How balanced is your strength-training workout? Chances are, you focus more of your training on the anterior chain, the muscles you see in the mirror. But what about your posterior chain? The posterior chain consists of the muscles on the backside of your body that help you stand, squat, and lift things. This includes everything from your hamstrings to your glutes to even some parts of your calves. These muscles are important for activities of daily living and athletic performance. So, you need exercises that target them—which means posterior chain exercises.
Why should you focus on your posterior chain? These muscles are important for:
- Balance and stability: Your posterior chain muscles help stabilize your body, particularly when you are standing or moving. Strong posterior chain muscles can help improve your balance and prevent falls.
- Injury prevention: Weak posterior chain muscles contribute to imbalances that increase the risk of injury. Strengthening these muscles helps prevent injuries, particularly in the lower back and knees.
- Performance: Your posterior chain muscles play a vital role in many athletic movements, such as running, jumping, and lifting. Strengthening these muscles can help improve your performance in these activities.
- Posture: Strong posterior chain muscles can help improve your posture by helping to keep your spine in proper alignment. This can help reduce strain on your neck and shoulders and improve your overall comfort.
Now, let’s look at some of the best exercises for targeting these sometimes-neglected muscles.
Hip thrusts are one of the best exercises for developing strong glutes and hamstrings, two muscles that make up your posterior chain. Research by Bret Contreras shows that hip thrusts activate the glutes to a greater degree than squats and deadlifts. Since these muscles have some of the largest muscle fibers in your body, training them with intensity can help you add more muscle mass and build strength.
Here’s how to do a hip thrust:
- Sit on the ground with your upper back against a bench or other sturdy surface. Your knees should be bent, and your feet should be flat on the ground.
- Place a barbell or other weight across your hips.
- Engage your core and push through your heels to raise your hips off the ground, keeping your upper back and shoulders on the bench.
- Hold for a moment at the top of the movement, then slowly lower your hips back down to the starting position.
- Keep repeating.
It’s important to keep your feet flat on the ground and your core engaged throughout the exercise to maintain proper form and avoid injury. Start with a lighter weight until you feel comfortable with the movement. As you get stronger, increase the weight or number of repetitions to challenge yourself more. To continue to make gains, you need progressive overload.
All deadlifts work the large muscle groups. But to emphasize the posterior chain, Romanian deadlifts will give you the most return. Why is the Romanian deadlift so effective for targeting the posterior chain?
- Range of motion: Romanian deadlifts involve a greater range of motion than traditional deadlifts.
- Isolation: This variation allows you to isolate the muscles in the posterior chain by limiting the involvement of the quadriceps and other muscles in the front of the body. This is particularly useful when you’re targeting the muscles in your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.
- Safe for the lower back: Romanian deadlifts are safer for the lower back than traditional deadlifts, as they involve less strain on the spine.
If you want to get the most posterior chain activation, do Romanian deadlifts while standing on a step. A study found this approach leads to better activation of the muscles in the posterior chain, such as the glutes and hamstrings, compared to performing Romanian deadlifts standing on the floor. Note that these muscle activation patterns may vary from person to person, so experiment with different variations to see which one works best for you.
The kettlebell swing is a dynamic exercise effective for working the muscles in the posterior chain, including the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles. Why? Kettlebell swings involve a powerful hip extension movement, which activates the gluteal muscles and hamstrings. This movement is essential for athletic movements, such as running and jumping, and can help improve overall strength and power in the posterior chain.
Kettlebell swings also require significant core engagement to maintain proper form and control the kettlebell. This helps strengthen the muscles in the lower back, which are an important part of the posterior chain. An added perk is they boost your heart rate enough to offer a cardiovascular challenge. You can modify the swing by using a lighter or heavier kettlebell. For example, you can use a lighter weight for higher reps to focus on muscle endurance, or a heavier weight for lower reps to focus on muscle strength.
Kettlebell swings are a versatile and effective exercise that can help improve the strength and endurance of the muscles in your posterior chain and improve your hp thrust too.
The Good morning is another effective exercise for targeting the muscles in your posterior chain. Here’s how to do one:
- Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and a barbell or other weight across your upper back, resting on your shoulders. Your feet should be pointing straight ahead, and your knees should be slightly bent.
- Engage your core and hinge forward at the hips, keeping your back straight and your shoulders and head aligned with your hips.
- Lower your torso as far as you can without rounding your back, then pause for a moment.
- Engage your posterior chain muscles and use your glutes and hamstrings to lift your torso back up to the starting position.
- Keep repeating
Good mornings can be challenging, particularly if you’re new to the exercise. Start with a lighter weight and gradually increase the resistance as you become more comfortable with the movement. It’s also important to maintain proper form to avoid injury and ensure you are targeting the desired muscles.
Back extension (hyperextension)
A back extension is a strength training exercise that targets the muscles in your posterior chain, especially your lower back and can help improve posture and reduce back pain. Here’s how to do a back extension:
- Lie face down on the ground with your arms at your sides and your palms facing down.
- Place your feet hip-width apart and engage your core.
- Lift your upper body off the ground by squeezing your lower back muscles and extending your spine.
- Hold for a moment at the top of the movement, then slowly lower your upper body back down to the starting position.
- Keep repeating.
Keep your core engaged and maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise to avoid injury and ensure that you are targeting the desired muscles. You can start with a smaller range of motion until you feel comfortable with the movement. As you get stronger, you can increase the range of motion or add resistance to the exercise by holding a weight or using an exercise ball.
So, if you’re looking for a way to improve your posterior chain strength and mobility, these exercises are a fantastic place to start. They’ll not only help you build muscle but also strengthen your core and improve balance.
- Contreras B. Hip Thrust & Glute Science – Bret Contreras. Bret Contreras. Published April 6, 2013. Accessed December 24, 2022. https://bretcontreras.com/hip-thrust-and-glute-science/
- Abelsson A. Posterior Chain: Which Deadlift Variation Is the Best? StrengthLog. Published February 9, 2022. Accessed December 24, 2022. https://www.strengthlog.com/posterior-chain-which-deadlift-variation-is-the-best/
- J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19(3), 1903. An Electromyographic Analysis of Romanian, Step-Romanian, and Stiff-Leg Deadlift: Implication for Resistance Training.