Your posterior chain muscles are those that run down the back of the body. This blog focuses on the larger muscle groups, including your hamstrings, glutes, lower, mid and upper back.
Your posterior chain muscles make up some of the largest muscle groups in your body and movements that utilise these are what will give you your most bang for your buck when you train. HOWEVER, they are often over looked or should I say under developed and there is good reason for this, many people prefer training the muscles they can see (i.e the chest, shoulders, abs, arms and maybe quads). It’s a fact that a lot of dudes and dudettes skip leg day but that’s none of my business..!
As most of us spend the majority of our day sitting, hunched over a desk or phone and then head off to the gym and train predominantly anterior muscles, over time this is likely to cause a signifiant imbalance and reduce your ability to activate posterior chain muscles, leading to poor posture and potentially an increased risk of injury.
Having a strong posterior chain will improve your strength, posture, reduce the risk of back injuries and most importantly give you a solid pair of buns. Yes that’s right your backside should not be as flat as a pancake.
That said here are my top 5 exercises for the posterior chain:
Probably one of my favourite exercises full stop. There is nothing better than lifting a big weight off the floor and better still when performed properly this exercise really works the hamstrings, glutes, lower back and entire upper back. Be sure to get some professional coaching on the technique and if your hamstrings, glutes and lats are not sore the next day something is up!
2) Kettlebell swings
I love kettlebells as a training tool and they are a fantastic bit of kit for hitting the posterior chain muscles. The swing – especially when executed with good form and correct muscle activation – will really target the hamstrings and the glutes, in fact the kettlebell swing has never failed to let my tush know it has had a proper workout. I say correct muscle activation here as it’s really important we are able to engage our glutes instead of letting the lower back do all of the work. More details on this at the end.
3) Squats (with a bottom position pause)
Squats and variations of squats are of course superb exercises for the lower body and posterior chain and should feature in anyone’s training plan regardless of their end goal. However, there is one particular variation I love, this involves pausing for 2-5 seconds at the bottom of the squat which eliminates the momentum and really allows you to tighten everything up and fire all of the right muscles. It’s a great way to blast through a plateau on your squats too. This exercise is for those who have some squatting experience. If new to squats ideally get some coaching sessions first and stick to the basic squat for a while before trying this variation.
4) Hill Sprints
Sprints are awesome, hill sprints are even more awesome so give them a try. Sprinting up a moderate incline really lets your hamstings and glutes know they need to step up. Find an incline of about 30 -45 degrees and after a thorough warm up perform 4-8 sets of 20-40m sprints depending on ability level. Rest for as long as you feel you need to perform well again on the next set and go again. Persoanlly 60-90 seconds is fine. Keris and I don’t often do sprints together but the last time we did she challenged me to do them with her on my back. I accepted and……..my glutes and hamstings were fried not mention my heart was ready to explode. So if training with a friend doing some piggy back hill walks or sprints will BURN, in a good way of course.
I’m sure you’re surprised to see this one here but let me explain. Whilst the plank is better known as an abdominal/core exercise I use it as a way to really focus on good posterior form and muscle recruitment. Tilting the pelvis forward, engaging the glutes, lengthening the spine and retracting the shoulders as well as packing the lats in tight make this a full body exercise and really utilise all the muscles running down the back of the body and the abs of course. Aim for 3-5 sets of 1 minute planks before aiming to increase the distance between your elbows and toes to make it more difficult.
A note on glute activation:
It is really important that we know our glutes are firing to get the most out of the above. Try lying on your back, putting the sole of your feet flat in the floor with knees bent at about 90 degrees, then push through the heels and drive your hips up to the ceiling. Aim to stretch the hip flexors as much as possible and squeeze the glute muscle as much as you can. Now simply grope your own bum to check if they are engaging. Hold this for a minute and if your glutes are firing they should be burning by the end.
Need some help on ways to wake up your glutes and get the most out your training? I run personalised training programmes online, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.