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It’s All In Your Head

Dorian Yates achieved his mass by striving to drive up heavier weights while minimizing the volume of his workouts.

Recently I attended a seminar hosted by six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates. At one point, while discussing training intensity and the true meaning of momentary muscular failure, Dorian mentioned an analogy he’d heard from Mike Mentzer, which had been passed on to Mike from Nautilus creator Arthur Jones: “Suppose you hit failure on a set of curls, but then some shady character put a gun to your head or to the head of your child, and told you to do two more—you’d somehow get those two reps, wouldn’t you?

Since I’d heard that story before, I didn’t really pay much attention. I always train damn hard anyway—or so I thought. I’d also arranged to have Dorian himself put me through a brief workout immediately after the seminar’s conclusion. I chose biceps, for a couple reasons. One, I knew it wouldn’t take long and Yates was doing me a favor as it was. Two, my biceps have never been very good, despite my best efforts over the years.

Dorian had me start on dumbbell concentration curls, an exercise I normally don’t do. He scoffed at the weight I selected, and after I’d done a couple of reps, he had me get a heavier ’bell. I was thinking, “This is too much weight.” I started curling, and it was heavy as hell. Normally I would have racked it and gone for a lighter weight—but it was a special occasion. I had one of the greatest bodybuilders of my generation, a man legendary for his “Blood and Guts” hardcore training intensity and work ethic, quietly but firmly instructing me to do another rep, and another.

While it wasn’t quite the same as having a gun to my head, it wasn’t far off—not for someone like me who would rather puke than punk out in front of a true icon of the sport I’ve been part of for more than half my life. I eked out seven reps somehow with a weight I typically wouldn’t have even tried to do one rep with.

Next up were EZ-curl-bar curls—and a similar scenario. I chose a weight that was quickly deemed a warmup by the still-massive Brit, and again I was asked to do more than I felt comfortable with—comfortable being the key word here. For a split second a chorus of doubts and excuses ran through my brain. You haven’t eaten in a long time, you didn’t have any preworkout supplements to boost energy or a pump, you’re even a little dehydrated—and most of all, that’s too heavy for you to curl.

Even so, once more I went above and beyond what I was supposed to be able to do. And it wasn’t because of some wonder supplement and certainly not because of any drug. I worked my biceps heavier and harder than I could remember in eons, and the difference had all been in motivation.

If you can summon that burning desire, that do-or-die attitude that you must achieve this one particular goal with the weight, and do it again and again consistently, success is guaranteed. I thought I trained pretty hard, but once I saw what I was truly capable of, I was forced to rethink my intensity. I have to admit that I had been fooling myself for a long time. The mind is by far the most powerful factor in bodybuilding, and I hadn’t been using mine to its full capacity.

Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding, available at

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