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March 26, 2021 10 min read

Your body is an incredible system of muscles. If you’re a weightlifter or just trying to lose a little weight, it’s easy to fall in love with how your body looks and the mechanisms behind getting your limbs to move around.

If you get caught up in only working the muscles you can see when you’re looking straight into the mirror then you’ll probably be overlooking an important set of muscles all the way down your backside that make all of your movement and stability possible. Your posterior chain is the unsung hero of your body, and paying more attention to your back is going to pay off in spades. 

Posterior Chain

The Posterior Chain

Your posterior chain isn’t an exotic group of muscles, but they’re easy to accidentally ignore. It’s an “out of sight, out of mind” sort of thing. But neglecting them is a great way to ruin your posture and wear down your joints. Your body is operated by several sets of muscles that work in pairs. If you neglect your posterior chain, you’re going to create several potential points of failure in your body. Why spend the time weight training and dedicating your free time to lifting if all you’re going to do is build your body awkwardly and screw up all of your hard work?

The posterior chain is made up of all of the muscles on the back half of your body. In your lower body the hamstrings, the gluteus maximus, the calves, and the hip flexors are the muscles you’re going to want to work out. These are muscles that are responsible for keeping you steady and allowing you to bend over to lift things off of the ground, and we’re going to exploit that in our posterior chain exercises.

In your upper body muscles like the erector spinae, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and posterior deltoids are what make up your posterior chain. These are the muscles in your back that will help with your posture. If you’re working on your chest and your abs all the time, your posture is bound to suffer. When you build that much stiff and heavy muscle onto the front of your body without creating a team of muscles that are strong enough to counteract the power of your front half, your body is bound to favor your front half rather than the stability you need for healthy posture. We also live in a world that wants us hunched over in office chairs and looking down at our phones. Strengthening your posterior chain is an excellent way to fight back at the bad habits we fall into unconsciously.

Don’t Leave These Benefits in the Rear View

Working on your posterior chain isn’t just about meeting your obligation to keep your body balanced to keep your joints happy and your body flexible. You’re going to reap a mountain of benefits from looking more confident to performing more of your other exercises with more power than you ever thought possible.

Better Cardio: If you hate running it’s probably because you’re bad at it. If your muscles are all working together in concert and your body has easy access to energy, you’re going to have a much better time. Better posture from working on your back and the overall ease of keeping yourself upright is going to increase your cardio performance way more than begrudgingly jogging a few times a month.

Core Strength: Your core is mostly your abs, but working on your lats and tightening up your back is going to lend a lot of stability to your core. This is going to help you lift more weight. If you’re stable while directing your energy towards your weights, you’re going to start seeing better personal records and climbing past stubborn plateaus.

Posture: Working on your posterior chain is going to improve your posture. A lot of your posture comes from pulling your shoulders back and holding your spine upright. If you’ve got muscle back there you’re going to have a much easier time keeping yourself upright. 

Good posture projects confidence and competence, and if lifting some weights a few times a week is going to make you look better and more trustworthy, then it’s well worth a few minutes in the gym.

Burning Fat: When you start working on a new group of muscles, your body’s energy demands go straight up. If you’ve been neglecting your posterior chain, you’re going to be rerouting a lot of nutrients to a new area of your body, which means you’re more likely to dip into your fat cells for energy while working out. Of course, this is going to be a short-lived benefit if you keep it up, but knowing this should be enough motivation to get started. 

If that’s not enough, you’re also bound to see some pretty quick initial growth. Because posterior chain muscles tend to be underdeveloped in comparison, you’re going to get some serious gains early on. It’s like starting your gym journey all over. So, if you’re feeling like you’re not making the kind of progress you want to, give yourself some time to beef up your back, and get a little motivation boost from there.

The Main Event

Enough about the boring stuff. Here are the exercises you should be working into your routine if you’re trying to build strength along your back.

  1. Romanian Deadlift 

Romanian deadlifts are probably one of the best exercises for the health of your upper posterior chain. It doesn’t hurt that they also work on your core as well. You could add Romanian deadlifts into your routine if you want to work on your core without overcommitting to your front half or neglecting your back half. This deadlift variant is going to keep tension on your glutes and hip flexors while also managing to work out your middle and lower back.

  • Start with an overhand grip and start with a barbell at your hip level 
  • Pull back your shoulders and keep your spine straight. Engage your core and the muscles in your back
  • Lower the bar towards your feet and push your hips back as the weight descends toward the floor
  • Stop about midway down your shins. Keeping the weight off of the floor is the key difference between Romanian deadlifts and standard deadlifts
  • Press with your hips and come back into a standing position, bringing the barbell back up to your thighs 
  1. Deadlifts

These are the old standby. Romanian deadlifts are great for keeping tension on your posterior chain, but because you’re not bringing the weights all the way to the floor, you’re not engaging as many of the muscles as our trusty standard deadlift.

  • Start with your barbell on the ground, with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Bend at the hips and knees until you can grab the bar on the floor
  • Grasp the bar overhand with your hands just outside of your legs. You can switch up your grip when your grip strength starts to fail you as you add on more weight. 
  • Keep your back flat, don’t arch your upper spine. Arching your spine puts the weight in all sorts of places it doesn’t belong. 
  • Drive your hips forward to stand up with the weight as well as using your thighs, not your shoulder joints or your back. 

Deadlifts are great for your lower body and the muscles in your back. You’re also going to be pushing the limits of your forearms because of the amount of weight your legs and posterior chain is capable of lifting versus your grip strength. There are many different grips you can employ to mitigate that as your back muscles outpace your forearms.

Kettelbell swing

  1. Kettlebell swing

Kettlebells are amazing for a home gym. They’re versatile and compact, so you can store them easily and deploy them for a wide array of exercises. Kettlebell swings are an excellent example of this. You’re going to get an excellent posterior chain exercise out of this swing.

  • Start with the kettlebell on the floor in front of you and in between your feet
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Bend your knees slightly, and hinge yourself at the hips to lower your upper body enough to grab the weight from the floor
  •  Pull the kettlebell back in between your legs to generate a little momentum
  • Drive your hips forward and straighten your back to send the kettlebell up the rest of the way. It should reach your shoulder height
  • Let the bell fall back down in between your legs and repeat the motion

If you’re working on your kettlebell swings and you don’t feel like you’re getting anything out of it, you should focus on a few things:

Make absolutely sure you’re not using your arms to generate the swing needed to get the kettlebell up in front of your shoulders. This isn’t an exercise for your arms, your hip flexors and back muscles are the real stars of the show here, so remember to drive your hips forward. This also means remembering to bend your knees on the downswing and hinge your hips again before driving the kettlebell back forward. If your form is tight and you still feel like you’re not being challenged enough by this, try using your hips to drive the weight up above your head 

  1. Weighted Hip Thrusts

Weighted hip thrusts are a great way to work on your hip flexors, glutes, and calf muscles. You can even out your legs and hips by doing single-leg hip thrusts, but if you’re not confident that you’re ready for that, you can start by thrusting with both legs. Eventually, you’re going to get much stronger, and isolating a single leg is going to get you even and more powerful development.

  • Get a barbell loaded up on the floor or a rack
  • Lie down with your upper back resting on a bench feet flat on the floor in front of you about hip-width apart. This should make a 45-degree angle with your torso and the floor
  • Get your barbell rolled in onto the crease of your hips. It might help to get a pad or a  towel underneath the bar when you’re lifting heavier weights
  • Grasp the bar on each side firmly on each side
  • Flaten out your lower back by tucking your tailbone 
  • Engage your core and take a deep breath 
  • Drive through your heels to extend your hips until your torso and hips are in line with the floor
  • Hold the position for a moment before reversing back into your starting position
  1. Cable or Band Pull-throughs

We hope your forearms are warmed up because cable pull-throughs tend to demand a lot from your grip. This is a variation of the problem you run into with deadlifts. You’re going to be using muscles that are much more powerful than your grip tends to be, so you create a bottleneck with your grip strength when you’re strengthening your hip flexors.

  • Start with a resistance band or cable pulley at ankle height 
  • Straddle the cable and face away from the column
  • Grab the end of the cable and walk away from the anchor point until you feel resistance
  • Keep your arms straight and engage your core. Find a comfortable grip and bend at your hips, allowing the pulley to pull the cable back with your hips
  • Pause at the bottom or wherever your flexibility will allow and squeeze your glutes
  • Hinge at the hips and drive yourself back to your starting position, make sure to keep your back flat. Don’t hunch over or lift with your back, this is about your hips and the stability in your legs
  1. Kettlebell Reverse Lunge

We’re touching back on the kettlebell again. This time we’re using it to weigh down your lunges and the weight here is going to force you to engage your core and back muscles because you’re restricting the cheats your torso will use to balance your body when you’re lowering yourself to the ground. These lunges are a great way to get your heart rate up, and it’s a great way to slip a little bit of cardio into your routine. There’s really no downside to reverse kettlebell lunges. 

Kettlebell reverse lunges are a great exercise for your glutes and thighs. If you want a little extra challenge you can keep yourself on your toes, literally, and add some tension to your calves as well as working your glutes and upper legs. This variation elevates kettlebell reverse lunges from a good posterior chain exercise to a great one. 

  • Start with your feet together, centered directly below your body
  • Get your kettlebell racked up against your shoulder
  • Step back with one foot
  • Lower your body until your back need touches the floor
  • Stand back up into your starting position
  • Repeat with your opposite foot
Pull ups
    1. Pull-ups

    The ultimate bodyweight exercise. Everyone wants to be able to pump out a dozen pull-ups. They’re such a demonstration of your own strength, and for a good reason. Pull-ups have you using a small set of muscles to move your entire body weight up off of the ground, and having the strength to accomplish them with ease is incredibly satisfying. They’re an excellent exercise for your posterior chain, and they’ll help you open up your chest by strengthening the pectoral’s antagonist muscles.

    • Find a pull-up bar, if it’s pretty far from the ground you might have to hop up to it in order to get your hands on it
    • Start with your hand shoulder-width apart with your palms facing away from you. The grip here is important. If your palms are facing you then you’re going to be using your biceps and pecs more than your lats
    • Start with your arms fully extended, if you’re toes are dragging on the ground then consider crossing your legs at the knee 
    • Keep your shoulders back and engage your core 
    • Then pull up your body upward. You’re going to be using all of your upper body muscles, but your back is especially going to be in charge of pulling you upwards
    • Pull yourself upwards until your chin is above the bar 
    • Lower yourself back into your starting position in a controlled fashion

    Pull-ups are hard. If you’re struggling with them there are a wealth of ways to work yourself up into the perfect pull-up. Try lowering yourself from the height of the pull-up in a controlled fashion. The resistance in that motion is an excellent way to build your muscle up, and soon enough, you’ll be well on your way to blasting your back.

    Links in the Chain

    Working up your posterior chain is important to keeping your body healthy. Your joints, tendons, and ligaments will thank you in the long run. You’ll be keeping your flexibility up, and that’s one of the pillars of leading a healthy life long into your old age. The posterior chain is easy to neglect. You don’t get to show off those muscles often, and some of the movements you need to employ in order to build those muscles aren’t always the most natural thing to come to mind. If you’re serious about getting shredded, take the time to cultivate those muscles on your backside, and you’ll grow in leaps and bounds.

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