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The posterior muscle chain: from top to bottom

Before exercisers learned the term "posterior muscle chain," they simply said they were doing a backside workout. It was what strength athletes did to build balance and stability for competition exercises. They did rowing, lat pulldowns, back extension workouts, posterior shoulder workouts, etc. All good stuff.

But just rowing, lat pulls and face pulls aren't going to cut it. If you look at the kinetic chain and the muscles that help stabilize each part of it, you should know what each of these muscle groups does and how to strengthen them for maximum stability.

Hypertrophy and flexibility are also important. A small or weak muscle is less stable than a large and strong muscle. A lot of people think they lack mobility because they can't hold a certain position through the full range of motion. The truth? They simply aren't strong enough. So let's start with the calves and work our way up.


Most people don't put enough effort into their calf training. They say "You were either born with big calves or you weren't. It's all genetics." Yes, calves are stubborn. But so is your girlfriend and you haven't given up on her either.

It's not the length of your muscle bellies and it's not the muscle attachment points. It's more to do with the fact that you don't know how to train your calves in a way that makes them respond to your training. The calves play a big role in helping the leg flexors with knee flexion. The lesser-known muscles of the deep flexor group also work to help maintain the medial arch and prevent inward rotation of the ankle, which (along with a weak gluteus medius) can contribute to knee buckling or valgus collapse.

When this happens, the hip and gluteus play a smaller role in squats and the adductors end up bearing the brunt of the tension in performing the movement. Ideally, all muscle groups should be involved. This way, the load is distributed over a larger area and an adequate distribution of tension is achieved. However, if the ankles are turned too far inwards or the heels are lifted off the ground, then a stiff Achilles tendon and immobile calves are usually part of the problem. You need to improve the mobility of your calves, strengthen them and make them grow.

What you can do

Use standing calf raises. Oh, you've already tried this? Probably not in the right way. First of all, the Achilles tendon is the thickest tendon in the body and it's made for dynamic/explosive movements. So if you are working out on a calf machine and "bouncing" up and down, the Achilles tendon has no problem doing the work and taking most of the tension off the calves. To shift the work to the calves, you need to remove as much of the stretch reflex from the movement as possible and focus on stretching and shortening the muscles to the maximum.

8-second repetitions for the calves

  • Hold the stretched position (bottom) for 5 seconds on each repetition
  • Then hold the contracted position (top) for 3 seconds on each repetition
  • Lower yourself slowly and repeat the movement

Try 4 sets of 12 repetitions, rotating between different calf exercises for each training session. Do this at least twice a week.

If you have always trained your calves with a lot of momentum and high speed, then prepare yourself to feel your calves working for the first time. Also prepare yourself for a lot of muscle soreness. The extended time in the stretched position will also help you to take care of your stiff archilles tendons.

Leg curl

Most people only perform two leg curl exercises: Leg curls and deadlifts with legs extended. Although this is a great combination, it is quite limiting. These exercises only train the leg flexors in the sagittal planes. This may be fine for someone who is only focused on appearance, but if we are talking about performance and good stabilization, then the leg flexors should also be trained in the transverse planes.

The leg flexors flex and stabilize the knee, among other things. They also play a primary role in reducing and controlling force and braking a movement. The leg flexors consist primarily of rapidly contracting muscle fibers and therefore respond very well to eccentric training (negative repetitions). A lack of eccentric strength in the hamstrings is in fact one of the main reasons for hamstring injuries - and not just the strength imbalance between them and the hamstrings.

The factors that need to be addressed here are knee flexion in the sagittal planes with full hip extension and the transverse planes to address decelerating force and stability. Both require an emphasis on the eccentric movement.

What you can do

Do not allow your hips to lose contact with the bench. This prevents complete shortening of the leg flexors. To transfer the greatest amount of tension directly to the hamstrings, the pad of the leg curl machine must allow hip extension so that the hamstrings can reach a fully contracted state at the highest point of the movement. So push your hips as hard as you can against the pad to make sure this happens.

Alternating eccentric leg curls with hip extension

An easy way to increase the eccentric load (without needing someone to push down on the pad during the negative part of the movement) is to perform the concentric or lifting part of the movement with both legs and perform the eccentric/lowering part with only one leg. When you reach the point of muscle failure on the single-leg eccentric repetitions, continue the set using both legs with controlled negative repetitions.

Switch legs with each repetition. Make sure you perform the eccentric part of the movement in a controlled manner to use the overload effect to your advantage. Don't just drop your leg when you lower the weight. Perform 4 sets of 8 repetitions.

Another option

For the leg curls, you can also perform stationary "10 and 2" lunges. You can do these with a barbell on your shoulders, but start with just your bodyweight. Otherwise, if you are too weak, you can easily end up pulling one of the muscles involved.

Stationary "10 and 2" lunges(

Imagine that you are standing on a clock. Place your right leg on the 10 o'clock position and perform a controlled eccentric and a powerful concentric movement with each repetition. Then place your right leg on the 2 o'clock position and do the same. Perform 4 sets of 10 repetitions with each leg.


The gluteus consists of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. All three muscles have a function in stabilizing the hips and pelvis. The gluteus maximus is mainly responsible for hip extension. The gluteus medius and gluteus minimus are responsible for hip abduction, which also helps to stabilize the knee and ankle. The primary function of the gluteus maximus involves moving the hip, while the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus work together to help stabilize the hip.

What you can do

Since the hamstrings work with the gluteus maximus in hip extension, it's important to choose an exercise where these two muscles work together synergistically to create balance. Good mornings with bands do just that.(htps://

Why not use a bar? First of all, it's easy to do this exercise incorrectly. You often see exercisers loading the bar with killer weights and then barely bending forward and slightly bending their knees. This is pointless as the leg flexors are not stretched far enough in this position and hip flexion is minimal.

Secondly, the resistance with a barbell is high in the lower quarter of the movement and minimal in the upper quarter of the movement. Ideally, the resistance should increase during the concentric movement so that the tension does not fade as much during the completion of the hip extension. Good mornings with bands solve this problem.

Good mornings with bands

You can also combine Good Mornings with bands with barbell exercises. You can place the bands around the ends of the bar, but I prefer to attach the band to the rack so that it provides resistance at the waist during the movement.(

Keep your knees minimally bent during the movement and perform a controlled eccentric and a powerful concentric movement with each repetition. You must remember to push your butt back towards the wall behind you while maintaining this position with "soft knees".

Hold the top position of the movement for one second before starting the next repetition. Perform 4 sets of 12 repetitions.

Gluteus Medius & Minimus

These muscles help to abduct the hip and act as stabilizers for the pelvis. They allow the gluteus maximus to perform the dynamic part of a movement when you do something on one leg, for example. And don't say that you don't do one-legged work, because then you would never walk, jump or do lunges.

Because the gluteus medius is responsible for hip abduction, it needs to be strong to allow proper knee control during squats. If your ankle mobility is not the reason for your valgus collapse, then your gluteus medius is probably not strong enough to maintain a correct knee position. The following will make it stronger.

Split squats with isometric hold

Perform a split squat with your back leg on a bench behind you and then move only ¾ of the way up. Hold this position for 3 seconds before moving back down. You can use a dumbbell or just your bodyweight - it all depends on your level of strength development. However, I would recommend using progressive overload and working your way up to the heaviest dumbbell you can use while maintaining good form. Perform 3 sets of 8 reps with 3 seconds isometric hold.

Back extension

Even though the back extensors can get thicker and stronger through isometric contractions during hip dominant exercises, you need to perform additional training to make them as strong as possible.

What you can do

Ideally, you should perform back extensions on equipment that supports the abdominal muscles so that you can safely roll the spine over them during the eccentric portion of the movement before performing the concentric phase of the movement.

Remember that this is not a hyperextension where the spine remains in a neutral position with isometrically contracted back extensors. You already do this in most hip-dominant exercises. We therefore want to take the hips out of the exercise and let the back extensors work through an eccentric and concentric range of motion.

Back Raises(

Allow your back to round slightly and then move on to the concentric phase, which you perform to the point where the back is in a neutral position. Do not overstretch the back. Do 3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions once a week using a light weight. Does that sound too easy? Well, this area already performs an enormous amount of isometric work in other exercises. So don't overdo it.

Lower trapezius

A weak lower trapezius can be to blame for many problems that have something to do with pain or poor movement execution. The lower trapezius helps lift and stabilize the shoulders through the full 180 degrees of flexion.

But lowering the shoulder blades is necessary for trapezius activation and exercisers tend to perform more exercises that emphasize retraction of the shoulder blades. This includes squats, bench presses and rowing alike. In addition to this, we sit in a flexed position all day, which allows the lower trapezius to become stretched and weak. This is a bad combination.

Too much internal rotation from bench presses can lead to shoulder pain. We are tight in the upper trapezius while the lower trapezius is too long and weak, causing instability in the shoulder joint that can potentially lead to impingement and improper overhead pressing. If the lower trapezius cannot hold position isometrically during exercises such as squats and deadlifts, then your maximum weights will suffer.

A weak lower trapezius means that the upper trapezius has to do most of the work. Additionally, if the lower trapezius can't do its job, the lumbar spine will step in to help provide stability. This makes an extension of the lumbar spine more likely when trying to compensate for the inability to maintain good posture.

What you can do

Perform Prone Trap Raise (pronated trapezius raise two to three times a week.

You may well not feel the lower trapezius working during this exercise at first, as your upper trapezius is dominant and you immediately assume a position with your shoulder blades retracted. The solution is to imagine that you are pushing your shoulders down and not straight back and then perform the concentric part of the movement. Visually, you may not see much difference between a retraction and a downward pull, but if you do it right, you will feel your lower trapezius become active before the concentric phase of the movement begins.

You don't need a lot of weight for this exercise. The goal is to get the lower trapezius to become active and generate stability in this area of the muscle chain so that this muscle can do its job. Perform 4 sets of 12 repetitions.

Large rhomboid muscle and middle trapezius

Despite the fact that a lot of exercisers train rowing, their way of performing the exercise limits the amount of tension this area is exposed to. Many bodybuilders lack good back development even though they perform a ton of back training.

The initiation of the exercise plays a big role in tension distribution. If you start a rowing movement with an elbow flexion, then the mid back will not be doing the brunt of the work. There will be little movement in the shoulder blades but a lot of elbow flexion.

This muscle group can be strengthened at the same time as you perform other back exercises. The middle trapezius and rhomboid muscles tend to work during a retraction (contraction) of the shoulder blades. This is important for strength athletes as these muscles work isometrically to maintain retraction of the shoulder blades during exercises such as deadlifts and farmer's walks.

To get the middle trapezius and rhomboid muscles to do the work and become stronger in their role as stabilizers of the chest, you should initiate rowing movements by emphatically contracting the shoulder blades. Then hold this position isometrically before bringing elbow flexion into play to shorten these muscles in the contracted position.

What you can do

Perform rowing with a pronounced contraction of the shoulder blades at the beginning of the concentric movement. Ideally, you should perform this exercise on a rowing machine with a supported chest so that you can focus on what your shoulder blades are doing without having to use energy to keep your torso in position.

Rowing with emphasized shoulder blade contraction

Start by pulling your shoulder blades together and holding this position isometrically for a few seconds before ending the rowing movement by pulling with your arms. Push through your back when you finish the movement.

Do this exercise regularly and you should soon be able to switch back to rowing without isometric hold before elbow flexion. You will then have internalized this movement pattern to such an extent that you will automatically initiate a rowing movement by contracting the shoulder blades instead of flexing the elbows. Perform 5 sets of 8 repetitions.

Latissimus and rear shoulder muscles

You will not only develop the strength of the posterior muscle chain through rowing and lat pulldowns. You need strength for stability and mobility. You can only address weak points once you have internalized the technique.

If you're struggling to reach the highest position in the deadlift, then a ton of back training could be wasted effort if your real problem is that you're failing to push through your hips due to a lack of external hip rotation. Even if you address mobility and weak points, if you have spent years doing exercises in a certain way, you will need to learn correct technique.

What you can do

Perform rack pulls for the latissiumus

Rack Pull-Ups

Perform band pull-aparts ( with 100 repetitions for the rear shoulder muscles. This will help you with mobility, weak points, technique and relearning correct movement patterns.

Program design

You can perform all of these exercises together on a different day than your squat and deadlift day, or you can perform these exercises after your squat and deadlift workout. You can even split these exercises into two separate workouts (upper body dominant and lower body dominant). Most importantly, go through them all and identify the exercises where you are weakest. This will tell you what you need to work on.


By Paul Carter

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