Lower Body Posterior Chain Exercises For Stronger Legs
It’s common to see most novice lifters and even the ones who have been in the game for a while taking their lower body for granted. And those that still do their leg work tend to often neglect the posterior chain muscles.
The posterior chain comprises muscles that run all the way from your neck to your ankles, and of these, the major ones include the lower body muscles such as the lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves. So it makes sense to train and strengthen these muscles as they not only give overall lower body development but help to reduce lower back pain, improve your posture and enhance overall athletic performance.
Warm Up Exercises to Relieve Tightness
Warming up the posterior chain muscles before you do your strength training exercises is important to keep them strong and flexible. This helps to prevent tightness and imbalances that occur in your training.
Make sure to do some dynamic exercises to warm-up the posterior chain before your workout and include stretching after each strength-training session.
The kettlebell swing is a foundational exercise to learn how to hip hinge which is important for you to maximize your posterior chain training. What makes this a great warmup exercise is that it activates your glutes and hamstrings
- With the kettlebell slightly ahead of you on the floor, stand with your feet wider than shoulder width.
- Keep a slight bend at the knee and by mainly hinging at the hips, pick the kettlebell and swing it back between your legs to create momentum.
- Drive your hips forward and straighten your back to swing the kettlebell up to chest height.
- Let the kettlebell naturally return back between your legs and repeat the move.
Sets & Reps:
- You can keep a timer for 1 min and do as many reps as possible for 3 rounds.
- You can also keep a high rep count, eg. 20-25, and do that for 2-3 sets.
Downward Facing Dog
Courtesy: VENTUNO YOGA
The downward facing dog or the downward dog has its roots as a foundational yoga posture and is heavily borrowed in other exercise domains as well. Its benefits include stretching and strengthening the lower body and improving your posture.
This exercise targets the shoulders, lower back, and gives a great stretch to your glutes, hamstrings and calves.
- Get down on the ground on all fours with your hands shoulder-width apart.
- Position your hips to be above or slightly before your knees.
- Push your hips upward by straightening your legs. Imagine doing an inverted “V” shape.
- Extend your spine by pushing through your hands and feet, keeping your neck neutral.
- Make sure to breathe and hold this position for about 3-5 seconds, release and return to the starting position.
Sets & Reps:
- 2 to 3 sets where each set is of 8 to 10 reps.
Courtesy: Hybrid Athlete
The lateral lunge is a great mobilization exercise that targets the groin, hip flexors, adductors and abductors muscles that support bigger muscle groups like the glutes and hamstrings.
- Take a wider than hip-width stance.
- Breathe in and take a big step to the side with one leg by pushing your hips back and bending at the knee.
- Your torso may lean forward but make sure to maintain a neutral spine.
- Breathe out and push back to the start position.
Sets & Reps:
- You can do 10-15 Reps on each leg and move to the other one or alternate between each leg.
- Do this for about 2-3 sets
Lower Body Posterior Chain Exercises
The Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is a quintessential posterior chain exercise that strengthens the lower body muscles like lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves.
Since you begin the lift in a standing position, this is a much safer alternative than the Deadlift for novice lifters as there is less load on the spine. Just make sure you don’t unnecessarily lift heavy weights.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart while holding a loaded barbell or a pair of dumbbells in front of you.
- Pull your shoulder blades back together to activate your upper back, keep a tight core and hinge at the hips.
- Keep the weight close to your body and don’t allow it to drift away.
- Hinge your hips back only till you can keep a neutral spine and feel a good stretch in your hamstrings.
- Drive your hips forward by engaging your glutes and come back to the starting position.
The glute-ham raise is an underutilized but effective posterior chain movement that builds muscular strength and hypertrophy in the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
Few other lower body isolation movements can target the hamstrings and hips like the glute-ham raise that too without any additional weight other than your body. Other benefits include enhanced posture and lower back health.
One thing to note is that you’ll need a glute-ham machine for this exercise.
- Adjust the pad to firmly place your feet against the toe plate with your quads rested on the pad.
- Push your toes into the plate and extend the knees.
- Move your body forward and extend until your torso is parallel to the floor.
- Keep lower back neutral and allow the knees to flex and straighten smoothly.
- Come back up by pulling yourself upwards by flexing the knees and falling back into the space they were initially in.
Barbell Hip Thrust
The barbell hip thrust is a fantastic lower body exercise to isolate the glutes as your upper back and shoulders will be rested on a bench and your feet anchored to the floor.
Benefits include activation of the posterior chain muscles such as hamstrings, adductors, and erector spinae and help improve your hip flexor muscles that help with leg movements such as walking, running, and other cardio exercises.
Progressing on the hip thrust can help prevent injury to the knees, hips, and low back and improve your performance on compound lifts such as squats and deadlifts.
Make sure to have a spotter around as this exercise may need additional assistance.
- Place a weighted barbell on the floor and come down to sit against a bench.
- Roll the barbell over until the barbell rests in the crease of your hips.
- Keep your upper back and arms in contact with the bench and slightly raise the bar.
- Start the movement by driving your hips upward, squeezing the glutes and pushing your feet into the floor.
- Continue to push till you fully extend your hips and pause at the top for 2-3 seconds.
- Make sure your neck is neutral and your chin tucked. Keep your core engaged and glutes under tension.
- Come down by hinging at the hips and return to the starting position.
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. Lunges are best performed with a dumbbell in each hand and is advisable to most trainees.
- With dumbbells in each hand, stand straight with your feet hip-width apart.
- Step forward with one leg with a longer stride.
- Make sure to keep a flat foot with your forward leg and your rear heel will rise off of the ground.
- Keep appx. a 90 degree angle when you bend your knees as you lower yourself. Stay upright and engage your core.
- Make sure you don’t touch your rear knee on the floor.
- Push yourself up and return to the starting position.
Barbell Back Squat
The barbell back squat puts heavy emphasis on the posterior chain muscles compared to other forms of squats such as front and goblet squats. It recruits more of the hamstrings and glutes which allows you to overload them compared to other squat variations.
- Load a barbell safely onto your traps and shoulders from a squat rack.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width, toes pointed out.
- With your chest up, take a deep breath in your belly and brace your core.
- Start the squat by hinging at the hips, bend your knees — ensure they point outwards.
- Squat till your thighs reach slightly below parallel to the ground.
- Stand back up by pushing through your feet.
Barbell Good Morning
The barbell good morning is known among advanced lifters for its ability to increase glute and hamstring strength and teach correct hip hinge mechanics.
The one drawback to this exercise compared to others is that it requires a stricter technique as there is a high risk of back injury. When done correctly, the good morning is one of the best ways to develop strength and muscle mass in the posterior chain department.
Make sure to use a lighter weight on this exercise to prevent unnecessary risk to your spine.
- Unrack a barbell as you would do for a squat and take a hip width stance with your toes pointed slightly outward.
- With your shoulders pulled back and a braced core, hinge at the hips and push your butt out, while maintaining a slight bend in the knees.
- Lean forward until your chest is almost parallel to the floor and you feel your hamstrings activated.
- Thrust your hips forward while maintaining a strong back until you’re standing straight.
- Make sure to flex your glutes at the top and repeat the steps.