Having won the Mr. Olympia title six years in a row from 1992 to 1997, Dorian Yates — the man they called “The Shadow” — is viewed by many as one of the greatest bodybuilders to ever take the stage.
So, when the now-retired legend opens up about his career and shares tips with the younger generation, it’s a must-listen for current bodybuilders and fans alike.
Yates took to Instagram recently to reshare an interview that he had given eight months prior on the True Geordie Podcast, where the icon explains the different poses in bodybuilding and how the competitors are judged.
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“You compare Mr. A to Mr. B. They’re looking for the best guy in each pose,” Yates says. “And it’s a combination of proportions, size, and conditioning. So, if you got all those, put them in a pot and mix them together; that’s what you’re looking for.”
It’s a simple breakdown of what is actually a very technical competition, requiring years of preparation and countless hours spent perfecting those poses. Still, Yates didn’t just rely on his phenomenal physical attributes to lift the Mr. O trophy — he also knew how to psyche out his competition to gain an edge. And one of his trademark intimidation tactics led to the creation of his now-famous nickname.
The Origin of “The Shadow”
Early on in his career, Yates learned how important it was to get into the heads of his fellow competitors.
“Fun fact: backstage, I was the last one to take off my tracksuit,” Yates writes on his Instagram post. “I knew everyone was waiting to see my physique, so I’d be playing little mind games. I let them wait so they’d think about me more than they thought about what they would do on stage. Lee Haney did this to me before.”
Lee Haney currently shares the record for most Mr. Olympia titles with Ronnie Coleman at eight, so there are few people better to get tips from. Haney would regularly hide his physique from his peers and the bodybuilding press so that he could throw them off when he finally disrobed come showtime. Yates never forgot the feeling of falling victim to Haney’s mind games — and he later adopted the tactic as one of his own.
“I stood across from [Haney], and I was amped to look at his physique,” he remembers. “He took off his tracksuit and got his back out. His back was super thick, and it affected my confidence.”
Yates followed suit as his career progressed, disappearing from the public eye in the off-season and reemerging just to dominate the shows he entered. His elusive nature prompted the late bodybuilding journalist Peter McGough to nickname him “The Shadow,” which was something that fit the naturally introverted Yates perfectly.
Keeping the Mystery Alive
Elaborating further on this strategy, Yates explains how he would go to great lengths to stay hidden from the fans, the press, and the people around him at Temple Gym in Birmingham, UK.
“The guys that trained with me, my training partners, they never saw me without a top on,” he says. Very few would see his physique until three to four weeks out from the Olympia, when he would finally seek feedback from a select group.
“I’d invite a couple of people down from the bodybuilding community, whose opinions I respected because they knew what they were looking at because they’d [judged] the Mr. Olympia or they’ve seen the top guy,” Yates says. “If I took my top off every day at the gym, I would just get [people saying] ‘Whoa, you’re amazing,’ ‘You’ll beat everybody’ […] I didn’t need to hear that from people that didn’t really know what they were looking at.”
In a world of larger-than-life competitors and a modern culture that encourages us to share every aspect of our lives on social media, Yates realized that less might be more when edging out the competition.
Featured Image: @thedorianyates on Instagram