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3 Training Methods to Build a Stronger Posterior Chain

The posterior chain is one of the most neglected areas of the body.

About as much attention as it gets from most lifters is a few sets of lacklustre leg curls after hitting squats, leg presses, and leg extensions.

This is a huge mistake. The back, glutes, and hamstrings, when given the attention they deserve, have the ability to rapidly grow in size and strength.

Before we get into how to attack this problem, we need a short anatomy lesson first…

The hamstrings are made up of three parts:

The semimembranosus crosses the hip and knee joints, making it responsible for knee flexion and hip extension.

The semitendinosus also crosses the hip and knee joints and is responsible for knee flexion and hip extension.

The biceps femoris has two heads, the short head and the long head. Like the semimembranosus and semitendinosus, the long head of the biceps femoris crosses the hip and knee and is responsible for knee flexion and hip extension. The short head only crosses the knee and is responsible for knee flexion.

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The glutes are made up of three parts:

The gluteus maximus is a hip extensor that runs from the pelvic bone down to the back of the femur.

The gluteus medius and gluteus minimus are underneath glute max. They originate on the pelvic bone and attach to the side of the femur. Their function is to abduct the leg, and to also prevent the knee from collapsing inward.

And for the sake of simplicity, we’ll call our last group of muscles the spinal erectors, which straighten and rotate the back.

This is a brief overview of a complex group of muscles.

But you can easily see that it’s going to take more than some rushed leg curls at the end of your session to develop the muscles of the posterior chain to their fullest potential.

Strategy 1: Make the deadlift a top priority

Hip extension is a must for developing the posterior chain and the deadlift is conducive to using heavy loads and recruiting a lot of muscle mass.

A great way to plan a deadlift cycle is to work from a long range of motion to a shorter range of motion. By decreasing the range as the cycle progresses you’ll naturally be using heavier weights.

Deadlift phase 1 posterior

This workout should be done once every seven days for a period of 3-4 weeks.

The snatch grip deadlift is an exercise with a long range of motion. Stay strict with the tempo. Maintain posture.

The Seated Goodmorning is an exercise that would challenge the midrange.
The Reverse Hyper is an exercise that fully loads the shortened hip-extended position.

Deadlift phase 2 posterior

This workout should be done once every seven days for a period of 3-4 weeks.

A mid-grip is half way between a clean grip and a snatch grip.

Both the rep range and range of motion have decreased, so significantly higher loads can be used. The same goes for the assistance work.

This workout should be done once every seven days for a period of 3-4 weeks.

Again the rep range and range of motion have decreased. This will allow for the heaviest weights of the cycle to be lifted.

The 4, 3, 2, 2, 3, 4 rep scheme is a type of wave. The first three sets will excite the nervous system and allow you to lift even heavier weights for the remaining sets.

The rack deadlift is a partial movement done in a power rack from pins. The start position of the bar will allow you to prioritise the top half of the range of motion.

These are very taxing workouts, hence the once-every-seven-days frequency.

The hamstrings should be trained on a separate day each week using knee flexion exercises.

It would be wise to pair the knee flexion exercises with quad exercises such as split squats, step-ups, hack squats, and leg presses.

Limit the amount of front and back squatting you do on this day, as the low back is taking a pounding already from all of the deadlifting. But don’t worry. Your back squat strength shouldn’t suffer due to reduced volume.

If anything it may improve with your newfound posterior chain strength.

Strategy 2: Use sled dragging for high-frequency training

Powerlifting legend Louie Simmons deserves the credit for popularising this method of training. He was inspired to incorporate sled drags in his routine by the strong Finnish deadlifters who were dragging wood down a trail every day while working their day jobs as lumberjacks.

Most muscular damage occurs during the eccentric portion of reps. When dragging a sled the eccentric action is eliminated, and less muscular damage is done than with free weights, pulleys, and machines.

Because it’s less taxing than other methods, sled dragging can be done more frequently.

In addition to the more traditional methods, you’re using to train the posterior chain, add in 15 minutes of sled dragging to start every training session.

Use the following variations:

  • Forward facing drags
  • Sideways drags
  • Pull-through
  • Bent-over stiff leg walking

There is no need for specific sets and reps. Just continuously drag using whatever combination of the four exercises you’d like for the allotted time.

You’re killing two birds with one stone, improving your work capacity and developing the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

Strategy 3: Quit coasting through leg curls – train hamstrings with real intent!

Because it’s an isolation exercise and is far less demanding than most hip extension exercises it’s easy to shortchange the leg curl. It’s easy to lay down crank out a few mindless reps and call it a day.
If you want to maximise hamstrings development you need to put more time and effort into learning how to initiate knee flexion correctly. The majority of the time, leg curls are performed with far too heavy a weight whilst going into excessive hip flexion, which will reduce the work needed to be done by the hamstrings.
Focus on locking the hips down into the pad (if you have a flat lying pad where you can keep hips and spine neutral, even better!). Don’t sling the weight, don’t bounce, don’t use momentum. Instead, initiate the movement from the hamstrings, control the concentric portion and hold for at least one second at the top contraction, before lowering again under control.
Take home: The more you can lock the body down, especially in single joint exercises, the more output you will get from the target muscle.

If you want to maximise hamstrings development you need to put more time and effort into whichever leg curl variation you choose. Below are a number of options:

The lying leg curl – This is the most versatile of the leg curl machines. Any foot and toe position is possible, as well as unilateral or bilateral.

Toes neutral – The toes neutral position will distribute the work amongst all heads of the hamstrings.

Standing/Kneeling- These pieces are great for lifters with left-to-right muscular imbalance. Depending on the design of the machine, you may be limited to a dorsiflexed foot position for standing leg curls.

2-1 -This is a more aggressive way to load the eccentric portion of each rep. The concentric portion of each rep is performed with two legs, and the eccentric with one.

1 ¼ Reps – Adding a ¼ rep to the top, bottom, or both ends of the range of motion will increase time under tension and total work done in the given range. Different leg curl machines will have different strength curves due to their design, so adjust accordingly.

That’s a lot of variety. And to add even more, the leg curl is a great exercise to incorporate intensity techniques such as drop sets and rest-pause.

Leg curls will never replace the main posterior chain exercises but they can certainly play a critical role in the hamstrings’ size and strength.

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