Posterior Chain – Why You Gotta Train Yo’ Back-Side!

by Caleb Lee on April 30, 2009

posterior-chainYou’re about to discover the key to becoming more athletic, faster, stronger, more healthy and less injury prone … all by training one commonly overlooked set of muscles — the posterior chain!

What Is The Posterior Chain?

Our good friend, Wikipedia has this to say about the posterior chain:

“The posterior chain is a group of muscles, tendons and ligaments on the posterior kinetic chain of the body. Examples of these muscles include the biceps femoris, gluteus maximus, erector spinae muscle group, trapezius, posterior deltoids, and so on.

… the common denominator among these movements is an emphasis on hip extension”

And that’s NOT a bad defnition of the posterior chain, but here’s one that’s even simpler and that you’re GUARANTEED to understand …

It’s All The Muscles You Have NOT Been Training!

Because you can’t see them when you look in a mirror so you completely ignore them.

See, guys and gals alike tend to look in the mirror and want to improve the things they see there: chest, front of their shoulders, abs and quads/thighs … if it’s not looking right back at them, they figure it’s not important.

But this is a huge, glaring problem for a number of athletes …

Crash Course: How Your Body Works

You have 100′s of muscles in your body (too lazy to look up the exact number), but they all have one thing in common: each muscle has an opposing muscle which, when your body is in balance, is just as strong.

Due to the principle of reciprical inhibition when one muscle contracts the other, opposing muscle, on the opposite side of the body relaxes … this is to keep your body in balance.

That’s right: we’re getting into some straight up ying/yang stuff in this post — those yoga hippies were right — your body should be in balance. (The picture below demonstrates a great hamstring exercise, the straight leg deadlift)

posterior-chain-hamstrings

What Happens When You’re Not Balanced …

posterior-chain-backThere’s a couple things that go wrong:

  • First, your athletic ability is diminished: for example your sprint stride is incorrect because you are a quad dominant runner and lack hamstring flexibility …
  • Next, you develop constant pains: because your hamstrings and hip flexors are tight, your lower back hurts all the time, and you continue strengthening your quads (and tightening those hip flexors) until …
  • Last: you experience and injury like your lower back going out and then you wonder why you are getting hurt!

This is the type of stuff that happens when you focus too much on the front side of your body and don’t train the backside.

“But I Feel Fine …”

Even if you’re not experiencing athletic pain now, it’s important to work your posterior chain because:

  1. It will improve your strength: Eric Cressey relates how he takes guys totally off bench presses and works their horizontal pulling motions (posterior work) & when they start benching again in a month or two they add 20 pounds or more to the bar.
  2. It will make you move faster, jump higher and hit harder: my kicks and explosive ability, etc jumped up when I started focusing on posterior dominant moves

How To Train Your Posterior Chain …

First off, the primary muscles of the primary chain are basically everything on the back side of your body. There are multiple exercises which train these muscles, but we’ll start with the most basic ones and go from there.

The Powerlifting Squat:

I once read an article back when I read thousands a week on training by Charles Staley on strength training for Martial Arts, it’s a good one and I could do no better than to let you read what he wrote here:

“There are a number of squatting styles used by competitive powerlifters, but I’d like to make a case for the ultra-wide stance squat. This is the type of squatting used by members of Louie Simmons’ Westside Barbell Club in powerlifting competition. Louie refers to this type of squat as a “wide stance good morning to parallel.” Another way for traditional martial artists to visualize this lift is as a weighted horse stance.

For those unfamiliar with this exercise, here’s a brief description: Take a super-wide stance (at least double your own shoulder width, and initiate the squat by cracking your hips and sitting back rather than bending the knees. Try to lower yourself to the point where the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor when viewed from the side, without allowing your knees to travel forward at all. This will be difficult at first, but as your adductor length improves you’ll eventually be able to do it. Focus on sitting back and pushing the knees out to the sides as you descend, keeping a neutral spine throughout.

… The wide stance squat is a great lesson in true functionality: while it does not outwardly resemble anything you’d normally do in sport or life such as jumping, kicking, or running, in truth, it can improve your functioning in all of these skills far better than more traditional squatting methods that emphasize a narrower stance and increased knee flexion. That’s because the wide stance squat promotes obscene levels of strength in what kinesiologists call the “posterior chain” meaning, the low back, glute, and hamstring muscles— the same ones that propel you in the activities just mentioned.”

Check the picture below for two things: 1. The girl is finishing a squat, even though it’s a front squat, she’s working her posterior chain (she had to get as low as that medicine ball) and 2. Look at the glute development of her trainer on the right — that girl SQUATS!

squats-for-glutesThe Deadlift:

The deadlift is a great exercise for your posterior chain too because while it is DEFINITELY a full body exercise, the primary movers are your hips, glutes, hamstrings, back … and when the exercise is partially completed … then your quads and hips finish the movement.

What’s more: the strength you build here will carry over into your real life activities better than virtually any other lift you could do in the gym. Another great quote from Staley:

” Funny though, anyone who can pull 405 from the floor will out-kick, outrun, out-jump, and out-punch any 1600 pound leg presser, hands-down.”

Remember to read my article on How To Deadlift With Proper Form, and especially  Deadlift Lower Back Pain – How To Start The Deadlift With Your Legs and Hips, NOT Your Lower Back.

Pulling with a wide stance like the girl below will work your posterior chain even more:

deadlift-for-glutes

The Swing:

The kettlebell (or even dumbbell) swing is an all-time great when it comes to training your hammies, glutes and hip extension — the trio of posterior chain training awesomeness.

In The Russian Kettlebell Challenge Pavel quotes David Willoughby, a 1920s weightlifting champion, stating that the 2 arm swing “brings into action and develops practically every group of muscles on the back of the body and legs, and a good many others besides…. If you have time on your schedule for only one back exercise, make it this one…”.

And I don’t think you could argue with that statement even if you wanted to.What’s more the swing develops great hip extension and teaches you how to use your glutes.

Read my article  Kettlebell Swings 101 for more info. And look at how deep the girl below gets in her swings, ensuring plenty of loading of her hamstrings and glutes:

swings-posterior-chain

The “Sexy” Factor!

There’s one more thing nobody will tell you: EVERYONE likes a nice butt.

Even if you’re not an “ass man” (or woman) per se … you’re not going to get mad at dating someone who has a great backside right?

Right! And besides the obvious athletic benefits of having powerful glutes, you’re going to look GREAT in basically anything.

For guys: you can’t go around flexing your biceps all the time … so having a nice “V-shape” look to your body because you pay attention to doing enough pulling exercises will show everyone you work out. Plus, wouldn’t it be nice to not suffer from I.L.S. (Imaginary lat syndrome) anymore and actually HAVE some lats to hold your arms out?

For Ladies: You want a firm, round, “lifted” butt? You want thighs that don’t jiggle? You want a tight, sexy mid-section? All the exercises — just the ones mentioned on this page will give you that and MORE. Get to work.

Wrap It Up …

So there you go amigo. You wanna get stronger? You wanna get more athletic? You wanna look sexier? Then you need to start training your posterior chain!

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric July 20, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Nice article. Who is the chick in the pink shorty shorts. Wow!

Reply

Caleb Lee July 20, 2009 at 3:53 pm

@ Eric: I don’t know sir … but “WOW!” is the right exclamation!

Later,
CAleb

Reply

Jon October 18, 2009 at 9:28 pm

That’s Jaime Koeppe and her right cheek is photoshopped lol

Reply

Caleb Lee October 27, 2009 at 12:47 am

@ Jon: thanks bro!

Reply

G B April 3, 2010 at 6:50 am

Her waist in the image has been thinned, too. Faked Image!

Reply

Reality November 1, 2010 at 5:49 am

Here is the actual image before it was cropped like crazy
http://images.t-nation.com/forum_images/b/e/be570

Reply

Caleb_Lee November 3, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Reality,

I wish you didn't post that :( I like the photoshopped version better :)

Reply

Haas February 15, 2011 at 3:10 am

lol whatever its still hot

Reply

andre July 18, 2011 at 6:05 pm

whoever put that photo shopped version should be sued and the group that supported that decision.

Reply

Caleb_Lee August 14, 2011 at 3:55 am

I agree, it's a let down to meet reality

Reply

Tony G September 7, 2011 at 8:19 am

Uninformative article with no actual information on how to develop a healthy P-chain.

Hams, hip flexors and calfs all shorten, and tva and mulifidus weaken in most western peoples. Why would you condone aggressive P-chain activation with no flexibility or stabilisation work.

Reply

Caleb_Lee September 14, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Because I've written over 300+ articles on this site — for free — and that is covered in other posts.

Reply

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