The Importance of Your Posterior Chain

Many exercise routines focus on the anterior chain. Think of these as the ‘show’ muscles – the muscles in the front of the body that you can see in the mirror and that the fitness industry (and especially our image-obsessed media) likes to highlight.

But behind those ‘show’ muscles are the ‘go’ muscles – the posterior chain, or basically, the muscles in the back of your body. These are super important for any training, but especially when preparing for endurance races such as Ski to Sea.

Without a strong posterior chain, your ‘show’ muscles will not be able to ‘go’ anywhere, and athletes risk serious injury that will take them out of the game.

At BTTC we want you to look and feel your best with a balanced focus on front and back-line muscle groups. That’s why giving equal time to the posterior chain is so important.

A strong posterior chain will help dramatically reduce knee and back injuries. Beyond just reducing/removing pain, you will feel stronger in every aspect of your life, improving your overall fitness and athletic ability.

I have had low back issues on and off for most of my life. For many years, my back would ‘go out’ about every six months – spasming so completely that it left me in agonizing pain, unable to find comfort in any position. It took me weeks to recover so I could return to my normal daily activities. Then several more weeks getting back to my full level of fitness routine.

Why did this happen? I worked full-time in an office environment, so I sat for most of my day. Sitting equals tight and shortened hip flexors and weak glutes, which shows up in our bodies as a hunched posture and lower back pain. When left unattended, that pain can really hinder everything else we are up to in our life. I’m here to let you know you don’t have to get to that point!

So, what exactly is the ‘Posterior Chain’?

The posterior chain is made of the following major muscle groups: erector spinae (back), glutes, hamstrings and calves. Closely related to the posterior chain is the core, which is essential to build stability and all areas of fitness and athleticism, no matter what other areas of your body are working. (more on the core in an upcoming article!)

Why it Matters:

Some have affectionately termed the anterior chain the ‘show’ muscles – the muscles in the front of the body that you can see in the mirror and that the fitness industry (and especially our image-obsessed media) likes to highlight. But behind those ‘show’ muscles are the ‘go’ muscles – the posterior chain. Without a strong posterior chain, those ‘show’ muscles will not be able to ‘go’ anywhere! Here at BTTC we want you to look _and_ feel your best with a balanced focus on front and back-line muscle groups.

The following is just a small sample of suggested moves for each area of the posterior chain. Pick one exercise that targets each of these 5 areas to add into your workouts, or talk to one of our trainers about designing a strength workout for your posterior chain. Within a few weeks you will move stronger, stand straighter and feel better overall!

Exercises to Strengthen Your Posterior Chain

Core Focus: Plank, Deadbug, Pallof press (anti-rotation front press with a band)

Lower Back Focus: Deadlifts, Hyperextensions (on a bench or stability ball, or even just on the floor!)

Glute Focus: Hip Thrusts (aka: weighted bridge with back against bench), Glute Bridge, Monster walks, Kickbacks

Hamstring Focus: Romanian deadlifts, Hamstring curls, Good mornings

Calves: Calf raises of any variety (off a step, in down dog, or standing with balls of feet on a rolled up mat)

Detailed Descriptions:

Pallof press: secure a resistance band at about waist high using a TRX anchor or the lateral bars in the Zone.  Step about 2-3 feet away from the anchor so there is sufficient tension in the band, and turn 90* away from the anchor, holding both handles in both hands at your belly-button. Press both arms equally straight forward resisting the band’s pull on your arms & Torso. Return hands to belly. (maybe Tyler or Rhod can explain this better!)

Back Hyperextensions: Lie face down on a stability ball centered between the bottom of your ribs and the tops of your thighs, legs straight. Interlace your hands behind your head with elbows wide. Squeeze glutes and back muscles to raise your upper body as high as possible, hold for a second and return to relax over the ball.

Hip Thrusts (aka: weighted glute bridge with back against bench). Come to seated with mid-back against a bench or other stable structure that is about knee height, knees bent at about 90* with feet hip distance apart. Hold a dumbbell or other weighted object in the crease between torso and legs, keeping the weight there throughout the move. Squeeze glutes and press into heels to raise hips to the same height as shoulders and knees, letting your torso lie back on the bench (keep a straight back) Hold for a second and return hips down to starting point.

Monster Walk: With a resistance loop around legs just below knees, stand with feet hip distance apart, toes facing forward. Sit back into a semi-squat and stay in this squat position as you step one leg out to the side, keeping knees over ankles as you step. You may step the other leg in the same direction as the first leg, moving sideways, or step out and back with one leg and then out and back with the other leg, ‘walking’ in place. 

Kickbacks: Start on hands and knees, with a resistance loop around the arches of your feet. Anchor one toe to the ground as you press the other heel straight back extending your leg. Complete the move by squeezing the glute of the extended leg to raise the leg up to hip height. Return to both knees under hips. Complete the amount of reps on one side and then switch sides. 

Romanian deadlifts: Start Standing on both feet with weight evenly distributed between hands (Barbell works best, but you can use 2 dumbbells keeping the ends together as you move). Keep the weight as close to your body as possible as you bend from the hips with flat back to lower the weight as far as possible while maintaining a flat back and straight legs (micro-bend in knees is ok). Using glutes and hamstrings, rise to stand with flat back, keeping the weight as close as possible to your body.

Hamstring curls can be done a number of ways. Two of my favourite are:

TRX: Lying on your back with heels in stirrups and feet under the anchor point, squeeze glutes to raise hips off the ground. To start the move, press heels into stirrups as you pull your heels to your raised hips. If possible, raise hips further to feel like you are tucking your heels under your hips. Return to straight legs with hips off the ground.

Good mornings: The body mechanics of Good mornings are similar to Romanian deadlifts except the weight is held behind the shoulders. Start with the barbell anchored behind your shoulders with elbows bent and grip as wide as needed to keep the barbell anchored behind your shoulders. Bend from the hips with flat back and lower torso (maximum of 90*) while maintaining a flat back and straight legs (micro-bend in knees is ok). Using glutes and hamstrings, rise to stand with flat back. 

Posterior Chain resources for further inquiry:

https://us.humankinetics.com/blogs/excerpt/hamstring-and-posterior-chain-exercises

http://boxlifemagazine.com/strengthening-your-posterior-chain/

https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/5012/the-posterior-chain-workout