John Meadows is an IFBB professional bodybuilder and one of the best bodybuilding coaches in the world. John believes the fastest way to build a huge back is to use his Mountain Dog back workouts.
If you want to learn how John Meadows designs his back workouts then this article is for you!
- Part 1: Classic Back Workouts
- Part 2: Deadlift-Focused Back Workouts
- Part 3: Back / Bicep Workouts
- Part 4: Giant Set Back Workouts
In this comprehensive guide I will show you how to build a huge back using John Meadows’ Mountain Dog back workouts. John Meadows says that his Mountain Dog Training program is all about building as much muscle mass as possible while staying healthy and avoiding injuries.
John uses many unique upper back exercises and different high-intensity techniques to blow up his back without bothering his joints. John uses 5 main types of exercises in his back workouts:
The 5 Mountain Dog Back Exercises
- Exercise #1: Rows
- Exercise #2: Pulldowns
- Exercise #3: Pullovers
- Exercise #4: Deadlifts
- Exercise #5: Back Extensions
John always starts his workouts with different types of rows and pulldowns.
John says that these are his “meat and potato” exercises for building back width and thickness. He uses many different rows and pulldowns in his workouts like one-arm barbell rows, Meadows rows and band-assisted pull ups.
Here is a great video of John demonstrating the Meadows row:
I will show you all of his favorites in the workouts below.
John is also a big fan of pullovers. He uses dumbbell pullovers, cable pullovers and even the old-school Nautilus pullover machine that Dorian Yates famously used to train his lats.
Here is John demonstrating the dumbbell pullover:
John likes to perform pullovers in between different rows and pulldown variations.
For example John might perform 2 rowing exercises, dumbbell pullovers and then 1-2 pulldown variations. John says this strategy gives his arms a break and helps him isolate his lats.
Finally John likes to finish his back workouts with different types of deadlifts and back extensions to train his lower back.
Here is John demonstrating the rack deadlift:
John has a special way he performs rack deadlifts to target his lats – I will talk about this more in the workouts below. Now let’s look at some of John’s favorite upper back workouts.
Here is a simple 5-exercise upper back workout that you can try. Check it out:
Back Workout #1
- Exercise #1: One-arm barbell row, 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Exercise #2: Meadows row, 3 sets of 8 reps
- Exercise #3: Lying DB pullover, 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Exercise #4: Dual handle cable pulldown, 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Exercise #5: Dumbbell stiff-legged deadlift / shrug, 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Here is the training video:
This is a perfect example of how John likes to organize his upper back workouts. John starts this workout with 2 of his favorite upper back exercises: one-arm barbell rows and meadows rows.
Here is John talking about the one-arm barbell row:
“I started doing these in 2002. I was training for the nationals. We started playing around with these and we thought man, this is a phenomenal exercise.
If you’re wondering what the difference is between this and a dumbbell, you just have to try it. It feels completely different with the path of the bar.”
John says that this is one of the best exercises that you can do to train your lats.
Another one of John’s favorite upper back exercises is the Meadows row. John says that this is his all-time favorite upper back exercise for building back width and thickness.
So why does John perform these one-arm rowing variations instead of a regular barbell row?
John says that he feels these exercises better in his upper back. He gets a better stretch and contraction in his lats, traps and rhomboids with these movements than a regular bent over row.
“When I do a heavy barbell row, it tends to be my spinal erectors, some rear delts, some biceps and some traps as opposed to my lats and rhomboids.
For me personally, I don’t think it’s a bad exercise, personally I feel one-arm barbell rows and Meadows rows more in my lats.”
After the heavy rowing exercises John performs a lying dumbbell pullover.
John loves to perform pullover exercises in between heavy rows or pull downs to give his biceps a break and to really isolate his lats. Check it out:
“After two hard rowing exercises I like to give my biceps a break. It’s a great time to move onto a pullover.
I also like to do pullovers after I’ve got some blood in my lats. There’s nothing like stretching out a muscle that’s pumped full of blood.”
Finally John finishes the workout with a pulldowns and a deadlift variation for his lower back.
Here is a slightly higher volume John Meadow back workout that you can try. Check it out:
Back Workout #2
- Exercise #1: Seated cable row (dual handles), 3 sets of 10 reps
- Exercise #2: Seated cable row (dual handles)**, 3 sets of 12 reps
- Exercise #3: One-arm DB row, 3 sets of 6 reps****
- Exercise #4: Lying kettlebell pullover, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Exercise #5: Machine chest supported row (wide / overhand grip), 3 sets of 7 reps******
- Exercise #6: 45 degree back extension (holding barbell medium grip), 3 sets of 10 reps
**Bend over so your upper body is almost parallel to the ground in the bottom position, then arch your upper body so it is vertical in the contracted position. See the video below for more details.
****Perform a double drop set on the last set.
******On your last set apply a 30-second forced overstretch
Here is the training video:
Talk about an intense workout! John performs 6 different exercises for his back: 4 rows, 1 pullover variation and 1 back extension.
John structures this workout in a very similar way: he puts the kettlebell pullover in between his sets of rows / pulldowns and he finishes the workout with a 45 degree back extension for his lower back.
Through the workout John uses many different high-intensity techniques like drop sets and forced stretches.
Here is John describing the forced stretch that he performed on the chest supported row machine:
“Make sure on your last set of 7 reps you finish with a 30-second forced stretch. If your grip is really weak you want to use straps to hang onto the bar.
Basically you hang your arms and your training partner applies a forced overstretch for 30 seconds.”
John says that he loves to perform forced stretches towards the end of his back workouts when his muscles are already fatigued and pumped full of blood. He says performing stretches at the end of your back workout will give you better results in terms of hypertrophy and reduce your risk of injury.
Now let’s look at a couple of workouts where John uses heavy deadlifts to train his back.
John performs some type of deadlift in about 20-40% of his back workouts. He says they are a great exercise for adding thickness to your back. However, they can also be very hard on your recovery ability.
John likes to perform these exercises towards the end of his workouts when his upper back is already pre-fatigued.
Here is a simple Mountain Dog back workout with deadlifts that you can try. Check it out:
Back Workout #3
- Exercise #1: Iso-lateral machine pulldown, 4 sets of 10-12 reps**
- Exercise #2: Chest-supported row (semi-pronated grip), 4 sets of 8-10 reps**
- Exercise #3: Trap bar deadlift, 3 sets of 5-6 reps
- Exercise #4: Lying DB pullover, 3 sets of 10 reps
**Perform several progressively heavier warm-up sets, followed by 1 working set to failure.
Here is the training video for this workout:
This deadlift workout is as simple as it gets. John performs machine pulldowns, machine chest supported rows, trap bar deadlifts and dumbbell pullovers.
For the first two exercises John performs several warm up sets and then performs 1 all-out set to failure. For the deadlifts John performs a few heavy sets in the 5-6 rep range.
John actually likes to keep his deadlifts in the 3-6 rep range in his back workouts. He says that it is easy to get sloppy with your form when the reps are too high.
Here is one of John’s more advanced deadlift-focused back workouts. Check it out:
Back Workout #4
- Exercise #1: Machine pulldown (wide / pronated grip), 3 sets of 15 reps
- Exercise #2: Seated cable row (v-handle), 4 sets of 8 reps
- Exercise #3: Bilateral bent-over kettlebell row, 4 sets of 8 reps
- Exercise #4: Rack deadlift (just below knees), 3 sets of 5 reps
- Exercise #5: Reverse hyperextension, 2 sets of 15 reps
Here is the training video for this workout:
John uses a few unique exercises for this back workout. The first is the bent-over kettlebell row. John invented this exercise when he was playing around with kettlebells in the gym.
The kettlebells lower the center of gravity of the exercise which gives the exercise a completely different feel.
“Now we’re moving onto kettlebell rows. I wish I could give you a scientific explanation on why these feel so good.
Unfortunately I can’t. It’s just something I tried and it feels really, really good.”
Next John performs his rack deadlifts. John almost always performs rack deadlifts instead of the regular deadlifts from the ground. He says the rack deadlift does a better job of targeting the upper back and is a little easier to recover from.
Finally John finishes the workout with one of his favorite lower back exercises: the reverse hyperextension. Here is John describing this movement:
“This is just a phenomenal rehab exercise. My lower back feels better than it has in years and I credit this exercise.
Louie Simmons invented this and if it wasn’t for Louie I would probably have a really, really, really bad back right now.”
So far we’ve looked at pure upper back workouts. Sometimes John trains his upper back and biceps together in the same workout.
John likes to do this when he is using a push / pull / legs split or whenever he wants to perform some extra training volume for his biceps.
Here is one of John’s beginner-friendly back / bicep workouts that you can try. Check it out:
Back Workout #5
- Exercise #1: Meadows row, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Exercise #2: One-arm barbell row, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Exercise #3: Band-assisted pull up, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Exercise #4: Bent over rear delt DB fly, 3 sets of 20-30 reps
- Exercise #5: Seated DB curl (hammer grip), 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Here is the training video:
This is a very simple back / bicep workout that most trainees can recover from. John performs 3 exercises for his upper back, 1 for his rear delts and 1 for his biceps.
John says that you have to reduce your training volume for your upper back when you train your biceps in the same workout. That is the tradeoff you have to make when you train these two muscle groups together.
Here is John giving another great overview of his favorite lat exercise, the one-arm barbell row:
“You’re going to row with a pronated grip. That allows you to use more rhomboids, rear delts, traps as opposed to a neutral grip which we are going to use on the second exercise.
Think of your arms just hanging, attached to the bar. Don’t pull with your biceps. Just think about driving with your elbow. You will get a great contraction in your entire back.”
And here is John giving another great overview of his overall favorite upper back exercise, the Meadows row:
“The neutral grip will place a lot more emphasis on your lats. Again you want to have a nice base.
Don’t turn it into a balancing exercise. Again you’re driving your elbow, just drive your elbow, squeeze your lats, stretch.
Those are really tough. I think those have put more muscles on my lats than anything I’ve done and those are as basic as it gets. Bend over, and row!”
Here is one of John Meadows’ higher volume back / biceps workouts that you can try. Check it out:
Back Workout #6
- Exercise #1: Machine chest supported row, 3 sets of 10 reps
- Exercise #2: One-arm barbell row, 3 sets of 8-12 reps**
- Exercise #3: Band assisted pull up, 3 sets to failure****
- Exercise #4: Reverse pec dec, 3 sets of 15-20 reps
- Exercise #5: Seated DB curl (hammer grip), 3 sets of 10 reps******
- Exercise #6: Machine preacher curls, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
**On the last set train to failure, drop the weight and train to failure again.
****On the last set train to failure, then pull yourself halfway up and perform a 10-second iso-hold
******Perform 10 reps to failure, then perform 5 partial reps out of the bottom position
Here is the training video:
John follows a very similar template for this “pull” workout. He performs 3 exercises for his upper back, 1 exercise for his rear delts and 2 exercises for his biceps.
One really interesting exercise variation that John uses in this workout is the band-assisted pull up. The basic idea is to loop a resistance band over the pull up bar and then stand on it so the band helps you through the range of motion.
John likes to use band assisted pull ups towards the end of his Mountain Dog back workouts. He says they are very easy on your joints and the bands help you get a huge contraction in your upper back in the top position. Check it out:
“I like these because I can get a little better range of motion, I can get really high up into the contraction and I can really steady my body with the band and get perfect form.
Whenever I use these my lats get really sore and I get a great pump in my lats.”
First let’s look at a superset back workout. Check it out:
Back Workout #7
- A1: Machine pulldown (medium / neutral grip), 3 sets of 8-12 reps, no rest
- A2: Lying DB pullover, 3 sets of 8-12 reps**, 1 minute rest
- B1: One-arm arcing DB row, 3 sets of 8-12 reps, no rest
- B2: Rack deadlift (mid-shin height), 3 sets of 8-12 reps**, 1 minute rest
- C1: Machine chest supported row, 3 sets of 8-12 reps, no rest
- C2: Dual rope cable row (high pulley), 3 sets of 8-12 reps**, 1 minute rest
**After your 3rd set perform a 60-second manual stretch for your lats. See the video below for more details.
Here is the training video:
For this workout John performs 3 different supersets for his upper back. The basic idea is to perform 1 back exercise, rest about 10 seconds and then immediately perform the next upper back exercise.
John performs 3 rounds of each superset before moving onto the next one.
Supersets are so effective for upper back growth because they increase the time under tension of your sets and force your muscles to work longer. They also let you perform a huge volume of work in a very short period of time.
Now let’s look at one of John’s more advanced giant set back workouts. Check it out:
Back Workout #8
- Exercise A1: Chest supported row (wide / pronated grip), 4 sets of 8 reps, 10 seconds rest
- Exercise A2: Decline DB pullover, 4 sets of 8 reps, 10 seconds rest
- Exercise A3: Machine pulldown (narrow / neutral grip), 4 sets of 8 reps, 10 seconds rest
- Exercise A4: One-arm DB row, 4 sets of 8 reps, 3 minutes rest
Here is the training video for this workout
One of the keys to designing a great giant set workout is to pick a variety of exercises that overload your muscles in completely different ways. John’s exercises in this workout accomplish this perfectly.
When John does his giant set back workouts he likes to perform about 8 reps per set. He says that you are getting plenty of time under tension already so you can keep your reps a little lower and still get a phenomenal hypertrophy stimulus.
Here is one more of John’s giant set back workouts that you can try. Check it out:
Back Workout #9
- Exercise A1: Smith machine dead stop row, 4 sets of 8 reps, 10 seconds rest
- Exercise A2: Lying DB pullover, 4 sets of 8 reps, 10 seconds rest
- Exercise A3: Bent over kettlebell row, 4 sets of 8 reps, 10 seconds rest
- Exercise A4: Band face pull, 4 sets of 8 reps, 3-4 minutes rest
Here is the training video:
John performed this workout about 3 weeks after his last bodybuilding competition. He needed something that would stimulate growth while being easy on his body and his joints.
John says that this workout was perfect for what he needed at the time. Here is John giving some great insights into the muscle-building process and why giant sets are so effective for stimulating growth:
“When it comes to building muscles, you’re really building muscle fibers. And you do that by mechanical tension on the muscle fibers. The way you do that is, number 1, activation.
Activation can come from the amount of weight that you’re using but it’s not the end-all, be-all. Some powerlifters are really big but they’re not as big as bodybuilders who are a lot weaker.
Not only do you have to activate the muscle fibers, you have to fatigue muscle fibers. So when you’re taking a little bit of a break but then you keep going, you’re creating a tremendous amount of fatigue in the fibers.
That is a form of overload in and of itself. It does create a lot of damage in the muscle.
So you’re activating the muscle, you’re picking exercises that feel good, you’re loading the muscles with what feels like a heavy weight and then you’re fatiguing the muscle fibers.
Activate, load and exhaust. That’s what we’re all about! And giant sets does all of these things.”
I highly recommend you read the whole quote if you are a student of bodybuilding. John gives some deep insights here into the muscle-building process.
John Meadows is one of the world’s best bodybuilding coaches and it’s easy to see why. He designs his workouts so that you can build muscle mass very quickly while staying healthy and avoiding injuries.
John says the key to building your back or any other muscle group is to sequence your exercises correctly and to find safe ways to increase the intensity of your workouts.
If you are looking for a new way to train your back then you have to give John Meadows' back workouts a shot. They may be just what you need to take your training to the next level.
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“I looked up to the guys who could really take their training to another level. They would not leave the gym until they won. And that’s the mentality I’ve always had – I would not leave the gym until I put everything I had into it.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!