Posterior chain exercises: strengthen hamstrings and glutes

While your posterior chain muscles run from your neck down to your ankles, the focus is often on the glutes, hamstrings and lower back.

Posterior chain muscles usually don’t get the attention they require because they can’t be seen as easily as anterior muscles on the front of the body.

dumbbell deadlift posterior chain exercise

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However, strength training with posterior chain exercises will help reduce lower back pain, improve posture and boost athletic performance.

Why is the posterior chain important?

It’s important to train and strengthen the posterior chain for several reasons:

  • These muscles drive mobility and support for many exercises and daily activities, such as running, jumping, pushing and pulling, sitting and standing.
  • A strong posterior chain helps the body generate explosiveness and reduces the likelihood of injury.
  • Research has found that a strong posterior chain helps you maintain proper posture and alignment.

If you want to see significant gains in the gym adding posterior chain exercises regularly is going to be mandatory.

A weak posterior chain increases the need for compensation during exercise, resulting in imbalances or injuries. 

Posterior Chain “Lower Body” Muscles

The primary posterior chain muscles include:

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Erector spinae
  • Calf muscles

It is important to work your glute muscles including the gluteus medius, not just the gluteus maximus. To optimally target the posterior chain in the body you want to focus on exercise that has minimal bending at the knee.

Exercise that involves knee flexion interrupts the hip hinge movement. The hip hinge movement involves flexion and extension through the hip joint.

The hip hinge movement pattern places more stress on the calves, hamstrings and glutes. By doing this it helps take stress off the anterior chain muscles like the quads and hip flexors.

Posterior chain exercises to strengthen hamstrings and glutes

Hip thrusts

posterior chain works muscles on the back of the body
posterior chain hip thrust
  • Place your shoulder blades on a box or bench.
  • With feet hip-width, knees bent to approximately 90 degrees and feet flat under knees, use your glutes and core strength to power into a full tabletop position.
  • At the top of the movement, squeeze your glutes and hold for two seconds.
  • Keep chest and chin tucked down even at the top of the movement..

Hip thrusts can be done with bodyweight alone or with equipment such as a barbell, resistance band, dumbbells or kettlebell.

Cable pull through

cable pull through posterior chain
posterior chain works muscles on the backside of the body
  • Set the cable in the lowest position and attach a rope to the end of the pulley.
  • Stand over top of the rope facing away from the machine. Grab the rope and walk away from the anchor point until you feel some resistance.
  • While keeping your arms straight and core engaged, bend over at the hips and allow the pulley system to drive the rope and your hips back toward the column.
  • Pause at the bottom and squeeze your glutes together for a strong lockout. Hinge, then drive yourself back to the top position.

You also can use a resistance band around a pole or anchor to do this exercise.

Dumbbell Romanian deadlift

  • Stand up tall with your feet shoulder-width apart with one dumbbell in each hand, palms facing you.
  • Engage your abs and hinge your hips back as you slowly lower the dumbbells toward the middle of your shins.
  • Stand back up, then squeeze your glutes at the top.

There are several variations to this hip hinge exercise using a barbell including the stiff-legged deadlift, conventional deadlift, sumo deadlift and single leg deadlifts.

Split lunge

  • Place your right foot on a bench or step, keeping your toes pointed, your foot flexed, and pressure penetrating the ball of your left foot [and the top of your right foot].
  • Once in lunge position, lower under control until your right knee just about touches the floor and drive back up through your left leg to the starting position.
  • Make sure your back knee doesn’t collapse toward your body, and that your forward knee doesn’t slide past your toes.

Stability ball hamstring curls

posterior chain ball exercise
hamstring curls are great posterior chain exercises
  • Lie on your back and place the heels and lower calf on top of a stability ball.
  • Keep your legs straight and hands on the floor.
  • Lift your hips into a bridge position and draw your knees in toward your hips as the ball rolls from the calves to the heels.
  • Slowly extend the legs and repeat the motion.

Single leg glute bridge

  • Lie down with your back, palms and feet flat on the floor with your knees bent.
  • Bring your right leg off the floor. Keep the knee bent and flex your toes toward your head.
  • Hold this position as you press your working leg’s foot into the ground as you raise your hips, evenly, toward the ceiling.
  • Keep your back straight and engage your glutes at the top of the movement to prevent your lower back from sagging.
  • Hold at the top for a 2-second count, then lower and repeat. Complete all reps for one side, then repeat on the other.

Kettlebell swings

  • Stand with your legs slightly wider than hip width. Grip a kettlebell in both hands, letting it hang down in front of you. To begin, lower your body into a half-squat, hinging forward at the hips to bring the kettlebell back toward your butt.
  • Swing the kettlebell forward using only your hip hinge and arm muscles—tighten your core and keep your spine straight to avoid using your lower back.
  • Keep the kettlebell swinging all the way up until it is either at chest height or, if you’re going for a more shoulders-oriented workout, above your head.
  • As the weight comes down, hinge forward at the hips and let the kettlebell swing toward your butt again.

Good morning

posterior chain good morning
good mornings are a good posterior chain exdercise
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a neutral spine and head straight.
  • Place a loaded barbell behind your neck. Bend your knees slightly but keep your lower back straight as you hinge forward at the hips, with your weight primarily on your heels.
  • Lower your upper body until you’re close to 90-degree angle.
  • Using only the muscles in your hips and pelvis, push your upper body back into the starting upright position.

Posterior chain workout routine

Lateral lungeRepeat side to side for 30 seconds
Hip extension20 reps on each leg
Banded hip abduction15 each side
Hip Thrusts55
Split lunge512-15
Kettlebell swings310

Equipment for exercises

Ensure you are using proper form while strength training to improve the muscle groups on the back of your body. In time you will be able to increase your muscular strength and improve your muscle imbalances you might have over your entire body.

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