If you are a serious athlete but have been neglecting your posterior chain—the muscles in the rear of your body, including the hamstrings, glutes, lower back and calves—now is the time to start training these critical muscles. The posterior chain is a major weakness for many high school athletes, so below are my five favorite posterior chain exercises to help bulletproof this important part of your body.
1. Deadlift and Variations
The Deadlift is the king of all exercises because it develops the large muscle groups of the lower body and core, especially the posterior chain. A few variations provide different benefits. Barbell and Trap Bar Deadlifts focus on hip and leg strength when pushing off the floor. Romanian Deadlifts [RDLs] focus more on the glutes, lower back and hamstrings. To add a different twist to these standard exercises, perform them with kettlebells or dumbbells, and perform single-leg variations.
Barbell Deadlifts and Trap Bar Deadlifts: 3-4x3-5
Other Deadlift variations: 3x6-12
2. Glute Ham Raise
The Glute Ham Raise is an excellent way to strengthen the muscles of the posterior chain. Ideally, this exercise should be performed on a Glute Ham Raise machine; however, a partner can hold your feet on the ground.
Unlike the other exercises, the Glute Ham Raise is knee-dominant, which engages your hamstrings differently than hip-dominant exercises. This helps your hamstrings prepare for the rapid and forceful contractions experienced when running.
Athletes who have weak posterior chains have a hard time with this exercise. To progress, perform low reps with your bodyweight; practice the eccentric phase [lowering part]; and use a partner for assistance during the concentric phase [on the way up]. Stronger athletes can perform the exercise for high reps with their own bodyweight or holding a plate across their chest for a moderate number of reps.
Sets/Reps: 3-4x8-15; for athletes new to the exercise, 3x5
3. Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell Swings strengthen the glutes, hamstrings and lower back. They are also great for developing hip power, because they must be performed explosively. There are many variations, including Single-Arm Swings and Double Kettlebell Swings. If you don’t have access to kettlebells, you can perform this exercise with a dumbbell.
4. Back Extension
This exercise targets the lower back muscles, which are critical for supporting the posterior chain. It’s also good for beginners and in-season athletes, because it yields great benefits with low intensity. Perform it in either a Glute Ham Raise machine or a Back Hyper machine. As with the Glute Ham Raise, perform high reps with bodyweight or moderate reps holding a plate or medicine ball across the chest.
5. Sled Drags
These develop explosive leg strength and help overload the hamstrings in a movement that mimics sprinting, which prepares the muscles for the stresses of competition. Sled Drags are particularly beneficial for increasing speed and anaerobic conditioning. If your goal is to increase speed, perform Sled Drags prior to a training session; for conditioning purposes, perform them after a training session.
Speed Goal: 6-10 sets of 10-15 yards before training
Conditioning Goal: 4-6 sets of 30-40 yards after training
Joe Meglio is a strength and conditioning coach at the Underground Strength Gym in Edison, N.J. Mentored by one of the brightest minds in the strength and conditioning industry, Zach Even-Esh, Meglio has worked with athletes at the high school, college and professional level. He specializes in training baseball players. Besides being a strength coach, Meglio competed in his first powerlifting meet in 2010, setting the New Jersey state record for Squat, Deadlift and total in his weight class and division. He graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University in May 2011, following his final season as captain of the baseball team. For more information, please go to MeglioFitness.com.