The posterior chain is best defined as the calf muscles, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. It is the chain of muscles and tendons that are on the back of the body and which are responsible for power and explosiveness. There are multiple benefits to building a stronger posterior chain, and not just for athletes.
Why the Posterior Chain Matters
The muscles of the posterior chain are responsible for explosive power. But what if you’re not an athlete? What are the benefits of developing the PC? Bodybuilders, who are primarily interested in aesthetics, can’t afford to ignore any muscle groups, including the posterior chain. A set of massive quads do not override the lack of commensurate hamstring muscles and glutes.
For most people, a stronger posterior chain will simply help them feel better and avoid injuries. You might not understand how critical your back is to your quality of life until you injure it and watch your mobility vanish.
# 1 – Strengthen Your Lower Back
Many lifts cannot be performed properly without a strong lower back, especially not at heavier poundages. Squats and deadlifts at high levels depend on the lifter’s ability to maintain a stable lower back, but it’s also possible to tweak it simply by twisting wrong and loading a weight onto a barbell, picking up a pile of laundry, or reaching down to tie your shoes.
A strong lower back protects you. A 2013 study in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders found that back extensions are recommended by the vast majority of physical therapists when treating lower back pain. Back extensions work well as a warm-up for any lifts that will heavily involve the lower back, and will help keep you safe.
A back extension machine has two pads that go against the tops of your thighs while you lean against them at approximately a 45 degree angle. Your feet are braced on a platform. Lean forward at the waist, until you are jackknifed with the top of your head nearly pointing at the floor. Reverse the movement and pay attention to how your lower back works. When you are confident in your strength and the movement begins to feel easy, add weight by holding a weight plate to your chest while performing the exercise.
#2 – Hip Thrusts
Weak glutes can lead to hip imbalances and mess with internal and external rotation of the femur. They can also contribute to back and hamstring injuries. When you perform a movement like a deadlift, your glutes have to be strong enough to perform their portion of the load. If they’re not, then your lower back will most likely have to pick up the slack, which is not ideal.
Movements like squats work the glutes, but can also be done improperly, taking the emphasis off of the glutes. It’s best to have at least one exercise that is primarily focused on the glutes, like the hip thrust. Lie on the ground with your feet flat on the floor and your heels up by your buttocks. Raise your hips toward the ceiling as far as you can, while keeping your feet flat on the floor and squeezing your glutes to complete the movement. This movement can also be performed with weights. Loading a barbell across the hips, once you have developed enough strength, will work wonders for your posterior chain.
# 3 – Kettlebell Swings and Hamstring Curls
Kettlebell movements are ballistic in nature, particularly in movements like kettlebell swings that require a high degree of hamstring loading. When you perform a kettlebell swing, you sit back, engaging the hamstrings, while passing a kettlebell through your legs. The effect on the hamstrings is similar to drawing back on a bowstring. Then, when you snap forward, propelling the kettlebell by popping your hips and standing up aggressively, the bowstring is released. Kettlebell swings work the entire posterior chain, which has to work hard to complete each rep.
The same idea is mimicked with a hamstring curl. Hamstring curls are performed by lying face down on a bench and placing the leg pads behind your ankles, just below your calves. After choosing a weight you can manage for 10-20 reps, curl the weight up by trying to touch your heels to your glutes. Reverse the movement smoothly and continue.
The posterior chain is often given short shrift for the same reasons that the back is: the PC is not for showcasing the “mirror muscles” like the chest, shoulder, and arms. However, it is to be neglected at the lifter’s peril. Asymmetries lead to aesthetic inconsistencies and biomechanical disadvantages. Sooner or later, the lifter with the weak posterior chain will pay for it. Keep it strong and your body will thank you. Start by adding these three exercises to your routines and you will be way ahead of the curve.