Properly engaging your posterior chain is a borderline superpower that you should harness if you want to truly maximize your gains. Not only is the posterior chain a group of ridiculously powerful muscles, but it can also be leveraged to produce peak strength and power for the biggest and baddest lifts out there.
With a little bit of technical know-how, you too can engage your posterior chain to see a huge boost to muscle, strength, and power development, all while staying as safe as you possibly can in the gym. Learn how to strengthen your posterior chain and you won’t just look strong — you’ll be strong.
- What Is the Posterior Chain?
- Why Posterior Chain Training Matters
- Benefits of Posterior Chain Training
- Best Posterior Chain Exercises
- Sample Posterior Chain Workout
The posterior chain is a term used to describe the combination of all the muscles of the back side of your body. It’s one thing to use each muscle individually, but as the name implies, when you properly engage your posterior chain, the muscles of your back half are linked together like a chain.
When you hit the proper posture and keep your muscles active in unison, you create one of the strongest and safest lifting postures in all of exercise. The posterior chain comprises the lats and traps of the upper back, the core and deep abdominal spinal stabilizers, the glutes, adductors, hamstrings, and even the foot and calf muscles.
When working correctly, your posterior chain simultaneously protects your spine from harmful external forces while also helping you lift more weight using the powerful hip hinge technique. Here are the two main factors that contribute to how you use your posterior chain.
The hip hinge technique is what happens when you’re able to properly lock up your torso in a rigid brace and tap into your glutes, hamstrings, core, and back muscles to hinge your hips back and forth. In order to properly link the posterior chain while using a hip hinge technique, think of keeping your spine neutral, knees soft, and sliding your hips back to the wall behind you.
When you lock it in correctly, you should begin to feel a degree of stretch across your glutes and hamstrings the lower you descend through the range of motion. The key component is to avoid rounding your back too much to ensure the posterior chain remains locked up nice and tight while you’re hinging.
The core is normally viewed through the lens of the abdominals exclusively, but when you’re utilizing the posterior chain, your core gains a few additional moving parts. Your core is responsible for keeping the joints of the spine (and to some degree the shoulder and pelvic girdles) stable during exercise.
In order for you to accomplish this task, properly recruiting any muscle that may connect on or around those joints is your goal. In the case of strengthening the posterior chain, this means locking up your traps, lats, abdominals, deep spinal stabilizers, glutes, adductors, and even hip flexors.
Once you dial in an integrated core brace, you’ll have the best compliment muscle groups working together to buffer as much of the load across your body. This way, you’ll be able to most effectively transfer force into lifting while also keeping your joints happy and healthy.
Whether you’re interested in gaining muscle, strength, power, or even endurance, the posterior chain is a vital tool in your training toolbox. Properly engaging your posterior chain offers you the greatest capacity to lift weights because you’ll have recruited your full arsenal of musculature to protect your joints.
At the same time, strengthening the posterior chain enables you to implement a hip hinge and have solid triple extension across numerous powerlifting and Olympic lifting exercises. Furthermore, a strong posterior chain may help prevent minor injuries or tweaks from being more than a blip on your radar.
Combining the musculature of the posterior chain into one continuous unit not only helps you lift weights, but it also helps buffer the forces acting against you while you do it. Most of your workouts will challenge the ability to stabilize and brace against the weights you’re using.
When you engage the posterior chain, you recruit the enormous muscles of the back and legs to help reinforce your body against compromising positions such as spinal flexion. Strengthening the posterior chain helps ensure any of the loading choices you make during training remain safe for the long haul.
Strength and Power
Whether slow, grinding, heavy repetitions or fast, explosive movements — strengthening the posterior chain is essential for getting the most out of the biggest exercises in your program. Strength and power training takes advantage of the second major prong of strengthening the posterior chain, the huge output capabilities of the glutes and hamstrings.
The deadlift, Olympic lifts, and even some squat variations are very demanding on the posterior chain. For the strongest and most powerful movements, utilizing your hips and hamstrings through your posterior chain will put you in the best possible position for strong lifts.
A strong posterior chain builds up your entire body, both when used as a unit and even when broken down into the individual muscle groups. Your posterior chain enables you to perform exercises that are only possible by using your hamstrings, glutes, and back effectively. Further, a strong posterior chain helps improve and maintain your hip mobility and mechanics.
Build Muscle Mass
It’s probably easier to list the muscles that aren’t involved in a good posterior chain exercise than the ones that are. The glutes and hamstrings tend to be a focal point because they’re big, aesthetic, and move a lot of weight — but even smaller muscles like the calves play a role in posterior chain exercises.
Become More Explosive
Triple extension is a powerful, near simultaneous technique designed to impart force on a barbell during Olympic lifting. The quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and even the plantar flexors of the foot all contribute to sending as much force as possible in one direction – up.
A strong, linked-up posterior chain is a prerequisite for a good triple extension. If your backside isn’t strong enough to handle sinking into a deep hinge, you won’t be able to realign your lower body and effectively produce vertical power. While they are technically demanding, hip hinges and triple extension are two of the most powerful techniques available to you as a lifter.
Improve Your Technique
Training through a full range of motion, and occasionally implementing unilateral variations is a potent tool in retaining (or even improving) hip mechanics with posterior chain-focused exercises. The hip hinge should traverse your deepest levels of hip flexion through extension each time you perform a repetition, improving your flexibility and motor control at the same time.
With all of the technical talk of hip mechanics and optimal leverages might spin your head, rest assured that many of the go-to posterior chain exercises that can build a beastly backside are related to deadlifts, the Olympic lifts, and jumping.
The conventional deadlift will force you to use the most amount of muscle possible while training for absolute brute strength. Pulling a deadlift from the floor does not allow you to eccentrically load into the repetition, meaning that when you set up your posterior chain must be locked up tight to produce the most force and keep you safe.
The Romanian deadlift is a partial range of motion conventional deadlift that starts from the top down. It acts as a pure hip hinge that allows you to eccentrically load into each repetition. This helps ensure you will be properly braced and aligned throughout the range of motion because you get feedback from the eccentric portion of the lift.
A good morning is effectively a Romanian deadlift that you perform with the barbell on your back. Given the placement of the bar and the increased challenge, much less loading is typically required using the good morning rather than the Romanian deadlift as well. It’s a great complementary tool to supercharge your posterior chain with less load and to mimic positions you may find yourself in during difficult squat sessions.
Barbell and Dumbbell Rows
The barbell and dumbbell row introduce a new benefit to utilizing and strengthening your posterior chain — heavy back work. The barbell row can be used to strengthen your traps and lats while engaging your posterior chain for some stimulus as well. On the other hand, using unilateral variations like the single-arm dumbbell row can also challenge your posterior chain through counter-rotation.
The barbell row not only actively challenges your lats to move the weight. It also demands strong isometric stability from your hips and spine, making it an effective double-whammy for posterior chain development.
Conversely, the dumbbell row emphasizes the upper portion of your posterior chain — your lats, traps, and even your obliques and lower back to some degree. By stabilizing your torso against a weight bench, you can take some of the stress off your lower back while performing the exercise.
The power clean is an Olympic lift that harnesses a locked up posterior chain to launch a barbell through the air. Using an explosive triple extension technique, the power clean is one of the greatest tools to build and express your posterior chain strength.
While it may seem mild-mannered, a box jump (and all jumps for that matter) are actually quite impressive expressions of posterior chain explosivity. When you jump, you’re only going to be able to produce maximal force by harnessing the posterior chain. A box jump, where you jump from the ground onto a higher surface, is a great way to realize this.
The kettlebell swing is another often-unsung hero when it comes to practicing and strengthening your posterior chain technique. The kettlebell swing can be simplified conceptually into a ballistic or dynamic hip hinge. Think of a Romanian deadlift that you’re allowing to pull you into the hip hinge rather than descending on your own terms. The key is to lock up your posterior chain and to resist the weight as it drags you into the bottom position.
Sample Posterior Chain Workout
While you don’t need to structure an entire workout around the posterior chain, here is an example of one that you can employ to both practice and synergistically train your backside. These movements cover all your bases — a bit of explosive plyometrics that should transfer to the Olympic lifts, followed up by some quality compound lifts to torch you from head to toe.
Pay close attention to exercise order here. By performing jumps before your cleans, you’ll wake up your nervous system to help you produce the most power possible with the barbell. Afterward, Romanian deadlifts will hone your hamstrings and glutes. You’ll polish off that motor pattern with some high-rep swings and pick up a sick pump to boot.
- Box Jump: 5×2
- Power Clean: 3×3
- Barbell Romanian Deadlift: 3×8
- Kettlebell Swing: 3×15
You’ll also notice drastically different rep ranges. While it may be technically possible to bang out 15 box jumps, you’ll probably find it more of a cardio workout than a posterior chain primer. It’s best to save higher-rep work for things that are less technically intensive or demanding on your cardio capabilities.
Put It All Together
The posterior chain links all the muscles of the back half of your body (and to be honest, still uses plenty of the anterior ones too). Strengthening the posterior chain pays dividends by giving you access to the safe execution of some of the baddest exercises around.
Deadlifts, plyometrics, Olympic lifting, and countless other exercises all require a strong and technically-sound posterior chain. That said, the perks of a powerful posterior don’t stop and start at the doors of the weight room. If you partake in field sports — or even yard work — you rely on your backside more than you might think.
If you’ve been neglecting your back half, it’s time to get away from the mirror muscles and include posterior chain movements into your workouts. Your hips, knees, back, and lifts will all thank you!
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