If you’ve trained for any extent of time, you’ve most likely heard of the posterior chain.
Most people have.
But, most people don’t fully understand what muscles make up the posterior chain and the important role they play in everyday life and in athletic performance.
To state it simply, the posterior chain is comprised of the muscles on the backside of your body. It’s primary muscles and their functions include the following.
It’s these muscles that typically cause the aches and pains you might feel throughout your back (especially your lower back), your knees and ankles when they don’t get the attention and care they need. But it is also these muscles that give you great athleticism when they do receive attention and proper training. They are crucial for movement and great athleticism. From hip extension to jumping, pushing, pulling, running and even sitting down and standing up, the posterior chain muscles play an important role in just about everything you do during training, competition and everyday life.
The problem most people have with their posterior chain muscles is they often neglect the posterior chain, so it doesn’t get the care and attention it needs. This happens for two main reasons. The first reason is most people nowadays are sitting eight – nine – ten plus hours a day. In the sitting position, the quadriceps become adaptively short and tight. This inhibits the glutes and keeps them from being effective in their primary role as hip stabilizers and extensors. The result from this is the lower back and hamstrings end up taking on extra work to compensate for the glutes. The IT Band, TFL plus the piriformis also take on additional load, leading to a whole cascade of low back, hip, knee and foot problems.
The posterior chain is also commonly neglected for the simple reason that none of these muscles are what is commonly referred to as “Beach Muscles”. They aren’t muscles you easily see in the mirror. For many people, the posterior chain muscles are out of sight and out of mind, which results in them not getting the attention the anterior chain or the front muscles (AKA Beach Muscles) get.
The solution for most common problems within the posterior chain is to train the posterior chain and strengthen it. Improving posterior strength improves overall health, helps with athletic performance while reducing the chance of injury. Lower back pain and poor performance can be caused by shortened hip flexors, lack of core stability and poor posterior chain strength, which can all be corrected with proper training and time.
The goal is to strengthen the posterior chain and bring a balance between the anterior chain and posterior chain. Since the anterior chain typically gets more focus and ends up dominating over the posterior chain, you should develop a well-rounded workout routine to strengthen the posterior chain. Keep in mind; we don’t want either the anterior chain or posterior chain to dominate over the other. We want a balance between the two.
Below is a more in-depth look at each muscle we listed above from the posterior chain, their importance and a few exercises you can implement into your workout routine to strengthen each posterior chain muscle.
Posterior Chain Muscles and Exercises:
Multifidus (spine support):
One of the smallest and most important muscle groups for spine support, the multifidus is a series of small muscles attached to the spinal column that takes pressure off the vertebral discs so our body weight can be distributed along the spine.
The multifudus is broken down into two muscle groups. The first muscle is superficial, which works to keep the spine straight. The second muscle group is called deep, which contributes to spine stability.
These muscle groups are engaged during many activates during sports performance and daily activities, including bending backward, bending sideways, and turning to the side. The multifidus muscles activate before any action to protect the spine from injury.
Exercises to strengthen the multifidus and prevent injury include:
Erector Spinae (back and spine extension):
The erector spinae consists of three long, thin muscle groups running vertically up each side of the vertebral column. Collectively, these muscles are the prime movers in spinal extension and spinal lateral flexion. The erector spinae extends the spine to create an arched back capable of handling heavy loads. The three muscles creating the erector spinae are as follows. The spinalis sits midially right next to the spine. Next is the longissimus, which is the meat of the group. Iliocostalis is the third and main attachment to the illium and ribs.
Exercises to strengthen the erector spinae and help prevent injury include:
Gluteal Muscles (hip extensors, femoral rotation):
The gluteal muscles or the buttocks muscles are made up of three muscles. Together the gluteal muscles play a major role in hip abduction and adduction, hip extension and flexion, and internal/external hip rotation.
The three muscles comprised to create the gluteal muscles and their functions are the gluteus maximus which is responsible for external hip rotation, hip extension, hip adduction and transverse hip abduction. The gluteus medius engages during hip abduction, internal and external hip rotation and transverse hip abduction. The gluteus minimus engages in hip abduction, internal hip rotation and transverse hip abduction.
Exercises to strengthen the gluteal muscles and help prevent injury include:
Hamstring Muscles (hip extension, knee flexion):
The hamstrings attach from underneath the gluteus maximus on the pelvic bone to the tibia. The hamstrings work with two joints. The first joint is the hip, which they extend the hip when the trunk is fixed. The hamstrings also flex the knee and rotate the lower leg inwardly when the knee is bent. The hamstring is made up of primarily fast-twitch fibres, however, they serve to decelerate the lower leg in a sagittal plane movement or forward-backward movement. The hamstrings are comprised of three different muscles and typically respond well to low reps and powerful movements. The three different muscles, which make up the hamstrings are made up of the biceps femoris which both the long and short head perform knee flexion. The semitendinosus helps extend the hip joint and bend the knee joint and the semimembranosus helps extend the hip joint, bend the knee joint and medially rotate the knee.
Exercises to strengthen the hamstring muscles and help prevent injury include:
Gastrocnemius or Calf (plantar flexas ankle, knee flexion):
The calves consist of two primary muscles. The gastrocnemius, which makes up the bulk of the calf and is heart or diamond-shaped at the top of the calf. The gastrocnemius has two heads the medial and lateral. It elevates the heel and is an important contributor at the knee joint as a joint flexor and stabilizer. The soleus located beneath the gastrocnemius is the fan-shaped calf muscle that attaches to the Achilles tendon, which then connects to the heel bone. The soleus raises the heel but works when the knee is bent. When the calf muscles contract, they lift your heels and shift your weight to the ball of your feet. The calf is used in everyday activities, such as walking, running or climbing stairs.
Exercises to strengthen the calf muscles and prevent injury include:
External Obliques (back and spine support, in tandem with anterior core):
The external obliques on each side of the rectus abdominis run diagonally downward and inward from the lower ribs and the pelvis. They help to rotate the torso as well as spine flexion, sideways bending, abdomen compression. Additionally, the external obliques also help pull the chest downward to compress the abdominal cavity.
Exercises to help prevent injury and strengthen the external obliques muscles include:
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