Skip to Content

7 Giant Set Back Workouts For A Massive Back!

The upper back is one of the most difficult muscle groups to train.

There are so many different muscle groups including the lats, traps, rhomboids, teres major and the spinal erectors. The upper back muscles also have a healthy mix of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers.

Giant sets are so effective for training the back because they let you target all of these different muscle groups and types of muscle fibers with one brutal training method!

Introduction

  • Part 1: John Meadows Giant Sets
  • Part 2: Charles Poliquin Giant Sets
  • Part 3: Milos Sarcev Giant Sets

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you 8 of the most effective upper back giant set routines ever created.

These routines were designed by some of the world’s best bodybuilding coaches including John Meadows, Charles Poliquin and Milos Sarcev.

Giant sets are a hypertrophy training method where you perform 4 or more exercises in a row for a muscle group with only 10 seconds rest in between exercises.

Giant sets are so effective for building muscle because they really boost the time under tension of the set and allow you to overload a muscle with many different exercises in a short period of time.

Here is what a giant set looks like in practice:

  • Step #1: Perform exercise 1, rest 10 seconds
  • Step #2: Perform exercise 2, rest 10 seconds
  • Step #3: Perform exercise 3, rest 10 seconds
  • Step #4: Perform exercise 4, rest 2-4 minutes, repeat!

Here is Milos Sarcev coaching one of his bodybuilding clients through an upper back giant set:

With giant sets you are only resting for 10 seconds in between each exercise. This helps you to maximize all three of the biological triggers for muscle hypertrophy including mechanical tension, muscle damage and metabolic fatigue.

Even if you are training in lower rep ranges for all four exercises you will still get an incredible pump and create an overwhelming amount of muscle fatigue.

John Meadows and Charles Poliquin like to write upper back giant set routines with 4-5 exercises in a row. On the other hand Milos Sarcev likes to write upper back giant set routines with as many as 10 exercises performed back-to-back.

Both of these giant set strategies work awesome for building a huge back if you really push yourself in the gym!

Note: if you have trouble reading the training routines in this article then check out this guide on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: John Meadows Giant Sets

John Meadows is the creator of the Mountain Dog Training program and the founder of Granite Supplements.

Giant sets are one of John’s favorite training strategies for bringing up a lagging upper back. The upper back is just one of those muscle groups that responds well to a wide variety of exercises and lots of time under tension.

One of John’s favorite ways to design an upper back giant set workout is to pick 4-5 different exercises and perform hard sets of 8 reps on each exercise. John likes to pick 4 exercises that are very different from each other to target as many different areas of the upper back as possible.

Here is an easier upper back giant set workout that John performed as he was getting back into training after a few weeks off following his bodybuilding competition. Check it out:

John Meadows Upper Back Giant Set Routine #1

  • A1: Smith machine dead stop row, 4 x 8, 1/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Lying DB pullover, 4 x 8, 1/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Bilateral bent-over kettlebell row, 4 x 8, 1/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Band chest row, 4 x 8, 1/0/1/1, 10 seconds rest
  • A5: Hanging lat stretch, 4 x 60 seconds, 3-5 minutes rest

Here is the training video for this workout:

As you can see John uses a wide variety of exercises to overload different parts of his upper back.

John doesn’t use a ton of weight on any of the exercises. Instead he is focused on really contracting his muscles against the weight, establishing a great mind-muscle connection and getting a great pump.

This is great advice. Giant sets workouts really aren’t about lifting maximum weight. Instead the objective is to stimulate muscle growth by creating as much muscle damage and metabolic fatigue as possible.

Now let’s take a look at another one of John Meadows’ upper back giant set workouts. Check it out:

John Meadows Upper Back Giant Set Routine #2

  • A1: Chest supported row (wide / pronated grip), 4 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Decline DB pullover, 4 x 8, 1/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Machine pulldown (narrow / neutral grip), 4 x 8, 1/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Unilateral DB row, 4 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest

Here is the training video for this workout:

Once again John uses a wide variety of exercises to overload every different area of the upper back.

The chest supported rows target more of the traps and rhomboids; the decline DB pullover targets the upper lats and serratus anterior; the neutral grip machine pulldown targets the lower lats; and finally the unilateral DB rows primarily targets the lower lats but also the traps, rhomboids and spinal erectors.

John says in the video that his lower lats still need more work to catch up to the rest of his physique so he used two exercises to target that area of his back.

If you want to create your own Mountain Dog style upper back giant set workout then I suggest you perform 4-5 completely different exercises in a circuit for sets of 8 reps.

Just make sure you take your Granite intra-workout recovery supplement – you’re going to need it!

John doesn’t always train his upper back with giant sets. However, they are one of his favorite training methods to bring up a lagging back.

Part 2: Charles Poliquin Giant Set

Charles Poliquin was one of the world’s greatest strength coaches and the trainer of many IFBB professional bodybuilders including Ben Pakulski and Milos Sarcev.

Charles was a huge fan of giant sets for increasing muscular size. He especially liked them for muscles with a lot of slow-twitch muscle fibers like the quads, deltoids and upper back.

Charles Poliquin uses a similar approach to John Meadows when he designs his upper back routines: he uses a wide variety of exercises to target the upper back from as many different angles as possible.

Charles often uses isolation exercises for smaller muscle groups like the rear delts or lower traps to make sure they get the attention they deserve.

Here is an upper back giant set routine that Charles wrote for a fitness magazine many years ago. Check it out:

Charles Poliquin Upper Back Giant Set Routine #1

  • A1. Pull ups (medium / neutral grip), 5 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Ez-bar bent over row (wide / supinated grip), 5 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Machine pulldown (wide / supinated grip), 5 x 8-10, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Seated rope row to neck, 5 x 8-10, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A5: Straight-arm pulldown (medium / pronated grip), 5 x 10-12, 4/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest

Here are the training videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise A4, exercise A5.

Charles uses some of his favorite exercises in this giant set routine including pull ups and seated rope rows to the neck. He also uses a wide variety of rep ranges and slower eccentric tempos on each exercise to really jack up the time under tension.

Charles is known for his “time under tension” training protocols and really tries to manipulate the time under tension on each exercise for maximum growth. Let’s look at another one of Charles Poliquin’s upper back giant set routines.

This routine was written for a physique athlete that Charles was coaching at the time. Check it out:

Charles Poliquin Upper Back Giant Set Routine #2

  • A1: Machine row w/ paused scapular retraction, 4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/2, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Lat pulldowns (wide / pronated grip), 4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/2, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Seated rear deltoids machines raises, 4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/2, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: 30 degree prone DB row, 4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/2, 10 seconds rest
  • A5: Incline reverse superman, 4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/2, 4 minutes rest

Here are the training videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise A4, exercise A5.

For this routine Charles uses a number of isolation exercises for the smaller muscle groups of the upper back including the rear delts and the lower traps.

One of the really interesting things about this routine is Charles has his physique athlete pause for a full 2 seconds on every exercise.

For example on the machine row the athlete would pull the weight to his chest explosively, pause for 2 seconds in the contracted position and then lower the weight back down over 2 seconds.

This tempo training technique really jacks up the time under tension for each exercise and makes the whole giant set that much more effective for building muscle mass.

It’s definitely something to think about when you design your own upper back giant set routine!

Part 3: Milos Sarcev Giant Sets

It’s time to talk about the king of giant sets training: Milos Sarcev.

Milos Sarcev is an IFBB professional bodybuilder and one of the most successful bodybuilding coaches the world has ever seen. He has trained countless professional bodybuilders including the Mr. Olympia finalist Dennis Wolf.

Milos likes to design giant set routines where you perform 10+ exercises in a row with no rest between sets. Yes, you read that right – Milos Sarcev’s giant set routines often feature 10+ exercises performed in a row! This is an extreme way to train but it works like magic for Milos and his clients.

Just make sure you take your post-workout nutrition seriously on this routine – you’re going to need it!

One of Milos Sarcev’s favorite training strategies is to perform giant sets specifically to increase the width of the back and giant sets specifically to increase the thickness of the back.

The back width giant sets would focus on exercises for the lats such as pull ups and lat pulldowns. On the other hand the back thickness giant sets would focus on different types of rows.

Here is a back width giant set routine that Milos Sarcev wrote for Sergio Olivia Jr. Check it out:

Milos Sarcev Back Width Giant Set Routine

  • A1: Pull up (wide / pronated grip)**, 3 x 10, 1/0X/0, no rest
  • A2: Machine pulldown (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 10, 1/0X/0, no rest
  • A3: Behind the neck cable pulldown (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 10, 1/0X/0, no rest
  • A4: Machine pulldown (narrow / overhand grip), 3 x 10, 1/0X/0, no rest
  • A5: Cable pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 x 10, 1/0X/0, no rest
  • A6: Cable pulldown (narrow / neutral grip), 3 x 10, 1/0X/0, no rest
  • A7: Hammer strength pulldown (overhand grip), 3 x 20***, 1/0X/0, no rest
  • A8: 75 degree behind the neck cable pulldown (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 10, 1/0X/0, no rest
  • A9: 75 degree cable pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 x 10, 1/0X/0, rest 3-5 minutes

**Performed through a partial range of motion.

***On the first 10 reps your training partner adds extra manual resistance in the stretched position for 1-2 seconds

Here is the training video for this workout:

As you can see Sergio Olivia Jr. performs 9 different exercises targeting his “back width” muscle groups such as his lats and teres major.

Rather than using a fancy tempo or rep scheme on each exercise Milos just tells Sergio to shoot for 10 reps on each exercise. If Sergio can’t complete all 10 reps on his own then Milos jumps in and helps him perform some extra forced reps to complete all 10 reps.

Milos believes that the huge number of exercises will take care of the time under tension so there’s no need to do anything fancy with the reps or tempo for each exercise.

Now let’s look at a back thickness giant set workout that Milos Sarcev designed for Sergio Olivia Jr. Check it out:

Milos Sarcev Back Thickness Giant Set Routine

  • A1: Seated machine row (medium / neutral grip), 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, no rest
  • A2: Seated machine row (wide / neutral grip), 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, no rest
  • A3: Standing machine row (medium / pronated grip), 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, no rest
  • A4: Machine pulldown (medium / semi-supinated grip), 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, no rest
  • A5: Cable pulldown (medium / supinated grip), 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, no rest
  • A6: seated cable row (narrow / neutral grip), 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, no rest
  • A7: 75 degree cable pulldown (narrow / semi-supinated grip), 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, no rest
  • A8: Supine cable row (narrow / semi-pronated grip), 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, rest 3-5 minutes

Here is the training video for this workout:

For this back thickness giant set Sergio Olivia Jr. performs many different types of machine and cable rowing exercises. He also performs a few pulldown exercises for good measure.

It is very important when you design your giant set back workouts that you do not use too many exercises that overload the lower back such as deadlifts, rack deadlifts, barbell rows etc.

These exercises are very difficult to recover from and will limit the amount of volume that you can perform in your workout.

So far we’ve looked at Milos Sarcev giant sets focused just on back width or back thickness. Milos also writes upper back giant set routines where you perform a variety of width and thickness exercises in the same routine.

Here is one such example. Check it out:

Milos Sarcev Back Width / Thickness Giant Set Routine

  • A1: T-bar row, 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, no rest
  • A2: Rack deadlift (just below knees), 3 x 10, 1/1/1/0, no rest
  • A3: Standing barbell shrug, 3 x 10, 1/0/1/0, no rest
  • A4: Machine pulldown (wide / neutral grip), 3 x 10, 2/0/X/0, no rest
  • A5: Trap-bar row, 3 x 10, 1/0/1/2, no rest
  • A6: Lying DB pullover, 3 x 10, 2/0/1/0, no rest
  • A7: Cable pulldown (medium / neutral grip), 3 x 10, 1/0/X/1, no rest
  • A8: Cable pulldown (narrow / pronated grip), 3 x 10, 1/0/X/1, no rest
  • A9: Machine pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, no rest
  • A10: Seated cable row (narrow / neutral grip), 3 x 20, 1/0/X/1, 3-5 minutes rest

Here is the training video for this workout:

Talk about a brutal giant set workout! This routine features a wide variety of exercises to overload literally every muscle group in the upper back.

The big disadvantage to Milos Sarcev style giant sets is they can be very difficult to perform in a regular commercial gym. After all, most gyms won’t let you hog 4 different pieces of equipment at the same time.

If you do have access to a large gym where you can perform this type of routine then you can expect some of the fastest progress of your entire life. If you have the means to perform this routine then I highly recommend you give it a shot.

Conclusion

Giant sets are an incredible way to train for muscle growth. They let you perform several different exercises in a very short period of time and really overload your muscles with a ton of time under tension.

Many of the world’s best bodybuilding coaches like John Meadows, Charles Poliquin and Milos Sarcev use giant sets with their bodybuilding clients to build muscle mass in record time.

If you want to learn more about the giant sets training style then check out the following article:

Milos is the true king of giant sets training. In that article you will learn many of his secrets including how to incorporate different high-intensity training techniques into the giant sets routines to make them even more effective for muscle growth.

Here is a great quote by the original gangster Bruce Lee to pump you up even more:

“If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!