Tony's Training Tips: The Posterior Chain

Lift with your legs, not your back.
— The person with no back


In last weeks blog post, I wrote about the value that accessory work holds in program design. If you haven’t given that post a read, I suggest doing so before moving on, but I will try to paraphrase. It doesn’t matter what compound exercise (multi-joint) you take into consideration, you will always have a muscle group that is preventing you from doing more. This isn’t just limited to lifting more weight. It could also be considered when attempting to increase your ability to perform more reps at a given intensity. If your grip strength is not strong enough to hold onto 300 pounds for 1 rep, obviously you wont be able to do it. If your grip strength isn’t strong enough to hold onto 300 pounds for 5 reps, once again, you obviously wont be able to do it. The posterior chain may be strong enough to lift the chest and extend the hips 5 times, but an athlete that lacks requisite grip strength will always be riding the struggle bus until the “weakness” is addressed.

Today I am going to provide three accessory exercises that everybody can benefit from doing, and they all revolve around the posterior chain (every muscle on your backside). A well-developed posterior chain is strongly correlated with athletic performance.

The number one exercise on my list is done on that machine that sits way back in the corner of the gym, and is, in my opinion, under-utilized: the reverse hyper. The reverse hyper primarily targets the low back, but the glutes and hamstring get some love from this exercise too. There are very few exercises that allow the low back to safely flex and extend, which is why I believe it is the most valuable. First off, have a coach walk you through how to perform this exercise properly. It will take a few times before your muscles learn how to activate properly, but once you get it figured you, perform 3-5 sets of 12-20 reps twice a week. After 3-4 weeks, I have no doubt that your lower back will be stronger as a result.

Secondly, I am a big fan of back extensions. A back extension is performed on the GHD (Glute-Ham Developer). The hips are placed on the top of the pad to prevent any hip hinging that may take place. Much like the reverse hyper and low back relationship, there are very few exercises in which we ask you to safely flex and extend your back (spinal erectors in particular), which is why I believe these two exercises to be as valuable as they are. Ask a coach to walk you through how to properly execute this movement, then perform 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps. Once your body adapts to the body weight variation, you can change the stimulus by adding weight.

Lastly, you can’t go wrong with an old fashioned hip extension (often confused with bock extensions. The hip extension requires that you hinge only at the hip while the back remains neutral. Adjust the GHD so that the pad is in the middle of your thighs. This exercise target the glutes at the top of the range of motion and hamstrings near the bottom. 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps is a good starting place for the first few weeks. Adding weight to the movement is another effective way to change the stimulus. Take your time with this particular exercise, as you will lose any benefit you could experience from hip extensions if you move through this exercise too quickly. In our strength class, I will often program these to a tempo to control the pace of the movement.

Like all exercises, performing the movement properly is paramount. Make sure to pick the brains of your coaches to ensure that you are using proper technique. Or, better yet, come and spend a few months training with me in our Strength class to give you a fair opportunity to dial these accessory exercises in.

-Coach Tony