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Senior Fitness

Functional Fitness: Posterior Chain Exercises for Seniors

Reading Time: 5 minutes 36 seconds

By: ISSA

Date: 2021-11-02T00:00:00-04:00


Basic movement throughout someone’s day is often referred to as functional movement. Functional activities include walking, lifting, carrying, and getting up or down. Movements like these are essential to life. Functional training is a popular term in the fitness world, but it means something different for everyone. The older clients become, the more important it is to exercise, especially for longevity of life.

As clients advance in age, challenges begin to arise. What once was a simple activity of daily living can become increasingly difficult. When clients start to have trouble maintaining their current fitness level, it is usually a direct result of how they are training their body. Functional movements for seniors refer to movement patterns that are used in activities of daily living. These have a major impact on quality of life.

The body adapts to the stress it undergoes over a period of time. Specific exercises can be more effective than others but strength training for the posterior chain in seniors is crucial. Getting up off the floor, picking up or carrying heavy things, and even sitting with proper posture requires an active posterior chain. Let’s take a closer look at specific exercises for seniors that target the posterior chain. These include weight training and bodyweight exercises.

What is the Posterior Chain?

The posterior chain refers to the entire backside of the body. This includes upper body muscles such as the following:

  • Erector spinae

  • Latissimus dorsi

  • Rhomboids

  • Trapezius

In addition, lower body muscles that make up the posterior chain include these:

  • Glutes

  • Hamstrings

  • Calves

The posterior chain is responsible for assisting the body in many movements such as running, jumping, and rotating. Quality movement is a direct result of having a strong posterior chain. This includes backside muscles starting from the head all the way down the heels.

Training the Posterior Chain

One of the most effective movement patterns to target the entire posterior chain is the hip hinge pattern. This movement involves flexion and extension through the hip joint. It places stress throughout the leg muscles like the glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

Learn more here on how to perfect your hip hinge.

It is not as easy as you might think to train build a strong posterior chain. Since these muscles are on the backside of the body they cannot be seen, which makes it harder for clients to activate or feel the muscles being worked.

On top of that, this group of muscles includes some of the biggest muscles in the entire body. Working to build strength in these muscles can either decrease or increase a client’s risk for injury. If a weak posterior chain is strengthened, the knee joint and back will take less stress. This will protect certain areas from taking unwanted stress applied to the body.

Upper Body Posterior Chain Exercises

There are many benefits of functional fitness training. Seniors begin to slow down after retirement and become stiff, tight, and weak in different areas. Implementing these upper body exercises can help seniors increase mobility and strength in the posterior chain, preventing many unwanted effects of aging. Though most seniors will not perform a heavy deadlift or squat, variations are still used to improve conditioning and strength in seniors.

Banded Row

Attach a resistance band to a secure object. In the seated position, grab the band with both hands. Using an overhand grip position, pull the band to the body until the elbows pass the side of the body. Squeeze the shoulder blades together and ensure both hands remain close to the body to activate the rhomboids muscles.

Band Pull Apart

In a seated or standing position, hold a resistance band at eye level with both hands. Pull the band apart, increasing the distance between hands as much as possible. Slowly return to the starting position. The closer together the hands are, the more challenging the exercise. This exercise targets the rhomboids.

Seated Torso Twist

In the seated position, rotate side to side twisting the torso without leaving the chair. Keep the back upright and shoulders back to ensure good posture and muscle stimulation in the core and erector spinae.

Chair Shrug

Sit on a chair and hold two dumbbells at the side of the body. Shrug the shoulders up without any flexion in the arms. Lower back down and repeat. Avoid any forward lean on the chair and squeeze the shoulder blades together each rep. This exercise targets the trapezius muscle. Ensuring the shoulder blade is involved increases hypertrophy.

Lying Arm Raise

Lie flat on the ground in the supine position with the knees bent. Starting with both arms to the side of the body, raise one arm up above the head and to the ground. Bring the arm back to the starting position and repeat on the other side. This exercise targets mainly the latissimus dorsi strength and back mobility.

Chair Lumbar Extension

Sit on a chair with hands placed behind the head. Maintain an upright position and begin to slowly lean back allowing the upper body to move over the top of the back of the chair. Extend the lumbar spine and be sure that the chair is supported before performing the movement.

Learn more here on how strength training is essential for seniors.

Lower Body Posterior Chain Exercises

The human body changes as clients age, even in clients who are considered to be healthy. Seniors may not be able to do a Romanian deadlift or sit on a stability ball without having trouble balancing. But they still should work to build stronger legs to do so. To prevent a severe decline in metabolism, aerobic capacity, and strength, implement lower body posterior chain exercises.

Glute Bridge

Lie flat on the ground with knees bent and arms to the side. Lift the hips off the ground driving through the heels until the knees, hips, and shoulders make a straight line. Squeeze the glutes at the top. Return to the ground and repeat.

Good Morning

If able, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hands placed behind your head. Maintain a neutral spine by bracing your core and pulling your shoulders back. Hinge forward moving your hips back. Keep a slight bend in your knees and lean forward until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Don’t go beyond horizontal. The ankle and knee joint should have minimal movement during this. Instead ensure the hips are shifting back as much as possible keeping each leg relatively straight.

Chair Standing Leg Raise

This exercise is similar to a kickback except performed in a standing position, using a secure chair or object to lean on. Start by raising one leg up and back away from the body without forward lean. Lower the leg back down and repeat on the other side. Be sure to squeeze the glute at the top of the leg raise.

Side Leg Raise

Begin in the standing position with hands secured on a chair or object. Raise one leg straight away or laterally from the body with minimal bend at the knee. Avoid leaning either direction keeping the body upright. Lower the leg back down and repeat on the other side. Squeeze the glute muscle at the top of the motion.

Chair Squat

Stand just in front of your secured chair, facing away from it. Keeping a neutral spine and chest up begin by bending the knees and lowering the hips down and back. Once you tap the chair with your butt, stand back up driving your hips forward. Squeeze the glutes and hamstrings as you drive your hips forward. This is hip extension and activates the gluteal muscles.

Calf Raise

Stand up straight, push through the balls of your feet and raise the body up off the heels. Slowly lower the body down and repeat. This exercise targets the calves and builds strength to help seniors improve balance.

The number of Americans over the age 65 is exponentially growing. These individuals are highly motivated seniors who want nothing more than to stay healthy and strong. If you want to work with this population, check out ISSA’s Lifespan Coach course. You will learn how to apply techniques that are appropriate for this demographic, as well as youth and other special populations.

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Lifespan Coach

The ISSA Lifespan Coach gives you the specific knowledge and skills you need to train youth and senior clients. Find out how to give youth clients the motivation and guidance they need to continue healthy habits into adulthood as you instill the value of health and fitness at an early age. While also learning how to train aging or senior clients to decrease risks caused by inactivity through carefully regimented fitness routines to keep them feeling young, vibrant and healthy.

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