7 Posterior Chain Exercises That Can Help Combat Lower Back Pain
Here's why those muscles along your backside are so key.
While the “posterior chain” may sound like a fancy vocab word from biology class, it’s actually a group of well-known muscles that get lots of use every day. In fact, if you’re sitting up straight while reading this, you’re using some of them right now. And, according to fitness experts, incorporating posterior chain exercises into your workout routine can do a lot for your overall strength and mobility.
The posterior chain specifically refers to the muscles that run down the back of your body from your neck all the way to your calves, says Sarah Randall, a yoga teacher and mobility specialist. “It's easiest to think of it as the backside of your body, while the front side is the anterior,” she tells Bustle. Because it’s made up of so many different muscles — like the lats, glutes, and calves — the posterior chain ends up playing a role in pretty much everything you do, she says, from sitting down, to standing up and maintaining good posture. And that’s why strengthening this area is so beneficial.
To keep these muscles strong and in working order, it helps to pay more attention to the backside of your body whenever you exercise, especially if you sit at a desk for over eight hours a day. “When you’re sitting, that means that your posterior chain is often being lengthened, meaning your spine is flexed or rounded, your hips are usually [tilted forward], and your hips and knees are flexed,” Randall explains. The issue, she adds, is that your body gets used to that position and the muscles along your backside don’t get bent and worked in the opposite directions — which is key to balancing your muscles. That’s where posterior chain training comes into play. Read on for intel on how to strengthen these all-important muscle groups.
Why Should You Train The Posterior Chain?
Choosing exercises that train the posture chain will help reverse this seated-position alignment issue and make you feel stronger overall. A strong posterior chain could also help you keep up that good posture so you don’t feel achy or stiff. And it’ll help you avoid back pain and injuries, too.
“When the posterior chain is neglected, you’re at a greater risk of injury because the muscles that should be helping to hold you up and move are not doing their job,” says certified strength coach Shelby Stover. If the posterior chain isn’t strong, other muscles have to take over to help make up the difference, Stover says, which means your body starts to adapt in all the wrong ways.
On top of that, a weak posterior chain makes it difficult to do everyday things that use the muscles along the back of the body — an issue you might not even notice until you start to get stronger. “All of this not only equates to a risk of injury, but more often than not, people will experience chronic back pain,” says Stover. Here’s how to keep your posterior chain in check.
Posterior Chain Exercises
Add these exercises into your weekly workout routine to keep the posterior chain strong.
1. Glute Bridges
Glute bridges target the largest of the glute muscles, which help support your core and keep you upright, says Stover. Here’s how to do them.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent.
- Bring your heels close to your butt and make sure your feet are shoulder-width apart.
- Push through your feet and squeeze the glutes to lift your hips up.
- Don’t excessively arch the lower back.
- Your body should form a straight line from your head to your knees.
- Pause at the top before releasing the tension to bring your hips back to the starting position.
- Do anywhere from 8 to 25 reps.
2. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts
This move will help strengthen all the muscles of your posterior chain, Stover says, with particular attention on your back.
- Stand upright with knees soft.
- Hold dumbbells in your hands gently resting against your thighs.
- Initiate a forward hinge movement from your hips by pushing your butt backward.
- Start to lower your torso toward the floor.
- Keep the dumbbells close to your thighs and make sure your back stays flat.
- You’ll feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
- Right before your upper back begins to round, reverse the movement back to an upright position.
- Do 8 to 12 reps.
3. Bent-Over Rows
This exercise targets the posterior chain because you do it from a bent-over position, which Stover says engages all the muscles along the backside of your body. Perform it using a resistance band tucked under your feet, or hold a kettlebell or set of dumbbells.
- Hinge forward at your hips to bend slightly forward. Keep your back flat and knees slightly bent.
- The weights will be hanging down at your sides.
- Engage your core.
- Maintain a bent-over position as you row or pull the weights up towards your chest by pinching the shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
- Pause briefly.
- Reverse the movement and return the weights to the starting position.
- Do 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
4. Downward Facing Dogs
Trainer Emily Skye, founder of the app Emily Skye FIT, says this yoga pose helps improve your posture.
- Place your hands shoulder-width apart.
- Press your hands into your yoga mat and tuck your toes under.
- Take a breath then exhale as you lift your hips into the air.
- Straighten your legs as much as you can.
5. Kettlebell Swings
Skye recommends this kettlebell exercise to build strength in the glutes, hamstrings, and quads.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold a kettlebell in both hands.
- To start the swinging motion, drive your butt back and allow the kettlebell to swing back between your legs.
- Drive your hips forward so you return to standing. The kettlebell will swing forward with the momentum.
- Do 3 sets of 10 swings.
This move targets your hamstrings and glutes, which are big components of your posterior chain, Randall says. Do them with weights for an extra challenge.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart.
- Bend at the knees and move your hips back as if you’re sitting into a chair.
- Go as far down as you can.
- Keep your spine neutral and your heels on the floor.
- Contract your glutes and hamstrings muscles to stand back up.
- Complete 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
7. Locust Pose Lifts
For this move, Randall says you don’t have to get high off the ground — lift just enough to feel the back of your body ignite.
- Lie stomach-down on the floor.
- Reach your arms back behind you. Palms can be up or down.
- On an exhale, lift your head, shoulders, arms, and legs off the floor by contracting your entire posterior chain.
- Hold the lift for two seconds, then control your way back to the floor.
- Complete 15 lifts, holding for 2 seconds each.
- Aim for 2 to 3 sets.
Lane, C. (2017). Posterior Chain Exercises for Prevention and Treatment of Low Back Pain. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: July/August 2017 - Volume 21 - Issue 4 - p 46-48doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000307
Tataryn N, Simas V, Catterall T, Furness J, Keogh JWL. Posterior-Chain Resistance Training Compared to General Exercise and Walking Programmes for the Treatment of Chronic Low Back Pain in the General Population: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med Open. 2021 Mar 8;7(1):17. doi: 10.1186/s40798-021-00306-w. PMID: 33683497; PMCID: PMC7940464.
Sarah Randall, yoga teacher and mobility specialist
Shelby Stover, certified strength coach
Emily Skye, trainer, founder of Emily Skye FIT