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    A Monstrous Back: The Mountain Dog Wayby John Meadows, CSCS, CISSN

    Back in the Day

    In my early days of competing, I modeled my leg training after Tom Platz as he had

    the best legs in the world. Not surprisingly, the Eagle's training philosophy served me

    well back then and continues to do so today.

    For my back training, I tried to emulate the great Lee Haney. I performed a ton of the

    tried and true staples: chins, barbell rows, and dumbbell rows. Unfortunately, I didn't

    get the same incredible results that Lee Haney did.

    I tried a few other routines from legends that had monstrous backs, like Dorian Yates

    and Bertil Fox, to name a couple.

    Swing and a miss there, too.

    I then started training with a few powerlifters at my gym. These were big, thick dudes,

    with symmetry to spare; two of them actually didbodybuildingand powerlifting

    shows on the same day!

    These guys taught me that the singular best way to build a huge back was through thedeadlift. Only one problem: that didn't work for me either.

    My powerlifting partners and I did low volume, high volume, low reps, high reps, low

    frequency, high frequency, sumo style, conventional, on a box, with a fox, in a house,

    with a mouse, you name it, Sam I Am.

    To add to my frustration, since I had "figured out" leg training, my legs were growing

    so fast it began to highlight my weak back even more. My contest prep coach would

    even tell me backstage at shows, "Now when you get into the overall, don't turn

    around, and don't let them see your back. During the mandatory poses, be the last guyto hit your back pose, and the first one to release it."

    Man did that bite.

    I finally came to terms with the fact that I was simply not genetically gifted

    forbuilding backsize, width, or density. If I was ever going to have a hope of hanging
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    with the wide boys on stage, I was going to have to try exercises that were notthe

    standard ones, or simply accept having a subpar back forever.

    Many lifters never get to this point. They just keep pounding their head against the

    wall, doing the same thing over and over because, "Well, Lee Haney/Dorian/Ronnie

    did it this way!"

    Get over it.

    Like it or not, you have to realize that many of the best backs in the sport were built

    by guys at the top end of the gene pool, genes that you likely don't come close to


    Instead, look at guys like Rich Gaspari, LeeLabrada, or Tom Platz; guys with

    medium back genetics but great work ethics and intelligent training philosophies.

    That's the type of working man's bodybuilder you should study.

    Back to The Future

    Fast forward to 2004. I've always been very creative, and I finally had some

    noticeable breakthroughs with my back training. I discovered some exercises that

    worked well for me and was also taught other great exercises by a very creative friend

    of mine. You'll see these exercises below, and trust me when I say they're gut busters,

    very effective gut busters.

    Let's quickly go through the Mountain Dog core training principles I introduced to

    you inmy leg-training article.

    Mountain Dog training is what I call an intense collection of exercises, rep schemes,

    and techniques designed to push your body to new levels by not allowing it to adapt to

    old levels.

    The number one prerequisite for training progress is increased intensity, and with

    back, increased intensity often requires creativity, even insanity!

    Key Concepts, Exercises, and Stretches

    For lat thickness, it's all about the angles
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    The lats are such a large mass of muscle that for complete size, detail, and separation,

    you need to use multiple angles. Just doing regular bent over rows or dumbbell rows

    will only take you so far, especially if you're not genetically gifted to begin with.

    I've included some exercises below that attack the lats from different angles with

    different tension. These aren't just exercises I'm making up or that I do to lookcreative; these are the meat and potatoes of my back routine for the past six years. It

    should be noted that my back has improved more in this six-year period than in the

    previous 15 years.

    Meadows rowsI seriously doubt that I invented this exercise, but I've never seen

    anybody else doing them, so I'm staking my claim. I'm sure the joke is on me as

    somebody like Charles Glass was probably doing them in the 70's.

    These are a modified version of a one-arm dumbbell row, using a T-Bar instead. Stand

    on the floor next to the business end of the bar, where you'd normally stand if youwere adding another plate. Grab the handle with one hand and execute the row with it.

    Make sure you use straps.

    To perfect this exercise, you need to learn how to position your hips to maximize the

    stretch and involvement of the whole lat, especially the lower lat. You kind of "kick"

    your hips away from the bar, which helps to increase the stretch. (When you do it

    right, you'll know.)

    This exercise is more responsible for the mass and detail I've put on my lats than any

    other, and is a core exercise for anybody that comes to me for help with a stubbornback. Shoot for 4 sets of 10. Watch the video on the right to get a better idea.

    One-arm barbell rowsThis is another exercise that I've found to be brutal and

    effective for lat development. Stand beside the loaded barbell, reach down and grasp

    the bar, and start rowing.

    As with the Meadows rows, you really want to emphasize the stretch on the way

    down. Use 25-pound plates to extend the range of motion, allowing for the greatest

    possible stretch. See the video on the right.

    Dumbbell deadstopsNow THIS is the way to do dumbbell rows! Get into a

    standard DB row position and perform as normal, except at the bottom of each rep, set

    the dumbbell down, pause for a second, and then drive your elbow up (along with the

    weight, of course) as hard as you can.

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    The dead stop at the bottom eliminates any momentum, and the explosion out of the

    bottom is killer. I do take credit for inventing these, so please don't ruin it for me if

    you know otherwise. See the video on the right.

    Incorporate intense stretches into your exercises for lat width and detail

    The lats and shoulder girdle can get tight and bunched up from a lot of hard training,

    resulting in adhesions within the muscles that can keep it from "gliding" at its peak


    Certain exercises are perfect for applying an additional stretchprovided you're

    careful. This stretching is a great way to create muscle separation while loosening up

    some connective tissue and soft tissue, resulting in increased shoulder flexibility.

    StretchersThis exercise has loosened up my shoulder girdle more than any other

    exercise. Stand facing the lat pulldown machine with one of your feet on the bench.Using a close-grip handle, do a sort of row with the weight. Fully straighten your

    arms, and duck your head down at the extended part of the rep.

    This will feel really uncomfortable in the shoulders the first few sets. Next, pull the

    bar in to your mid-ab area and arch your back while squeezing your lats forcefully.

    You'll notice that you start to loosen up as you go, resulting in a kick-ass lat pump.

    Check the video on the right for a demonstration.

    Lat pulldowns with a forced stretchI absolutely love this exercise for upper lat

    width. You need to make sure you do this right (a good training partner is gold) or youcan hurt yourself.

    Perform a regular pulldown, but as you go through the negative, let your arms

    straighten out. Your partner then forces the weight down for extra pressure; he/she

    should increase the pressure as your arms get close to being totally straight.

    No three-second negatives herestretch, and then relax at the top for a second while

    the spotter applies pressure. Watch the video on the right to see what I mean.

    Heavy partial pulldownsUse a heavy weight that's going to be impossible to dofull range of motion reps with. Pull the weight down to only the top of your head, then

    let it stretch you at the top; relax your scapulae, and reach.

    The weight should literally pull you out of your seat a few inches. Again, be smart and

    don't get sloppy. Watch the video on the right for a demo.

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    MD pulloversMost people do these lying across a bench. Try it my way. Lie on

    the bench with your head hanging off the end. Lower the weight slowly, and only pull

    up to your forehead. Your lats should get looser and looser with each set, and you'll

    get the side benefit of some great serratus work. See the video on the right for a demo.

    Shrug with a pause and retract with a pause for trapezius and rhomboid development

    Your traps actually run in three different directions. Shrugs work primarily the upper

    traps; here are the types of shrugs that I've found to be the most effective, yet seldom


    Dumbbell shrugs with a 3-second pause/flex at the topThis will destroy your traps.

    The pause and flex kills all momentum and forces your traps to work much harder

    than the standard bouncing up and down method. Grab a pair of 100 lb dumbbells and

    do 12 reps with 3-second pausesyou'll see what I mean.

    Barbell shrugs with a 3-second pause/flexSame as above except with a barbell.

    You also have a middle and lower section to your traps. The middle portion of your

    traps pulls your scapulae in toward the spinal column. They work in concert with your

    rhomboids. To nail this area, the main thing to remember is elbow alignment: You

    have to keep your elbows up higher, so that your lats don't take over. This will also

    engage some rear delt.

    Any type of supported row allows you to focus on elbow alignment and squeezing, so

    for this reason I choose to use a machine.

    Supported rows with a 1-second flex at topGet a good stretch on these too! Elbows

    up, pull the weight back, and flex. You can use many different angled machines; you

    can be sitting straight up, tilted down on a pad, etc.

    We won't discuss the lower part of the traps and rhomboids as this area is hit by

    pulldowns (pulls the scapulae downward).

    Go old school for spinal erectors

    Nothing fancy needed here. The following three exercises allowed me to develop

    thick, deep spinal erectors. The main thing was to just be consistent and do them

    every week.

    Reverse hypersThis is Louie Simmons' baby. When I trained over at Westside in

    the 90's, this was our bread and butter lower back exercise. This is my absolute

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    favorite for lower back, and if you have one of these machines, I advise you to work

    the ever-loving hell out of it.

    DeadliftsDeadlifts didn't give me huge wide lats, but they definitely did help with

    my lower back development. You can do these off the ground or out of the rack

    just do them. You'll find that I place lower back exercises last in all my back routines;it's brutal to crank out deadlifts after all the other back work you've done, but it works.

    HyperextensionsLast but certainly not least, I love hyperextensions. They leave no

    doubt in your mind as to if they're working or not: Do 30 reps of hypers and then get

    up and try walking around with that insane spinal erector pumpyou'll see what I

    mean. I do these every week. They are rehabilitative as well, and there's nothing

    wrong with a healthy low back.

    Exercise Sequence

    As with leg training, exercise sequence means a great deal on back day, but it's not as

    critical as on leg day. There are some general rules that I do like to follow, though.

    Row firstTrain you lats first with rows while you're at full strength and can push

    like a rabid animal through the sets. The modified rows described above are perfect

    for batting leadoff.

    Stretch exercises follow rowsOnce you get a lot of blood in those lats, they're

    ready to be stretched. Use the stretching exercises outlined above, and again, do NOT

    perform these first; I think these can actually hurt you if you do this out of order.Although I can't prove this scientifically, my street knowledge tells me these work

    best after rows.

    Trap/Rhomboid work can be inserted anywhere in your workoutDon't be afraid to

    do these first if this is an area that needs focus.

    Spinal erectors go lastYou simply can't do and feel the rows for lats if your lower

    back is pumped full of blood. Always save these for last! There is one exception,

    though. If you can deadlift without your lower back burning or tightening up, you can

    move movements for spinal erectors anywhere in the workout as well. Doinghyperextensions before Meadows rows though? Bad idea, young Patawan.

    Intense stretchingYou may recall from my MD leg article that I love intense leg

    stretching. This also applies to back, but should be done when the lats are fully

    pumped. Make sure the stretch is intense and that you hold it for 30-60 seconds


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    Pump Up The Volume

    My 12-week program looks like this, volume-wise:

    Phase 1Weeks 1 through 3, use a medium volume approach. The set total ranges

    from 11-14 sets. You won't need a ton of sets as the exercise angles and intensity willwork well with more of a medium-volume approach.

    Phase 2Weeks 4 through 9, use a high volume approach. Now we start to build in

    volume each week. Your body will be adjusting to the intensity you threw at it in

    Phase 1, so we'll keep it off balance by slowly adding more volume over the course of

    the next 3 weeks.

    Sets will typically go to 16-20, with more high intensity sets added each week. You're

    going to grind it out hard for 6 weeks during this phase.

    Phase 3Weeks 10 through12, use a low to medium volume approach, with almost

    all high intensity sets (preceded by a proper warm up). Set ranges will be around 8

    10 sets; so overall volume now goes down, but the sets you do will be the hardest

    you've done in your life.

    Deload Phase2 weeks. As with any hard program, there's a period of deloading

    that will benefit you in the long run with the rebounding effect from the cumulative

    neural fatigue that accompanies high intensity work. Two weeks of light training is

    my general recommendation after a brutal 12 weeks; everyone is different, though.

    How do you know when you need to take the 2 weeks? You'll experience one or more

    of the following:

    Elevated resting heart rate

    Difficulty generating much force on heavier compound exercises

    Difficulty sleeping

    Poor mood

    Intensity Techniques

    If you read my leg article, you might've noticed that I use things like 3-second

    descents, drop sets, etc. Some of those techniques are also applied to back, but many

    are not.

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    For back, I like to use:

    Rest/PauseThese work well with dumbbell dead-stop rows and Smith Machine

    bent over rows (setting the pins about mid-shin).

    Continuous tensionYou should focus on squeezing the target area on almost allback exercises. Sometimes it's hard to get a "mind-muscle connection" with the back

    muscles, so this is the best way to overcome it.

    PartialsI like these on certain back exercises. You can apply these to any pulldown

    or chin variation at the stretched part of the movement. On any cable or machine row,

    you can use them at the contracted part of the movement.

    Intensity techniques I do notlike for back include:

    Drop setsI find the arms fail or strain too much during the dropseven withstrapsso they fail to deliver much bang for the buck. Great for legs, not on back.

    3-second descentsAgain, great on legs, not on back. Doing a low cable row or a

    pulldown with a slow 3-second descent just doesn't work well; the arms and shoulders

    seem to take over for the lats.

    Sample Workouts

    Now that you have read the "high level" view of my approach to back training, let's

    take a look at a sample workout. Here's a typical Phase 2 back workout (19 sets total).

    A) Meadows rows2 warm up sets followed by 3 sets of 8. Watch the video, get the

    form correct, and then don't be afraid to work up to a heavy weight. Remember the

    correct hip positioningplay around with it until you find the spot that allows you to

    feel your ENTIRE lat working.

    B) Dumbbell deadstop rows3 sets of 8. Use a heavy weight, challenge yourself,

    but don't get sloppy.

    Fascia Tissue Stretch for 1 minute on each lat

    do it twice

    C) Stretchers2 sets of 12. Remember the form. Let your arms straighten, and duck

    your head as shown in the video.

    D) Heavy partial pulldowns2 sets of 8.

    Fascia Tissue Stretch for 2 minutes on each latdo it twice

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    E) Supported rows3 sets of 10. Remember to keep elbows up as shown in the


    F) Dumbbell shrugs3 sets of 12. Hold and flex each rep at the top for 3 seconds.

    G) HyperextensionsDo one set with medium weight to failure, then drop theweight and get a few more reps. The next set, cut the weight in half and repeat. On the

    third set, just do bodyweight for as many reps as possible.

    For example, hold a 50-pound dumbbell and do 15 reps; then drop it and try to gut out

    10 more. On the 2nd set, hold a 25-pound dumbbell and do the same reps; on the 3rd

    set try to get about 25 reps. This is brutal.

    Bonus Movement

    There's one other exercise that I love for lower back and traps: It's a modified version

    of the old "Reeves Deadlift." This is done explosively and is absolutely nastyI

    love them. Watch the video on the right and give them a try!

    Final thoughts

    I hope you can appreciate where I'm coming from on back training. I'm not saying

    barbell rows, chins, and deadlifts won't give you a massive back; I'm saying that

    for me, they didn't, and I had to get creative.

    These exercises may seem unique, but if you think about it, they're still very basic,

    and I would contend that all of my exercises are very basic in nature.

    And it's the basics, repeatedly performed with intensity, which delivers results.

    Good luck, and shoot any back-related questions my way!

    Fine Tuning the Basics: Back Training

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    by John Meadows, CSCS, CISSN


    This article is about making the all-time best exercises for building a bigger back

    even better.

    It's a favorite subject of mine, one that requires an appreciation of the dedication and

    resourcefulness needed to sculpt an impressive body, especially by those that didn't

    win the genetic lottery.

    This stuff doesn't get studied. It's not taught in university classrooms. The only way to

    learn about it is to let it become your obsession.

    You have to experiment with countless exercises and keep meticulous records, and

    oftentravelto far and distant places to learn from those who've fought similar wars

    and came up victorious.

    It's costly and can lead to enormous frustration, and most don't have the time or

    willpower to do it on their own.

    Fortunately for you, that's where I come in. I've been therehell, in some ways I'm

    still thereand I've learned a lot about building a pro-quality back.
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    Just be warned: it's not fancy namby-pamby stuff. It's the gut-busting basics, made


    The Back Big 3

    Most would consider these three exercises to be the "basics" for back training:

    Row variations bent over barbell, dumbbell, and T-bar rows Chin-ups or pulldowns Deadlifts

    All the above are great. Although I got limited results from performing them in a

    traditional sense, there's no denying the thousands of lifters who've achieved good

    results by hammering away at just these three.

    Still, you can make these exercises even better.

    Barbell Rows. Next time your program calls for barbell rows, try this. Keep your back

    flat and bend over to almost 90 degrees. Pull your elbows back until your hands are

    even with your stomach and flex your lats.

    Now, pull your elbows back even further and flex. Feel how the contraction is even

    more intense? By slightly increasing the range of motion youget more musclefiring.

    This might sound simple, but it works!

    Here's how youapplyit with cambered barbell rows (watch how far back my elbows

    travel with the cambered bar):

    You can do these explosively as I'm doing in the video or you can try to hold the

    contraction for a split second. Dave Tate has noted that these are also good for guys

    with bigger guts as they can get a greater range of motion.

    Dumbbell Rows. I love dumbbell rows but there are a couple different ways to make

    the old standard much more effective for lathypertrophy.

    Most lifters do these straight on, with their hips and shoulders level (even). This isn't

    optimal for back hypertrophy as the shoulders and biceps tend to receive the bulk of

    the stimulus. However, just a small adjustment will result in some serious lat frying.
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    Forget about keeping your shoulders and hips squared. Raisethe hipon the side you're

    doing the row. For example, if rowing with the left arm, raise the left hip slightly

    higher than the right and stay in that position.

    You can also use a barbell. One-arm barbell rows are as basic as it gets, although

    rarely performed. The barbell variation can be performed several ways to hit differentareas of the back. Again, raising the working-side hip makes the exercise more


    Watch how in the video below, a one-arm barbell row/Meadows row superset, I subtly

    raise the hip on one side and leave it there. Also, notice how I sit back just a tad as the

    weight is coming down for a slightly greater stretch. Nothing crazy, but even a little

    tilt makes a big difference.

    Now let's suppose your lower lats need work. Not that they're inserted highwe can't

    change thatbut underdeveloped at the bottom. I jokingly refer to this as "whiteman's disease."

    To tweak this basic exercise so that it trashes the lower lats, stagger your stance

    opposite the way you normally would. It might feel awkward at first as it goes against

    everything you've been taught. You can hold onto the barbell with straps or, better

    still, use a suitcase handle from EliteFTS.

    Check out the video below. Look at the weight, and where it is in relation to my body.

    The weight is coming up behind me, and the lower lat is doing the brunt of the work.

    This is an exercise that when you get it right, you'll know it!

    To make these even better, add a small pro mini-band as I do in the video. The lat

    contraction gets even stronger.

    T-bar Rows. T-Bar rows are a great way to put slabs of meat on your lats.

    Unfortunately, many pile on too much weight and do a weird version of a lower back

    shrug. I'm okay with a little momentum, but if you lose the feel of the exercise you're

    just wasting your time.

    Try the one-arm version I call Meadows rows. This is the king of lat builders. Thosewho do them regularly and correctly say they absolutely destroy the lats. It's cool to

    now see IFBB pro bodybuilders and others doing them in videos and magazines.

    Chin-ups. Everyone knows that you can vary grips, range of motion, how much you

    cheat, etc. on chin-ups, so the only thing I'll add occurs after your last set. Attach a

    heavy weight to your body with a dip belt or straps and just hang on the chin-up bar
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    for as long as possible. Shoot for one minute to start. Relax your scapulae while you

    do it as in the video below, which will stretch the heck out of your latssomething

    they're not used too!

    Pulldowns. I have many pulldown versions in my arsenal, but two of my favorites are

    very simple.

    I learned these from Charles Glass about 10 years ago. You can better focus on

    driving with the lats, and you can't swing or you'll smash your skull against the

    machine. Face away from the machine and "curl" your lower back around the pad.

    Forcefully drive your elbows straight down. You'll see why I like these better than

    regular pulldowns.

    You can also stand with one foot on the pad and do a version I call "stretchers."

    Ducking your head at the bottom gives a nasty stretch in the shoulders, which helps

    loosen up all the soft tissue around the scapulae and shoulders. You can feel thedifference after doing these two or three times, which leads to insane pumps in the

    upper lats.

    Here is how you do it:

    Deadlifts. The biggest issue I have with using deadlifts for building muscle is that you

    can pull so much more in certain portions of the range of motion. Many lifters can

    rack pull 700 pounds, for example, but might struggle to pull 450 off the floor. This

    makes it hard to execute full range of motion reps with maximum intensity.

    Imagine if you could pull 450 off the ground, then pull 550 at mid-shin, and 650 at

    lockout? That would be a perfect rep. Now imagine if you could do this for sets of 5-

    20 reps?

    Well, it's easyjust add bands or chains. Most bodybuilders are missing out on a

    great opportunity for mass by not using bands and chains where appropriate.

    You can even get a little crazy and add a shrug at the top. Often I'll do a rep of the

    deadlift and then do three shrugs at the top as in the video below, or do more of a

    continuous motion deadlift into a shrug and then back down. It all depends on whatyou're trying to develop.

    Just adding bands or chains to deadlifts makes them much better at building muscle

    than when performed in the traditional sense.

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    There's another thing you can do to boost your resultstrain with passion! Pour your

    heart and soul into it. Don't waste your time by going through the motions.

    I know everyone with a gym membership says that they "train hard," but often when I

    see them in action I'm less than impressed.

    See the video below for a demonstration by Dave Tate about working your tail offthrough a set. No book or manual can teach this either.

    Until next time.