Fitness On the Flip Side: Exercises for Your Posterior Chain

by HAC Personal Trainer, Diana Simpson

As far as most people are concerned, they’re meeting goals from their workouts when they like what they see in the mirror.  This is all well and good, but what about what they don’t see? Many people concentrate on the search for the perfect six-pack or the biggest biceps but neglect to give the same amount of attention to the muscles just opposite of them.

For every muscle group we can see in the front of our bodies, there’s an antagonist (opposite) muscle group on the back of our bodies that is just as important but often overlooked in daily workout routines. The muscles of the posterior chain, that is the muscles that run from our heels to the base of our skulls, are paramount in keeping our bodies functioning properly and injury-free.

The posterior chain plays a role in everything that we do. It helps us to maintain our posture and balance as well as transfer the load from our upper bodies to the ground.  People with weak posterior chain muscles often have lower back pain and postural abnormalities that can eventually lead to difficulty performing not only exercise and sports-related activities, but also basic activities of daily living. Strong abdominal muscles and hip flexors without equal strength in the back and glute muscles will lead to an anterior pelvic tilt. In other words, once our bodies are out of proper alignment, we are at a much greater risk for injury and pain.

There are some simple ways to ensure that we maintain balance during our workouts so that the anterior and posterior muscles are being treated equally. Just think of Newton’s third law: “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  For every muscle that we work to strengthen on the front of the body, we must then work equally on the opposite muscle on the back of the body. With every bicep curl should come a tricep kickback; with every abdominal exercise, a lower back and glute exercise; with every quad, a hamstring; and so on.

Try adding these moves to your current strength workout routine to get a more muscle-inclusive exercise regimen:

1. Rows with dumbbell

Perform (15) reps on each side

Standing in a lunge position with elbow resting on bent front knee, hold dumbbell in opposite hand. Begin with arm fully extended toward the floor and pull dumbbell back to hip height using the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade and bending elbow.  Return arm to fully extended position. Repeat.

2. Back extensions

Perform (15) reps

Lie prone on a stability ball with feet against the wall to brace if needed. Place hands lightly behind the head. Extend your back so that your upper body lifts slightly from the stability ball. Hold for one-two seconds at the top of the exercise. Return to start position.

3. Tricep kickbacks

Perform (15) reps on each side

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in one hand. Bend forward slightly at the waist. With the upper arm pressed against the side of your body begin with the elbow flexed to 90 degrees. Extend the elbow, fully isolating the tricep muscle on the back of the upper arm. Return elbow to 90-degree flexion.

4. Glute kickbacks

Perform (15) reps on each side

Stand on a resistance band, crossing the straps in front of your body and holding the handles in front of your hips. Kick one leg backward, keeping the knee straight as you pull the resistance band back with your foot.

5. Deadlifts

Perform (12) reps

Begin with barbell or kettlebells on the floor. Grasp weights with both hands ensuring that knees are soft and not locked, but that you are not in a squat position. Chest should be lifted, back should be straight, and core should be braced. Using strength from your lower back and hamstrings, lift the barbell or kettlebells. Do not use arms to lift. Return to start position.

6. Hamstring curls

Perform (15) reps

Lie on a mat on your back. Heels propped on a stability ball. Lift hips into a bridge position and curl the ball toward your body by bending knees.  Do not let your hips drop and push the ball away from your body.

These exercises should be incorporated into your strength training routine at least 2-3 times per week in order to ensure that your total body workout really is for your total body. After a few weeks of posterior chain exercises, you should feel as if posture has improved and that you feel more stable during your entire exercise routine. Next time you look in the mirror, turn around —  I bet you’ll like what you see!

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