The posterior chain is a group of muscles consisting predominantly of tendons and ligaments on the back side of the body. Examples of these muscles include the hamstrings, glutes, calves and muscles of the lower back.
These are important muscles in not only athletic development but also in low back health, general strength and everyday movement. So, it’s a given that training them and training them appropriately is a necessary function of NSS.
Today we want to go over 4 posterior chains, which we can call “back side” exercises that can help.
Please keep in mind these are in order of difficulty, and not everyone will work to exercise number 4, nor does everyone have to. Each of the following exercises should be sufficient to a certain point before jumping to the next one on the list.
Now, let’s get to it!
Exercise #1 - Bodyweight hip thrust
Lying on your back, pull your heels up near your butt. With a flat foot, push your belt line towards the ceiling, hold for 1-2 count, lower and repeat.
Things to consider – brace your midsection tight to prevent arching through the low back without your feet changing position, and “drive your feet away from your butt” as you raise your belt line.
You can add weight (dumbbell, barbell or sandbell) or a mini band for variations and progressions.
2 to 5 sets of 15-30 reps.
Once you can perform 3 sets of 20 comfortably, work to the next exercise.
Exercise #2 - Stability ball hamstring curls
Lying on your back, with your feet on a stability ball and hands at your side, raise your belt line to the ceiling. This is going to be your base position. From this base position, slowly pull your heels toward your butt. Hold for a 1-2 count, lower your heels away from your butt and repeat.
Things to consider – your hands can go out to around 45 degrees away from the body to create the most stability, raise them off the ground to decrease stability and make it more difficult. After a few reps, your feet may slide on the stability ball. If this happens, lower your hips to the floor, reposition the feet and then get back to the curls.
You can add a straight leg hip thrust with each rep or go to the single leg to progress this exercise.
2 to 5 sets of 5-15 reps.
Once you can perform 3 sets of 12 comfortably, work to the next exercise.
Exercise #3 - Nordic hamstring curl negatives
In a tall kneeling position on a pad, have a partner hold your feet anchored to the ground.
From here, bending at the knees, slowly lower yourself towards the ground. Use your hamstrings, calves and glutes to control this motion. Be prepared to catch in a push-up position on your hands to decelerate your body weight.
Once you lower to the ground, communicate with your partner so they can release your feet, and you can get back to the base, tall kneeling, position to repeat.
Things to consider - pick a reliable partner!! Someone who can stay focused and has enough leverage and strength to hold your body weight… as you are putting your front teeth in their hands.
A word of caution, this is a pretty intense eccentric (meaning the muscles are generating tension and force while working through a lengthening motion), so please use caution when performing these, and it’s better to end a rep or two short than pushing into high fatigue and risking a calf or hamstring Charlie horse or strain.
Perform 2 to 3 sets of 3-5 reps.
You can slow down the rate of drop or add a “push-up” back to the base tall kneeling position to progress this exercise.
Once you can perform 2 sets of 5 comfortably, work to the next exercise.
Exercise #4 - Glute / Ham Raise
A neat and not often-used piece of equipment in a lot of gyms is the glute-ham curl machine. But once you have worked through the exercises above and gained a certain level of strength, you will be able to dust this great piece of equipment off and show it some love.
First, find the appropriate distance away from the main pad for the footplate. A good way to do this is to position the plate at a distance where your feet can push against it, and your knees sit with some tension against the middle of the front pad. (see photo)
This may take a bit of tweaking, but once you find your spot, make sure you write it down in your training journal so that next time you know exactly what felt best.
Once you have your position figured, slowly lower yourself by straightening your legs until your body is flat from your heels to your head. (you will be facing the ground).
Now the tough part – “pull your butt towards your heals” and reverse yourself back to the original position.
Things to consider – this is a very advanced exercise that stresses the hamstrings, glutes, calves and lower back, so make sure you have progressed to the point of performing this.
To advance this exercise, you can wear a weighted vest, hug a medicine ball or hold a weight plate.
Perform 1-3 sets of 3 reps.
Now that you have had a chance to explore all the options, and a reasonable progression schedule for these “back side” exercises, get out there and have at them yourself!