Running faster and improving your athletic performance begins with your posterior chain.
More often than not, strength professionals, personal trainers and weekend warriors are guilty of focusing heavily on exercises that develop the front side of the body (anterior chain). Exercises that focus on this muscle group are bench press, squat, leg press, shoulder/military pressing & abdominal work. These muscles are important; they’re the primary muscle group that accelerates the body from point A to point B, whether it’s a sprint, a vertical jump or a throw. However, how does the body decelerate all these explosive movements? It utilizes the posterior chain of the body. The posterior kinetic chain includes the hamstrings (back of leg), gluteus maximus (buttocks), erector spinae (low back), latissimus dorsi (upper back), trapezius (mid back/shoulders) and posterior deltoids (back side of shoulder) and it has a huge impact on your speed, explosiveness and overall strength.
In part 1 of our 3-part series, we will focus mainly on the hamstrings (back of leg) and glutes (buttocks).
The hamstrings play a vital role in almost every sport; strong, flexible hamstrings are a vital component to improving speed, as well as deceleration, and also help maintain good knee joint stability. Specifically for the female athlete, research has shown that strong hamstrings are very important in preventing ACL injuries, even tears. The hamstrings should be trained with the same focus and intensity as the quad (front side of leg) as to maintain proper balance in these muscle groups. When starting a hamstring strengthening program, you should begin with little or no weight and work through a full, pain-free, range of motion. Workouts should start with 2-3 sets and 5-8 reps, from there, progress to reps of 10-15 until you have the confidence and ability to start adding weight. When you decide to add weight, drop the reps back down to the range of 5-8 and maintain the same amount reps while increasing weight over time.
The gluteus maximus (buttocks) provides a hub to transfer load from the hamstrings to the low back and vice versa. Having the ability to engage and properly activate your glutes will provide stability thru the various movements of the hip. It’s difficult to isolate the glutes with just one exercise, however, when training your lower back and/or hamstrings make sure you are always trying to “flex” your glutes before and after the movement. At first, it may start to cramp, but after a few weeks, it will start to tighten on its own, and win-win for your training and your personal physique (don’t act like the latter doesn’t matter to you).
Three easy exercises that I use when training the hamstring/glute section of the posterior chain is the Romanian Dead Lift (RDL), Towel Hamstring Curl and Bent Knee Hip Extension with the athletes feet on a Physioball.
Romanian Dead Lifts
When performing the Romanian Dead Lift (RDL), great posture is the key to success in a very technical exercise. Start this exercise using only the bar for 2-3 sets and 4-8 reps. After you get used to the exercise, you can begin to add weight and really start the strengthening process. Key points to remember when performing the RDL include the follwoing:
• Start with a parallel stance, with your feet about 12-15 inches apart.
• Slightly bend your knees to release any pressure or stress on the lower back.
• Initiate bar movement, but moving your hips away from the bar as you transfer weight to the back 2/3rds of your feet.
• Lower the bar towards the ground, keeping the bar close to your body, and maintaining slightly bent but fixed knees.
• Once the bar reaches about mid shin, begin to stand upright will bringing the bar back to the initial starting position.
Towel Hamstring Curl
The Towel Hamstring Curl is similar to the lying hamstring curl that is done on a machine, however, it activated the hip and glute stabilizers better for an overall better exercise. Start with 2 sets of 5-6 reps and after a few weeks progress to 3 sets of 5-8 reps. Continue to add reps each week until you have reached 12 reps per set.
• Lying on your back, with your legs straight, place a towel under your heels.
• Lift your hips off the ground and pull your heels toward your buttocks.
• Maintain full hip extension until knees are completely bent.
• Slowly return your feet to starting position.
Bent Knee Hip Extension
The Bent Knee Hip Extension is a favorite exercise of mine. You get good hip, gluteus and low back stabilization, plus it gets a little hamstring work as well. Start with 2 sets of 5-6 reps and progress slowly until you can do 3 sets of 10-12 reps. Once you can do this with great control and technique, restart the progression, but close your eyes when doing it. It’s a great new way to challenge your motor skills!
• Using a Physioball, place your heels in the middle of the ball, with your knees bent at 90 deg.
• Place your hands on the ground next to you, palms down.
• Press your heels into the ball, and push your hips to the sky.
• At full extension, pause for 2 seconds and flex all the muscles on the backside of your body.
• Return to the start position for a ½ second and repeat.
In addition to the lower body exercises above, 1R would recommend the following supplements to maximize strength gains in your posterior chain: