Written by Pete Crawshaw
The Posterior Chain
We have all heard the term ‘posterior chain’ but what does this actually refer to and why is it important to us as athletes?
To put it simply, the Posterior Chain is the term used to describe the group of muscles surrounding your lower back and are the prime movers of forward propulsion.
#1 The Lower Back
#2 The Gluteus Muscles (maximus, medius and minimus)
#3 The Hamstrings
In the modern world, more and more people are finding themselves sat for 8 – 10 hours a day, therefore the posterior chain is being massively neglected. Combine this with the fact we can’t really see these muscles in the mirror and the saying ‘out of sight out of mind’ can definitely be applied.
Why Is This An Issue?
The Gluteus Maximus is clearly one of the largest, most powerful muscles in the body with it's primary purpose to keep us standing up straight. However, the amount of time we spend in the seated position suggests that our glutes are not being worked sufficiently to keep balance in the body. If you're reading this article whilst sat on the bus, in the office, or on the sofa, your glutes are extended and your hip flexors are shortened, meaning you posture is being pulled forward. Initially this may not seem too much of an issue as our body is simply adapting to the new stresses and strains of living.
The human body is designed to be in balance. If the glutes are not being able to hold the body in the erect position, the lower back and hamstrings have to pick up the slack left by underdeveloped glutes. This imbalance is regarded as one of the key factors in a large proportion of back pain. So, if you want to protect against back pain, build their strength.
Build Strength And Speed
If we take the focus away from the quadriceps and focus more on the posterior chain with our lower body development, what do we actually achieve? After all you might not have a desk job and you may not suffer with any back pain- so why focus on the posterior chain?
These muscle are the ultimate power combination and the key to improving your athletic performance. If you want to run fast, jump high or lift big then you need to spend some quality time developing your posterior chain. The glutes, hamstrings and lower back might be at the back of the body but it is these muscles and not the quadriceps that are the key to moving yourself forward.
Injury prevention and athletic performance are both directly linked to this vital group of muscles, so how do we train them to unleash the potential?
We might not be able to see the muscles while we train but you will be able to see the large amount of weights you put on the bar. The posterior chain can be thought of as the workhorse of the body. The harder and heavier you work it, the more work it can take. Switch up the exercises, the weight and the volume to get these muscles truly firing.
Posterior Chain Exercises
#1 The Deadlift (conventional, sumo, straight leg or Romanian)
#2 The Squat
#3 Kettlebell swings
#4 Good Mornings
#5 Back Extension
#6 Hip Extension/Glute Bridge
If your training does not involve some of these movements, include the following two!
My all time, favourite exercise.
There really is no exercise better for developing strength and power than the deadlift. Not only does lifting heavy weights from the floor invoke the most primal images of strength, it also builds an incredibly strong posterior chain.
With the lower back supporting the spine and the glutes forcing the hips to extend, this is the most effective way of developing those often neglected muscles. Incorporate deadlifts at least once a week to not only improve your overall performance but to also make those jeans just a little bit more fitted around the bum.
Another of the big compound exercises that can help to develop the posterior chain. When you prepare to squat, imagine you are trying to tear the floor apart with your feet and instead of pushing the bum back to initiate the squat, imagine opening up the hips. This will keep your body in a much stronger squatting position and activate the glutes to drive out of the bottom squat position.
As with all things in life, balance is the key when working your body, never let one group of muscles under develop, especially the posterior chain.
Although the posterior chain is made up of muscles we can’t see, they play an absolutely vital role in health, physique development and athletic performance.
The best way to target such a large and powerful set of muscles is to use large compound moves such as the deadlift and squat rather than isolation exercises, load the bars heavy and literally put your backside to work.