John Meadows is one of the most successful bodybuilding coaches in the world. He has trained many professional bodybuilders including the Mr. Olympia winner Shaun Clarida.
John believes the fastest way to build a massive upper back is with his Mountain Dog Training program.
If you want to build an upper back that would make Ronnie Coleman jealous then this article is for you!
- Part 1: Upper Back Training Theory
- Part 2: Mountain Dog Back Workouts
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about how to build a massive upper back using the Mountain Dog Training program.
The Mountain Dog Training program is all about building as much muscle as possible while staying healthy and avoiding injuries.
John says bodybuilding is more than just showing up to the gym and throwing around heavy weight. The way you train has a huge impact on your results.
John says the key to building a huge upper back is to sequence your exercises correctly and to find safe ways to increase the intensity of your workouts.
Here is John talking more about his Mountain Dog Training program:
“When I think about my training program, it’s looking at how we can safely grow the most amount of muscle possible.”
In this guide I’m going to teach you the training principles that John Meadows uses to design his own Mountain Dog back workouts.
I will teach you John’s favorite upper back exercises and how he uses them to build his back workouts. Then at the end of the article I will show you how John uses these upper back training principles in 6 of his Mountain Dog back workouts.
Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this cutting edge information! Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Upper Back Training Theory
The upper back is a very complex group of muscles. You have the lats, traps, rhomboids, spinal erectors and the teres major to target. Some people even consider the rear delts an upper back muscle!
John Meadows uses 4 main types of exercises to target his upper back. Check it out:
The Best Upper Back Exercise Sequence
- Option #1: Rows
- Option #2: Pulldowns
- Option #3: Pullovers
- Option #4: Rack deadlifts
- Option #5: Back extensions
John believes that all 5 of these types of exercises are critical for building a massive upper back. He doesn’t use every type of exercise in every single workout. However, most of his workouts feature at least 3 of these 5 types of exercises.
John believes if you want to build muscle as fast as possible and stay injury free then you have to perform these exercises in the correct order.
John likes to start his workouts with different types of rows and pulldowns. These are his “bread and butter” exercises for a huge upper back.
In between his rows and pulldowns John likes to perform dumbbell pullovers and other isolation exercises. He says pullovers are great because they give your arms a break and help you establish a strong mind-muscle connection with your lats.
John is also a big fan of rack deadlifts. He likes to perform them towards the end of his workouts after his lats and upper back have been pre-fatigued.
Finally back extensions are performed at the very end of the workout as a “finisher” exercise for the lower back. John performs back extensions in about 50% of his back workouts.
Now let’s take a closer look at each of these types of upper back exercises.
Step #1: Rows
John Meadows says that rows are the key to building a huge upper back. He thinks the old saying “you have to row to grow” is 100% on the money.
Here are some of John’s all-time favorite rowing exercises for upper back growth:
The Best Rows For A Huge Upper Back
- Option #1: Meadows Row
- Option #2: One-Arm Barbell Row
- Option #3: One-Arm Dumbbell Row
- Option #4: Seated Cable Row
- Option #5: Chest Supported Row
- Option #6: Bent Over Row
John says the two exercises that made the biggest difference in his upper back development are the Meadows row and the one-arm barbell row.
The Meadows row is an exercise that he invented himself. This exercise is a little difficult to explain so let’s watch John Meadows himself perform this exercise. Check it out:
This exercise is performed using a t-bar row machine. The key on this exercise is to point your elbow away from your body and to get a huge stretch on your back in the bottom position and a huge contraction in your back in the top position.
John likes to keep his hips higher to stretch his upper back even more. For example if he is rowing with his right arm then he will push hi right hip up towards the ceiling to stretch his upper back and lats even more.
Here is John talking about why he likes this exercise so much:
“The meadows row is #1 on my list because it really helped me build a lot of thickness on my back. I never really did this for just lats or just rhomboids – I really felt this in my entire back.”
John says the Meadows row did more for his upper back development than any other exercise.
Another one of John’s favorite rowing exercises is the one-arm barbell row. This exercise is also performed with a t-bar row station. Check it out:
One-Arm Barbell Row
Here is John describing the one-arm barbell row:
“This is more lats specific, not so much rhomboids and lower traps. These I feel all the way into my lower lats. Fantastic row.”
John says this exercise did more for his overall lat development than any other exercise.
One of the cool things about this exercise is you can shift the emphasis onto your upper or lower lats by changing your stance. If you move your feet forward with your elbow more behind you then you will work more of the lower lats.
On the other hand if you move your feet back so your elbow is more in front of your body then you will work your upper lats more.
Step #2: Pull Ups And Pulldowns
John Meadows almost always includes some pull ups or pulldowns in his Mountain Dog back workouts. John says these exercises are great because you can use them to get a huge stretch and contraction in your lats.
Here are some of John’s favorite pull up and pulldown variations:
The Best Pull Ups / Pulldowns For A Huge Back
- Option #1: Pull Ups
- Option #2: Band Assisted Pull Ups
- Option #3: Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns
- Option #4: Narrow Grip Lat Pulldown
- Option #5: One-Arm Lat Pulldown
- Option #6: Machine Pulldowns
John says that band assisted pull ups are one of the most under-rated upper back exercises in the world. The basic idea is to perform a pull up with a band looped around your feet.
Here is John Meadows demonstrating this exercise:
Band Assisted Pull Up
John says that this exercise gives you a completely different feel vs a regular bodyweight pull up. He now uses it as a staple exercise in his Mountain Dog back routines. Check it out:
“The advantage with the bands is they’re easier on your joints and you can get an extra inch or two of range of motion. I think that extra inch or two makes a big difference.
I think if you do these, you’ll notice a different level of soreness. There’s a different feel to it. I don’t think you can get this level of stimulation without the bands.”
John also uses plenty of cable and machine pulldowns to train the lats. One of John’s favorite forms of lat pulldowns is called “stretch pulldowns.” Here is John demonstrating this exercise:
To perform the stretch pulldown your training partner is going to push *down* on the weight stack in the bottom position. This creates a powerful stretch on your lats when your arms are directly over your head.
Here is John describing this exercise:
“So why would I even do these? If you’ve seen my training programs you know towards the end of the workout I like to do something where I’m really stretching the muscle hard.
We know from experience that training muscles in the stretched position is very beneficial. This is a way to do that for your back.”
The bottom line is pull ups and pulldowns are another one of John’s core upper back exercises.
John says that rows did more for his overall upper back development but pull ups and pulldowns are also excellent and he always uses them in his Mountain Dog back workouts.
Step #3: Pullovers
John Meadows is a big fan of pullovers. He almost always uses some type of pullover exercise in his Mountain Dog back workouts.
John likes pullovers because they are a true lat isolation exercise. They work the lats without any involvement from the biceps.
John says he likes to use pullovers in between his rows and pulldowns to give his arms a break while still targeting his lats.
Here are 4 of John’s favorite pullover variations:
The Best Pullovers For A Big Back
- Option #1: Lying DB Pullover
- Option #2: Lying DB Pullover With Bands
- Option #3: Lying kettlebell pullover
- Option #4: Machine Pullover
One of John’s favorite pullover variations is the lying dumbbell pullover with bands.
Here is Milos Sarcev giving a perfect demonstration of this exercise:
Lying DB Pullover With Bands
Normally dumbbell pullovers only create tension in your lats when your arms are behind your head. The dumbbell pullover with bands is completely different: it creates tension on your back through the entire range of motion.
When your arms are pointing towards the ceiling the band creates a crazy amount of tension in your lats.
Here is Milos Sarcev describing this exercise after trying it for the first time:
“In the bottom you get a complete stretch in the lats, maybe the serratus and the intercostals. But from the mid-range of the exercise it’s all lower lats.
You can feel the crazy contraction, almost like you do with a reverse grip row. It’s a phenomenal exercise.
I’m going to call it the John Meadows pullover. No, seriously – this exercise pinpoints the lower lats.”
Milos Sarcev is probably the most successful bodybuilding coach in history. When he says he likes an exercise you should listen!
Another one of John’s favorite pullover exercises is the Nautilus machine pullover. Check it out:
Nautilus Pullover Machine
This exercise was a favorite of the 6x Mr. Olympia champion Dorian Yates.
John says he really, really likes this exercise. The only reason he doesn’t use it more often in his Mountain Dog Training programs is most gyms don’t have this machine. Whenever he trains in a gym that has one he makes sure he uses it.
Here is Dorian Yates talking about why this machine is so effective for developing the lats:
“The pullover machine works your lats through a complete range of motion – 180 degrees. It’s a complete range of motion. You can’t do that with any other piece of equipment.
With the pullover you’re totally isolating the lats with no biceps involvement. For me the Nautilus pullover machine is the single most important piece of weight training equipment ever made.”
Pullovers aren’t as important to John as rows and pulldowns but they still play an important role in his Mountain Dog back workouts.
Step #3: Rack Deadlifts
John Meadows has a love / hate relationship with deadlifts. He thinks they are a phenomenal exercise for developing your upper back, lower back, glutes and hamstrings.
The problem with deadlifts is they are very difficult to recover from and they aren’t the best exercise for developing the lats.
Instead John likes to use rack deadlift variations where the bar is at your mid- or upper-shins. Check it out:
John doesn’t perform his rack deadlifts like a powerlifter where you “grip it and rip it.”
Instead John really focuses on contracting his lats throughout the entire range of motion. He is almost trying to do a front lat spread pose as he performs the exercise.
Here is John talking about why he likes the rack pull:
“The rack pull takes the lower back out of the movement. It also puts you in a position where you can really lock your lats in. Your lats do extend your shoulder. It can also be a heck of an isometric contraction.
Now with the rack pulls we’re going to do today you can really flex your lats. You get a lot more lat engagement and I found when you switch this style you start getting a pump in your lats.
If you’re getting a pump in your lats it’s working your lats or else you wouldn’t get a lot of blood in there.”
John uses the rack pull in maybe 20-40% of his Mountain Dog back workouts. They are a phenomenal exercise for overall upper back development but they are also very hard on your recovery.
Step #5: Back Extensions
John Meadows learned all about the different types of back extensions when he trained with Louie Simmons at the Westside Barbell powerlifting gym.
John uses back extensions at the very end of his workouts to strengthen his lower back and to keep that part of his body healthy. If he can thicken up his lower back muscles then that is a nice bonus.
One of John’s all-time favorite lower back exercises is the reverse hyperextension. Check it out:
The reverse hyperextension was invented by the powerlifting coach Louie Simmons in the 1070s. It is almost the opposite of a regular hyperextension. Instead of lifting your upper body forwards you are lifting your legs back behind you.
The reverse hyperextension is one of the only exercises that strengthens and rehabilitates your lower back at the same time.
Here is John Meadows talking about this piece of equipment:
“This is a phenomenal rehab exercise. My lower back is feeling better than it has in years and I credit this exercise.
Louie Simmons – I always have to give him credit, Louie Simmons invented this and if it wasn’t for him I would probably have a really, really, really bad lower back right now.
If you have access to this exercise make sure you do it.”
Another one of John’s favorite lower back exercises is the 45 degree back extension. There are many different ways to perform this exercise. Here is John performing it holding a barbell:
45 Degree Back Extensions
John performs this exercise many different ways. He uses barbells, dumbbells and even band tension to make it more challenging. The 45 degree back extension also decompresses your lower back in the bottom position.
“The 45 degree back extension is another phenomenal lower back exercise. You can use dumbbells, barbells and even band tension to make it more challenging.”
If you are going to design your own Mountain Dog back workouts then follow John’s lead and finish some of your workouts with the reverse hyperextension or the 45 degree back extension.
Part 2: Mountain Dog Back Workouts
Now we’re getting to the good stuff! We’re going to look at 5 complete Mountain Dog back workouts so you can get a better idea for how John organizes his back training.
John usually likes to use 4-6 exercises for his back workouts. He likes to use 2-4 rowing and pulldown exercises per workout plus 1-3 other exercises like pullovers, rack deadlifts or back extensions.
Here is a very simple beginner-friendly Mountain Dog back workout that you can try. Check it out:
- 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:
It’s hard to get simpler than this. John Meadows starts the workout with two of his all-time favorite back exercises: one-arm barbell rows and Meadows rows.
After that he performs some dumbbell pullovers, lat pulldowns and dumbbell stiff-legged deadlifts to finish off the rest of his back.
John doesn’t perform any high-intensity techniques for this particular workout. Instead he focuses on generating strong muscular contractions in his upper back to get the job done.
Here is a slightly more advanced Mountain Dog back workout that you can try. Check it out:
- 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.
Here is the training video:
Talk about a high-volume back workout! For this routine John uses 4 rowing variations, 1 pullover variation and 1 back extension exercise for a total of 6 exercises. He also throws in a double drop set on the last set of one-arm dumbbell rows to increase the intensity of the workout.
The second exercise in this routine is very unique. John wants you to start the exercise where your upper body is parallel to the ground so you get a huge stretch in your lats. Then as you pull your elbows back you lift your upper body up so it is perpendicular to the ground.
The start of the exercise is almost like a lat pulldown and the end position is almost like a seated cable row. I highly recommend you watch the training video to get a better idea of what this exercise looks like.
Now let’s look at a back workout where John includes some heavy rack deadlifts. Check it out:
- 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 kettle bell 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 really likes to include rack deadlifts in his back workouts. However, he only performs them towards the middle or end of his routine.
He wants his upper back to be pre-fatigued from different rows and pulldowns so that he can get a better upper back contraction from the rack deadlifts while lifting less weight.
John usually likes to perform his rack deadlifts in the 4-6 rep range. He also likes to use “rest-pause sets” where you perform up to 10 singles with 10 seconds rest in between each rep.
Sometimes John likes to use supersets or even giant sets with his more advanced clients. Here is a superset back workout that you can try. Check it out:
- Exercise A1: Machine pulldown (medium / neutral grip), 3 sets of 8-12 reps, no rest
- Exercise A2: Lying DB pullover, 3 sets of 8-12 reps**, 2 minutes rest
- Exercise B1: One-arm arcing DB row, 3 sets of 8-12 reps, no rest
- Exercise B2: Rack deadlift (mid-shin height), 3 sets of 8-12 reps**, 2 minutes rest
- Exercise C1: Machine chest supported row, 3 sets of 8-12 reps, no rest
- Exercise C2: Dual rope cable row (high pulley), 3 sets of 8-12 reps**, 2 minutes 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:
This workout is broken up into three separate supersets. A superset is a high-intensity technique where you perform 2 exercises in a row with very little rest.
John likes to use supersets in his Mountain Dog back workouts because they increase the time under tension of your sets and force your upper back to work longer than normal. This extra time under tension helps you create more muscle damage and metabolic fatigue, two of the most important triggers of muscle growth.
Every once in a while John will use another high-intensity technique called giant sets in his upper back workouts. Check it out:
- 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
This is a very simple but effective upper back giant set workout. A giant set is sort of like a superset. Instead of performing 2 exercises in a row you are going to perform 4 or more exercises in a row for the same muscle group.
Giant sets are so effective for muscle growth because they increase the time under tension of your sets. They also let you perform a very large volume of work in a short period of time.
For this workout John was able to perform a 16-set back workout in under 30 minutes. It is very hard to pull this off using more traditional workouts.
Mountain Dog Training is one of the most effective bodybuilding training programs ever invented. It works especially well for helping you build muscle while staying healthy and avoiding injuries.
If you are looking for a great back training program then I highly recommend John’s Mountain Dog back workouts. John does a great job of using novel exercises like Meadows rows and one-arm barbell rows and sequencing them properly to stay healthy.
If you have a lagging upper back then John’s Mountain Dog back workouts may be just what you need to take your training to the next level.
If you enjoyed this content then make sure you check out my article “Mountain Dog Training: The Ultimate Guide!”
“Only when standing at the brink of destruction does man truly realize his potential.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
What’s going on! This is my own personal training log. Follow along as I train to become The World’s Strongest Natty Bodybuilder! Also, check out my NEW online coaching program: DC...
What’s going on! This is my own personal training log. Follow along as I train to become The World’s Strongest Natty Bodybuilder! Also, check out my NEW e-books: The Dr. Mike Training...