Benefits of Posterior Chain Training: All You Need To Know + Exercises
- Benefits of Posterior Chain Training: All You Need To Know + Exercises
- What is the Posterior Chain?
- Is the Posterior Chain more Important?
- What causes a weak posterior chain?
- Signs of a Weak Posterior Chain
- Benefits of a Strong Posterior Chain
- Exercises to Improve Posterior Chain Strength
- Bodyweight Posterior Chain Exercises to Improve Flexibility
The phrase “Posterior Chain” may or may not be something that you have heard of if you’re a gym-goer but if you want to take your fitness and strength training to the next level you definitely need to know what it is, what are the signs of a weak posterior chain, and all the benefits that come when you strengthen your posterior muscles not just in the gym but in everyday life as well.
What is the Posterior Chain?
The posterior chain is the exercise term given to the chain of linked muscle groups that run from your neck all the way down to your ankles in the backside of your upper and lower body.
The muscle groups include the traps, rhomboids, lats, lower back in the upper body and the glutes, hamstrings, calves in the lower body. These muscle groups are linked via tendons and ligaments and make a chain that together are the key to explosive strength and power.
This makes the posterior chain an indispensable part of our training since it plays a huge role not only at the gym but also in our everyday activities such as walking, running, bending over to pick something up and much more.
Is the Posterior Chain more Important?
The posterior chain muscles which consist of lats, traps, erector spinae in the upper body and hamstrings, gluteus in the lower body are responsible for much of the body’s total power output, agility, stabilization and balance. This is why athletes are known to emphasize posterior chain training.
Training the posterior chain helps to undo much of the muscle tightness in the upper and lower body which is caused due to our modern sedentary lifestyles and stronger posterior muscles can reduce your chances of getting injured by strengthening the shoulders, knees and lower back.
What causes a weak posterior chain?
Sitting for long periods of time
If you work an office job or a desk job you must be used to sitting for long periods of time but this can wreak havoc for your posterior chain as extensive sitting shuts off your glutes and erector spinae (lower back) muscles.
This causes excessive lengthening of the muscles resulting in weakness. Being in a seated position leads to tightness of the hip flexor muscles as they are overly activated due to being in a constant shortened position.
Over activation of hip flexors stops the glutes from functioning effectively and this overloads the hamstrings and lower back causing problems.
Doing too many quad-dominant exercises
Focusing only on exercises and movements that emphasize the quadriceps and neglecting hamstring training is one of the reasons for muscular imbalances and a weak posterior chain.
Excessively doing squats, leg extensions and leg presses means you’re not equally training your hamstrings and glutes which are the primary lower body muscles of your posterior chain.
Neglecting Hip Hinge Movements
To be able to use the posterior chain effectively, one must get good at bending at the hips and not just the knees.
Doing exercises that just bend at the knees causes wear and tear of connective tissue at that region due to excessive force absorption.
This is why it’s important to involve hip hinging in our daily activities such as walking, sitting down, and bending over.
Signs of a Weak Posterior Chain
Having a hunched upper body
Due to our modern lifestyle, it is common for us to have a hunched or slouching posture due to excessive sitting, using smartphones, etc.
This rounded posture causes us to have a tight chest as the back muscles and shoulder blades are not strong enough to keep you upright.
Focusing only on the “mirror muscles” and avoiding sufficient training for the back, glutes and hamstrings is one of the causes for muscle imbalances found in most gym goers.
Much of our everyday life is spent being in a state where our posterior muscles are inactive. Focusing solely on pressing exercises at the gym leads to these muscles being dormant which further worsens our muscle imbalances.
Being prone to injuries and pains
It is quite common for people to have shoulder, lower back and knee injuries due to not prioritizing posterior chain training.
If the posterior muscles in the upper body responsible for pulling and extending are weak, this can lead to pain, discomfort in the back.
Having an unbalanced hamstring to quad strength leads to an unstable knee joint and other lower body injuries.
Some frequent injuries caused due to poor posterior chain muscles are ‘Swimmer’s shoulder’, rotator cuff strain / tear, ‘IT Band syndrome’, ‘Runner’s knee’ and more.
Poor Athletic Performance
The Posterior chain forms the link between the lower back, glutes and hamstrings which are responsible for explosive power needed for sports and athletics.
If you think that you’re unable to run as fast or jump as high as you can, it must be because of weak and undertrained posterior muscles.
Benefits of a Strong Posterior Chain
Increases overall power in explosive movements
The posterior chain includes one of the largest and most powerful muscles in the body, the glutes, which power the majority of explosive movements such as jumping, squatting, sprinting, and switching direction.
When it comes to explosive upper body exercises such as bench and shoulder press, strengthening your traps and lats help build a tight and stable base for heavy pressing movements.
So if you want to develop power and speed to take your strength to the next level, make sure to emphasize posterior chain exercises in your training.
Improves Athletic Performance
If you are an athlete or looking to enhance your athletic performance, you need to do more posterior chain work!
Having a strong posterior chain means improved stabilization in your ankles, knees, hips and spine, developing power and speed through better glute and lat engagement. All these points translate into athletic disciplines such as sprinting, jumping, pulling, pushing, and squatting.
So if you’re a sprinter, swimmer, cyclist or a sportsperson, training and strengthening your posterior chain should always be a top priority.
Prevents Bad Posture
Poor posture arises due to the weak and untrained muscles on the opposing side.
You might have experienced yourself that sitting for prolonged hours leads to a hunched posture and a tight chest because your back muscles are not strong enough to pull back your shoulder blades and keep you upright.
Strengthening your upper back muscles such as traps, rhomboids and lats, which are a part of the posterior chain, greatly increase your chances of reversing the ill effects of sitting.
Reduces Risk of Injuries
It is common for casual gym goers to focus mainly on the “show” muscles such as chest, abs, shoulders in the race to look good but overtraining your anterior muscles can lead to several injuries such as shoulder impingement, lower back pain, etc.
Focusing on your body’s posterior chain is your best defence against these injuries as training the muscles in the upper back such as rear delts, traps, rhomboids counteract the effects of pressing exercises, whereas strengthening the lumbar spinae, glutes, hamstrings bulletproofs your lower back, hips and knees from unwanted injuries.
Exercises to Improve Posterior Chain Strength
Upper Body Posterior Chain Exercises
The face pull is an underrated posterior chain exercise for the back muscles that has come to prominence in the online fitness community in recent years.
It’s a fantastic exercise that works the rear delts, rhomboids and middle traps (upper back) which play a crucial role in pulling the shoulder blades back together and keeping them injury-free.
Barbell back rows are best to strengthen back muscles such as the rhomboids, lats and the lower back.
The barbell row teaches you to keep a neutral and stable spine and proper hip flexion by hinging at the hips (as opposed to the waist), which is necessary to safely and effectively execute proper form on any exercise that involves bending over such as deadlift.
Lower Body Posterior Chain Exercises
Not only are lunges great for General Physical Preparedness (GPP) but they are a beast of an exercise for building your glutes which, afterall, is the important link in your posterior chain.
The most common form of a lunge is a forward lunge but you also have the reverse lunge which is beginner-friendly since it requires less stability than a forward lunge.
The Romanian deadlift (RDL) works the entirety of your posterior chain from the traps all the way to the calves.
It activates and strengthens the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings which complement the anterior quads exercises to improve muscular imbalances and prevent injuries.
So whether you are an athlete or just a casual gym-goer, make sure to do RLD work for your posterior.
If you want to truly build your posterior chain for not only strength and stability but also explosive power, then look no further than the almighty Deadlift.
No other full body exercise works the traps, lats, lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves (the whole posterior chain) like a heavy deadlift.
Be careful however to not over do heavy deadlifts as they tax the nervous system and are best performed on strength focused days.
Bodyweight Posterior Chain Exercises to Improve Flexibility
Not only do these exercises make up for a great warmup for your main posterior chain movements but also are fantastic on their own for your rest days and low intensity training days.
Downward Facing Dog
The downward dog has its roots as a foundational yoga posture and is heavily borrowed in other exercise domains as well.
This exercise targets the shoulders, lower back, and gives a great stretch to your glutes, hamstrings and calves.
Don’t forget to include the glute bridge in your routine if you truly want to activate your gluteal muscles.
If you work a desk job or spend a considerable amount of time sitting, glute bridges are a good way to prevent weak glutes and lower back problems.
The superman is an easy to perform and safe exercise for people of all training levels that mainly targets the erector spinae muscles of your lower back, glutes and also your abs.
Main benefits of this exercise include spinal support, better posture and injury prevention.
Another exercise which has found popularity through yoga, this highly accessible exercise requires you to arch your spine backward in a movement known as spinal extension.
This exercise can counteract the side effects of prolonged sitting by stretching strengthening your hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes and muscles of the upper back.