly enough, some people have claimed that I didn’t have the best genetics. When it comes to my metabolism and body fat, I certainly was, and am, gifted in that respect. Most top bodybuilders have more muscle and less fat naturally than average people, but I was quite fortunate even by those standards. If you look at my early photos when I had only been training a year or so, you can see that I was leaner than some guys are when they compete. Body fat was something I simply never had much of. My son and my daughter are exactly the same. I also have extremely thin dermis, meaning the skin itself. That was problematic back in the days when I did martial arts, as it never took much more than glancing blows to draw blood. But once I started bodybuilding, it turned out to be a godsend. You can lose all the body fat, but if you have thick skin, you can’t ever show the extreme muscular detail that another person with thinner skin will.


    When it came to my nutrition, I was beyond meticulous. I made it a point to weigh my food and know precisely how many calories and grams of protein, carbohydrates and fats I was taking in, even in the off-season. I rarely ate out at restaurants in the off-season because there was no way of knowing exactly what I was getting— and when it came to the contest-prep phase, every meal I ate was home-cooked and properly measured out. Not only that, but it all went into a logbook so I would have records to reference later.

    I remember when I got to the USA and started meeting the American pros, I was truly stunned to see how much less effort some of them put into their nutrition. Many of them ate out frequently, even when dieting, and almost none of them seemed to keep records of their daily meals. That made no sense to me.

    Because I was eating clean year-round along with my gifted metabolism, I never carried much body fat. Let’s say I weighed 295 pounds in the off-season. Roughly 15 pounds of that was water retention. I knew that for a fact, because once I lowered my carbs a bit and switched over to non-aromatizing drugs at 8-10 weeks out, most of that weight came off rapidly within two weeks. American guys would still be using things like test and D-bol nearly all the way up until the contest, but I believed in switching over to drugs like trenbolone and Primobolan that didn’t give any water bloat. It just made sense to me to do that because with water retention, you can’t really see what’s going on in terms of your body fat loss as the weeks go by. I always wanted a very clear picture of what changes were taking place as the contest grew closer. So if I was really starting my diet at about 280 and I competed around 265, that meant I only had 15 pounds to lose. Other guys often had to drop as much as 50-60 pounds of body fat from their off-season to competition day.

    When it came to my condition, I had almost impossibly high standards. Really, I wanted to set a new standard for condition on a big man. My goal was to be as shredded as any lightweight or middleweight, only with 100 pounds more muscle. Because of that, I would inevitably come down lighter than I needed to be. If I were competing today and being held to the current standard of condition, I would have been 10-15 pounds heavier and fuller. I was usually as lean as today’s top pros get at five to six weeks out. I’m not sure why condition has taken a step backward, but my best guess is that the guys today simply choose to be as big, full and round onstage as possible. That’s all well and good, but to me. If you’re trying to be Mr. Olympia and the best in the world, you should be the best in all areas— including condition.

    So that’s how and why I pioneered the “grainy” look, something you rarely see in our sport.

    Has Insulin Negatively Affected Condition?

    There is no doubt in my mind that the widespread use of insulin all the way up until the contests to ensure maximum fullness of the muscles has been a major contributing factor to the loss of sharpness and detail. Insulin was never part of my pre-contest regimen. I did try it in my off-season preceding my final Mr. Olympia win in 1997, but I now advise against use of it at any time. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t believe it leads to any increased quality muscle gain, only water/glycogen retention. This provides an instant gratification in terms of increased bodyweight, but in my estimation it has also been preventing many of the current pros from achieving the crisp condition they would otherwise be capable of.
    I know from teaching hundreds of seminars that the guys who say they have “awesome technique” are usually the biggest disasters—their ego just doesn’t let them see it.
    - Dave Tate

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