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The Curious Case of Dorian Yates’ ‘Bad Genetics’

UPDATED ON Jul 12, 2022

Dorian Yates is perhaps the greatest British bodybuilder of all time- certainly, he was the British bodybuilding king of the nineties.

He is a six-time Mr Olympia. He has stood up on the world stage opposite legends like Ronnie Coleman and come away victorious. In recent years, his public messages and coaching advice have spurred a new generation of lifters to hit the gym hard.

For me, Dorian Yates’ legacy will always be his advocacy of a ‘blood and guts’ training style. It’s one I constantly seek to emulate (even if I have to psyche myself up and talk myself into it more than Yates might have) and, during Yates’ heyday, it was something of an anomaly.

What he stepped up to

California was a big deal in early bodybuilding- it still is. Up until Yates came along, Californian bodybuilding was the last word on how to train. Theirs was a style epitomised by industry titans like Flex Wheeler.

I hesitate to call their style lazy, but it wasn’t particularly brutal either.

Wheeler and others like him (Canadian bodybuilder Paul Dillet fits into this category) were a little on the lax side when it came to training and dieting. They put the time in, they got their pumps, they ate their protein- but nothing was too strenuous, especially compared to Yates.

They got by with godlike genetics and a decent amount of funny business (I’m not here today to talk about steroids, but let’s be realistic). Then along came Yates.

Dorian Yates and Ronnie Coleman on stage
Yates and Coleman, two men dominating their sport. Photo: screenshot via YouTube

He was a brickhouse of English dominance and power. Yates is well-known and well-remembered for not having the same aesthetic grace as anomalies like Wheeler. He had to work harder if he was going to take the stage alongside them.

This is exactly what he did. In the end, they struggled to keep up with him: he trained so hard, and kept his diet so strict, that he overcame what he lacked in the genetic department with brute force, determination and strict, controlled aggressive willpower.

Yates epitomised brutal bodybuilding workouts. However, he kept it controlled at all times. Even as he seemed to go harder and more manic than any man should be able to, he was in total control of every movement: his form was perfect, his programming spot on, and his results came strong and steady.

Yates was more than we were used to seeing in every way. Photo: Reddit’s bodybuilding community

He was simply far more intense than anyone had previously seen.

He is known for this: overcoming ‘bad’ genetics with hard work and dedication is very much Dorian Yates’ thing.

The flip side

Dorian is often referred to as a source of inspiration, because he is seen as an example of a guy who made it in spite of his ‘bad genetics’. I don’t think this is a complete picture, though.

There are many people out there who bust their balls every day, working harder than anyone else in their gym. Few of these make Mr Olympia, let alone being able to win it six times.

It’s a brutal reality of lifting that dedication and hard work often pales in comparison to your genetic gifts. Though he may not have looked as naturally ‘aesthetic’ as your Flew Wheelers of the world, I find it hard to countenance the idea of Dorian Yates as having ‘bad genetics.’

He certainly isn’t a hard gainer, by any stretch of the imagination. He certainly has a heightened ability to heal up after rigorous training. You might even call his ability to push himself beyond the norm and aspect of nature as much as nurture or self-drive.

Then there’s the elephant in the room. I repeat: I’m not here to talk about steroids. I’m here to talk about hard work and genetics, and the genuinely mind-blowing, impressive legacy of Dorian Yates. However, many people take performance-enhancing drugs (as Yates is on the record freely admitting to having done) without blowing up like he did. You need a certain tendency to respond well to various exogenous hormones in order for them to work as well as they do at the elite level.

Yates had this tendency. This is part of his genetic makeup.

The take-home

This isn’t to undermine Yates or his achievements. I wouldn’t be able to do that, nor would I want to. He is an all-time great and his work ethic is astounding. We will rarely see his like in any sport and we should all learn as much from him as we are able.

There are two sides to it, then.

First, there is a lot of rubbish floating around concerning his ‘bad genetics.’ They may not have been particularly conducive to aesthetic training in and of themselves. But his ability to respond to training, and to exogenous hormones, is quite certain.

He has the genetics of a top-tier bodybuilder in this regard, even if he had to work harder than his peers to make the most of them.

Second, this is also equally true: he had to work harder than anyone. He was the best because he gritted his teeth, put in more time and effort than anyone else, and made the absolute most of his genetic gifts.

So, if you want to take anything home, it’s this: you are limited by your genetics. They will allow you to succeed or pull you down. If you’re not gifted, don’t expect hard work to turn you into Dorian Yates: it won’t.

However, this shouldn’t stop you from trying. Don’t be the next Dorian Yates, just be the strongest version of yourself. Your genetics, whichever way they square up, will allow for a broad spectrum of possibilities.

Work hard, put the time in, and force them to accommodate your best: fulfil your genetic potential and you can claim a portion of what makes Yates and people like him so great.

James Dixon
James Dixon
James Dixon is a fully qualified personal trainer, with a decade’s worth of experience under his belt. Throughout his career, he has helped hundreds of people to meet their dietary and fitness goals, writing exercise and nutrition plans to suit any and every requirement.
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  1. Johann

    You’ll never know the potential of your genetics unless you put in as much work as you can without second guessing.. Therefore, even taking your genetics into consideration is not useful in my opinion. Just do what you love to the extreme and let it take you where it takes you. Even with iron work ethic and perfect genetics there are other factors to success: like time, place, and social network.

James Dixon
James Dixon
James Dixon is a fully qualified personal trainer, with a decade’s worth of experience under his belt. Throughout his career, he has helped hundreds of people to meet their dietary and fitness goals, writing exercise and nutrition plans to suit any and every requirement.
Have a question? Contact us