Posterior chain exercises are the backbone of athletic performance. Without a strong posterior chain, you’re not going to perform as well as you could otherwise!
As a professional basketball player, strengthening the posterior chain muscles is essential for helping me:
- Have Strength While Playing Through Contact
- Slide My Feet on Defense Effectively
- Improving My Vertical Jump
- Improving Sprinting Speed
- Building Foundational Strength to Resist Injuries
For those of you who aren’t training for an athletic competition, posterior chain exercises help improve your posture, give you a nice-round backside, and strengthen your core for an overall healthy body.
What is the Posterior Chain?
The posterior chain is the group of muscles on the backside (posterior) of your body. These muscles include your hamstrings, back muscles, calves, and glutes amongst others.
Unlike the anterior muscles (pectorals, quadriceps, biceps, anterior delts) these muscles are often neglected because the majority of exercises we do, and natural motions we do, work in the anterior direction.
For example, most people do more bench presses than pull-ups.
Most posterior chain workouts are focused on the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings because these are areas which are generally neglected too much, and can also cause issues with your back health and posture. If you neglect to do posterior chain exercises and posterior chain workouts, you can easily end up with chronic back pain or poor posture.
Here are the best posterior chain exercises, in my opinion:
The 10 Best Exercises for Your Posterior Chain
In my opinion, the 10 best posterior chain exercises are:
- Glute Bridges
- Kettlebell Swings
- Trap Bar Deadlift
- Forearm Plank
- Back Extensions
- Single Leg Deadlifts
- Hang Clean or Power Clean
- Back Squat
- Bulgarian Split Squat
- Prowler Sled Push
Keep reading below to learn more about what I consider to be the 10 best exercises for your posterior chain!
1.) Glute Bridges
Although there are other exercises which involve using weight or other forms of resistance, but to begin strengthening your posterior, there is no better exercise than the glute bridge.
Glute bridges are a very simple exercise, and you can even perform them at home each day.
Personally, I use glute bridges as a warm-up to most of my workouts, and especially before basketball workouts.
Glute bridges are possibly the best exercise for activating the glute muscles, which is why they are very useful before heavy squats, deadlifts, or cleans.
After you master the traditional glute bridge, you can try some more advanced variations. For example, you can use the single leg glute bridge to target imbalances within your legs. Check out this video of a single leg glute bridge variation I use.
2.) Kettlebell Swings
If glute bridges are the first posterior chain exercise you should work on, kettlebell swings are absolutely the second. Similar to glute bridges, kettlebell swings are an excellent exercise for your glute muscles.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy,
“The Two-Handed Kettlebell Swing (THKS) and Single-Handed Kettlebell Swing (SHKS) provide sufficient muscular recruitment for strengthening of all of the muscles explored. This is the first study to show significant correlations between passive hip flexor length and muscular activation of hip extensors, particularly the Gluteus Maximus (GMax). Finally, the Biceps Femoris (BF) consistently reached peak activity before the GMax and (Gluteus Medius) GMed during the SHKS.”
Kettlebell swings are excellent for developing speed and power, and they are especially effective for burning a massive number of calories in a short amount of time.
Improving your skills with the kettlebell swing will make performing squats or deadlifts much easier because they help ingrain the “hinge” motion necessary for heavier exercises.
If you want to try a more difficult variation, check out this video of me performing kettlebell swings with a resistance band attached!
3.) Trap Bar Deadlift
Compared to the conventional deadlift and the back squat, the trap bar deadlift is a far superior exercise for many reasons.
Of all the weighted exercises for the posterior chain, the trap bar deadlift is the simplest to learn and provides the widest range of overall benefits.
The main reason that the trap bar deadlift is better than the conventional deadlift or back squat for most people is because it is a simple exercise to learn and there is not a large risk of injury.
According to a study that compared 1-repetition maximums between the trap bar deadlift (High-Handle Hexagonal Bar Deadlift) and the conventional deadlift which was published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,
“There were no differences in Conventional Deadlift (CD) or High-Handle Hexagonal Bar Deadlift (HHBD) mechanics between subjects with or without an Sticking Region (SR), and no differences in SR region distance or duration between the CD and HHBD. Greater force can be generated in the HHBD, which could have implications for strength-training adaptations over time.”
4.) Forearm Plank
Although the forearm plank isn’t necessarily a posterior chain exercise, it does wonders for strengthening your entire posterior chain.
In my opinion, the forearm plank is the overall best core exercise.
When you perform the forearm plank, you will instantly notice that your entire core contracts, and even your glutes and hamstrings must fire to maintain the proper position. Improving your ability to hold the forearm plank might not add lean muscle mass to your body, but it certainly will strengthen your muscles and keep your body healthy.
Especially for those people who sit in a desk too much or have other posture problems, the forearm plank is easily one of the best exercises to use in your workout program!
5.) Back Extension
Of all the exercises on this list, the back-extension exercise is probably the “truest” posterior chain exercise. Back extensions are one of the best exercises for targeting your hamstrings and glute muscles, and you can easily add weight to this exercise when it becomes too easy for you.
I like to use higher reps (12-20) for this exercise, although rarely I will hold more weight in my hands and do lower reps (5-10).
6.) Single Leg Deadlifts
Single leg deadlifts are one of two single leg exercises on my list, and they are one of the best exercises for building posterior chain mobility and strength. By using single leg deadlifts, you strengthen your knee, hip, and ankle joints along with the posterior chain muscles.
This is another exercise you can start by using your bodyweight only, and then add weight after you master the movement.
If you want a bigger challenge, you can try BOSU Ball single leg deadlifts or single leg deadlifts on other instability devices.
7.) Hang Clean or Power Clean
Both the hang clean and power clean are excellent exercises for posterior chain muscle mass and power!
The only problem with these two exercises is that they are difficult to learn, and some people might never do them properly. Also, this exercise is relatively dangerous, so if you can’t do them perfectly, you shouldn’t use them at all.
Since I am 6’ 10”, I prefer to use the hang clean instead of the power clean. Shorter lifters will probably feel more comfortable with these exercises than taller lifters.
8.) Back Squat
If you want a truly impressive posterior chain, you need to learn how to back squat properly at some point in time. The back squat is probably the single most fundamental movement for developing an aesthetic body, and it is incredibly effective for your posterior chain.
The main considerations you should have about this exercise are proper form and proper rep schemes.
Personally, I prefer to do the 20 rep squat program. You can check out the video below to see an example of me doing 20 rep squats:
9.) Bulgarian Split Squat
Bulgarian split squats are my favorite exercise overall, and they are another amazing posterior chain exercise. Compared to other exercises on this list, Bulgarian split squats target your quadriceps a lot as well.
I suggest you start with your bodyweight only, and then add weight slowly but steadily.
Once you have developed strength with a decent amount of weight, you can try various other forms of resistance to make the exercise more challenging.
Check out this example:
10.) Prowler Sled
Lastly, the prowler sled is a full body conditioning tool that you can use to annihilate your posterior chain muscles.
The main exercise for your posterior chain is the traditional prowler sled push. However, there are many other prowler sled exercises you can try as well.
I try to use the prowler sled each off-season as much as possible!
Check out this video of my heaviest prowler sled push ever:
Concluding Thoughts – How to Strengthen Your Posterior Chain
If you want to build a sculpted back-side and a well-rounded physique, I suggest you add these posterior chain exercises in your workout routine a couple times per week. Many of these exercises are simple enough that you can do them at home, which is beneficial as well.
Exercises such as the forearm plank, glute bridges, and back extensions are great warm up exercises, although you can certainly do them in the middle of your workouts as well. Also, you can do these exercises more often, if not each time you do weight training.
For exercises like the power clean, trap bar deadlift, prowler sled push, or other heavy exercises, you should try to do one or two of these in a workout, at least twice per week.
Including posterior chain exercises in your workouts will also help you with long-term back health or dealing with chronic back pain, if it is currently an issue for you.
If you are an athlete, doing posterior chain workouts and exercises can help improve your strength, speed, stamina, stability and much more!
Overall, this is an invaluable set of exercises!
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