What Is The Posterior Chain & How To Strengthen It? [Plus 5 Reasons To Train It]

The posterior chain is what holds it altogether so to speak. 

Running the full back length of our body, the posterior chain is integral for your lifting and strength gains. This is because it provides stability and helps to drive force while we’re training.

Strength training and resistance work can include a variety of elements and approaches, but in this article we will be exploring all there is to know about posterior chain strength.

So whether you want to get powerful legs, improve your conditioning or build on your deadlift, one of the keys to success lies with these chain-like muscle groups. Read on to learn more. 

What is the Posterior Chain? 

No matter what stage of your lifting life you’re at, there’s a good chance you’ve come across exercises such as the glute bridges, Romanian deadlifts and bent-over row. If you haven’t tried them personally, then you’ve definitely seen them.

These exercises all target muscles towards the backside of your body. 

The ‘backside’ muscle groups include some of the strongest and biggest muscles in the body – these form the powerhouse that is the posterior chain.

To put it even more simply, the posterior chain refers to the muscles that run from the back of your neck all the way down to your heels.

The posterior chain muscles include the following main muscles: 

Upper BodyLower Body
Latissimus dorsi (lats) 
Rotator cuffs
Erector spinae muscles 
Rhomboids
Trapezius
Hamstring 
Glutes 
Calf muscles 

In strength training, a strong posterior chain is crucial because it’s quite literally the ‘backbone’ of all your physical activity. The last thing you’d want is for your hard training to be ineffective thanks to bad posture and injuries. 

You can avoid this by training your posterior chain. This will significantly improve your overall balance, strength and muscle building capabilities. 

Of course, this needs to be balanced by training your anterior chain, or front-body muscle, too.

Weight lifters commonly split these two groups in their training routine. For example, one day you might train chest and shoulders, the next day you’ll do your back. Or even easier is to split it into push (anterior) and pull (posterior) days. I commonly cycle through back of these phases throughout the year. 

Benefits of Training The Posterior Chain 

womens posterior chain back muscles
Some of the posterior chain muscles

Training the posterior chain can be beneficial for you in many ways. Whether this is building muscle, striking a body balance, increasing stability and becoming leaner. It will have knock on effects during your other lifts too.

Posterior chain exercises should be incorporated into your training schedule if you are serious about improving your overall body shape and size. 

Here are the main reasons why training your posterior chain is important.

1. Improves Your Posture 

We all can agree that posture problems are rife in the modern world. Everyday ‘normal’ activities like sitting at a desk for 8 hours, slouching over our laptops on the kitchen table and being hunched over our phone screens are no good for our bodies. They’re no good for our mental health too which weight training can benefit.

These arched postures will be helped by training and strengthening your posterior chain. 

Generally, a sloppy posture occurs when your upper back muscles aren’t strong enough to keep your shoulders back. This weak posture is common among older adults, so it is necessary to train the correct muscles. 

A strong posterior chain provides you with correct body form, so you can confidently walk into any room with your shoulders back and chest out. 

2. Reduce The Risk of Injury 

Strength training your posterior chain muscles creates a balance between the anterior chain and posterior chain muscle mass. 

For example, if you only train your quads and not your hamstrings, you are looking at instability risks and lower-body injuries. Same if you love training chest but never your lats. Strike a balance.

3. Strong Legs 

The health of your posterior muscles help determine the strength of your legs. 

Strong hamstrings and glute muscles will help you perform better when squatting and generally training your legs. You’ll notice your lifting weights increasing and leg composition improving. It’s also key if you’re into aerobic exercise too such as biking or running. 

4. Heavy Lifting 

Building a stronger posterior chain is going to bring much more stability and security to your body and core. 

This is essential if you are going to lift heavy on the big lifts – squats, deadlifts, military press and row. Read more here on the benefits of heavy deadlifts.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it as well, but you won’t get very far if your posterior chain is weak.

5. Resting Metabolic Rate 

Your muscle mass determines your resting metabolic rate, which simply means the number of calories you burn to keep you alive when you’re in a resting state.

The posterior chain comprises some of the primary muscles in your entire body, so building them helps increase the calorie burn by speeding up your metabolism. 

What Exercises Can I Do To Build The Lean Muscle Mass Of My Posterior Chain? 

Stronger Hip Hinge with barbell

According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), strengthening the posterior chain entails contracting and extending the muscles in a chain-like manner. Various compound exercises require you to engage two or more posterior muscles simultaneously, which is the best method for building functional strength and activating muscles together. 

Here are some key posterior chain exercises you can include in your workout. 

1. Kettlebell Swings 

Kettlebell swings are a movement that engages the hamstring, glutes, hips and core. Here’s how you do it: 

  • Set the kettlebell on the floor in between your feet which are planted shoulder-width apart. 
  • Grip the kettlebell with both hands and pick it up so it’s dangling between your legs
  • Engage your core muscles, glutes and hamstrings as you push your hips forward to swing the bell.
  • Once your reach shoulder height, swing the KB back down through your legs and up again
  • Remember, this is primarily a hip hinge, no need to squat down as you do it

2. Glute Bridges 

There are three gluteal muscles; the maximus, medius, and minimus – all will be activated during this movement. 

  • Lie on your back on the floor, and bend your knees with feet flat. Keep arms at your sides, palms facing down.
  • Push your heels into the ground and raise your hips.
  • At the top of the movement your hips, knees and shoulders should all be in a diagonal line.
  • Remember to squeeze your glutes and core muscles at the top.

3. Romanian Deadlift 

This is a brilliant compound exercise that primarily targets the hamstring, glutes and lower back. 

  • Stand with feet shoulder apart and grip the barbell just outside your knees.
  • Keep your shoulders back, chest up and legs almost straight. Your back should be flat when you move the barbell. 
  • Remember this is a hip-hinge – use your hamstrings, glutes and core to hinge
  • Keep the barbell as close to your body as possible as you pull upwards to standing

You might want to take a look at this blog on the best deadlift equipment accessories.

4. Pull-ups 

This all-rounder exercise targets all the major upper body posterior muscles. A wider overhand grip will primarily target your latissimus dorsi muscles, whereas a narrow underhand grip will focus in on your biceps and rhomboid muscles. 

It’s a difficult exercise but one of the best for pull day.

  • Grip the pull-up bar (either overhand or underhand, narrow or wide – try out which suits you best)
  • Now, think about your back muscles contracting as you pull down on the bar and pull your body up
  • Once your chin reaches the bar, lower yourself down to the starting position and go again

Wrapping up on the posterior chain

To conclude, the posterior chain runs along the full length of the backside of your body. 

It includes muscles like the glutes, lats, traps, hamstrings and lower back muscles.

Including posterior muscle exercises in your training regime will elevate your gym performance over time, help you develop a solid central column and increase strength. 

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