The John Meadows Push / Pull / Legs Split!


John Meadows is one of the world’s best bodybuilding coaches. He has trained many world-class bodybuilders including the 2020 Mr. Olympia winner Shaun Clarida.

John uses many training splits with his world-class bodybuilders but the push / pull / legs split is one of his favorites.

If you want to train like John Meadows using the push / pull / legs split then this article is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Chest / Shoulders / Triceps Workouts
  • Part 2: Back / Biceps Workouts
  • Part 3: Quads / Hamstrings / Calves Workouts

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you how John Meadows combines the old-school push / pull / legs split with his Mountain Dog Training program to build muscle as fast as possible.

Mountain Dog Training is a bodybuilding training program invented by the bodybuilding coach John Meadows. John uses many different techniques like proper exercise sequencing, high-intensity sets and loaded stretches to build muscle mass while staying healthy and avoiding injuries.

John Meadows used his Mountain Dog Training program to earn his IFBB pro card and has helped thousands of athletes reach their fitness goals.

Here is a great tribute video to John Meadows: 

One of John’s favorite training splits to use is the classic push / pull / legs split.

The idea is simple: you train your chest / shoulders / triceps on one day, your back / biceps on a second day and your quads / hamstrings / calves on a third day.

The push / pull / legs split is so effective for building muscle mass because it limits overlap between different muscle groups.

You train all of your pushing muscles on the same day so you never have to worry about your shoulders or triceps being sore when you train your chest. The same is true for your pulling muscles and for your legs.

One of John’s favorite ways to use a push / pull / legs split is to perform 4 workouts per week. For example:

John Meadows’ 4 Day Push / Pull / Legs Split

Week #1

  • Monday: Push
  • Wednesday: Pull
  • Friday: Legs
  • Saturday: Push

Week #2

  • Monday: Pull
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Friday: Push
  • Saturday: Pull

Week #3

  • Monday: Legs
  • Wednesday: Push
  • Friday: Pull
  • Saturday: Legs

The 4-day push / pull / legs split is a little unusual but it works extremely well for building muscle mass.

You train each muscle group about once every 5-6 days which is an awesome training frequency for building muscle. You can really hammer each muscle group with a ton of volume and intensity but you are still training each body part more than once per week.

John also likes to use the 6-day push / pull / legs split. Check it out:

John Meadows’ 6 Day Push / Pull / Legs Split

  • Day 1: Push (Heavy)
  • Day 2: Pull (Heavy)
  • Day 3: Legs (Heavy)
  • Day 4: Push (Pump)
  • Day 5: Pull (Pump)
  • Day 6: Legs (Pump)
  • Day 7: Off

The workouts performed early in the week are your normal Mountain Dog style workouts performed with a lot of volume and intensity. Later in the week you perform “pump” workouts which are designed to push a lot of blood into your muscles using joint-friendly exercises.

This is a great strategy to use if you have above-average recovery ability.

In the rest of this article I will show you how John designs his “heavy” workouts that can be used with either of these training splits.

Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: Mountain Dog Chest / Shoulder / Tricep Workouts

John Meadows believes that sequencing your exercises correctly is one of the most important factors in building muscle mass and avoiding injuries. This is especially true when it comes to training muscles like the chest and triceps.

For chest John likes to start his workouts with joint-friendly exercises like dumbbell presses or machine press before moving onto other compound exercises like incline barbell presses or isolation exercises like the machine pec dec.

John follows a similar strategy for his tricep workouts: he starts with joint-friendly exercises like cable pushdowns and finishes with exercises like lying triceps extensions or overhead triceps extensions to really stretch out the muscle.

Here is a beginner-friendly chest / shoulders / triceps workout that you can try. Check it out:

John Meadows Beginner-Friendly Push Workout

  • Exercise #1: 10 degree decline DB press, 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Exercise #2: 60 degree incline DB press, 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Exercise #3: Pec minor dip, 3 sets to failure
  • Exercise #4: Smith machine overhead press, 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Exercise #5: 30 degree incline DB “Y” raise, 3 sets of 15 reps
  • Exercise #6: Dual rope cable pushdown, 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Exercise #7: Dual rope overhead cable extension (high pulley), 3 sets to failure

Here is the training video for this workout:

John believes that you have to use a wide variety of exercises in your workouts to build maximum muscle mass. Some of these exercises might look a little strange but John is really trying to challenge you with something you haven’t seen before.

John starts this workout with the slight decline dumbbell press. John has seen tremendous results with this exercise. Check it out:

“I find the slight decline dumbbell press to be very very easy on the shoulders, and actually if you look up the research you get a lot of overall pec activation from being on the slight decline.”

John uses some other unusual chest exercises like the 60 degree incline dumbbell press and pec minor dips.

For shoulders John performs two exercises: the smith machine overhead press and the incline dumbbell “Y” raise. This is a unique exercise that really hits all 3 heads of your shoulders. Check it out:

“This is a raise I really like for shoulders. You raise them at an “11-1” or “10-2” angle.

You get a lot of delt fibers, you get some front, you get some side, you might even get some rear delts. You cover a lot of ground with one exercise.”

John loves using this exercise in his chest / shoulder / triceps workouts because you can attack all three heads of the delts with one movement. It is definitely a “most bang for your buck” exercise.

Finally John finishes his workout with two awesome triceps exercises: dual rope cable pushdowns and dual rope overhead extensions. Using two rope handles at a time lets you perform both exercises through a greater range of motion for more muscle growth.

This first workout works great for beginner and intermediate level bodybuilders. If you are more advanced then you may need to use more high-intensity techniques to really stimulate maximum growth.

Here is an advanced chest / shoulder / triceps workout that you can try. Check it out:

John Meadows Push Workout #2

  • Exercise #1: 30 degree incline barbell press, 4 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Exercise #2: 30 degree incline DB press, 3 sets of 8-10 reps**
  • Exercise #3: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 3 sets to failure
  • Exercise #4: Ladder push ups, 3 sets to failure***
  • Exercise #5: 30 degree prone kettlebell front / lateral raise, 3 sets of 12-15 reps****
  • Exercise #6: Cable rear delt fly, 3 sets of 12-15 reps*****
  • Exercise #7: Cambered bar seal row, 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Exercise #8: One-arm cable pushdown (grenade attachment), 3 sets of 6-8 reps*****
  • Exercise #9: Medicine ball machine pushdown, 2 sets of 8-10 reps******

**On your last set perform a double drop set followed by a 10-second iso-hold in the stretched position

***Perform 3 mechanical advantage drop sets to failure. Train to failure in the lowest position, then train to failure in the middle position, then train to failure in the top position. Perform 3 sets of these mechanical advantage drop sets.

****On your last set perform 15 reps, then 10 partials in the bottom half of the range of motion.

*****On your last set perform a massive drop set with 5-6 drops.

******On your last set perform a double drop set.

Here is the training video for this workout:

Talk about an intense workout! John designed this workout for the Mr. Olympia winner Terrance Ruffin. John uses 9 different exercises to train his chest, shoulders and triceps.

On 6 of these exercises he uses high-intensity techniques like drop sets, forced reps and iso-holds to train beyond failure and really overload the target muscle. You sometimes have to use these high-intensity techniques to continue building muscle when you get to an advanced level.

John likes to use these high-intensity techniques only on the last set of an exercise. Check it out:

“Go for it, unleash on that last set! The last set you just have to give it everything you’ve got! Don’t hold back, don’t be scared of going to failure. In fact, go beyond failure.”

Throughout the workout John uses many different types of exercises to challenge his chest, shoulders and triceps.

One interesting exercise that you don’t see every day is ladder push ups. John uses a giant cambered bar so that you can lower yourself down past where your hands are.

John actually performs a mechanical advantage drop set where you train to failure, then raise the bar and go again until the bar is almost at chest height.

John says the ladder push up is a great way to stretch out your chest after it has been pumped full of blood. Check it out:

“Once a muscle is pumped up and full of blood, then you hit the extreme range of motion exercises to stretch out the muscle.”

Here is another one of John’s favorite chest / shoulder / tricep workouts using different high-intensity techniques.

This workout uses a couple of supersets where you perform 1 exercise, rest 10 seconds and perform the next exercise. Whenever you see something like exercise “C1 / C2” or exercise “F1 / F2” then you know you are supposed to perform a superset. Check it out:

John Meadows Push Workout #3

  • Exercise A1: 30 degree incline DB press, 4 sets of 8 reps**
  • Exercise B1: 45 degree incline bench press, 4 sets of 5 reps***
  • Exercise C1: One-arm cable crossover, 2 sets of 20 reps, rest 10 seconds
  • Exercise C2: DB press static stretch, 2 sets x 30 seconds, rest 2 minutes
  • Exercise D1: Seated 80 degree incline smith press, 3 sets of 3 reps****
  • Exercise E1: 60 degree prone DB “Y” raise, 3 sets of 15 reps
  • Exercise F1: Standing DB partial lateral raise, 3 sets of 20-30 reps, no rest
  • Exercise F2: Broomstick stretch w/ bands, 3 sets of 10 reps, 1 minute rest
  • Exercise G1: One-arm Tate press, 2 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Exercise H1: 45 degree incline DB extension (hands to chin level), 3 sets of 10-20 reps

**Perform 2 hard working sets of 8 reps with the same weight. On the second working set perform 8 reps, then drop the weight by 30-35% and train to failure again.

***Work up to a hard set of 5 reps. On your last set perform 5 hard reps, then drop the weight by 30-35% and rep the weight out just shy of failure.

****Work up to a heavy set of 3 reps. On the last set perform 3 reps, drop the weight by 30-40%, rep the weight out, drop the weight by 40-50%, rep the weight out, then perform a 10-second iso-hold in the top position with your elbows slightly bent.

Here is the training video for this workout:

Talk about a high-volume chest / shoulder / tricep workout! This workout can look confusing at first. I think it is easier to think of this as three separate workouts: one for your chest, one for your shoulders and one for your triceps.

John uses his normal exercise sequencing for the chest workout. He starts the workout with heavy incline dumbbell presses and incline barbell presses. Then when his chest is pumped full of blood he moves onto more stretching exercises like cable flys and static stretches using dumbbells.

For the static stretch you hold the bottom position of a dumbbell press and have your partner push down on the dumbbells for 30 seconds. Check it out:

“On your loaded stretches, don’t go real heavy. We were using light weights for 30 seconds with some extra manual resistance and that will light you up.”

The rest of the workout features some normal Mountain Dog style shoulder and tricep exercises.

It’s rare to see John start a triceps routine using lying triceps extensions but that is what John does for this routine. He says that it’s OK to start with extensions during a chest / shoulder / triceps workout because your elbows are already warmed up from all the pressing exercises.

This is just one of the many benefits of the classic push / pull / legs split.

Part 2: Mountain Dog Back / Biceps Workouts

John Meadows knows a thing or two about training the upper back. For years his back was his weakest body part on the bodybuilding stage.

After many years of trial and error John discovered some unique exercises like Meadows rows and one-arm barbell rows that he used to turn his back into one of his best body parts.

Let’s see how John designs his back / biceps workouts for bodybuilders looking to build as much muscle mass as possible.

Here is a beginner-friendly back / biceps workout that you can perform in almost any commercial gym. Check it out:

John Meadows Beginner-Friendly Back / Biceps Routine

  • Exercise #1: Meadows row, 4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #2: One-arm barbell row, 4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: Band-assisted pull up (wide / pronated grip), 4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Bent-over rear delt DB fly, 3 sets of 20-30 reps
  • Exercise #5: Seated DB hammer curl, 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

John starts this workout with his two favorite upper back exercises: Meadows rows and one-arm barbell rows. These are two awesome rowing variations that John uses to add width and thickness to your upper back.

Here is John describing the Meadows row:

“This really is a great overall muscle builder for your upper back. For this exercise you use a pronated grip which helps you target your rhomboids, rear delts and traps.”

The meadows row is so effective because it places an enormous stretch on your upper back in the bottom position. This is one of those exercises where you really want to focus on getting a huge stretch AND a huge contraction in your upper back.

The one-arm barbell row is another one of John’s favorite exercises. Check it out:

“The neutral grip will place a lot more emphasis on your lats. Those are really tough. I think those have put more muscle on my lats than anything that I’ve done. And those are as basic as it gets – you bend over, and row!”

After the one-arm barbell rows John finishes his upper back routine with band-assisted pull ups. This is a new exercise that John has started experimenting with.

He likes them more than regular pull ups because the bands help you stabilize your body and really help you get a better contraction in your upper back. Check it out:

“I really fell in love with this exercise. I noticed that when I used the band I could get a little better range of motion.

I got really high up into the contraction and I could really steady my body with the band and use perfect form.

And consequently my lats got a lot sorer. They were really sore and I got a great pump.”

After the band pull ups John performs 1 exercise for his rear delts and 1 exercise for his biceps. These muscle groups were already trained very hard from the heavy upper back exercises so you just need to finish them off.

Here is a more advanced pull workout that you can use to take your upper back and biceps to the next level. Check it out:

John Meadows Advanced Pull Workout

  • Exercise #1: One-arm barbell row, 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Exercise #2: Lying DB pullover, 4 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: Rack pull (just below knees), 5 sets of 5 reps
  • Exercise #4: Pull ups (wide / overhand grip)**, 4 sets to failure
  • Exercise #5: Hanging lat stretch, 1 sets x 60 seconds
  • Exercise #6: Standing barbell curl, 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Exercise #7: One-arm DB preacher curl (supinated grip), 4 sets to failure

**Perform 4 sets to failure. John wants you to fail somewhere around the 8-10 rep mark.

Here is the training video for this workout:

This is definitely a more advanced Mountain Dog style back / biceps workout. Once again John starts this workout with his all-time favorite lat builder, the one-arm barbell row. Check it out:

“I started doing these before nationals in 2002 and immediately my back got better doing these. So this has always been a favorite exercise of mine, one-arm barbell rows.”

After the one-arm barbell rows John moves onto several other exercises for his upper back including lying dumbbell pullovers, rack pulls, pull ups and a hanging lat stretch.

John says that most people ignore old-school exercises like dumbbell pullovers and rack pulls in their workouts. Here is how John performs his pullovers:

“I’m only pulling the dumbbell just above my head. This helps me keep constant tension on my lats.”

John also uses a very interesting technique for his rack pulls. His goal is to use rack pulls to build his lats. To do this he really flares his lats out during the entire movement and really tries to flex his lats against the weight.

If you have ever performed a snatch grip deadlift then you will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Finally John performs 2 mass-building exercises for his biceps: the standing barbell curl and one-arm dumbbell preacher curls.

This workout should be hard enough to challenge most bodybuilders. If you are an IFBB pro like Deontri Campbell then you may need to really bust out the big guns. Check it out:

John Meadows Pull Workout #3

  • Exercise #1: Chest supported row, 4 sets of 8 reps**
  • Exercise #2: One arm supinating lat pulldown, 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Exercise #3: Rack pulls, 3 sets of 4 reps****
  • Exercise #4: Band assisted pull up, 3 sets of 10 reps******
  • Exercise #5: Lying DB pullover, 3 sets of 15 reps
  • Exercise #6: 45 degree barbell back extension (snatch grip), 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Exercise #7: Preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 3 sets of 20-30 reps
  • Exercise #8: 75 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Exercise #9: Bent-over rear delt DB fly, 3 sets of 15-20 reps

**On your last set train to failure, then do a single drop set, then perform a static stretch in the bottom position with manual overpressure from your training partner.

****On every rep flex your lower lats as hard as possible. On your last set perform a quadruple drop set with 4 reps on each attempt.

******On your last set perform 10 reps, then use a wide grip and perform 10 partial reps, then perform a 10-second isometric hold in the mid-range position of the exercise

Here is the training video for this workout:

Talk about an intense workout! This workout was so long that John had to break it up into two separate videos to cover everything. John performs 9 total exercises for his upper back, biceps and rear delts.

This is enough volume to send most people to the hospital but it worked like magic for IFBB pro Deontri Campbell.

Once again John Meadows uses a unique form of rack pulls where you really flare out your lats on every single rep. This is an exercise that John uses again and again in his upper back workouts. Check it out:

“When you pull I want you to lock your lower lats and then pull your arms back while you’re standing up.

So instead of just gripping and ripping it I want you to be really conscious of keeping your lats flexed and try to pull your elbows back as you finish the movement.

The key is to not relax your body. You have to lock your lats the whole time. Even when you’re lowering it you don’t relax, you keep your lats tight and then initiate the pull with the lats on the next rep.”

For his biceps John uses some unique exercises like the incline dumbbell hammer curl. John performs this exercise while leaning back on a lat pulldown machine rather than an adjustable incline bench.

John rests his elbows on the spinning pads that go over your thighs. John says that this exercise really lets you get a crazy contraction in your biceps, brachialis and brachioradialis.

If you are an advanced bodybuilder then you have to give this back / biceps workout a shot. It may be just what you need to take your training to the next level. 

Part 3: Mountain Dog Quads / Hamstrings / Calves Workouts

John Meadows almost always trains his quads and hamstrings together on the same training day. He says that training your quads and hamstrings together is the best way to maximize the pump in your legs and really stimulate as much growth as possible.

When John performs his leg workouts using a push / pull / legs split he keeps the number of exercises slightly lower than normal. John knows that he is training legs once every 3-5 days using this split so he wants to make sure he can recover in time for the next workout.

Here is a beginner-friendly leg workout that you can perform using John Meadows’ push / pull / legs split. Check it out:

John Meadows Leg Workout #1

  • Exercise A1: Lying leg curl, 4 sets of 8 reps**
  • Exercise B1: Spider bar squat, 4 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Exercise C1: Vertical leg press, 3 sets of 8-12 reps, no rest
  • Exercise C2: Sissy squat, 3 sets of 8-12 reps, 2 minutes rest
  • Exercise D1: Smith machine split squat, 3 sets of 12-15 reps

**On your last set perform a double drop set, then perform 10 partial reps in the bottom position of the exercise, then perform a 10-second iso-hold near the bottom position to create even more tension on your hamstrings.

Here is the training video for this workout:

John starts this workout by performing the lying leg curl. On his last set he performs a brutal double drop set with extra partial reps in the stretched position.

John says he starts almost all of his leg workouts with some type of leg curl for his hamstrings.

The leg curls help him establish a mind-muscle connection with his hamstrings early in the workout. They also pump the hamstrings full of blood and warm up the knees for the heavy quadriceps exercises that follow. Check it out:

“I like to start my leg workouts with a leg curl. What I like to do is work up to a top set and on the top set I like to throw in high-intensity techniques.

Maybe some forced reps or a drop set or partial reps or a cluster. I like to go crazy on the last set!”

After the leg curls John performs a variety of quadricep exercises including spider bar squats, vertical leg presses, sissy squats and smith machine split squats. John says that he loves performing squats with different specialty bars like the spider bar squat.

These specialty bars take some of the pressure off your lower back but still let you train your legs really, really hard. Check it out:

“It’s a unique combination of a cambered bar and a safety squat bar. My doctor doesn’t want me putting a heavy straight bar on my back anymore. \

This bar is tremendous, it’s a little more quad, and I feel like I can stay a little more upright.

It puts less stress on my back and more stress on my quads which is what I want.”

Here is a more advanced leg routine that you can perform with the old-school push / pull / legs split. Check it out:

John Meadows Leg Routine #2

  • Exercise A1: Kneeling leg curl, 4 sets of 8 reps**
  • Exercise B1: 45 degree leg press, 4 sets of 6-8 reps**
  • Exercise C1: Machine hack squat, 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Exercise D1: Sissy squat, 4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise D2: Machine leg extension, 4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise E1: Stiff-legged deadlift, 4 sets of 8-10 reps

**On the last set perform a 10-second lowering phase on your last rep with extra manual resistance from your training partner.

****Perform a sextuple drop set on your last working set. Perform at least 6-8 reps, drop the weight and rest 30 seconds, train just shy of failure with the lighter weight. Rinse and repeat for 6 total drops.

Here is the training video:

Talk about a brutal leg workout! This is a very typical looking leg workout for John Meadows. He starts the workout with an absolutely brutal set on the standing leg curl.

On his last rep John performs a 10-second lowering phase with extra manual resistance.

He slowly lowers the weight down while his training partner pushes down on the machine to make it even harder. This technique works because it eccentrically overloads your hamstrings.

John says that these high-intensity techniques are absolutely necessary if you want to build massive legs. Check it out:

“I believe leg training needs to be hard, really hard. And it’s going to be painful. You just have to train yourself to push through the pain.

To me leg training has to be another notch of intensity. You’ve got to find another gear, you have to work through the pain.

I just think if you want awesome legs, you’re going to have to train them really, really, really hard.”

Later in the workout John performs some classic mass-building quadriceps exercises like the 45-degree leg press and the machine hack squat.

John says that the hack squat is one of his all-time favorite quad machines. It puts you in a groove similar to a regular back squat except you don’t have to worry about balancing the weight. Check it out:

“I never, ever pass up a good hack squat machine. If there’s a good hack squat machine available and it feels nice and smooth then I’m using it.”

John says that the way you sequence your exercises is very important. He likes to perform exercises like back squats and leg presses early in his routine before hack squats.

The hack squat is a tremendous piece of equipment but John wants you to perform it later in your routine when your knees are warmed up and your quads are pre-fatigued.

This is done to keep your knees healthy so you can train for a very long time.

Conclusion

John Meadows loves to use the push / pull / legs split to build muscle and it’s easy to see why. This split forces you to train all of your pushing, pulling and leg muscles together on the same day which makes it much easier to recover from your workouts.

You never have to worry about your arms being too sore and impacting your chest or back days, for example.

If you want to use John Meadows’ Mountain Dog Training program then I highly recommend you give these push / pull / leg workouts a shot. They work for many Mr. Olympia champions like Terrance Ruffin and Shaun Clarida and they will work for you too!

Here is one more quote from John Meadows that really shows you how much he loves the sport of bodybuilding:

“Me, I just loved bodybuilding from day one. I just really enjoyed it. Probably that’s why I still do it at 48 years old now.

It’s just something I’ve always really enjoyed and something I’ve always been passionate about.”

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

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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