The backside of your body is essential for most of your everyday movements, and you may not realize it, but there’s a formal name for that collection of muscle groups that help you balance, walk, and more: the posterior chain. And just because it’s not the first thing you see when you look in the mirror doesn’t mean it should be taken for granted. Keeping your posterior chain strong and healthy is key for good posture and reducing injuries, as well as working out and moving more efficiently. We talked to three experts on what the posterior chain is, and why and how you should be exercising it.
Meet the Expert
What Is the Posterior Chain, and Why Is It Important?
Your posterior chain is a “myofascial connection train that connects your toes to the top of your head,” says Lev Kalika, DC, owner of New York Dynamic Neuromuscular Rehabilitation & Physical Therapy. It’s a structural and functional connection of muscles, ligaments, facia, and tendons, which allows your backside to work as a single functional unit during movement. It spans across the length of the back of the soles, back of the legs, and the whole spine, attaching all the way to the head.
In other words, Brittany Robles, MD, an ob-gyn and a NASM-certified personal trainer, says the posterior chain refers to the muscle groups in the back of your body. This includes the hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and lower back, which are the strongest muscle groups in your body and also where you generate power for everyday things like running and picking things off the floor. She adds that a strong posterior chain will also help you maintain strong and healthy joints, especially in the spine.
What Are the Benefits to Exercising the Posterior Chain?
Exercising your posterior chain will strengthen those backside muscles, but there are also additional benefits.
- Create muscular balance: Many people train the muscles in the anterior (front) side of the body, specifically the quadriceps, says Robles. This can create an imbalance that may lead to compensations that ultimately lead to pain and injury in the knee joint and lower back. Training the posterior chain can fix this imbalance.
- Improve posture and balance: Your posterior chain is what helps propel you forward, says Ava Williams, MD, a primary care doctor at Doctor Spring. Your day-to-day activities all use your posterior chain, so by exercising it, it can help you stabilize and coordinate the force you exert for any movement.
- Work out stronger: Because the posterior chain includes the hamstrings and glutes, working out the posterior chain can strengthen those large muscles and help you run faster and lift heavier, says Williams.
- Improve your metabolism: Your muscle mass determines your resting metabolic rate, or the rate at which your body burns calories at rest, explains Williams. By working out the posterior chain, you’re building mass in large muscle groups, which can help increase the calories you’re burning when you’re not working out.
- Improve your gait: A strong posterior chain can bring your center of mass back to the center, helping you to move better, says Kalika.
- Enhance your proprioception: Proprioception is the ability to sense the motion and position of your body at any given time (e.g., being able to touch your finger to your nose even with your eyes closed). Kalika says that exercising your posterior chain, which is a series of connections, can multiple and summate your sensory information. “What wires together, fires together,” he says.
What Are Some Exercises You Can Do for the Posterior Chain?
The posterior chain is like a bowstring, says Kalika, so if you lengthen it dynamically, it will pull you back. Any exercise that brings your center of mass back or lengthens the calves, hamstrings, and back muscles at the same time will train your posterior chain. To engage the entire posterior chain, try complex movements such as the airplane and the death march.
Robles recommends exercises that extend or straighten the hip joint but keep your spine neutral. This includes exercises such as glute bridges, sumo squats, conventional deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and back raises.
What Are the Potential Posterior Chain Workout Risks?
With any type of exercise, there is potential risk for injury. If you don’t perform hip extension exercises properly, says Robles, you can put extra pressure on your lower back and hurt yourself. She recommends when doing exercises to keep your back as neutral as possible (avoid letting your lower back arch), and focus on squeezing and engaging your glutes.
If you have any lower-back pain or hamstring issues, Kalika doesn’t recommend exercising the posterior chain. One structure in the chain not working properly can throw the whole body off, which can lead to further pain in those areas or the rest of the body. Instead, consult a doctor or physical therapist before trying any new exercises.