It’s time to talk about the posterior chain.
The posterior chain can often be forgotten since most people only focus on what they can see in the mirror which is usually abs, biceps, chest and quads.
The posterior chain is just as important though and some could say even more important.
In this article, we are going to tell you why you need a strong posterior chain and also give you the best posterior chain exercises.
What is the posterior chain?
Simply put, the posterior chain is the muscles on the backside of the body. The hamstrings, glutes, erector spinea, lat, traps, rhomboids and even the calves.
While butt training is all the rage these days the rest of those posterior chain muscles often go under-trained or completely forgotten about.
Why you need a strong posterior chain
These days most of us spend a lot of our day in a seated position in front of the computer or television. This causes your posterior muscles like the glutes and hamstring muscles to become lengthed and weak. This can lead to muscle imbalances, a hunched/rounded shoulder appearance as well as an anterior pelvic tilt and lower back pain. Not good!
This is why you need to keep the muscles in your posterior chain strong to fight these imbalances and keep your posture in check.
Not only that, if you are an athlete the posterior chain is the powerhouse of the body. Think about how a running back, rugby player or a wrestler needs to have strong hips and glutes to push and drive people on the field or mat. An athlete with a weak posterior chain will not perform as well as they should, it is as simple as that.
A strong posterior chain will help with your athletic power, posture, lower back pain and it will give you a nice looking rear end to boot. Now let’s get on to the exercises.
The Best Posterior Chain Exercises
These are the best posterior chain exercises
#1 The Suicide Row
The Suicide Row is a beast of posterior chain exercise as it combines hip extension with thoracic extension to hit virtually the entire posterior chain.
This exercise is done with a GHD machine or a horizontal back extension machine, if your gym doesn’t have one of those rigging up some sort of alternative is possible but will be tricky.
You will want the GHD machine set at hip height and you can use any grip you like on a barbell for the rows or even do the rows with dumbbells which is what I prefer.
Make sure to squeeze the glutes while performing the hinge motion and you should only go up until you are parallel to the floor and maintain a flat spine throughout.
Lee Boyce is a great fitness writer and one of the top minds in fitness and bodybuilding, he wrote a nice article about the suicide row that you can check out right here. Above is also a video of him performing the movement so you can see exactly how it is done.
#2 The Romanian Deadlift
Deadlifts are the king of all weightlifting exercises as many of you know so for our second exercise we are going to go with a variation called the Romanian deadlift.
The Romanian deadlift is done with more stiff and straighter legs than a traditional deadlift and in the Romain deadlift you do not put the weight on the floor after each rep. This is more of an eccentric movement that stretches the hamstrings and glutes on the way down to really work them harder than you would in a conventional deadlift.
This exercise is my personal go-to when it comes to the posterior chain and hamstring exercises and is one that you will definitely feel the next day especially if it is your first time doing the exercise. Also if you are new to this exercise I would only do 1 set on the first day and work your way up to 2-3 sets from there. If you try to be a hero and do 2-3 sets your first time doing this exercise your hammies will likely be extremely sore, you have been warned.
If you still aren’t 100% sure how a Romanian deadlift is done check out this quick 2-minute video by Mark Rippletoe which shows you exactly how to do it.
#3 Bent Over Rows
I know what you are thinking, bent over rows are a back exercise. While bent over rows are great for adding thickness and width to your lats they also work your entire posterior chain as well.
If you think about it your positioning when doing bent-over rows is about the same as it is when you are halfway down on a Romanian deadlift.
This move blasts your hamstrings, glutes and erector spinea from being bent over like that while rowing which also hits the lats and traps.
This is one of the best and most under-appreciated posterior chain exercises out there. Add this to your routine and work your entire back.
#4 Glute Ham Raise
Next up we have glute-ham raise. The easiest way to do this exercise is with a GHD machine. It may look like the suicide row without the barbell but the movements are actually quite different if you watch both videos,
As you can probably guess from the name the glute-ham raise works the glutes and the hamstrings (it really hammers the hamstrings). It also hits the erector spinea as well.
It should be noted if you don’t have a fancy GHD machine like the example above you can still do this exercise, here is a good video on how to do just that. All you really need is something sturdy to secure your ankles under and you can do this exercise.
We love cleans. They build strength, power and explosiveness that every athlete needs. They are also great for your posterior chain.
Whether you are performing the hang clean or the power clean you will find out pretty quick that it is a great whole-body workout that hammers the entire posterior chain especially the muscles in your back.
The only problem with this exercise is that it can be difficult to do correctly if you have never done them before. Check out our article Power Cleans: The Ultimate Athlete Exercise for more information on this exercise and talk to a trainer or coach to make sure you are doing this exercise right to get the most out of it and avoid injury.
#6 Hip Thrusts
Hip thrusts are easily one of the best glute exercises out there. While they are the cousin to the glute bridge you use a larger range of motion with the hip thrust and it is more traditionally done with a barbell across your waist for added resistance and a superior posterior.
This movement isn’t just for your glutes though, the hamstrings also get worked pretty hard as well. Make sure to hold this movement at the top for 2-5 seconds for an extra burn.
#7 Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell swings are one of the best exercises out there and are still very underutilized by most athletes and just about everyone at the average gym.
This exercise is another great power builder for the hips that works the glutes, hamstrings and erector spinea.
When performing this bad boy hinge at the hips and explosively shoot your hips forward until full extension to make the kettlebell go up. The bell should not go higher than shoulder height. Let the bell fall back down between your legs and repeat.
Not only is this exercise good for working your posterior chain and building power, but it can also be great cardio as well.
#8 Reverse Hyper
Next up on our list of the best posterior chain exercises, we have the reverse hyper. This movement hits the lower back, glutes and hamstrings.
If you think about it, doing a reverse hyper is basically a kettlebell swing but this time the legs move the weight and the upper body is stationary instead of vice versa. The reverse hyper is a lot easier on your lower back than the kettlebell swing is though.
This exercise, in particular, has been noted to help many people with back pain and bulging discs, no promises it will do that for you but those claims are out there.
You will likely need a reverse hyper machine for this exercise. It is possible to rig your own set up with a sturdy table but it’s not easy nor is it as effective.
When many people think about squats they think about big quads but squats work a lot more than just the front portion of the legs. They also hammer your glutes, erector spinea, lats, traps and hamstrings. that is almost the entire posterior chain right there.
You don’t have to do back squats like in the image above either. Goblet squats, air squats and all other squat varieties will also work just fine.
#10 Sled Pushes
If you are lucky enough to have a dog sled at your gym then this is an exercise you should definitely be doing. Sled pushes will hit your glutes, hamstrings, calves and even the bottoms of your feet. Not only that but sled pushes are also some of the best cardio you can do, not a bad 1-2 punch.
If you don’t have a sled you could push your car up and down the driveway but make sure you have someone in the driver’s seat to hit the brakes when needed.
#11 Good Mornings
Next up we have good mornings, these can really hammer the hamstrings and erector spinea.
This exercise is a lot like the Romanian deadlift but rather than holding the weight it is on your shoulders instead.
Having the weight on your shoulders does put a lot of strain on the lower back though so if you have any back issues this is an exercise you will definitely want to avoid.
The seated cable row is one of my favorite back exercises but it doesn’t just hit the back, it also hits your hamstrings and glutes as well.
You can do this with a close grip handle or wide bar if you prefer, you can also use a band if you are training at home.
Pull the handle or band back to your lower chest and squeeze each rep. Also, make sure you get a good stretch in those hamstrings every time you lean forward to take another rep.
#13 Back Extensions
For this bad boy, you can use a GHD machine or a machine made for extensions as pictured above. DO NOT use that cheesy back extension machine at the gym though, that piece of junk causes more problems than it fixes.
This exercise works the erectors, glutes and hamstrings.
Hook your feet in and lower yourself slowly to about 45 degrees, then return to the top, making sure not to overextend and arch your back at the top.
These are best done for high reps using just your bodyweight or weight that is on the lighter side held in your hands.
This one is probably the simplest of all the posterior chain exercises and it is an exercise you can do most anywhere.
Supermans are excellent for strengthening the lower back and engaging those glutes, and also helping correct rounded posture caused by excessive sitting which most people are guilty of.
Simply lie on the floor face down and simultaneously raise your arms and legs off the floor as high as you can and pretend like you are flying like Superman.
Hold this position for a few seconds then go back down. Repeat this 10-15 times.
#15 Bird Dogs
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Core Training…Doggy Style. . ??????’ ???? ? ???’ ???????? ?? ????? ?? ?????? ????????? ????? ????? core ??????????, ?????? . Simple activation exercises like the bird dog are often overlooked and yes, butchered, particularly when high waisted yoga pants are involved. . Pay attention to a few key points in the execution of this seemingly simple exercise. . First, look at my body position and what’s referred to as a joint stacked position. . My knees are stacked underneath my hips. . My wrists and elbows are stacked underneath my shoulders. . It’s imperative you start in the right position and push through the ground while preventing any leaning or rotation as any unwanted movement is a compensation pattern. . If you don’t start in the correct position, you’ll have a snowballs chance in hell at doing the exercise correctly. . Second, stay slow and controlled. The point of a bird-dog isn’t to race through the exercise and do more reps, it’s to control every inch of the movement. . Why? . Joint position dictates muscular function. . Going too fast on any activation based exercise is about as productive as getting a bipartisan bill through congress. . If you speed up, lean, or arch your back, you’re no longer activating the deep core muscles. . ????, ???’?? ???????? ?????????? ???? ???????? ???????? ??? ??????? ????? ?????????? ??? ?????? ????????? (??? ????), ???????????? ??? ???-???????? ???? ??????. . Third the moving leg goes PAST the down knee. By going into hip flexion with the working leg, I set up a greater contraction for the glute when I extend my leg. . Fourth, go though a range of motion you can control without compensating. I could get my arm higher or leg further, but doing so would prompt me to lose body position. . Mobility and stability work is great, but only train through a range of motion you can control; then gradually work to improve it. . Bottom line? How you perform an exercise is much more important than how many sets/ reps you do.
Bird dogs are one of the best exercises out there for glute activation, core stability as well as your posture.
Why is it called the bird dog? My guess is because one arm goes up like a flying bird and the opposite leg goes up like a peeing dog. I’m not sure if that’s correct but it works for me.
Anyway, be sure to watch the video above from our friend Eric Bach and read the description for this exercise. It may look simple enough but it is almost always done incorrectly. That is why we made sure to include a good video with this exercise, if done incorrectly it is basically useless. Take your time and do it right.
Rounding out our list of the best posterior chain exercises we have the good old fashion pull-up.
It’s a simple enough exercise, grab a bar and pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar, lower yourself back down and repeat. While the action is simple enough it may be difficult for beginners, if you are having trouble doing multiple pull-ups or even getting your very first pull-up check out our article on tips to make your pull-up easier.
Pull-ups work your entire back including the lats, erectors, traps, levator scapulae and your rhomboids. You can also include the teres major, teres minor and many other small muscles in the back you have never heard of along with your biceps, abs, obliques and shoulders.
With a list of muscles worked that long you should definitely be sure to include pull-ups in your regular workout routine, not just for working the posterior chain.
A strong posterior chain is essential, not only for athletes but also for desk jockeys and most everyone wanting to maintain good posture and avoid back pain and muscular imbalances.
Choose a few of these exercises you like a get your posterior chain stronger for a better backside and better overall body.
Ryan is a former college wrestler and lifelong fitness fanatic. He has run half marathons, done mud runs, placed in body transformation contests, coached wrestling and now coaches girls soccer. Not to mention he has also tried literally hundreds of supplements over the years and has a vast and thorough supplement knowledge. He has written for Muscle & Strength, Testosterone Junkie, The Sport Review and other publications. He is also the editor in chief of this website. Feel free connect with him on his LinkedIn page below.