MAXIM fitness guru ALEXA TOWERSEY gives you the lowdown on powering up your back muscles and posterior chain to make you a stronger athlete…
It’s the “Mirror Muscles” you can’t see that make an athlete – the big, burly, powerful back muscles that form the posterior chain. In recent years, the posterior chain has come to the anterior of many fitness, physique, and performance conversations. A strong p-chain makes a strong athlete.
A strong posterior chain helps contribute to a strong core musculature, which helps reduce lower back pain and prevent injury, as well as facilitating co-ordination and strength through the limbs. It’s fine to train muscles in isolation, but training an entire “chain” to work together makes sure you’re not just strong in the gym, but in real life too.
To bring up all your lifts, you need big and strong glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles. To run faster, your glutes and hamstrings have to be extremely powerful to propel you forward. To maintain proper running mechanics , you need a strong lower back. To dominate the stage in competitive bodybuilding, you need “hanging” hamstrings. And if you want striations in your glutes, well, you’ll need to have glutes first! Last but not least, chicks don’t dig flat grandpa butts either! Sorry, not sorry.
The main muscles and functions of The Posterior Chain Gang include:
- Latissiumus Dorsi (prime movers and stabilizers of the shoulder/scapula)
- Rhomboids (scapula stabilizers)
- Lower Trapezius (dynamic scapula stability)
- Multifidus (spine support)
- Erector Spinae (back & spinal extension)
- Gluteal Muscles (hip extension & rotation)
- Hamstring Muscles (hip extension, knee flexion)
- Gastrocnemius or Calf (plantar flexes ankle, knee flexion)
- External Obliques (back and spine support, in tandem with anterior core)
These are your bread and butter strength builders – the foundation on which a solid back half will be built. We all want to be able to bang out some pullups on demand, and have an impressive squat and deadlift. For an athlete, this means more on-field power. For the rest of us, being able to lift heavy shit is not only functional but also pretty f–king empowering. These are the focus of the session so they will appear first and are typically heavier with a lower rep range. These are your Olympic Lifts, Squats, Deadlifts, Glute Ham Raises, Hip Thrusts, Glute Bridges, Pull Ups and Bent Over Rows.
These are used to build work capacity, General Physical Preparedness, injury-resistance, and hypertrophy. They support and help boost the primary lifts so will round out each workout and provide the bulk of the volume. They include Good Mornings, Romanian Deadlifts, Bulgarian Split Squats, Back Extensions, Hamstring Curls, Seated Rows, Sled Push Variations.
Anterior exercises deserve attention, but most athletes need to focus on p-chain training to balance the body. For this reason, I’d suggest a 3:1 ratio split for the first 4-6 weeks when programming in regards to pull:push movements. You can train the posterior chain every day. It all comes down to exercise selection and the order in which they are performed. Here’s a sample 3-Day Training Split that will be guaranteed to improve your pulling power..
A1. 5 x 5 Back Squat. 90 secs rest between
B1. 4 x 8 Barbell Bench Press
B2. 4 x 8 Barbell Bent Over Row
C1. 3 x 12 Romanian Deadlift
C2.3 x 12 Lat Pulldown
C3. 3 x 24 Walking Lunge (long step)
D1. 2 x 15 Standing Calf Raise
D2. 2 x 15 Back Extension
A1. 5 x 5 Sumo Deadlift. 90 secs rest between
B1. 4 x 6-8 Pullups
B2. 4 x 6-8 Standing Military Press
C1. 3 x 12 Zercher Standing Good Morning
C2. 3 x 12 DB Bulgarian Split Squats
C3. 3 x 12 Seated Row
D1. 2 x 15 Seated Calf Raise
D2. 2 x 15 Facepull
D3. 2 x 30 secs Side Plank each side
A1. 8 x 8 Glute Bridges. 30 secs rest between
B1. 4 x 8 DB Incline Bench Press
B2. 4 x 8 Ring Rows
C1. 3 x 6-8 Hamstring Curls
C2. 3 x 24 DB Reverse Lunges
C3. 3 x 12 Bench Supported DB Row
D1. 30m Sled Push (high hips)
D2. 30m Suitcase Carry each side
Most people don’t put enough effort into calf training. They say, “You’re either born with big calves or not. It’s all genetics.” Yes, calves are stubborn. But so is your girlfriend, and you haven’t given up on her yet. Right? Try a five-second pause at the bottom of the stretch movement to get the biggest bang for your buck.
Strong Grip = Strong Back. Adding in Heavy Loaded Carries for some low impact conditioning is a great way to stimulate more muscle fibres for more growth.
CONFIDENCE IS A SKILL YOU CAN LEARN
Here are three simple gym hacks to build your body and your self belief…
- Do what you NEED to do, but include what you LIKE to do. It’s necessary to work on weaknesses and shit we’re not good at, but it’s just as necessary to have a fun factor as this is the stuff that essentially fuels motivation and cultivates consistency.
- Set Rep Records. Chase size and you don’t always come away with strength. But chase strength, and often size is a bonus. Aggressively chase numbers – it can be pretty damn hard to get a true 1 RM, but you can go for 3RM, 5RM, 8RM and 10RMs. Not only do these promote hypertrophy and work capacity, but achieving them will bolster your confidence.
- Half Ass it instead of skipping it. There will be days where it’s a deadest struggle to get to the gym. But turn up anyway. Backing out on your commitments to yourself is a surefire way to lose self-respect.