Dorian Yates, the six-time Mr. Olympia winner, is a true legend in professional world of bodybuilding. However, behind the bulging muscles and chiseled physique, lies a story of struggle, perseverance, and triumph. Born in England to a working-class family, Yates’ childhood was marked by poverty and adversity. However, his passion for weightlifting led him on a journey of self-discovery and accomplishment, eventually culminating in becoming one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time and redefining the sport. In our exclusive interview, Yates reveals the challenges he faced on his path to success, his mental adaptations, and the lessons learned. From overcoming injuries and setbacks to reshaping himself, Dorian Yates’ story is one of inspiration and resilience.
Dorian Yates joined us for our first real life Alpha Event in Marbella, Spain of December 22’. Below are select questions that have been lightly edited for clarity. The full interview will be made available exclusively to vVv holders.
vVv: Please give us a little background of who you are and how you achieved such great success.
Dorian: I’m known for being Mr. Olympia, the ultimate title in professional bodybuilding. I grew up in a rural setting, on a farm with a lot of physical activity, and my father’s death at age 13 turned my world upside down. I moved from the countryside to a new city with my mother, but I always felt out of place and wasn’t interested in any sports or team activities, so I started to get into karate and later weight training. It was an individual sport, and I had to rely only on myself. So I started weight training in my last year of school. Unfortunately, my mother’s new husband passed away, and she wanted to move back to the countryside. Still, by that time, I was used to the city and had no interest in going back to the countryside, so she left, and I was kind of homeless at that time, staying at friends’ houses.
Shortly after, I stopped training because I got involved with the wrong crowd of people and eventually got in trouble and sent to a detention center. While I was there, I began weightlifting and exercising. I was easily the strongest there and had the best physique, so everyone liked me, from the staff to the other guys serving. This was the first time someone noticed my talent, and the staff said I had something special. I told myself when I got out that I would pursue bodybuilding. It took me a year and a half to get settled in with a job and apartment, but I continued reading and learning throughout this time, so I would be prepared to start training again, and now I was ready. I got a notebook and wrote down my starting weight and strength, and from there, I pursued bodybuilding and became Mr. Olympia six times.
From 1983 to 1997, I kept meticulous notes on every workout, diet, and any changes I made to track each experiment’s results like a science project. I also set small monthly goals to reach my dream of winning the novice British Championship. After seven or eight months of training, I entered my first competition and won first place. I was invited to compete in the World Games, where I placed 7th out of 13. This motivated me to train harder and with more purpose to win the British Championship. I eventually did and became a professional bodybuilder. Along the way, I learned to turn negative experiences into fuel and motivation to reach my goals.
In 1990 I competed in my first professional contest in New York, despite the many doubts from people around me. I didn’t place in the top five at first, but I kept training hard, and eventually, I got a very close second place. Joe Weider then invited me to Los Angeles to do photo shoots for his magazine, and I got my first magazine cover in 1990. I then competed in the 1991 Mr. Olympia against Lee Haney, the then-record holder of seven wins in a row. I used a different approach and a different persona to get attention and got very close to him, pushing him to his limits. The following year, I went in as the favorite to win, and I did. I won six times in a row until I got an injury in 1994. I was told it would be career-ending, but I pushed through, and I continued to train as best as I could and make the best of what I could do and would not only compete but place first for the Mr. Olympia title that year just six weeks after my injury.
That’s all to say there will be some compromises, but you can’t give up, or it’s over. I had to decide that it would be the end if I gave up. That was a tough one, but I was able to move on. Later in my career, I had another injury that would ultimately end my career. Still, I learned a lot about psychology from these setbacks that can apply to almost any situation in life. Focusing your energy and understanding what you want to achieve in any area – sports, business, or relationships – is essential. That’s what separated me from the rest and enabled me to dominate. It’s all about governing your mind and being aware of your thoughts. That’s the key to success in any area. You have to be willing to learn and create your world.
I chose bodybuilding as a vehicle to change my life, as it allowed me to gain mastery over my mind. As an introvert, it was unusual for me to be attracted to such an activity that requires people to show off their physique. However, the mental challenge that bodybuilding presented was highly appealing to me. Diets were strict, and I had to learn to impose control over my mind to succeed. Writing down my goals and signing them was also a powerful tool, making me more likely to keep to my commitments. By doing this, I could stay focused and motivated, even when the going got tough. Signing my goals further cemented my commitment and reminded me of what I said I wanted to achieve.
”there will be some compromises, but you can't give up, or it's over.
It's all about governing your mind and being aware of your thoughts. That's the key to success in any area. You have to be willing to learn and create your world.
vVv: You touched on meditation and breathwork. Did you find that one of those practices was the most effective during your training?
Dorian: Recently, I’ve been on a journey of meditation and breathwork. My earlier bodybuilding journey included techniques such as goal setting, mental rehearsal, visualization, and focus. I learned that thoughts are energy and have an energy charge; the more energy you put into something, the more likely it is to happen. So it’s important to be aware of your thoughts, to be still, and to enter a meditative space. This can be difficult today as we are bombarded with social media, YouTube, TV, and visitors. I often go into nature to get clear space and raise my frequency. I also practice Wim Hof breathing for health reasons. I can control my thoughts and reach my full potential through meditation. This collective frequency will determine what events will happen in the world and that we are at a turning point. We must put out positive energy and raise our frequency to create a better world. The younger generation holds the future of the planet in their hands.
”I learned that thoughts are energy and have an energy charge; the more energy you put into something, the more likely it is to happen.
It's all about governing your mind and being aware of your thoughts. That's the key to success in any area. You have to be willing to learn and create your world.
vVv: You are naturally gifted with visualization and manifesting the reality that you envision. What advice would you give to those who need help manifesting their goals?
Dorian: I need to tell you that I sometimes lose my way, but I get through it, making me stronger. Success isn’t linear, and you will get knocked down – there’s no doubt about it. But be prepared for the tough times and never give up. Make the best of it, and you will succeed.
”Success isn't linear, and you will get knocked down - there's no doubt about it. But be prepared for the tough times and never give up. Make the best of it, and you will succeed.
vVv: What motivates you to continue after you’ve achieved your first big goal?
Dorian: When I did bodybuilding, it was 110%. Other guys were having a bit more fun and relaxed, not as critical as I was. They were successful by any means but could not beat me because I gave 110% commitment. I also was very calculating. As you can probably tell, there is strategic planning of things like a military campaign. I was very strict on my diet and worked out routines whenever I prepared for a competition.
After retiring from bodybuilding, I went through a period of depression. I had a big house and money in the bank, but I didn’t know who I was anymore. I stopped religiously training and started partying, drinking, doing drugs, and going to strip clubs. I had a lot of fun but eventually recognized that it was no longer fun and got out of it. I struggled for a year or two until I started focusing on what I had gained, like financial security and the freedom to do whatever I wanted. My marriage also fell apart, and I went through a divorce and a tragedy in my family. This should have put me in a deeper depression, but I eventually turned it around. This period of my life made me more rounded and gave me wisdom.
vVv: You’ve always had a lot of success and mastered many things along the way. What would you say is your biggest mistake, personally or professionally?
Dorian: I can say a few things. But I don’t like to say I would go back and change this because everything that happened led to me being who I am now, which I’m quite happy with. So yes, I could have avoided those injuries. I could have avoided them by training a little differently, especially going through competitions when you’re very stressed. You’re on a low-calorie diet, not sleeping properly, doing more, tired, and the body fat is very low. You’re getting vulnerable to injuries. I recognize that now, and I could say I should go back and change that. But then I would change the whole trajectory, and I wouldn’t retire when I did because the injury for me at that time was the devastation that I had to finish that way, but I’m philosophical about it. Maybe it was meant to be that if I carried on longer, the outcome wouldn’t be good. So I don’t have any regrets. I would probably tell myself, “Hey, man, you could have chilled out a little bit more.” But I was kind of an all-or-nothing guy. So, the same thing that happened with a party was all or nothing. When I was hosting parties, it was the best party you had ever been to.
vVv: How did you shift your mental narrative from your second, third, fourth, to the fifth title?
Dorian: It was something I enjoyed, I had such a passion for it and was always hungry for more I wanted to be Mr. Olympia, and I achieved that goal by winning the title, but one title wasn’t enough. So I trained even harder. I was still learning as I went and took pictures every week to document my progress. Six weeks before my next contest, I was much bigger and sharper. I made a statement that second year and set a new standard. The third year was my first injury, and I got over that and got to the contest and won. It wasn’t as good as the previous year, but still better than the guy who came second. So then I had to do even better the following year after this injury, and there was a constant battle with myself constantly to do better than I had before.
I used the motivation of people trying to take away my money and food to help me stay on top. I remembered a time in England when a snowstorm closed all the roads. There was a state emergency, and I made myself walk to the gym, taking an hour and a half when it typically takes 20 minutes. I used this as a statement to myself, knowing that people in California were living on the beach and driving Ferraris, and I was here in the snowstorm, still training. I decided to stay in Birmingham and keep training in the small, hardcore gym. I wanted to avoid the distractions of the enormous opportunities that come with championship success and remain focused on the dedication that got me there in the first place. After achieving success as a professional bodybuilder, I felt like my passion was becoming more of a job. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep going for another year. Then my second injury decided for me.
vVv: What is one of the biggest myths or misconceptions most people have about bodybuilding?
Dorian: There aren’t many myths around bodybuilding that I’m aware of, but one I can think of would be that it takes more than just training hard at the gym. It takes both natural talent and dedication to become a champion. Not everyone is physically capable of becoming a champion bodybuilder due to factors such as skeletal structure, muscle distribution, etc. It’s not just a matter of effort and hard work but also a certain level of talent that is required.
vVv: At this point in your life, were the sacrifices and injuries worth it?
Dorian: Bodybuilding is an extreme endeavor, and professional bodybuilders often use steroids and other growth-enhancing substances, so there are risks associated with it. Despite some damage to my shoulder and arthritis in my hip, I’m in good health for my age, and it’s been worth it. I’m from an area of Birmingham surrounded by people in government housing, with low-paid jobs, no jobs, and crime, and I became the best in the world at something. I’ve traveled around the world, been on stage in front of 1000s, made a living out of it, and met people worldwide. I wouldn’t have been able to experience so much had I not chosen bodybuilding. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. You must have a winning attitude and be willing to take risks to succeed. You have to make decisions and stick to them, no matter the consequences, and you must be willing to accept the risks involved in any sport or activity. So yes, between all the sacrifices and the injuries I faced, it was all worth it.
”You must have a winning attitude and be willing to take risks to succeed. You have to make decisions and stick to them, no matter the consequences, and you must be willing to accept the risks involved.
vVv: Can you touch on the topic of TRT?
Dorian: Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is a treatment option for men with low testosterone levels. Low testosterone can hurt physical and mental health, as testosterone is what gives men focus, aggressiveness, and other masculine traits. Environmental factors and chemicals can contribute to low testosterone in men, and the effects of this can worsen with age. It is vital to get tested for testosterone levels after age 35, and if it is not in a healthy range, TRT is an option to consider. Using natural and bioidentical hormones is important to avoid any negative effects.
It is becoming more common to see low testosterone in younger men, so it is important to check testosterone levels regularly. You should aim to be in the top quarter, so whatever the parameters are, you want to be in the top 25%. There are some herbs and supplements that have some effect. Whether it’s enough to affect or not, you’d have to try them out. Tongkat Ali is the only one with which I see some positive effects.
vVv: Please go into more specifics for your meditation practice or any routine that you think might be useful. Where did you go about acquiring that knowledge? Is it Joe Dispenza?
Dorian: Yes, I have been to a camp with Joe Dispenza. But really, it’s just reinforcing and giving me some other tools and what I already knew because I already did it. Dorian Yates dreamed that he would be a professional bodybuilder. And at some point dreamed he would be the best professional bodybuilder to be Mr. Olympia. So there are a lot of physical actions that go with that, but it starts in mind. I got to lift weights. I can’t just sit here and dream. I got to work in the physical plane as well as the mental. My energy and focus were so much directed to that one goal that it was making it happen. I was thinking about this all day, and before I went to the gym, I’ll be thinking about my workout. I’ll be thinking about different physiques. I’ll be reading magazines, I’ll be reading books. So my energy was focused like a laser on this one thing. Everything else was like, peripheral. What was happening with my family or friends, or what was happening in the world, it didn’t matter.
Because I had a very specific goal, I put my energy into that. So it’s a combination of focus and emotion. The two things come together if you study Joe Dispenza. Besides that, while I was doing it, without somebody telling me how, I was just doing it because I wanted to. I wasn’t sitting down and meditating, I sat down and thinking about this now, but I was thinking about it all the time anyway. It was just in my mind all the time. So I was focusing all my energy or my thoughts on that. And I often say to people, back then, before I even knew who Joe Dispenza was or any formal techniques or anything. I would say “life is a movie, or a video game, somewhere between the two. The movie has a director, and the director of your movie is you. You’re the director, with your thoughts, you’re building your life, you know, you have all the situations where you are born, who are your family, and all that stuff that’s already there, that you don’t have control over, but what you do have control on is your thoughts.”
So you got to know who you want to be and what you want to be. And then, focus your thoughts on how I can achieve it and what’s the best way to achieve it. That’s what needs to be in your mind. The majority of the time, that needs to be, if you focus your energy, your mental energy is 100%. You need at least 70% of that for your goal, maybe the other 20-30% was dealing with whatever else you’re dealing with in your life, but it needs to be prioritized. You need to be selfish in a good way and be concerned only with what you need to do to reach your goal.
You need to focus your energy on your goal. You need to know what you want. That’s the first step. The next step is figuring out everything I must do to get there. Am I prepared to do it? Is that really what I want? I’m going to do that. Yes. All right, so you plan each step how to get there. Let’s put our energy into this, let’s put our focus into this, let’s believe it’s going to happen if you don’t believe it’s going to happen. It won’t happen. You have to believe it and focus on it, and it’s unlimited what you can do if you believe that you can do it. It sounds cliche, but it’s true. You got to believe it.
”life is a movie, or a video game, somewhere between the two. The movie has a director, and the director of your movie is you. You're the director, with your thoughts, you're building your life…. where you are born, who are your family, and all that stuff that's already there, that you don't have control over, but what you do have control on is your thoughts.
vVv: A quick follow-up question about increasing your awareness of negative thoughts when they come in daily. Is that a meditation factor?
Dorian: I became more conscious and more aware when I meditate, and there are so many different ways to meditate. There’s some meditation I do, which is giving up energy to people or the universe or whatever, giving an hour, because you know what, that might be even selfish as well. Because when I give it out, I know it’s coming back. So, try to do good and give good energy out there because it’ll come back to the same as negative things. You can’t get away from them; they’ll bounce back. It’s like a mirror, the universe. It doesn’t hear what you want. It just hears your thoughts and gives you more of them. So if you’re thinking about things you don’t want, stop doing that. I’m not trying to pretend I know everything because I don’t. I’m just talking about the mistakes I’ve made myself; I have a laser-like focus. You have to be careful because it can go the wrong way. Sometimes, I focus on negative things, which brings more negative things. I’m focusing more on negative things, and it’s just spiraling, you know, until I tell myself I must work my way out of this before it goes even further.
vVv: Were you as strict with your diet as you were with exercising?
Dorian: No, you must allow yourself some slack sometimes. You should eat well most of the time, but if you want a pizza or a couple of beers, no problem. I would be strict throughout the week, eating 6 times a day, hitting all the macros, but even getting ready for a contest on a rigorous diet I had once a week where I’d eat normally. I would go to a restaurant with my wife and my friends and have a glass of wine and dessert. Still, I wouldn’t go crazy like a typical day to relax the metabolism and mental release, something to look forward to at the end of the week. I have a little reward, a little cheat meal, or something like that as long as I ate all my meals and hit all my macros for the week: that’s the way to do it.
vVv: Is this something you did towards the end of your career after you’d already made it or something you did all the way through?
Dorian: I did it all through because it worked, and I got more confident. I was on a calorie-restricted diet, so I normally ate once a week to give myself a psychological release. It also benefited me because I knew that if I restricted calories for too long, my body would start slowing down my metabolism to survive. Eating normally once a week helped to trick my metabolism and keep it balanced. Additionally, it was a nice break from the bland and boring diet of chicken breasts and other protein sources. As long as I was getting enough of the building blocks of muscle in the form of protein, it was no problem to have an occasional excess of calories.
vVv: Which parts in your life did you consciously or subconsciously neglect that you wish you would have put more energy into?
Dorian: Time and focus with my son, he missed out a little bit, I didn’t go to the sports day, or I didn’t go to the parent’s day because it was not in my schedule. I could have been a bit more flexible in that, but as I said, it is a very extreme sport, and I did it to an extreme degree. If I let myself miss this meal or am a bit late with this, it would lead to a lack of discipline and have adverse effects. In hindsight, I could have been a bit more relaxed, especially with family. I tried to make up for after the competitions, go on family holidays, and stuff like that.
vVv: Did you apply the extreme disciplines to different areas of your life or aspects? For example, in personal or business relationships?
Dorian: No, I 100% focus on one thing, so I became the best at it. You can be a master of one thing or a jack of all trades. So it was, it was total focus on one thing and all the things that I felt I sacrificed, I did it afterward. A friend of mine, Chris Cormier – another professional bodybuilder – balanced the partying and all that stuff with a professional career and did well. But I said, if you didn’t do that, you wouldn’t probably be number one. But you were happy and achieved number four or five.
But I left all that. Everything’s still available later on, so I just delayed it. My goal was greater than anything, so I focused on that, which needs to be balanced. But you know, it’s not balanced if you’ve got an extreme goal. You probably got individual goals. So I’m just sharing my experience. I’m not saying that that’s the way they should approach whatever your goal is certain things. You need to know the goal and what’s required to get there. I know you’re required to do that. Because if you’re not doing stuff, you’re just wasting time when everyone else is around you.
vVv: Do you regard yourself as a high performer or achiever?
Dorian: It’s not like I’m as driven as I was in my sport, I achieved the big goal, and it secured me financially, and I traveled all over the world, all the things I’m talking about. But it is important now because it gave me a platform where people listened to me, and I can do something good with that. So that’s my mission now, I have my business goals and stuff like that, but the main thing is people are listening to me, and I can have a positive effect on them, like a rippling out a global impact. Millions of people follow me online and listen to me, so it’s my duty.
I worked hard and all this stuff, but I was still fortunate. I would be blessed even to have the kind of body that would be able to do that. I was lucky that I got through it, and I got some injuries, But you know, as a whole, I’m very healthy, and so on. So there was fortune there. And I should pay that back somehow by helping the collective. We’re in this time, the most pivotal time in known history. But in our known history, this period, this generation, and the next 10 to 20 years is the most pivotal time in known human history. And what we all do and think during this time is crucial for the planet’s future.