Your posterior chain is a group of muscles making up the back side of your body. Examples of these muscles include the hamstrings, glutes, calves and muscles of the low back.
These are important muscles in not only athletic development but also in general strength, low back health, and every day movement. So it’s a given that training these muscles, and training them appropriately, is a necessary function for everyone.
Today we want to go over 4 posterior chain, which we can call “back side” exercises for simplicity, that can help.
Please keep in mind these are in order of difficulty and not everyone will work to exercise #4, nor does everyone have to. Each of the following exercises should be mastered before jumping to the next one on the list.
Now, let’s get to it!
Exercise #1 - Body Weight Hip Thrust
Lying on your back, bring your heels up near your butt, with your feet flat push your belt line towards the ceiling, hold for a 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, “drive your feet away from your butt” as you raise your belt line.
You can use a mini band or add weight (sandbell) for variations/progressions.
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 45 degrees away from the body to create the most stability, or raise them off the ground to decrease stability and make it more difficult. After a few reps your feet may slide down 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 in a straight leg hip thrust with each rep or go to single leg to vary this exercise.
2 to 5 sets of 6-10 reps
Once you can perform 3 sets of 10 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 down to the ground. From here, bending at the knees, slowly lower yourself down towards the ground, using 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, who can stay focused and has enough strength and leverage to hold your body weight (as you are basically putting your front teeth in their hands).
A word of caution, this is a pretty intense eccentric (the muscles are generating tension and loaded while working through a lengthening motion) so please be careful when performing these. It’s better to end a rep or two short than pushing into high fatigue and risking a calf or hamstring charley 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 3 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 foot plate. 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.
This may take a bit of tweaking, but once you find your spot make sure you write it down in your training journal so 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 heels” and reverse yourself back to the original position. You can check out Angie rocking that below.
Things to consider: this is a very advanced exercise that stresses the hamstrings, glutes, calves and low 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 these "back side" exercises, and a reasonable progression schedule for them, get out there and have at it yourself!