Understanding the most influencial muscle group in the body!
In this blog post I am truly hoping to make you aware of just how important the posterior chain muscles are relative to getting your body strong and shapely for the right reasons and not simply for aesthetics - which incidentally will happen anyway.
For those of you that played with Barbie dolls, I want you to imagine two movement chains - When your Barbie is curling the front of her body forwards, think flexion and when your Barbie is extending the back of her body in the opposite direction, think extension.
WHAT IS THE POSTERIOR CHAIN?
The posterior chain refers to the muscles located in the posterior, or backside of the body. These include the glutes, hamstrings, calves, erector spinae (the little muscles surrounding the spine), and the lower and upper back muscles. They’re the power behind your ability to take the stairs two at a time and squat down to pick up something heavy from the floor. Think standing up tall, shoulders back and down, ribcage raised, and strong, fired up, active glutes.
Unfortunately, the posterior chain is often a neglected area for several reasons. Firstly, modern lifestyles have far too many people sitting for long periods of time and many not exercising at all. This leads to quad (front thigh) dominance and the glutes lose their primary role of hip stabilization and extension. The glutes and hamstrings become lengthened and weak, which leaves your spine begging for proper support. This can turn into low back pain and bad posture as the muscles that are supposed to keep you upright are now so weak that they’re letting your shoulders round forward toward your desk.
Secondly, the posterior chain muscle group become the out-of-sight, out-of-mind scenario muscles. We tend to look at and overwork our “mirror muscles” more!
Add to this the unnatural load we put on our neck joints from dawn till dusk, on our phones, hunched over a desk all day, and then flopping down on a sofa when we get home. This is incredibly bad for your body and your health and many of us actually take on this hunched, flexed state even when we do stand up! This results in limited mobility of certain joints.
The role of the extensor chain is to activate and pull us out of our flexed status.
So as you can see, it’s vital to retrain your posterior muscles how to work again by doing exercises that prevent the front side of your body from dominating.
This involves concentrating on really squeezing the glutes and all the muscles in the back of the body during posterior exercises. Once you start doing this regularly, these posterior muscles will adapt to being “used first,” and won’t have to rely on the front side of the body for support.
POSTERIOR CHAIN EXERCISES
Below are some of the best posterior chain exercises you can do to tighten and strengthen your backside, relieve lower back pain, and also build a better posture.
Please ensure you warm up correctly, using dynamic warm-up stretches and movements. Your warm-up should be at least 5 - 10 minutes
Supermans are great for strengthening the lower back and engaging the glutes, and also helping correct rounded posture caused by excessive sitting.
Begin lying face down on the floor on your mat. On your next exhale, simultaneously raise your arms and legs off the floor as high as you can.
Focus on squeezing your glutes and lower back as you hold for 2-3 seconds.
Lower and repeat for 10 to 15 reps.
Variations: To mix it up, try raising one arm and one opposite leg at a time, alternating for 10 to 15 reps on each side.
Bird dogs are excellent for activating the glutes and low back, while also strengthening the stability muscles surrounding your core.
Begin on all fours on your mat, hand directly beneath your shoulders and knees hip-width apart, under your hips.
Extend your right leg behind you while simultaneously extending your left arm out in front of you. Focus on squeezing your glutes as you hold for 2-3 seconds.
Lower and repeat, alternating sides, for 10 to 15 reps.
Squats are great for recruiting the glutes and there will also be some quadricep activation, depending on where you focus your attention.
Stand with feet a little further than shoulder distance apart. Toes pointed out slightly.
Keeping your weight into your heels come down into a squat position, keeping your hips pushed out behind you (as if trying to sit on a low chair).
Focus your attention on the upward part of the move and squeezing your glutes as you come up out of the squat.
Keep repeating the exercise focusing on the upward part of the squat. Repeat 2 sets of fifteen reps and when you get stronger add a weight.
Back extensions are excellent for strengthening the muscles along the spine and shoulders, which can help improve your posture and even ease back pain.
Begin lying facedown on your mat.
You can either extend your arms in front of you or keep them at your sides as you lift your upper torso and hands off the floor.
Focus on squeezing your glutes.
Keep your gaze down and neck relaxed.
Hold for 2 seconds, then lower. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.
Glute bridges are one of the best exercises for activating the glutes and engaging the entire posterior chain.
Begin lying on your back on the floor, feet hip-width apart and arms by your sides.
Pressing through your heels, thrust your hips toward the ceiling. Focus on squeezing your glutes at the top.
Hold for 1 to 2 seconds, then lower your hips until just off the ground, and repeat.
Aim for 10 to 15 reps.
Variations: You can make glute bridges more difficult by doing them on one leg. Simply come into your bridge position and extend one leg skyward, performing your thrusts on the opposite leg.
Reverse lunges help activate and strengthen your glutes and hamstrings, while also engaging your core to balance.
Begin standing tall, feet hip-width apart.
Extend your right leg back behind you and come into a lunge on your left leg. Make sure your left knee stays behind your toes.
Lower until your thigh is parallel to the ground, then push back to standing through your left heel, engaging your glutes.
Repeat, alternating legs, for 10 to 15 reps on each leg.
Variations: You can also hold dumbbells for an additional challenge.
Back rows strengthen the muscles of your upper and lower back, and also your shoulders. Use a challenging dumbbell weight for these, but don’t go so heavy that you can’t pull through the full range of motion.
Begin standing tall, feet hip-width apart, holding your dumbbells at your sides.
Hinge forward slightly at your hips and, with your palms facing down behind you, row your dumbbells back. Focus on pinching your shoulder blades together.
Slowly lower and repeat for 10 to 15 reps.
Romanian deadlifts target the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back as you pull a weight up from the ground. They are also excellent for building core strength and stability.
Begin standing tall, feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell or dumbbells in front of you.
Bending your knees just slightly, hinge forward at your hips as you lower your weight toward the ground. Keep a slight “pinch” between your shoulder blades to help stop your back from rounding, and really focus on engaging your core and glutes. Keep your chin tucked slightly so your neck remains in neutral position.
Keep your weight close to your legs.
Stop before you touch the ground and push through your heels to come to standing.
Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.
SINGLE-LEG ROMANIAN LIFTS
Single-leg Romanian deadlifts add some intensity to the regular Romanian deadlift by increasing your core engagement and working the stabilizer muscles of your core to improve balance.
Begin standing tall, feet hip-width apart.
Bending your knees just slightly, hinge forward at your hips as you lower your body toward the ground.
Extend one leg behind you as you lower. Keep your chest forward and your spine straight, focusing on engaging your glutes. Keep your weight close to your leg.
Stop before you touch the ground and push through your heel to come to standing.
Repeat for 10 to 15 reps on each leg.
Variations: Alternatively, you can do single-leg Romanian deadlifts with dumbells.
Kettlebell swings are excellent for working nearly every muscle in your posterior chain and core. Not to mention, they also get your heart rate up for a quick fat-burning workout.
Begin standing tall, feet hip-width apart, gripping a kettlebell with both hands, in front of your hips.
Push your hips back, keeping your chest facing front, and draw the kettlebell between your legs. Now thrust your hips forward and propel the kettlebell up to shoulder height as you straighten your legs.
Keeping your core engaged, let the kettlebell swing down between your thighs and thrust your hips forward again. The power to propel the kettlebell should come mostly from your hips and glutes, not your shoulders.
Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.
Renegade rows take the plank to a whole new level by layering in weights and upper body engagement. They also help strengthen your core stability muscles, which can help improve lower back pain.
Begin by coming into a plank position, hands directly beneath your shoulders and spine in a straight line from head to toe. Grasp a dumbbell in each hand.
Row your right arm back, avoiding letting your body sway to the side. Squeeze your glutes and core to help you maintain your balance.
Lower your arm and row with your left arm.
Repeat, alternating arms, for 8 to 12 reps on each side.
Variations: You can also do renegade rows from a kneeling position.
EXTEND! EXTEND! EXTEND!