The posterior chain is a hot topic in sports performance, rehab, and fitness programs. The muscles on the front side of the body are often trained the most since the front side of our body is what you see in the mirror. The muscles on the backside of the body, also known as the posterior chain, are often neglected since you can’t see them! But it’s the muscles of the posterior chain that help you maintain balance and posture, run faster, jump higher, and can help you take your overall performance to the next level. Read this article to learn about the best posterior chain exercises for maximizing your performance!

 

What Muscles Make Up the Posterior Chain?

The posterior chain refers to the muscle groups located on the backside of the body which forms a chain to create movement. The major muscles of the posterior chain include upper, middle, and lower traps, posterior deltoids, lats, rhomboids, spinal erectors, transverse abdominis, glutes, adductors, hamstrings, and calves. The main function of the posterior chain is hip extension, which is a key movement for sprinting, jumping, and strength exercises like the squat and deadlift.

The posterior chain also controls backward force, which helps to stabilize the spine and hips, keeping the body upright. Beyond exercise, having a strong posterior chain is beneficial to those who spend long hours seated at a desk, as strengthening the muscles that retract the scapula may help maintain an upright posture and help prevent back pain.

Want to learn more ways to help address your postural pain? Look no further than this video

 

It’s important to mention that training the muscles that attach to the front side of the body, known as the “anterior chain”, isn’t bad. The muscles of the anterior chain like the quads help to strengthen the knee, which is important for overall strength and performance. However, these muscles are often trained harder and heavier since it’s what most people think of for weight training.

Since these muscles are often overemphasized in training, imbalances can result in the posterior chain being disproportionately weak. Imbalances may lead to injuries from overcompensation or may halt your ability to maximize your training potential. Having a strong posterior chain can help to create a balance of forces and reduce the likelihood of injuries.

 

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Read on to learn the best posterior chain exercises to incorporate into your fitness or rehab program to improve these imbalances and maximize your training performance.

The Deadlift

For this article, I am including variations of the deadlift like the hex bar, RDL, and sumo deadlift under this category. Each variation of the deadlift works nearly every muscle of the posterior chain, but its primary emphasis is on the glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors. Since the deadlift works multiple muscles of the posterior chain, it’s an extremely efficient exercise for those with limited equipment or those who may be short on time. With its many variations, you can consistently rotate it in your strength training plan without ever becoming bored which offers a novel stimulus to those who like switching up their fitness programs regularly.

Learn how we often coach our clients and patients on how to perform a deadlift appropriately and safely!

 

 

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

The Single Leg Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is a whole-body, complete, functional exercise that can be used for rehabilitation, as well as strength and conditioning purposes alike. You get phenomenal posterior chain recruitment while working on single-leg stability, which is vital for injury prevention as well as sports performance.

 

 

While both the traditional Deadlift and Single Leg RDL are classified as hip hinge movements, the Single Leg RDL involves hinging while maintaining a slight flex in the knee whereas the traditional Deadlift hinges around both the hips and the knees. Both the Deadlift and Single Leg RDL are great exercises to help improve the strength of the hamstrings, which aid in hip extension.

We love the Single Leg RDL not only for its activation of the posterior chain but also because of the many variations that can be done with this specific movement. Try the Single Leg RDL with a pallof press below for some extra core and stability work!

 

 

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The Hip Thrust

Like the deadlift above, this includes variations of the hip thrust like a staggered stance hip thrust, single leg hip thrust, and barbell hip thrust. The hip thrust primarily targets the gluteus maximus, but EMG activity has shown high activation for the hamstrings and adductors as well making this a great exercise for the posterior chain. This study demonstrated that barbell hip thrusts appear to be superior to squats in terms of upper gluteus maximus, lower gluteus maximus, and biceps femoris activity.

READ: HIP THRUST: HOW TO MASTER THE BEST GLUTE EXERCISE

Hip Thrust: How the master the best glute exercise the prehab guys

 

The barbell squat takes the knee through more range of motion which makes sense why a squat activates the vastus lateralis greater than the hip thrust. It’s also possible that the hip thrust can aid in improving sprint speed in athletes as shown in this systematic review.

 

Pull Ups

I am including variations like the chin-ups and neutral grip pull-ups in this category. The lats are the primary movers in pull-ups, and receive assistance from other muscles like the biceps, deltoids, and rhomboids. Like the deadlift, the pull-up can be an efficient exercise for those with limited equipment and time. Since it has multiple variations, it can be rotated consistently to provide novelty in a strength training program. Try the assisted pull-up below to begin to strengthen this movement pattern and be sure to check out this article to read more about how to improve your pull-ups!

 

 

Chest Supported Rows

While there are many great variations for rowing, like the single-arm dumbbell row and barbell row, my favorite variation is the chest-supported row due to its ability to isolate the back musculature without the need for stabilization at the lower back and hamstrings. This makes the chest-supported row a great exercise to perform after movements where your low back might be fatigued, such as the Deadlift or RDL.

Since the chest-supported row features added stability from the pad your chest is on, this row is very effective at targeting the muscles of your posterior chain like the lats, rhomboids, and posterior deltoids. It’s also a great way to provide variation to your workouts by changing your grips, elbow position, and angle of the bench.

 

 

Try the high row variation to better target your mid traps!

 

 

Glute Ham Raises

The Glute Ham Raise is one of the only exercises that initiates a co-contraction of the hamstrings at the origin and insertion and brings the muscles of the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves together to fire as a unit. While the Nordic Hamstring Curl is another great exercise that is very similar to the Glute Ham Raise, I like using the Glute Ham Raise more often since it’s not as stressful or difficult for beginners compared to the Nordic Hamstring Curl.

LISTEN: WHAT’S BETTER FOR STRENGTH TRAINING: MACHINES OR FREE WEIGHTS?

what's better and safer for training machines or free-weights the preahb guys

 

The Glute Ham Raise develops eccentric strength in the hamstrings, which helps prevent hamstring strains. Performing this exercise also allows for additional time under tension and a greater range of motion to produce greater demand on the muscle fibers.

The Glute Ham Raise does require a specific piece of equipment (typically called a GHD or Glute Ham Developer) and if you don’t have access to it, performing a Nordic Hamstring Curl is a good alternative.

 

 

The Best Posterior Chain Exercises – Closing Thoughts

  • The muscles of the posterior chain can help you maintain balance and posture, run faster, jump higher, and take your overall performance to the next level
  • The major muscles of the posterior chain include: upper, middle, and lower traps, posterior deltoids, lats, rhomboids, spinal erectors, transverse abdominis, glutes, adductors, hamstrings, and calves.
  • Include variations of the Deadlift, Single Leg RDL, pull-ups, rows, and the Glute Ham Raise or Nordic Hamstring Curl to effectively strengthen the posterior chain.

 

LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR LOWER EXTREMITY PERFORMANCE PROGRAM

lower extremity performance lunge directions prehab guys

Looking for ways to level up your lower extremity strength and improve your performance? Look no further than our Lower Extremity Performance Program!  Get started HERE! 

 

References

  1. Neto, Walter Krause, Thais Lima Vieira, and Eliane Florencio Gama. “Barbell hip thrust, muscular activation, and performance: A systematic review.” Journal of sports science & medicine 18.2 (2019): 198.

About The Author

Ryan Nosak, MS, CSCS, SCCC

[P]Rehab Writer & Content Creator

ryan nosak the prehab guysRyan was born and raised in Throop, Pennsylvania and he has worked in the world of fitness since he was 15 years old. Ryan realized he had a deep affinity for strength training and how it can alter the human mind, body, and spirit. He began his coaching career in high school by coaching his friends through strength training sessions, which inspired him to pursue a career in strength and conditioning.

Ryan spent 10 years as a Division 1 strength and conditioning coach with stops along the way at Penn State, Tennessee State, Vanderbilt, Robert Morris, Charlotte, and DePaul. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and operates his own training practice, RyNo Strength, out of Studio DelCorpo in Chicago, IL. He specializes in fat loss, body composition, strength, and sports performance training programs.

Ryan received his Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology from Penn State and a Master’s in Sport Management from Western Carolina University. In his free time, Ryan enjoys training for bodybuilding, eating at the amazing restaurants in Chicago, and spending time with his wife and dog.

 

Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.

About the author : Ryan Nosak MS, CSCS, SCCC

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