You can’t see it, but that’s no excuse for ignoring it. Here’s how to develop a stronger posterior chain.
Bodybuilders have a saying, that “bodybuilding competitions are won from the back”. Whilst that might not always be true, there’s no denying that the muscles of the posterior chain create a powerful physique. How much time do you dedicate to training yours?
What Is The Posterior Chain?
Your posterior chain is all the muscles, tendons, and ligaments on the back of your body. Although you can’t see it when you train, it’s crucial for power, posture, injury prevention and – yes – a great looking body. The muscles of the posterior chain include calves, hamstrings, glutes, your entire back, and traps. When you think about it like that, it’s easy to see why the posterior chain is so important both in and out of the gym.
Why Focus On It?
A strong posterior chain stabilises the entire body. But modern-day living often leaves our posterior chains weak, under-used, and pulled out of position. Driving, computer work, and sitting down leave our hips too tight, our shoulders rotated, and our backs weak. And, be honest, most of us focus our training on the “mirror muscles” of our anterior chain. Strengthening the posterior chain – especially the back and glutes – will help prevent back pain, improve your posture, and give you a more impressive physique. If your posterior chain is firing properly, every exercise you do in the gym will have more impact.
6 Exercises For A Stronger Posterior Chain
When you think about training your posterior chain, remember that you’re targeting everything on the back side of your body. Some of the best exercises for the posterior chain are:
Any variation of deadlift will work the posterior chain. The deadlift is called “the King of exercises” because it works so many large muscles. In terms of the posterior chain, a deadlift will use calves, hamstrings, glutes, low back, mid back, upper back, traps and core. If you don’t want to do conventional deadlifts, you could use trap bar deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, or sumo deadlifts. Single legged variations will also work the posterior chain with less over all fatigue.
Glute bridges are one of the best exercises you can do for your glutes, but they will also use your hamstrings and lower back. The most common way to do them is using a weighted barbell, but you can also use the Smith machine, add load by holding a weight, kettlebell, or chains on your lap, or do them unweighted.
Kettlebell swings are a great movement to include in your posterior chain work. First, they teach you a proper hip hinge. Second, to strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and low back and develop good hip power. They are demanding, but light enough that you can add them to your programme without overloading your CNS.
Dragging a sled or prowler is a great dynamic exercise for the posterior chain. Sled drags overload the hamstrings in the same way as sprinting does, but without the stress and impact.
Back raises or low back raises are a great way to strengthen the lower back musculature which gives so much support to the posterior chain. Do them unweighted, or add weight by holding a plate or medicine ball at your chest.
Glute/ham raise or Nordic hamstring curls
Either a glute/ham raise or a Nordic curl will target your hamstrings, back, and glutes without the stress of added load. A glute/ham raise is a useful addition to your posterior chain work because it is knee dominant (most hamstring exercises are hip dominant). If you struggle with this exercise, focus on lowering yourself and have your training partner help you with the concentric phase.
Posterior chain training targets the large muscle groups of the hamstrings, glutes, and back. Because there’s so much muscle there, you will naturally need to include demanding compound exercises for a lot of your posterior chain work. Sessions with deadlifts, rack pulls, and glute bridges will be a lot more demanding than – say – arms or abs. So pay extra attention to recovery from posterior chain work. Take long enough rest periods within workouts. Programme your training sessions so you give body parts enough rest between sessions. Do more mobility and stretching work to help your back and glutes adapt to the extra work. And don’t be surprised if you need more rest and sleep as you start to include more glute, hamstring, and back work in your training. It’s not just your muscles that need to recover – your CNS (central nervous system) is working harder, too.
About the Author:
Nicola Joyce has been writing for (and about) sport, fitness, nutrition and healthy living since 2004. She’s also a keen sportswoman: her background is in endurance sport but she now competes as a natural bodybuilder, most recently winning a world title with the INBF. When she’s not writing content, she can be found blogging. Follow her here www.nicolajoyce.co.uk and on Facebook & Twitter (@thefitwriter) too.