Build a Better Backside: Strengthening Your Posterior Chain
The largest muscle in the body is the gluteus maximus. It is responsible for all movement through the hip, thigh, and trunk. This muscle is located on the backside of the body and is a major part of building a strong posterior chain.
A weak posterior chain increases the need for compensation during exercise, resulting in imbalances or injuries. Ensuring the posterior chain muscles are strong and active in clients helps them achieve their goals quickly and efficiently. Here’s what you need to know to build a strong backside.
Posterior Chain “Upper Body” Muscles
The back consists of different muscles including the erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and trapezius. There also are smaller muscle groups such as the internal and external obliques, levator scapulae, and serratus muscles.
These upper body posterior chain muscles play a role in posture and spine health. The main responsibility for the back is pulling and extending the arms and trunk. If your client lacks strength in these muscles, they will experience back issues including pain, fatigue, discomfort, weakness, and rounded back. This can lead to other imbalances or injuries in the body.
The erector spinae muscles support the vertebrae around the spine. Strong spinae muscles help improve posture and core strength. Deadlifts and hyperextensions are effective exercises to help strengthen spinal erectors and support the lumbar spine. Deadlifts and hyperextensions require flexion and extension muscle actions needed to activate these muscles.
The lats are the largest back muscle in the upper body. They are well known for giving the “v-taper” look or wing aspect to a physique. They are located under the armpit area and extend along the ribs.
Lat pulldowns and pull-ups are exercises that strengthen the lats. These exercises involve pulling the body and arms in a vertical position. This supports the primary role of extension that the lats are responsible for.
The rhomboids are in the upper back. They are responsible for squeezing the shoulder blades together. Barbell rows or dumbbell rows bring the scapula together making them effective rhomboid exercises.
The trapezius muscle also known as the “traps” is in the middle of the upper back. It consists of three parts: lower, middle, and upper. This muscle group plays a role in head and neck movement through muscle actions like elevating, depressing, rotating, and retracting the scapula. Shrugs and reverse flys are two exercises that target the traps best.
Posterior Chain “Lower Body” Muscles
The muscle group on the backside of the body located below the trunk is the legs. The legs consist of the calves, quads, hip flexors, hamstrings, and glutes.
These muscles support the entire body. The legs are the foundation of the entire kinetic chain. It is important to address gluteal muscles including the gluteus medius. To optimally target the posterior chain in the body you want to focus on exercise that has minimal bending at the knee.
Exercise that involves knee flexion interrupts the hip hinge movement. The hip hinge movement involves flexion and extension through the hip joint. During this exercise movement, the spine remains in a neutral position and there is only a slight bend in the knees.
The hip hinge movement pattern places more stress on the calves, hamstrings, and glutes. By doing this it helps take stress off the anterior chain muscles like the quads and hip flexors.
For example, if a client starts to bend at the knee during a Romanian deadlift, they will end up putting more of the load on the quads instead of keeping it on the hamstrings.
The glute muscles include the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. The main muscle movements for the gluteal muscles are extension and lateral rotation of the hip.
If the glutes are not strong, active clients can encounter back issues due to a lack of spine support. If the hip is lacking proper support, the back can undergo unnecessary stress.
To build strength in these muscles have your clients focus on exercises like the glute bridge and glute-ham raise. These exercises can even help clients who have an anterior pelvic tilt.
Be sure to address all the muscles within the glutes because each one is responsible for different muscle actions. To target the gluteus maximus, have clients focus on exercises that involve extension of the hip like barbell hip thrusts.
To target the gluteus medius and minimus focus on lateral rotation of the hip and abduction of the hip. Performing glute exercises like clamshells, monster walks, or side-lying leg raises use hip abduction.
The hamstrings are located under the glutes. They are a posterior muscle on the top portion of the legs, opposite of the quads. This muscle group extends from the hips all the way to the knee.
If a client's trunk is fixed, the hamstrings help produce hip extension. They also help flex the knee. Kettlebell swings are a great example of a hip hinge exercise that targets the hamstrings. This is due to minimal bending at the knee and full extension of the hips.
The glute-ham exercise and straight-leg deadlifts also are great exercises to stimulate the hamstrings. Target these muscles through a workout that involves reps through hip extension and keeping each leg straight. Keeping each leg straight while bending at the hips allows for optimal hamstring contraction.
The calf muscle includes the gastrocnemius and soleus. The gastrocnemius is responsible for plantar flexion around the ankle and flexing the leg at the knee. The soleus is responsible for plantar flexion but is stimulated more when the knee is bent.
To target the calves with knee flexion, have clients perform seated calf raises. Standing calf raises is the most popular exercise to build calf strength and size. Running, biking, and stabilization exercises also help build calf strength.
Because the calves help bend the leg or produce knee flexion, they help in compound movements like squats. Compound movements are multi-joint movements that help provide greater results in a shorter period.
Posterior Chain Workouts: Putting it All Together
Many clients sit at least 6-8 hours per day. A combination of daily living activities like driving, working, and eating add up quickly throughout the day. As clients sit, the posterior chain becomes dormant. Slouching or sitting with poor posture does not help.
The seated position promotes quad muscle shortening, which causes tight hip flexors. When the hip becomes overactive, the glute muscle becomes underactive. To avoid this, include exercises that target and build a strong posterior chain.
Depending on the type of client you are working with, you will use different posterior chain exercises. Exercises like deadlifts, kettlebell swings, glute bridges, calf raises, bent-over rows, and pull-ups can in fact be a part of every client's exercise program. These exercises help ensure you address all posterior chain muscles, leaving no room for error.
Implement other exercise options for special instances like for athletes or clients training for a specific event. For example, a fighter who needs sport-specific exercises to help them mimic certain movements all while building posterior strength.
Are you looking to expedite client results effectively and safely through isolation exercises? Learn more about how to target specific muscles through our Bodybuilding Certification program.