Mountain Dog Leg Training: The Ultimate Guide!


John Meadows’ Mountain Dog Training is one of the best bodybuilding training programs in the world. It works well for every body part but it is especially effective for building big, strong legs.

If you want to build tree-trunk thighs like Tom Platz then this article is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Mountain Dog Leg Training Theory
  • Part 2: Sample Mountain Dog Leg Workouts

In this comprehensive guide I will show you how to design your own Mountain Dog Training workouts to build big, strong legs.

John Meadows designed his Mountain Dog Training program with one goal in mind: to help you build as much muscle mass as possible while staying safe and avoiding injuries.

When John first started bodybuilding he spent a lot of time trying to get stronger on the basic compound exercises. For example here is John repping out 600+ pounds on the back squat:

John Meadows’ 600+ Pound Squat For Reps

John still believes in lifting heavy weights and using the progressive overload principle but that is not the focus of his program.

John believes the keys to building big legs are sequencing your exercises correctly, using a wide variety of rep ranges and using different high-intensity techniques like drop sets to really overload your muscles.

In short, John believes you can’t build a pair of world-class legs unless you really push yourself in the gym. 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.”

John Meadows likes to train his legs anywhere from 1-2 times per week. Here is one of his favorite training splits:

The Original 4 Days Per Week Split

  • Monday: Legs
  • Tuesday: Chest / Shoulders
  • Thursday: Back
  • Friday: Arms

This is the exact training split that John used for most of his bodybuilding career.

John likes to train his quads and hamstrings together on the same day. John says that training your quads and hamstrings together makes sense because it helps you sequence your exercises correctly so you stay safe while training hard.

John believes that you should always start your Mountain Dog leg workouts with one exercise for your hamstrings before moving onto your 3-4 quadricep exercises. Check it out:

Mountain Dog Training Leg Day Template

  • Exercise #1: Hamstrings
  • Exercise #2: Quadriceps 
  • Exercise #3: Quadriceps 
  • Exercise #4: Quadriceps 
  • Exercise #5: Hamstrings 

This is a basic template for how John usually structures his leg workouts.

For example here is a very normal looking Mountain Dog style leg workout:

Mountain Dog Leg Workout #3

  • Exercise #1: Kneeling leg curl, 4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #2: Spider bar squat, 4 sets of 6 reps
  • Exercise #3: Machine hack squat, 4 sets of 6 reps
  • Exercise #4: Walking kettlebell lunge, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #5: Inverse leg curl machine, 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

This is a very normal looking Mountain Dog leg workout. John starts the workout with leg curls for his hamstrings. Then he performs three big compound exercises for his quads. Finally John finishes with another hamstrings exercise that really puts the hamstrings under a deep stretch.

If you understand this basic leg training template then the rest of this article will make much more sense. Now let’s take a deeper dive into the science of Mountain Dog leg training.

Here are three basic rules that John Meadows uses when designing his leg routines:

The Mountain Dog Leg Training Rules

  • Rule #1: Sequence your exercises correctly! 
  • Rule #2: Make your exercises as safe as possible!
  • Rule #3: You have to train really, really, really hard!

Now let’s take a closer look at each of these rules.

Rule #1: Sequence your exercises correctly! 

John Meadows is a huge believer in sequencing your exercises correctly. In fact John says that using the right exercise sequences is the single most important part of his Mountain Dog leg workouts.

John almost always starts his leg workouts with some type of leg curl. This can be a lying leg curl, a seated leg curl or a kneeling leg curl.

John says that performing leg curls first in your workout does two major things: it helps you bring up your lagging hamstrings and it makes the rest of your exercises safer and more effective. Check it out:

“Number one, in order to have truly big legs you gotta have hamstrings! A lot of the time it’s just the simple focus of having hamstrings work early in the workout that will help your hamstrings.

The other reason why I like to do leg curls first is it just makes your squats or your leg presses feel better.

If you try this you’ll see what I mean – it just feels better. Your knees feel better, your hips feel better, the movement just feels better.”

John’s favorite strategy with leg curls is to perform several warm up sets and then go absolutely crazy with different high-intensity techniques on the last set.

John likes to use different techniques like drop sets, partial reps, iso-holds, rest-pause sets, forced reps and even eccentric-only reps to really destroy the hamstrings.

For example here is John performing a double drop set plus extra partial reps on the lying leg curl. Check it out:

John Meadows gets 15 reps on his first attempt, 10 reps on his second attempt, 8 reps on his third attempt and then 25 extra partial reps on his fourth attempt. Talk about a high-intensity set!

John says that you really have to push yourself on your last working set of leg curls. It helps you bring up your hamstrings and it sets you up for the rest of your workout.

John says that using the right exercise sequences for your quad exercises is also extremely important. Check it out:

“Do leg presses or squats before you do hack squats. Don’t do any kind of lunge or hack squat first in your routine – you won’t engage the muscle sufficiently, and you could beat up your knees in the process.”

John says you should perform exercises like squats and leg presses early in your routine when you are fresh. These exercises are a little bit easier on your knees and you can really move a lot of weight on them.

For example here is John lifting a massive amount of weight on the 45 degree leg press:

You still have to be careful about not beating up your knees on exercises like leg presses and back squats but these exercises tend to be a little bit safer.

After your knees are nice and warmed up John wants you to move onto your other exercises like hack squats. Check it out:

“I don’t think you should walk in the gym and go do your hack squat.

I think that movement is done best after squats or leg presses. I don’t think it should be your first exercise.

I just think it feels better when you have blood in your knees and your hips and everything is warmed up. 

The hack squat is actually one of John’s all-time favorite leg exercises. Here is a great video of John repping out some heavy weight on the hack squat:

Lunges are another exercise that John likes to perform towards the end of his routines.

John says that lunges are awesome for stretching out your quads, glutes, hamstrings and adductors. The key is to perform them when your legs are warmed up and full of blood. Check it out:

Same thing with lunges. I wouldn’t come into the gym and start doing lunges. I would be worried about pulling an adductor or something would go wrong. That’s another exercise that I would put later in the sequence.”

John sometimes likes to perform 3-4 quadriceps exercises and call it a day. Other times he will finish with one more hamstrings exercises.

John likes to finish his leg workouts with an exercise that really stretches out the hamstrings. Some of his favorite options include the glute ham raise, the inverse leg curl machine and all kinds of stiff legged deadlifts.

Here is one of John’s clients demonstrating the stiff legged deadlift:

John says that training your hamstrings first and last in your routine is an awesome way to prioritize them. Check it out:

“I think some people underestimate the need for volume for their hamstrings. They seem to think that 3 sets of 10 is going to work.

It kind of amazes me because no one thinks 3 sets is going to be enough for their biceps. I just want you to think about the total volume for your legs.”

The bottom line is using the right exercise sequences is the most important part of any Mountain Dog leg workout.

Rule #2: Make your exercises as safe as possible!

John Meadows believes you have to train really, really hard to build huge legs. One of John’s favorite ways to do this is to use bands and chains.

Bands and chains are tools that you can add to exercises to change their resistance curve. Bands and chains make exercises lighter in the bottom part of the movement and heavier in the top part of the movement.

You don’t have to use bands and chains but they are an incredible tool for building big, strong legs. John uses bands and chains more for his legs than every other body part combined!

Let’s start by talking about chains. Here is John Meadows demonstrating the back squat with chains. Check it out:

The chains fall down on the ground as John squats down to the bottom position of the exercise. Then when he squats back up the chains lift up off the ground.

This means that the chains make the exercise feel lighter in the bottom position where you are weaker and more vulnerable. In other words the chains let you train harder while taking some of the stress off your knees and lower back! How cool is that?

Another one of John’s favorite tools is bands. John absolutely loves to use bands on his heavy leg presses. For example here is John performing a hard set of banded leg presses:

The bands are pulling the weight down to the bottom position. They add a TON of tension in the top part of the exercise but very little tension in the bottom part of the exercise when your knees are bent.

The bands make the exercise safer by taking some of the stress off your knees in the bottom position. Many professional bodybuilders like Fouad Abiad swear by this exercise. Check it out: 

“The leg press is my favorite exercise to use bands on. The bands create tension through the whole range. The bands just put a lot more stress on the quads and give the exercise a totally different feeling.”

You can also use bands where they help you lift the weight up out of the bottom position. This is called “reverse bands” and it is one of John’s favorite strategies for many different quad exercises.

John is especially fond of reverse band hack squats. Check it out:

John says that regular hack squats can be a little hard on your knees. The reverse bands make the exercise feel lighter in the bottom position AND they reduce the amount of eccentric stress on the exercise.

John says that the reverse bands let you train all-out on hack squats without worrying about beating up your knees. Check it out:

“This is a reverse banded hack squat. A lot of you tell me you have problems with hack squats because of your knees.

This is nice because the way we set the bands, it’s going to help you out of the bottom and take the pressure off your knees. This lets you load up the weight and get the benefit of a heavy weight through most of the range of motion.

But when you get to the hard part at the bottom, the bands are going to help pull you up which keeps the stress off your knees. So you can continue to use heavy weight safely without tearing your knees up.”

John uses many other strategies like the pre-exhaust method or ultra high-rep sets to help you train your legs hard while keeping you safe.

For example John often performs Bulgarian split squats or even leg extensions as his first quad exercise to pre-fatigue his quads. This lets him train all-out on his heavier compound quadricep exercises without worrying about injuring himself.

There are many ways to make your exercises safer but chains, bands and reverse bands are some of John’s favorite strategies.

Rule #3: You have to train really, really, really hard!

John Meadows says that his Mountain Dog leg workouts are all about pushing through pain barriers and challenging yourself in the gym. Check it out:

“Dave and I would do stuff where we would walk out of the gym and I would go, ‘I didn’t think I had that in me.’

That is such a  good feeling man! It’s such a good feeling to walk out of the gym and do something I didn’t think I could do.”

So what does training hard look like? I’m glad you asked! John says that training hard means using exercises, rep ranges and high-intensity techniques that generate as much lactic acid and as much tension in the target muscle as possible.

One of John’s favorite techniques is the triple drop set on the Bulgarian split squat. John performs 4 mini-sets on the split squat with a 10-second iso-hold at the end of each attempt.

Here is a great video demonstration:

That is what a hard set for quads looks like! John is using techniques that allow him to train beyond failure in a safe manner while generating a ton of time under tension and lactic acid in the muscle.

Here is John describing this technique:

“The drop set, what we’re trying to do is do sets of 10. Then at the end of every set of 10 we’re doing a 10-second iso-hold and then dropping the weight.

That’s my goal with these but I have yet to do all sets of 10 reps with a 10-second iso-hold. There’s really no way for me to put into words how they felt.”

John uses many different high-intensity techniques in his leg workouts including drop sets, partial reps, iso-holds, cluster sets, forced reps, rest-pause sets, eccentric-only reps, supersets, tri-sets and giant sets.

The only thing these techniques have in common is they all help John train beyond failure in a safe way to stimulate more muscle growth.

John says if you want to build huge legs then at some point you have to bust out the high-intensity techniques and train really, really hard. There is no other way!

Now let’s put it all together and look at some sample Mountain Dog Training leg workouts. Here is a great leg routine that John wrote towards the end of his career. Check it out:

Mountain Dog Leg Workout #1

  • Exercise #1: Lying leg curl, 4 sets of 6-8 reps**
  • Exercise #2: Safety squat bar squat, 4 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Exercise #3: Vertical leg press, 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Sissy squat machine (holding weight at chest), 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Exercise #5: Smith machine split squat, 3 x 12-15 reps

**Perform a double drop set, then perform 10 partial reps in the stretched position, then perform a 10-second iso-hold

Here is the training video for this workout:

This is a very normal looking Mountain Dog leg workout. John starts the workout with lying leg curls. He performs several warm up sets and then goes absolutely crazy on on the last set with a drop set, partial reps and a brutal iso-hold.

Here is John describing his approach for leg curls:

“What I like to do, I work up to a top set and on the top set I like to throw in some high-intensity techniques.

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

After the leg curls John performs 4 exercises for his quads: safety squat bar squats, vertical leg presses, sissy squats and smith machine lunges.

John actually supersets the leg presses and sissy squats to create a bigger overload on his quads. In other words he performs 1 set of leg presses, rests 10 seconds and then performs 1 set of sissy squats.

Here is John describing this combination:

“We’re going to start off with an inverted leg press. Any time you do a leg press motion you’re going to get a lot of muscle on the outside of your quad, your vastus lateralis and the inside of your quad, your vastus medialis.

And we’re going to superset that with a sissy squat. That gets more of your rectus femoris. So it’s a good combination, the exercises are doing different things for different parts of your legs.”

Finally John finishes with smith machine lunges.

John sometimes performs lunges instead of his second hamstring movement. Lunges also do a good job of stretching out your hamstrings and glutes so this is a decent substitute.

Now let’s look at a more advanced John Meadows leg workout. Check it out:

Mountain Dog Leg Workout #2

  • Exercise #1: Lying leg curl, 3-5 sets of 10-12 reps**
  • Exercise #2: Bulgarian split squat, 3 sets of 10 reps***
  • Exercise #3: Spider bar squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Exercise #4: Reverse band hack squat, 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Exercise #5: Machine leg extension, 1 sets of 15-20 reps****
  • Exercise #6: Glute ham raise, 3 sets to failure

**On your last set only: perform a double drop set, followed by 20 partials in the bottom position, followed by an iso-hold in a power position. All of this is done back-to-back with no rest.

***On your last set only: perform a triple drop set with iso-holds after each attempt. Perform 10 reps, then a 10-second iso-hold, then drop the weight. Repeat this sequence 3 more times with no rest between attempts.

****Perform 1 set to failure.

Here is the video of John Meadows and Evan Centopani performing this workout:

Talk about a high-volume leg workout! 

For this workout John follows his usual leg training template. He starts the workout with a leg curl variation, then he performs 4 quadriceps exercises and finally he finishes with one more hamstrings exercise to really stretch out the muscle.

John says the hardest part about this workout is the triple drop set on the Bulgarian split squat. John was never a big fan of this exercise until he started performing it with one hand holding onto a squat rack for balance.

Now it is one of his favorite quad exercises. Check it out:

“You take the balance out of the exercise and you can really focus on getting good reps, really focus on your form.

Most importantly focusing on intensity, because really that’s the main thing that we’re trying to do.

We’re trying to generate intensity without worrying about falling over due to balance.”

If you are an advanced bodybuilder then this workout may be just what you need to take your training to the next level.

Now let’s look at a more beginner friendly Mountain Dog leg workout. Check it out:

Mountain Dog Leg Workout #3

  • Exercise #1: Kneeling leg curl, 4 sets of 8-12 reps**
  • Exercise #2: Spider bar squat, 4 sets of 6 reps
  • Exercise #3: Machine hack squat, 4 sets of 6 reps**
  • Exercise #4: Walking kettlebell lunge, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #5: Inverse leg curl machine, 3 sets of 8-12 reps

**Perform a double drop set on your last working set.

Here is the training video for this workout:

This is a great Mountain Dog leg workout for anyone who is new to John’s style of training.

For this workout John keeps the high-intensity techniques to a minimum and performs only a moderate amount of training volume.

As usual John starts this workout with a leg curl variation. He performs several warm up sets and then performs a double drop set to failure on his last working set.

John says one of the big reasons why most people don’t have great hamstrings is they don’t train their leg curls with intensity. Check it out:

“I feel like people don’t push leg curls hard enough, they take them for granted. They just do their 3 sets of 10 and then they proceed to do 3 or 4 quad exercises.”

The rest of the workout is classic Mountain Dog style programming. John performs 3 total exercises for his quads and finishes with one last hamstrings exercise to really overload the stretched position of the strength curve. 

Now it’s time for something completely different!

If you are looking for a one-way ticket to the nearest hospital then I strongly recommend the following Mountain Dog leg workout performed by Jujimufu.

Seriously, this workout is for entertainment purposes only! Check it out: 

Bonus: Jujimufu’s Mountain Dog Leg Workout!

  • Exercise #1: Seated leg curl, 4 sets of 6-12 reps*
  • Exercise #2: 45 degree leg press with bands, 4 sets of 8-20 reps**
  • Exercise #3: Safety squat bar squat with chains, 4 sets of 5-10 reps***
  • Exercise #4: Machine hack squat with reverse bands, 4 sets of 8-20 reps****
  • Exercise #5: Machine leg extension, 4 sets of 8-20 reps*****
  • Exercise #6: Stationary lunge with chains, 3 sets of 6 reps******
  • Exercise #7: Machine sissy squat, 3 sets of 21 reps******* 
  • Exercise #8: Kneeling leg curl, 3 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #9: Lying leg curl, 3 sets of 8-15 reps********
  • Exercise #10: Dumbbell stiff legged deadlift, 3 sets of 8-15 reps*********

*On the last set train to failure, then perform several forced reps with 1-3 seconds of manual overpressure in the stretched position on each rep, then perform over 9,000 partial reps in the stretched position to further fatigue the hamstrings.

**On your last set perform a cluster set. Perform 5 reps, pause for 10 seconds near lockout, perform 5 more reps, pause for 5 seconds near lockout perform 5 more reps, done! Have your training partners perform forced reps as needed to complete all 15 reps.

***On your last set perform a triple drop set. Train to failure with 3 sets of chains, then train to failure with 2 sets of chains, then train to failure with 1 set of chains, then train to failure with straight weight. Rest 0 seconds in between attempts.

****On your last set train to failure, then perform a 10-second iso-hold near the top position while your training partners add extra manual resistance to the machine.

*****On your last set use the tempo contrast method. Perform 2 regular reps, then 1 rep with an ultra-slow tempo on the way up and on the way down.

******On all 3 sets perform 6 reps, then perform a 6-second iso-hold near the bottom position, then drop a chain and repeat, then drop a chain and repeat, then drop a chain and repeat, done!

*******On your last working set perform 7 full range of motion reps, then perform 7 partial reps in the bottom position, then perform 7 partial reps in the top position

********On your last working set perform 8 reps to failure, then raise the chest piece 3 inches and perform another 8 reps (with forced reps as needed to reach 8), then raise the chest piece 3 inches and perform 10 partial reps in the bottom position, then perform 1 eccentric-only rep with the help of a spotter.

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

This is a long video so here are the timestamps for Jukimufu’s top sets on each lift: exercise #1, exercise #2, exercise #3, exercise #4, exercise #5, exercise #6, exercise #7, exercise #8, exercise #9, exercise #10, exercise #11.

Here is the training video for this workout:

If you are interested in John Meadows’ Mountain Dog Training program then I strongly recommend you watch the video for this workout.

Dave Tate uses tons of different tricks and high-intensity techniques to make this workout as challenging as possible.

I think you will be shocked at how much you learn listening to Dave Tate talk about his old training partners’ unique take on bodybuilding program design.

Conclusion

If you want to build a pair of tree-trunk thighs like Tom Platz then I highly recommend John Meadows’ Mountain Dog Training program.

John does an outstanding job of designing workouts that help you build huge legs while staying healthy and avoiding injuries.

Just make sure you have a high pain tolerance before attempting these workouts. You have to be a true masochist to get the most out of John’s workouts!

Here is a great quote by Arnold Schwarzenegger to pump you up for your next Mountain Dog leg workout:

The last three or four reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides the champion from someone else who is not a champion.

That’s what most people lack, having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain no matter what happens.”

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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