The anatomical term “posterior” refers to the backside of the body. Thus, the phrase, “posterior chain,” refers to the muscles of the backside of the body, specifically the lower back, gluteals, hamstrings and calf muscles.
If you want to be strong and fast, improve your athletic ability, become more of an explosive individual, work on injury prevention or perhaps you just want a nice looking butt, all answers point to developing the posterior chain. The posterior chain is a group of muscles that produce hip extension (opening of the hips). This group of muscles also include the hamstrings and groin muscles. Strengthening the posterior chain is vital to increasing overall performance for sports and everyday life activities. They contribute to jumping, pushing, pulling, running and even something as simple as sitting down and standing up.
The posterior chain is often neglected and misunderstood. There are two main reasons why. The first reason is many people sit for between 8 to 10 hours per day. Because of the seated position, the quadriceps/psoas become adaptively short and tight, further inhibiting the glutes.
The glutes then suffer amnesia as to what their primary role is as hip stabilizers and extensors. The second reason the posterior chain is neglected is that none of these muscles are seen in the mirror. Out of sight out of mind, we only seem to notice when we are trying on jeans or the dreaded swimsuit. Maybe you do strength training, yoga, or running, etc …but the glutes are not reflecting all the hard work; so the question is…are you really working them?
Although the posterior chain consists of the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, the focus here will be on the function and importance of the glutes. When the glutes become inhibited the posterior chain ceases to function properly. The lower back and the hamstrings then have to take on the workload of the glutes, and along with these muscles being overworked the IT Band, TFL plus the piriformis also take on an additional load, leading to a whole cascade of lower back, hip, knee, ankle, and foot problems.
Posterior-chain exercises involve contracting and lengthening the muscles in a chain-like manner. This is important for athletic movements that require strength, flexibility, and fluidity to properly jump, rotate, lift or land. While isometric exercises should not be eliminated, training the posterior chain (as opposed to each muscle in isolation) is vital for human movement-inspired workouts.
Training the posterior chain can also help to reduce possible injury caused by weak or improperly functioning muscle groups. In addition, a strong posterior chain contributes to a strong core musculature, which reduces back pain and lower-back injury, while also facilitating coordination and strength through the limbs.
Implementing exercises like deadlifts, Olympic lifts (Clean and Jerk + Snatch or variations thereof), good mornings, back and hip extensions, burpees, lunges and box jumps ( step ups for those less conditioned ), into your workout regimen will not only help prevent injuries but will contribute to increased power, performance and total body movement. This is equally important to people of all ages and athletic levels in order to improve their physical quality of life.
The posterior chain is a major weakness for many athletes, so below are my five favourite posterior chain exercises to help strengthen this important part of your body.
1) Deadlift and Variations:
The Deadlift is the king of all exercises because it develops the large muscle groups of the lower body and core, especially the posterior chain. A few variations provide different benefits. Barbell and Trap Bar Deadlifts focus on hip and leg strength when pushing off the floor. Romanian Deadlifts [RDLs] focus more on the glutes, lower back, and hamstrings. To add a different twist to these standard exercises, perform them with kettlebells or dumbbells, and perform single-leg variations.
2) Glute Ham Raise:
The Glute Ham Raise is an excellent way to strengthen the muscles of the posterior chain. Ideally, this exercise should be performed on a Glute Ham Raise machine; however, a partner can hold your feet on the ground.
Unlike the other exercises, the Glute Ham Raise is knee-dominant, which engages your hamstrings differently than hip-dominant exercises. This helps your hamstrings prepare for the rapid and forceful contractions experienced when running.
Athletes who have weak posterior chains have a hard time with this exercise. To progress, perform low reps with your bodyweight; practice the eccentric phase [lowering part]; and use a partner for assistance during the concentric phase [on the way up]. Stronger athletes can perform the exercise for high reps with their own bodyweight or holding a plate across their chest for a moderate number of reps.
3) Kettlebell Swing:
Kettlebell swings strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. They are also great for developing hip power because they must be performed explosively. There are many variations, including Single-Arm Swings and Double Kettlebell Swings, parallel with the floor and overhead. If you don’t have access to kettlebells, you can perform this exercise with a dumbbell although I advise leaving out the overhead variation on this one!
4) Back Extension:
This exercise targets the lower back muscles, which are critical for supporting the posterior chain. It’s also good for beginners and in-season athletes because it yields great benefits with low intensity. Perform it in either a Glute Ham Raise machine or a Back Hyper machine. As with the Glute Ham Raise, perform high reps with bodyweight or moderate reps holding a plate or medicine ball across the chest.
5) Sled Drags:
These develop explosive leg strength and help overload the hamstrings in a movement that mimics sprinting, which prepares the muscles for the stresses of competition. Sled drags are particularly beneficial for increasing speed and anaerobic conditioning. If your goal is to increase speed, perform Sled drags prior to a training session; for conditioning purposes, perform them after a training session.
Author: Nicholas Caracandas
Nicholas Caracandas is the owner of City Bowl Fitness – Strength and Conditioning as well as CrossFit Mother City in Cape Towns CBD. He has been in the game for just under a decade. With more than 600 clients under his belt and over 5000 hours of personal training completed he has trained clients and athletes from all walks of life.
He is a CrossFit Level 2 Trainer as well as a Personal Trainer continuing his studies through the
International Sports Science Academy – Masters Training Certification.
He is a type 1 Diabetic for 18 years with a vast understanding of nutrition and eating for
“ I like to think of myself as a professional Coach with a good understanding of how to help my clients and athletes in their transition from good to great”.