CFC Blog - Strengthening the Posterior Chain

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If you combine daily living activities like driving, working, and eating, the amount of time spent sitting can add up to at least 6-8 hours per day. The seated position, including sitting with poor posture and slouching, shortens and tightens the hip flexors and the posterior muscles of the body become inactive. Strengthening the backside of your body will help to promote good posture and increase the ability to perform effective everyday functional movements.

The upper and lower body works through a chain of muscles that are connected together for optimal movement and spinal support. The gluteus maximus is the muscle responsible for all movement through the thigh, hip, and torso. Focusing on this muscle is most important in building a strong posterior chain. With a weak posterior chain, the body compensates during movement, leading to muscle imbalance and future injuries. The following discussion focuses on the muscles involved in back body movement, spine stabilization for body support, and ways to strengthen the posterior muscle chain.

Posterior Chain Upper Body Muscles

The main function of the posterior chain upper body muscles is pulling and extending the torso and arms. If these muscles are weak, back issues can occur including pain and discomfort, fatigue, and a rounded back.

Erector Spinae - These muscles support the spinal vertebrae as well as extend and rotate the spine. Strengthening the erector spinae muscles will help in improving posture and stabilizing the core. Sample exercises include spinal flexion and extension, such as deadlifts and back extension variations.

Latissimus Dorsi (Lats) - The largest back muscle in the upper body, this muscle is located under the armpit area and extends along the back of the ribs. Its primary function is extension of the torso. To strengthen the lats, choose exercises that pull the body and arms in a vertical position such as lat pulldowns and assisted or unassisted pullups.

Rhomboids - Located in the upper back, their main function is squeezing the shoulder blades together. Any exercise that pulls the scapula together is effective in strengthening the rhomboids. Some examples include barbell or dumbbell rows.

Trapezius - This muscle is located in the middle of the upper back and is made up of three parts: lower, middle, and upper. It is important to focus on all three parts of the muscle in your workout, performing exercises that execute each function of this muscle. This muscle group’s function is the elevation (lifting), depression (lowering), rotation, and retraction (pulling together) of the scapula (shoulder blades). The trapezius also plays a role in the movement of the head and neck during these muscle actions. Shoulder shrugs and reverse flys are sample exercises that best target the trapezius.

Posterior Chain Lower Body Muscles

Below the body torso are the muscles of the legs, consisting of the calves, quadriceps, hip flexors, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles. The legs are the foundation of the entire lower body kinetic energy chain. A kinetic chain is the interrelated groups of body segments, connecting joints, and muscles that work together to perform movement of the body.

Gluteal Muscles - This muscle group consists of the Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, and Gluteus Minimus. The main function of this group is the extension, abduction, and lateral rotation of the hip joint. You will want to focus on strengthening all the muscles in this group, as each one is responsible for different muscle movements. For the gluteus maximus, perform exercises that focus on hip extensions like glute bridges or hip thrusts. Other good exercises are squats, deadlifts, and lunges. The primary functions of the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus are the lateral rotation and the abduction of the hip. Exercises like clamshells and side-lying leg raises focus on these movements.

Hamstrings - This muscle is located below the gluteal muscles, opposite the quadriceps (back side of the body), extending from the hips to the knee. The primary functions of the hamstrings are hip extension and knee flexion. Kettlebell swings are excellent for targeting the hamstrings due to the minimal knee bend and full extension of the hips. Glute-ham exercises (where the lower leg and torso are fixed) and straight-leg deadlifts are also good for activating the hamstrings.

Calves - The calf consists of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. The gastrocnemius is responsible for the plantar flexion of the ankle (pointing the toes) and the flexion of the knee. The soleus is also responsible for plantar flexion of the ankle, but is more effective when the knee is already in a bent position. Calf muscles also aid in compound (multi-joint) exercises like squats. Exercises to target the calves are seated and standing calf raises. Seated calf raises target the claves with knee flexion. Standing Calf Raises will build calf strength and size.

(Resource: ISSA Blog,, June 2020)

Written by: Kimberley Alger-Norton, CFC Certified Personal Trainer