Few things in fitness are one size fits all. But when it comes to sculpting and building muscle, the key is to start with the basics. So if you’re looking for a lively cross-training trend with a simple approach, there’s one bandwagon you’ll definitely want to jump on: posterior chain-focused workouts.
Your posterior chain is a group of muscles you use *all* the time (even if you don’t realize it). It’s especially important to tone these muscles to reduce your risk of injury in the gym, according to Sohee Lee, MS, CSCS..
Whether you have heard posterior chain Before or is this a new term for you, there is a lot to learn about this muscle group and how it helps your body get stronger during a sweat session and life. Here’s everything you need to know, plus exercise moves to help tone everything from your head to your toes, according to a certified personal trainer.
Meet the expert: Sohee Lee, MS, CSCS, is an evidence-based physical trainer, certified sports nutritionist, and author of Eat. Lift. To flourish.
What muscles make up the posterior chain?
The posterior chain is a group of muscles, connective tissues, and other structures that make up the entire back (or back) of your body, from your head to the arches of your feet.
Lee explains that most people tend to think of the posterior chain as a few muscles in the lower body. But it really includes everythingincluded:
- neck muscles
- Lats (medium muscles)
- lower back muscles
- spinal erector muscles
- posterior deltoid muscles
- top traps
…and more. Think of the posterior chain as dividing your entire body in half: all you can see in the mirror from the front is your previous chain, while all your other muscles make up your later string.
What does the posterior chain do?
For starters, it’s “involved in all the hinge and pull motions you do in everyday life,” Lee says. (Think: bend at the hips and use your arms to push down.) His rear is also an important part of providing power and acceleration to his movements, and helps him lift weights successfully, according to a recent study. British Journal of Health and Medical Sciences study. It’s like a giant support system.
Because they’re hard to spot, the posterior chain muscles are often neglected in workouts, Lee says. Instead, people tend to tone their “mirror muscles,” like the chest and quad muscles you see in the mirror when you sweat. This can result in an imbalance, meaning that one half of your body may be stronger than the other, which can cause all sorts of visual and injury problems.
But a strong posterior chain can also help prevent injury. Specifically, the aforementioned research showed that strong hips from strengthening the posterior chain can lead to fewer lower back injuries. Also, if you’re a runner, toning your glutes can keep you from overworking (and injuring) your hamstrings.
How to Strengthen the Posterior Chain
According to Lee, the best way to target your posterior chain muscles is to establish a solid full-body exercise routine. He adds that the hip joint (like when you deadlift, shown below) is one of the most basic movements that helps activate many of the posterior chain muscle groups. “It’s probably one of the movement patterns that I’ll be teaching right away even to beginners,” she says.
You’ll want to make sure to focus on these points as you practice the hip joint, says Lee:
- Don’t bend your knees too much. This may compromise other parts of your form.
- Keep your back neutral. Try not to round him, nor the shoulders of him.
- Focus on driving your hips back.
Lee adds that according to recent research in the fitness community, when focusing on building muscle, it’s best to target one muscle group at least twice a week. She says there are a few ways to extend your exercise routine so this program works for posterior chain exercises:
- Two full body workouts per week.
- Three full-body workouts per week, all one day apart (such as Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)
- One upper body workout, one lower body workout, and one full body workout per week
- Two upper body and two lower body workouts per week
Remember to rest between workouts to get the most benefit from each sweat session, says Lee.
Top 5 Posterior Chain Exercises
Ready to level up your workouts? Lee recommends incorporating these exercises regularly into your workouts for a fully toned posterior chain. Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions.
1. Romanian deadlift
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hold the barbell (or medicine ball, dumbbells, etc.) in front of you.
- Keeping your back and legs straight, bend at the waist (not the knees), driving your hips back as you lower the weight toward the ground. Hold that position and lower yourself as far as your flexibility allows, ideally with the bar landing midway between your knees and toes.
- Engage your glutes, contract your hips, and return to the starting position, locking your hips at the top. You should feel a squeeze in your hips and quads as you lock them out. That is a repetition.
two. glute bridge
- Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent.
- Squeeze your glutes and lift your hips off the ground until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Pause at the top, then lower back down to the starting position. That is a repetition.
3. Barbell Row
- Grab a barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart, palms facing out, and arms fully extended.
- Bend your knees slightly and rotate from your hips until your hands are in front of your knees. Keep your abs engaged. Bring your shoulder blades together, pulling the bar toward you until it touches your torso just above your belly button. (Don’t shrug your shoulders to your ears!).
- Pause for two seconds, then slowly release the bar until your arms are straight. That is a repetition. Hold the forward bend position. That is a repetition.
4. Calf raise
- Stand on a flat surface with your toes pointing forward.
- Raise your heels off the ground to flex your calf muscle.
- Pause for a moment, then slowly return to the floor. That is a repetition.
Start with two sets of 10 to 15 reps, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets.
5. Bent rear deltoid fly
- Begin standing with feet hip-width apart, knees bent, hips hinged forward until back is flat and torso parallel to mat, holding a pair of dumbbells with arms extended toward the floor, elbows slightly bent and palms facing each other.
- Raise both arms up and out to the sides while squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Start again. That is a repetition.
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