It’s the muscles you can’t see that will make you a better athlete. Here are the best exercises to train your posterior chain properly.
The strength of an athlete’s posterior chain is of paramount importance. Most only focus on the “mirror” muscles, often times neglecting both their glutes and hamstrings. Big mistake, especially when these muscles play a role in any athletic movement you’re looking to perform (running, jumping, throwing, etc).
With a weak or inhibited glutes, you won’t be able to run as fast, or jump as high, and will rely on your hamstring and lower back much more. This is why you often see people with low back pain and hamstring problems. Short hip flexor length, lack of core stability, and lack of posterior chain strength can all be causes of lower back pain and poor performance. Thus, improving single leg posterior chain strength with these exercises will help not only your athletic performance, but your overall health too.
Single Leg Glute Bridges
Glute bridges and hip thrust variation are the best exercises to specifically target the glutes. During this exercise, keep your abs tight to fire the core and squeeze your glutes together as tight as possible. Additionally, you’ll want to focus on extending through the hips while keeping the lower back out of the exercise by flexing the opposite hip. This isometric works the muscles of the hip flexor, and keeps the lumbar spine from extending.
If you’re looking to mix things up, elevate the upper back in order to recruit more glute while increasing the range of motion. Chains or light sandbags are the best way to load this exercise, but take a look at the video below to help you with your form before adding weight.
Single Leg Slide Board Leg Curl
Having mastered the glute bridge, let’s progress to the slide board leg curl. Looking to prevent hamstring pulls? This exercise is your insurance. Targeting the hamstrings and glutes, this will, in a more isometric fashion, work to help keep the hips extended. Like the back elevated glute bridge, you can keep the opposite hip flexed in order to prevent any excessive lumbar spine extension.
I love this exercise because it mimics the sprinting motion used by all athletes. We usually don’t load this exercise very much, but if needed, you can add bands around your ankles to increase resistance of the knee flexion and chains across the weight to resist the hip extension.
A common exercise where you see straight leg hip extension is the bird dog where you extend opposite arm and opposite leg. The major problem with this exercise is many people have trouble dissociating the lumbar spine from the hips. In other words they will extend their back instead of their hips.
The super dog, from strength coach Nick Tumminello, eliminates that problem. By flexing your opposite hip you can limit any lumbar extension to get a pure hip extension movement. This is a great exercise to be used as a warm up or during a workout:
One Leg Back Raises
Back raises are one of the best ways to develop posterior chain strength. They can be performed on a glute ham bench, or on a 45 degree bench with one leg in the support (and the other on top). Cross your arms as if in a front squat position and think about lifting your elbows up and keeping your spine long as you go down. This will help prevent lumbar flexion. Medicine balls, chains, dumbbells, or kettlebells are good ways to load this exercise but I’ve found this to be a great way to help progress someone to a better single leg deadlift since it takes the balance out of the equation.
If you don't have access to a back raise or glute ham device he or she can use the foot elevated straight glute bridge to train this pattern. This variation of the glute bridge will emphasize the hamstrings more than the bent leg back elevated version. Chains can be used to load the exercise as you get stronger. Here is an example below.
Reaching Single Leg Deadlift
The single leg deadlift is the ultimate single leg posterior chain exercise. The major problem is, in this position, it’s extremely difficult for a lot of people to balance on one leg. It takes a lot of core and hip stability, and can be done with either body weight or a light medicine ball to help counter balance. For people with severe balance issues, stick with single leg back raises a little longer before moving on to single leg deadlifts, and keep a slight bend in your knee when you eventually do progress to them.
Weighted Single Leg Deadlift
Upon mastering the single leg deadlift, feel free to load this exercise with one dumbbell or kettlebell. This is a contra lateral pattern (opposite arm opposite leg) which mimics athletic movements like sprinting. Again, if balance is an issue, set boxes up to lift the weights off the floor from an elevated position. This will make the movement more stable before you start performing the exercise. As the athlete gets more proficient they can progress to two dumbbells, kettlebells, or even a barbell.
These six posterior chain exercises will improve your speed, balance, and overall athletic performance. Not only can you do them anywhere, but if you’re doing them properly, they’ll keep you on the field and off of the sidelines. Remember to take your time, progress slowly, and know that the muscles you can’t see are the ones truly making you a better athlete.
To maximize your gains with these exercises 1R would recommend the following supplements: