Dorian Yates Reveals the Best Exercise For Building a Barn Door Back

dorian yates shoulder protection tips

Dorian Yates on the exercise to do if you want a broader back. 

As a bodybuilder, your back is as important as the muscles in the front. This is more than aesthetics; you need your back for power, strength, and performance. It is important to learn how the muscles of your back work and how to build their strength and size. A thick and wide back is necessary for your shoulder health and a great physique. We turn to six-time Mr. Olympia winner Dorian Yates, known for his jacked back, for insider tips and advice on his favorite back exercise. On Instagram, Yates recently shared his favorite exercises for building a barn door back.

Dorian Yates was already popular in the bodybuilding circuits around the 1980s and 1990s. So he was no stranger when he entered the Olympia competition in 1991. However, his runner-up finish was surprising as he fell short of eight-time Mr. Olympia winner Lee Haney

Yates returned victorious the next year and secured his first Sandow Trophy. It was all dominance from there as he defended his title five consecutive times. He had only two second-place finishes but 15 major contest wins before retiring in 1997. 

Dorian Yates is nicknamed “The Shadow” because of his low profile, even at the height of his career. Well documented in the acclaimed film, ‘Dorian Yates The Original Mass Monster,‘ Yates maintains a passion for working out and fitness decades after saying goodbye to professional bodybuilding. This article covers understanding your back’s anatomy and Dorian Yates’s advice for building a barn door back.

Full Name: Dorian Yates
Weight Height Date of Birth
260-290 lb 5’9” 04/19/1962
Profession Era Nationality
Bodybuilder 1990s British


The Anatomy of The Back and What To Target in Bodybuilding


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A post shared by Dorian Yates (@thedorianyates)

Training your back requires an approach that is a bit more serious. However, when you get it right, it pays off in strength and size. Understanding how your back is built makes it easier to understand what routines to focus on and how they work.

Now the human back is made up of many muscles. To save you some time, we’ll focus on the major ones you need to stimulate. Working on these will get all the others into shape as well. They are the trapezius, the rhomboids, and the latissimus dorsi.

This study shows how targeting the latissimus dorsi can activate other muscles (1).


One thing to remember about your trapezius is that they’re bigger than you think. These muscles cover your back from your head to your tailbone. They are also split into three subsets known as the upper, middle, and lower traps. Your traps are important in the movement of your shoulder blades.


You’ll find your rhomboids under your traps running from the thoracic spine to the scapula. You need your rhomboids for counterbalancing when pushing weights. They’re also important to get good front-to-back thickness with your looks.  

The Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi, also known as the lats, are quite popular in bodybuilding. This muscle set originates from your upper arm bone and connects to your scapula, thoracic spine, and the deep muscles of your back. 

The latissimus dorsi helps with extending and rotating your shoulders. You need these actions for your routine for deadlifts, pull-ups, and other pulls. Your lats also span a big portion of your back, so building them will help with your width and size. 

Important Back-Building Tips To Keep In Mind

  1. Keep your back exercises smooth and your reps in pristine form. Jerky reps that have some rotating motions won’t do much. 
  2. Don’t rush your reps if you want maximum results. More motion does not equal good motion. Take your time, and don’t let the momentum lead you.
  3. Lastly, your back consists of a big muscle group. When you hit it hard, be intentional about recovering with adequate rest and supplements

Dorian Yates Favorite Back Exercise: Barbell Rows


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A post shared by Dorian Yates (@thedorianyates)

Dorian Yates’s favorite back exercises are barbell rows! He wrote:

“These were my favorite back exercises, and I performed them with an underhand grip for the most part.”

Barbell rows work on your upper and lower back, hips, and arms. They are a two-step move where you lift the barbell from the ground, angle your chest, so it is parallel to the ground, and then lift and lower the barbell in a series of reps. Barbell rows are sometimes called bent-over rows


Dorian Yates has a style he’s found very effective when doing his barbell rows. In fact, he says he remembers sharing a style change with fellow bodybuilder and business mogul Paul Baxendale and watching it give him results. 


Yates uses a reverse grip with hands spaced about 16 to 18 inches apart. He then ensures that he always pulls the barbell to his waist. 


For Yates, standing with his upper body slightly above parallel, at about 70 degrees to the floor, is what works.

“This protects the lower back from injury. As with all lat exercises, keeping the spine in an arched position is essential so that the lat muscles can fully contract.”

This study shows the importance of stance when doing lifts (2).

Use Partial Reps

Performing forced reps with barbell rows can be impossible, so Yates suggests doing partial reps for intensity.

“I only use partial reps after I cannot perform any more full-range reps. I continue doing partial reps until I can’t move the bar more than a few inches.”

Slow Negatives

Yates writes:

“As with all my basic mass exercises, I perform the negative portion of the rep fairly slowly and the positive portion as forcefully as possible.”

Negatives are a great way to add intensity to your muscle routines. Slowing down the lowering phase of your lift helps to overload the muscle groups used.

Use Straps

Lifting straps give you good grip control and are the best for heavy reps. This helps to improve the safety of your exercises. Lifting straps also make focusing on the muscles your exercise targets easier. You won’t need to worry about your grip failing in the process. 

“Straps help to reinforce my grip, thereby allowing me to get more reps and work the muscles to full exhaustion.”

This study shows how straps directly influence performance (3).

So give the legendary bodybuilder Dorian Yate’s favorite back exercise a go if you want to build bigger lats!

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  1. Lehman, G. J., Buchan, D. D., Lundy, A., Myers, N., & Nalborczyk, A. (2004). Variations in muscle activation levels during traditional latissimus dorsi weight training exercises: An experimental study. Dynamic medicine : DM, 3(1), 4.
  2. Yoon J. G. (2013). The Correlation between the Muscle Activity and Joint Angle of the Lower Extremity According to the Changes in Stance Width during a Lifting Task. Journal of physical therapy science, 25(8), 1023–1025.
  3. Coswig, V. S., Machado Freitas, D. F., Gentil, P., Fukuda, D. H., & Del Vecchio, F. B. (2015). Kinematics and Kinetics of Multiple Sets Using Lifting Straps During Deadlift Training. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 29(12), 3399–3404.
Terry Ramos
As a personal trainer and writer, Terry loves changing lives through coaching and the written word. Terry has a B.S. in Kinesiology and is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and ISSA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He enjoys playing music, reading, and watching films when he's not writing or training.