Almost every session with our physical therapists at Made 2 Move will involve training your posterior chain in some fashion because of how necessary it is in the gym and activities of daily life. But what exactly is the posterior chain and why is it so important?
What is the posterior chain?
“On the front of the body are the ‘show’ muscles,” says Jim Smith, CPPS, a strength coach and owner of Diesel Strength & Conditioning. “The posterior chain is the ‘go’ muscles.” They’re the muscles that help you sprint, deadlift heavy, or stand up tall for a presentation.
The anterior chain (the “show” muscles) includes the quads, core, and chest.
The posterior chain (the “go” muscles) includes the glutes, hamstrings, calves, erector spinae (the little muscles that surround the spine), traps, lats, rear delts, and lower back.
The reason these are called “chains” is because all these muscles work together to create movement.
Why is the posterior chain so important?
Soccer coach Tyler Tredway sums it up beautifully: “Our modern lives often force us into a position where our neck is craned forward, our shoulders are rolled up toward our ears, our lower back is rounded, and our hands are out in front of us. This tightens the muscles on the front of your body (e.g., the hip flexors and chest) and lengthens the muscles on the back of your body (e.g., the upper back) over time.”
The above posture, described by Coach Tredway, can lead to your anterior chain muscles compensating for posterior chain weaknesses. This compensation can then lead to pain or injury if not properly addressed. A common example of this is the quads taking over for the hamstrings. Why is this an issue? Functional H:Q or (hamstring to quadricep strength ratio) has been shown to be lower in those who suffer from ACL tears vs those who don’t. Hamstring tightness can also be an indicator that these muscles need strengthening. Time to train those hammies!
But the compensation of the anterior chain taking over for posterior chain weakness is not permanent! That’s what your Made 2 Move family is here for! The above Functional H:Q research review demonstrated that those who did 6 weeks of a workout program that included single leg curls, good mornings, RDLs, back extensions, and reverse sled walking improved their functional H:Q ratio by 12%.
In addition to the postural dominance of the anterior chain, people often tend to bias the anterior chain more heavily than the posterior in the gym because it is what they see in the mirror. (Think: pecs, biceps, abs, and quads). But the posterior chain muscles are what keep us moving optimally, give us the ability to PR our big lifts, and allow for the strong hinge forward to close the car door with our butts when we have too many things in our hands.
Posterior Chain Exercises
Highlighted below are some of the major exercises our Made 2 Move therapists recommend for posterior chain work. A reminder, that as with any exercise, these movements should be constantly varied. This can be done by performing different variations of the same movement pattern (i.e. pendlay row vs. inverted row), using different equipment, (i.e. barbell, dumbbell, bands, cables), or by alternating between single and double leg (i.e. single leg RDL vs. bilateral RDL).
Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs)
Barbell glute bridges
Reverse sled drags
Band pull aparts
Heavy calf raises
Anything on the GHD machine
Additionally, incorporating eccentrics is another great way to adequately stress the hamstring muscles. (aka: the lowering portion of the deadlift being slower; think normal speed lift off the ground, and a 3 second lower back to the ground). Lots of people neglect the eccentric portion of the deadlift, just quickly dropping it after they pick it up. While this makes sense for powerlifters, it may not be advantageous for those looking to build general strength.
If you’re ever in doubt of what to do for posterior chain exercises, just think “PULLS.” Almost all pulling movements are going to work the posterior chain. For the lower body, be sure to include both hip/hinge (deadlift) and knee dominant (leg curl, glute ham raise, nordic curls) exercises.
Our therapists at Made 2 Move are experts at crafting a workout plan specific to your needs. Here at Made 2 Move, we incorporate posterior chain exercises into almost every rehab and strength program because we understand how important posterior chain strength is for overall strength and functionality. Are you looking to rehab from injury or start on a customized workout program that creatively balances anterior and posterior chain work? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
to set up your initial consultation today!