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 inverted rows.
Therefore, posterior chain workouts are focused on the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings because these are areas that 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, poor posture, reduced athletic performance, and other issues.
If you’re an athlete, doing posterior chain exercises can have an enormous impact on your athletic abilities. If you’re not an athlete, posterior chain exercises are great for maintaining a healthy posture, strengthening your core for an overall healthy body, and building an overall aesthetic physique, amongst other benefits.
If you are an athlete, strengthening the posterior chain muscles can help you:
- Jump Higher
- Run Faster
- Move Quicker
- Stay Healthy
In my opinion, the 14 best posterior chain exercises are:
- Glute Bridges
- Good Mornings
- Back Extensions
- Forearm Plank
- Trap Bar Deadlifts
- Goblet Squats
- Kettlebell Swings
- Romanian Deadlift
- Single-Leg Deadlifts
- Prowler Sled Push
- Bulgarian Split Squat
- Back Squat
- Snatch Grip Deadlift
- Hang Clean or Power Clean
I will discuss each of these posterior chain exercises in order of difficulty (in my opinion).
Learn more about the best posterior chain exercises below:
1.) Glute Bridges
Although there are other great posterior chain exercises, 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.
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:
You can also add a resistance band around your knees, or squeeze a medicine ball between your legs to make your glute bridges for challenging as well.
3-4 sets of 10-20 glute bridges at the beginning of your workouts is a great way to strengthen your posterior chain, and it is a great foundation for an awesome posterior chain workout.
2.) Good Mornings
Good mornings are another simple, effective posterior chain exercise. Good mornings are basically a standing hip hinge that activates your posterior chain muscles.
Although some people do good mornings with a barbell on their back, I prefer to do them with a resistance band around my waist that is attached to a fixed object behind me.
Good mornings are a perfect exercise for improving your hip hinge mechanics, and they are a great warm-up exercise for deadlifts or squats. Similar to glute bridges, 3-4 sets of 10-20 reps are perfect for good mornings.
3.) Back Extension
Of all the exercises on this list of best posterior chain exercises, the back-extension exercise might be 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 occasionally I will hold more weight in my hands and do lower reps (5-10).
If you don’t have a back extension machine available, you can do back extensions on a physioball as well, like this:
4.) Forearm Plank
In my opinion, the forearm plank is the best alternative to crunches, and it is definitely one of the best posterior chain exercises.
When you perform the forearm plank, you will instantly notice that your entire core contracts and even your glutes and hamstrings must be activated 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 posterior chain muscles and keep your body healthy.
Especially for those people who sit at a desk too much or have other posture problems, the forearm plank is easily one of the best posterior chain exercises to add to your workout program!
There are many ways to challenge yourself with the forearm plank as well. You can try to hold a plank for longer periods of time, you can add weight on your back, you can use a stability ball or BOSU ball, or you can try lifting and lowering your feet or arms while holding the plank.
If you can hold a forearm plank for 2-minutes, you are likely very strong!
5.) Trap Bar Deadlift
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 that it is a simple exercise to learn and there is not a large risk of injury.
Also, most people can lift more weight on the trap bar deadlift than the conventional deadlift, which makes it a more useful exercise.
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.”
The trap bar deadlift is a very easy exercise to learn and an outstanding posterior chain exercise.
6.) Goblet Squats
Although the goblet squat is a great quadriceps exercise, it is also a tremendous posterior chain exercise.
The goblet squat is the first squat that you should learn when you begin strength training, and it is the precursor for all other types of squats.
Learning the goblet squat will teach you how to maintain a proper spine position while squatting, and how to properly push from the lowest point of your squat.
Goblet squats are one of the best posterior chain exercises because not only are they beneficial for your hamstrings and glutes, but they also promote upper back and core development. Due to the front-loaded position of the weight for goblet squats, your upper back and core muscles have to do tons of work to maintain a proper position for your squat.
Although back squats and front squats are often favored because they are better for building muscle mass since you can do use more weight with them, the goblet squat is certainly one of the best exercises for your posterior chain!
7.) Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell swings are a dynamic posterior chain exercise that require a lot of strength and control in your hips, and strengthen many of your posterior chain 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.”
Not only are kettlebell swings are one of the best kettlebell core exercises, but they are also excellent for developing speed and power, and they are especially effective for burning a massive number of calories in a short amount of time.
The kettlebell swing is also a great exercise for improving your hip hinge mechanics, which will make performing squats or deadlifts much easier.
If you want to try a more difficult variation, check out this video of me performing kettlebell swings with a resistance band attached:
8.) Romanian Deadlift
Although many deadlift variations are great posterior chain exercises, the Romanian deadlift (RDL) is the king of glute and hamstring deadlifts. The Romanian deadlift is the perfect combination of a hip hinge, but an exercise you can add some serious weight to.
However, it is also an exercise that is better at intermediate reps (6-12 reps per set). One of the bigger mistakes I made early in my training career was avoiding the Romanian deadlift because I thought trap-bar deadlifts and conventional deadlifts were enough on their own.
However, once I learned that the Romanian deadlift was one of the best posterior chain exercises and an entirely different exercise than the conventional deadlift and trap bar deadlift, my hamstring strength and muscle definition significantly improved.
A favorite combination of mine is the RDL + shoulder shrug, where I do one RDL and then one shoulder shrug for 8-12 reps. This is an awesome posterior chain workout in itself!
9.) 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 doing 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 body weight only, and then add weight after you master the movement.
If you want a more significant challenge, you can try BOSU Ball single leg deadlifts or single leg deadlifts on other instability devices.
10.) Prowler Sled Push
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:
11.) Bulgarian Split Squat
Bulgarian split squats are my favorite exercise ever, 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 body weight 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:
12.) Back Squat
If you want a truly impressive posterior chain, you should learn how to back squat properly at some point in time. The back squat is an incredibly effective exercise for your posterior chain and one of the best exercises for building strength and muscle.
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:
13.) Snatch Grip Deadlift
The snatch grip deadlift is a deadlift where your hands are wider and your feet narrower.
Due to this, you are forced to sit lower and use your posterior chain muscles (hamstrings and glutes) more than in other deadlift variations.
The snatch grip deadlift is the foundation of learning how to do a full Olympic snatch, which I would suggest as one of the best posterior chain exercises but it is very difficult to learn how to do properly.
Instead, most people can learn how to do a proper snatch grip deadlift, and snatch grip deadlifts are a great addition to any posterior chain workout.
14.) 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.
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 to your workout routine a couple of 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 posterior chin 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, there are many reasons you should be doing posterior chain exercises often!