Increase Your Power Tenfold: How to Build a Strong Posterior Chain At Home

By on August 21, 2014

Many people who work out, and especially those who work out mostly from home, never actually become ‘strong’ or ‘powerful’ in a real, functional way. They might build big biceps, but they can still easily be pushed over and they still put their back out whenever they try and lift something heavy off of the ground.

Why is that?

The simple answer is that they forget the back. And no, I don’t mean their back, I mean the back. As in, they forget the back of every body part. That includes their back, but it also incorporates their buttocks and the backs of their legs and arms.

This is what is known as the ‘posterior chain’. This is made up of many muscles, including:

  • Calves
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Erector Spinae
  • Traps
  • Posterior Deltoids

posterior chain trainingOften these muscles get left out, which is a) because they’re not very exciting aesthetically (most men in particular don’t care what they look like from behind) and b) because they’re difficult to train, often requiring complex moves and heavy weights. Specifically, training the posterior chain tends to mean using Olympic lifts and compound moves like squats, deadlifts, clean and press and others. People are afraid of these movements because they think they’re going to injure their backs, and the also often just don’t have the necessary equipment to perform them at home.

Why the Posterior Chain is So Important

But building a powerful posterior chain is critical if you want to progress in the gym, and if you want to be powerful in general. It’s also pretty important for your health.

The main job of the posterior chain is to keep you upright and prevent you from bending over forwards. This is particularly important when you have any front load – in other words if you pick up a heavy box, it’s your posterior chain that prevents you from face planting into the floor with said box. Which would be embarrassing. Likewise, if you wanted to build the raw power necessary to lift a car off the floor, then it would be the posterior chain that you needed to develop. Any of the big Olympic lifts require you build a powerful posterior chain as well, and because these muscles are so big, they’re also critical for stimulating a hormone response that leads to muscle gain.

One article I read described the posterior chain as ‘all the muscles that hurt the most’. This is a pretty apt description, and the big reason for this is that we spend all day sitting on our arses. That softens the glutes (because you’re squishing them) and it stretches the erector spinae because you’re leaning forward at your computer. Then you hit the gym and do lots of sit ups and curls, and as a result you have a super-strong anterior and a terrible posterior. Then you pick up a pencil from the floor and snap. Goodbye spine.

So if you want to become super powerful, then you need to train your posterior chain. But also, if you want to just be able to walk then I also advise it.

How to Develop the Posterior Chain at Home

So the problem we’ve established is that Olympic lifting isn’t exactly convenient at home. Fortunately, there are some useful alternatives.

Here are some great movements you can use instead of Olympic lifts to train your posterior chain:

  • Kettlebell Swings: These are fantastic for building the posterior chain, and particularly because they can be used in high volume. High volume is ideal for training the posterior chain – because it keeps us upright all day, these muscle groups contain a high proportion of slow-twitch muscle fibre which is better for endurance. This move is also a fantastic form of resistance cardio. Do a hundred kettlebell swings a couple of days a week and you’ll improve back complaints, develop ripped abs, and greatly enhance your physical power.
  • Kettlebell Deadlift: This is a deadlift with a kettlebell… yeah. In case you hadn’t worked it out by now, kettlebells are a brilliant alternative to barbells if you don’t have much space or the money you need to invest into a squatting rack and tons of heavy weight plates.
  • Farmers’ Walks: Farmers’ walks are an awesome exercise that are also incredibly simple. It’s like this: you pick up something heavy, then you walk with it. Normally they’re practiced while holding a barbell in either hand, but you can also do variations where you hold a single bar above your head, or where you hold dumbbells/kettlebells in either hand, or just one dumbbell or kettlebell on one side (making sure to swap half-way). Instead of going for a run, grab your biggest weight or two weights, then just go for a walk. Keep your back straight as you go and get ready to feel the burn. Don’t have any weights? Fill two buckets, grab two big stones… anything will do! This is the definition of functional strength, as carrying stuff is something you’ll actually sometimes do outside of the gym.
  • Dumbbell Clean and Press: Grab a dumbbell off the floor, lift it up to the ‘rack’ position against your own arm, then press it upwards. This should look like a deadlift, followed by a shoulder press. It’s a highly compound movement and great for developing explosive power.
  • Squats: There are all kinds of ways you can squat at home if you don’t have a rack. You can do one-legged body weight squats (though this won’t train the muscles in the back much), but better is to grab a pair of dumbbells, or to get someone to sit on your shoulders even! My favourite method is the ‘front squat’ which involves holding a weight to your chest and then squatting. This means the load is in front of you which engages the spinae, but it also means you can use a sandbag or a boulder or anything else you can get your hands on rather than needing a barbell.
  • Bodyweight: A truly compound bodyweight exercise for the posterior chain is hard to come by. One is ‘back pulls’ which you perform by hanging upside down on gymnastics rings or a pull up bar and lowering your legs (YouTube will help). Another alternative is bridging which is basically bending over backwards into the crab position then thrusting your hips in the air (hands on the floor or just shoulders is fine). It’s okay, but not ideal. Weight is preferable for the posterior chain really.
  • Isolation Movements: There are a bunch of isolation movements you can do to work the posterior chain and using these you can train the hamstrings, the glutes and the spinae specifically. With ‘posterior chain’ though the clue is in the name: these muscles are designed to be worked together in a compound fashion ideally.

So there you go. That’s the posterior chain and that’s why you need to get working it. Use a few of the above strategies and then hit it with some high volume to test those slow-twitch muscle fibres. In no time at all you’ll see muscle growth throughout your body, and you’ll greatly increase your overall strength and power.


About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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