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Posterior Chain: What you need to know

The posterior chain is a group of muscles vital to athletic performance.

In this article we will examine:

What is the posterior chain?

The ‘posterior chain’ is a term that refers to the group of muscles on the backside (posterior) of the body and function as a supportive and combined chain for almost all body movements, especially those required for athletic performance. This chain consists of muscles working in unison to achieve greater stability and power including the; upper back muscles (i.e. trapezius), the erector spinae which extends the spine, latissimus Dorsi (lats) and mid back muscles, Glutes, hamstrings and calves.

Why is it Important?

This group of muscles extends the body and creates explosiveness and strength through all phases of athletic performance. The ‘posterior chain’ is the group of muscles that work together to propel you to run faster, jump higher, pivot and move freely throughout movements.

While heavily linked to athletic performance the posterior chain is also a large contributor to posture and weight bearing during day to day proceedings. This group of muscles is the stabilising force behind your day to day movements and a key determinant of athletic performance.

Due to the nature of the group of muscles their function is to work together and deficiencies within individual muscles have a tendency to be detrimental to the whole chain. This is important when assessing your training techniques and regimes. The requirement of the chain to be used collectively can mean that isolated exercises and a dependency on them while eliciting benefits to that muscle can create and imbalance within the chain and increase your risk of injury. A focus on compound movements should be used to compliment your training program to create a good foundation.

Think of it like this; you could run a business with geniuses in every department, the best at what they do; however they don't work together(isolation exercises).

Unless they learn to work together you won't have a great business (posterior chain).

Furthermore, The importance of the posterior chain is so significant that it can not be neglected. Sprinters are using their legs, then why do they build their whole body? Because they understand force production and the role that the posterior chain from calf to trapezius plays within their explosiveness and muscular recruitment.

How to maintain and strengthen the posterior chain? 

The posterior chain is as described before a broad group of muscles that have different requirements individually, however simply they contract and lengthen in a manner similar to a chain.

The fact that they activate and work as a unit does not infer that Isolation exercise are not applicable to the chain but rather accessory movements to any athletic performance program that works on Strength, Flexibility, Fluidity and the ability to rotate, lift, jump or land to increase athletic and movement performance. Two of the main aspects of the posterior chain as it operates across the entire rear of the body are strength and flexibility.

Posterior chain strength

Compound movements such as Loaded squats, Deadlifts, Lunges, Plank rows, Glute Bridges both single and double leg(double leg with a band above the knee for heightened glute activation). Are all examples of exercises that achieve a high level of muscular recruitment amongst the posterior chain and can focus on the strength and muscular activation of the posterior chain through movements to derive performance benefits.

If you are not familiar with these exercises remember that as with any gym based movement and strength routine the weights are just tools to elicit a response. If you don’t use the tools correctly there is a chance for injury, Form is more important than the weight as you must teach the chain to work properly and then you can scale up the weight gradually.

If you are interested in more exercises, check out our hamstring strengthening exercise guide.

Posterior chain flexibility

The muscles of the body are bundles of nerve powered springs that pull and push, Lengthen and contract to create movements through these movements. By increasing the ability of muscles to extend you inherently increase their ability to contract and generate force. The inclusion of flexibility training and stretching is highly recommended for strength and injury prevention. Flexibility training can increase the body's ability to adapt and weight bear through a movement.

If you are interested in more information on flexibility, check out our guide to getting rid of tight hamstrings.

Summary

In summary, the posterior chain works in unison for almost all aspects of movement and performance and should be viewed as both the collective and individual muscles to enable the identification of shortcomings in the chain and the optimisation of the chains neuromuscular recruitment to reduce the risk of injury and improve performance.