What is the posterior chain and why is it important?
The posterior chain is a group of muscles located on the rear of our anatomy. These muscles include but not limited to: the glute muscles, the hamstrings, the calves, the lats (latissimus dorsi back muscles), the rear delts, the erector spinae muscles, the trap muscles, and the rhomboid muscles (mid/upper back). The benefits of training the posterior chain muscles include improved stabilization in the ankles, knees, hips and spine; development in power and speed through better glute and lat engagement; and improved posture.
These benefits translate to faster run times, more explosive movement, less pain, and overall better athletic performance. Below I’ve identified four effective movements that can help improve muscle engagement for the posterior chain and rest assured there are plenty more exercises that can help strengthen this region as well. Ensure you train smart by hydrating prior to and during any vigorous activity, stretch, and be mindful on proper form to prevent injury and get the best engagement for each rep.
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian Deadlifts are an effective movement to build strength in the glutes, hamstrings and lats. This movement highlights a very important primal movement for humans which is the hip hinge. The importance of the hip hinge related to our hip mobility as dysfunction in this area would cause us to have great imbalances and place it at a greater risk of injury. The strengthening of the glutes and hamstrings benefits us in many ways. It allows us to lift more weight on the squat, improve our balance. It also enhances our running capabilities as proper Glute and hamstring strength is essential to an athlete’s performance. Perform 15-20 reps for endurance using a light weight, 50% of your 1 rep max or 6-12 reps for hypertrophy (muscle growth) using a moderate weight, 75-85% of your 1 rep max.
Dumbbell Reverse Fly
The dumbbell reverse Fly is an essential but often forgotten about movement. It can significantly improve poor posture by engaging the rear deltoids (shoulders). It helps extend our thoracic spine and prevent rounded shoulders. To perform this movement correctly it is important to maintain a solid hip hinge position just like the bottom position in the Romanian deadlift. Keep arms bent as if preparing to hug a tree. Pull your elbows back and slightly downward to squeeze the shoulder blades. Feel the pinch on the rear deltoids. Remember to exhale and engage your core each time you pull back to prevent fatiguing too early into the set. Perform 15-20 reps for endurance using light weight or 6-12 reps for hypertrophy (muscle growth) using a moderate weight.
Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows
The bent-over dumbbell rows are a favorite for many bodybuilders for its intense lat pump that can be achieved when performed properly. This movement must be done with a proper hip hinge to avoid loading too much pressure on the lumbar spine (lower back). I’ve seen way too many individuals perform this movement wrong with too much weight and bad posture.
Start with a light weight until you can get accustomed to the hip hinge position. Stretching your hamstrings between sets will help reduce any tension that may be felt while holding that position. To perform the row properly start with feet a little wider than shoulder width. Keep your knees soft, core tight and shoulders back as you tightly grip each dumbbell. While keeping the knees soft and shoulders retracted, push the butt back into the full hip hinge position with palms facing inward. With a flat back and tight core, begin rowing straight back. Ensure the elbows stay close to the ribs during the rowing motion.
Avoid bowing the elbows out as it promotes shoulder elevation. That can make your upper traps compensate for the movement and set you up for injury and tightness. Focus on the mind-muscle connection by squeezing your shoulder blades in the top position while exhaling through the core to brace the abs. Slowly lower the weight back down to the starting position whilst keeping the back flat and repeat. Perform 12-20 reps for stabilization and endurance using a light weight of 50% of your 1 rep max, or 6-12 reps for hypertrophy using a moderate weight of 75-85% of your 1 rep max.
Single Arm Dumbbell Rows
Similar to the two arms bent over dumbbell row, this single-arm version is perfect for isolating the lat muscles as well as strengthening the obliques was this is an anti-rotation movement permitting no rotation whilst performing each row. Through the contralateral engagement of the obliques and other supporting core muscles, we will be able to develop a stronger core and improve our overall performance.
Begin with feet shoulder width apart, knees soft, core engaged by pulling navel towards the spine and abs braced, shoulders retracted and neck in the neutral position. With the non-working arm fully extended on a surface at about knee-height and the working arm extended with the palm inward, drive the elbow back while keeping the arm close to the torso. Exhale as you pull your arm back and squeeze your shoulder blades. Slowly extend your arm back to the starting position while keeping the back flat. Maintaining a tight grip on the dumbbell will ensure you can control the weight without compromising the form.
Repeat for 6-12 reps at 75-85% of your 1-rep max for hypertrophy (muscle growth) or 12-20 reps for stabilization and endurance at 50-70% of your 1-rep max. Perform 3-5 rounds total.
There are a plethora of movements that can help strengthen the muscles of the posterior chain. However, these are just a few that I find popular amongst my clientele. The traditional barbell deadlift, walking lunges and glute bridges are some additional movements to consider apart of training your posterior chain muscles. Remember safety first, if you feel any pain or unnecessary tension throughout the movement, stop and investigate. Stretching and mobility is vital for maintaining proper form in addition to core engagement and proper breathing control.
- Competitive Sports Clinic. (2020). What is the Posterior Chain? Retrieved by: https://competitivesportsclinic.com.au/training/what-is-the-posterior-chain/#:~:text=The%20Posterior%20Chain%20refers%20to,and%20the%20erector%20spinae%20muscles.