The posterior chain - a.k.a the muscles on the back side of your body, from your heels to your neck.
This ultra-important chain of muscle is surprisingly neglected in most training programs.
Something that all of my online clients do at Bairfit that is different from most - we train the posterior chain a lot. It's a must if you're chasing a body that's lean, strong, functional, and aesthetic.
Training your posterior chain properly changes how your body looks and feels dramatically.
You can suddenly deadlift hundreds of pounds.
You rep out chin-ups with ease.
You look like a character out of Greek Mythology.
Not to mention, a strong posterior is essential to preventing knee, low-back, and shoulder pain.
Sound good to you? Thought so.
Here's what my clients do to build great backsides:
Glutes are THE most popular muscle.
But the unfortunate reality is, that means there is more terrible information circulating about how to train glutes than any other muscle.
Which is exactly why we're starting here. As always, my goal is to educate you on the proper way to apply the plethora of information out there to changing YOUR body.
→ Most women spend lots of time focusing on glutes - but have been misled on how to train them properly. Lots of band work, stairmill kickbacks, and body weight exercises. This leads to frustratingly little progress for all that work.
→ For most men, the thought of glute training never comes to mind. This results in an imbalanced looking physique, and feeling weak on compound movements like squats and deadlifts.
Your glutes are essentially the foundation to your lower back. If they're weak, your lower back will take a lot more of the stress of lifting, and will very likely hurt.
You get it. Proper glute training is important. Here's how I program glute training for online clients.
For maximal glute gains, you can train your butt with a lot of frequency - but you need to be picky with exercise selection.
(Credit where it's due: I learned the below concepts on glute training from Bret Contreras and Stijn Van Willigen)
Glute exercises can be broken into three categories:
These are the biggest "bang for your buck" exercises. Stretchers cause a LOT of muscle breakdown, and take the longest to recover from - typically 3-4 days. Training these too often can hinder your results.
Some of my favorite stretchers to program for online clients:
Again, it's easy to overdo it with the stretchers, and create too much damage to recover from - which is why the periodized approach to training these movements at their optimal dose gets my online clients such great results.
→ Train stretchers 1-2x/week
→ Choose 2-4 stretchers to train weekly. I WOULDN'T change these weekly. Focus on progressive overload. (Again, a periodized plan is super helpful here.)
→ Most stretchers are best suited to the 5-12 rep range. (Occasionally, you can push closer to 15 reps on moves that don't stress your lower back.)
→ Push sets to 1-3 reps shy of failure.
→ Your total sets of stretchers should be somewhere between 6-12 weekly sets.
→ Movement selection: I like to start clients off with a heavy deadlift variation for their first lower body training day (e.g. elevated deadlift), with a single leg movement worked in later in the day (e.g. Bulgarian Split Squat). On the second day featuring stretchers, a Romanian Deadlift is a great way to start the day (typically after a more quad-dominant squat variation).
These usually have a shorter range of motion, or don’t stretch the muscle as much as stretchers. You can recover from these quicker - typically 2-3 days. You can train these semi-frequently.
Some of my favorite activators to program for online clients:
Since we can train these more frequently without pushing the limits of our recovery, I typically program at least one activator, 3x/week for clients who want more glute focus.
→ Train activators 2-3x/week
→ Activators are best suited to the 8-20 rep range.
→ Train these with a more controlled tempo. Focus on the mind-muscle connection.
→ Push sets to 1-3 reps shy of failure.
→ Your total sets of stretchers + activators should be somewhere between 8-15 weekly sets.
→ Movement selection: Barbell Hip Thrusts are the all-time best glute builder for 90% of the clients I've worked with. A heavy dose of these (vary rep ranges through the week) is a great way to build your butt.
These are typically band or body weight movements, performed for higher reps. They’re great for creating lots of metabolic stress, but don’t take long to recover from - typically 1-2 days. You can train these frequently without slowing results.
A few of my favorite pumpers to program for online clients:
→ You can train pumpers 3-4x/week. For clients not too concerned about the state of their glutes, we stick mostly to stretchers and activators. For those chasing glute growth, we ramp up the frequency and volume with lots of pumpers.
→ Pumpers are best suited to the 15-30 rep range.
→ The goal here is creating tons of metabolic stress and feeling the burn.
→ You can train 9-15 weekly sets of pumpers.
→ If you have trouble “feeling” your glutes on stretchers and activators, try pre-exhausting with a pumper first.
Cues for glute training:
→ Drive your weight through your heels (imagine pushing your heels through the floor). This will create more glute/hamstring activation, and less quad activation.
→ On your activators, focus on building the mind-muscle connection BEFORE increasing load. It's easy to load movements like hip thrusts up super heavy, and never actually feel your glutes working. Often the answer here is reducing the load.
→ Generally, pointing your toes out slightly will increase glute activation.
Your hamstring training is intricately tied into glute training.
While often overlooked for the more popular glute muscles, the hamstrings are just as important. They play a major role in stabilizing the knee.
Both muscles work together during hip extension (think: pushing your hips forward from the back of a hinge).
The one key piece of advice I give all of my clients chasing a functionally strong and aesthetic body?
Master and get strong at the hinging movement.
Hinging hits the entire posterior chain at the same time, and allows you to rack up TONS of training volume for all these muscles simultaneously.
So obviously, following a periodized training program with the proper emphasis on glutes and hamstrings - just like what my online clients follow - is a MUST to build the body you're chasing.
Now, your hamstrings also help you flex at the knee (think: pull your heel towards your butt).
So to train hamstrings effectively, your program will include both hip extension (hinges) and knee flexion (leg curl) movements.
Your hamstrings are well
positioned to experience a TON of stretch, and often under heavy
loads. So they’re relatively easy to hit with tons of growth stimulus
without a crazy amount of sets.
A few of my favorite hinges to program for online clients include:
Again, there is a ton of overlap with your glute training - you're really killing two birds with one stone (the glute and hamstring birds) when you train hip extension. So similar rules to your stretchers apply here.
→ Train these 1-2x/week
→ Choose 1-3 variations to train weekly.
→ Most of these moves are best suited to the 6-10 rep range, as going too high in reps will create a lot of lower back fatigue.
→ Push sets to 1-3 reps shy of failure.
→ Your total sets here should be somewhere between 6-12 weekly sets.
→ It’s tough to train heavy
hip hinge movements too often, as the hamstrings experience a ton of
soreness, due to being stretched so much while loaded. Lower back
fatigue also typically becomes a limiting factor when hinging
often.⠀Training hammies twice a week is ideal for most.
A few of my favorite leg curl variations to program for online clients include:
→ Your knee flexion movements are better suited to lighter weights for a bit higher reps, generally 10-15.
→ Choose 1-2 variations to train weekly.
→ Your weekly sets here should be somewhere between 3-8.
→ Control the lowering portion of the rep, and really find the mind-muscle connection with your hamstrings here.
Cues for hamstring training:
→ Hinging properly is key to distributing stress to your glutes and hamstrings instead of your low-back. Focus on hinging backwards on your hinge variations, NOT leaning forward.
→ Leg curls are any easy movement to cheat on, without really getting any benefit from. Most people already have a hard time activating their hamstrings, so take these slow, and focus on building a strong mind-muscle connection. Don't sweat the weight.
Your back is the foundation for the rest of the upper body - without a strong back to build on, the rest of your upper body will be mediocre at best.
For most everyone - when neglected your back quickly becomes a bottleneck. It's the weak link preventing your from building stronger presses, a more lean muscle to define your chest and/or shoulders.
Your upper back plays a key role in stabilizing the fragile shoulder joint.
Everyone loves to bench, hammering the muscles of the chest.
Problem is, we forget to train the opposing muscles of the upper back.
This anterior > posterior imbalance leads to rounded forward posture, and shoulder instability and pain. (This is THE MOST common imbalance I see in new online clients.)
At best, a weak back means your presses are weaker than they could be. At worst, you've developed some nasty imbalances or injuries.
From an aesthetics point of view - you'll never build great shoulders or a great chest until you put the work in on your upper back.
You should be training the backside of your body about twice as much as your front side.
That said, my online clients ALWAYS put extra emphasis on the "rowing" pattern.
Rowing strengthen the “posture muscles” (rhomboids, rear deltoids, etc.) that hold you in correct posture, prevent shoulder injuries and pain, and prevent neck pain.
I always program clients at least one rowing movement every time they train upper body.
→ As a general rule: pull horizontally to vertically on a 2:1 ratio. (Two sets of horizontal pulls for every set of vertical pulls.)
→ Use AT LEAST the same 2:1 ratio for pulling:pushing.
I typically program my clients with a 3:1 pull:push ratio. This helps keep my clients functionally strong with movements like chin-ups, and sets them up for a lifetime of pain-free movement in AND out of the gym.
Activating Your Back
The biggest reason most new online clients haven't been able to build there back when we start coaching ISN'T that they haven't been training it.
The problem is, they can’t FEEL the proper muscles working.
The ability to recruit and create lots of tension in a desired muscle group is key to growing it.
This is exactly why I have online clients use the following activation techniques before training their backs. The first step to a strong, muscular back is connecting to it.
Activating The Lats
I've shared this video with TONS of coaching clients, and with good reason. It teaches you how to connect to the muscles of the lats using only body weight.
I love the movement shown here as the first "activation" movements of a pull-heavy day in a client's program.
I program this one a TON.
Most new clients have very tight, dominant upper traps. This lead to a tight neck, and hunched posture.
They have no concept of how to feel/activate any of the muscles of the upper back, outside of the upper traps - any time they try to row, their upper traps take over. This makes the upper trap dominance issue even worse.
Scap pulls are a GREAT the remedy in this situation. They teach you how to activate the muscles of the lower traps. You can in turn take this to all your rowing movements - simply focus on initiating the movement with the muscles of the lower traps that you felt while doing scap pulls.
New clients who aren't ready to perform these hanging will simply do the same movement on the lat pulldown machine instead.
These are another GREAT way to activate the lat muscles (Which are typically very difficult to feel). I like to program these AFTER the activation phase of a clients training program - as the first movement in a pull-heavy day.
Applying The Movement Patterns
Any time you're "pulling" - either something towards your body, OR your body towards something - you're using the muscles of your back and biceps. These are your "pull muscles".
Now, there are an overwhelming number of different ways to train your "pull muscles". This can make back training seem VERY complicated.
To simplify, let's divide your back training into two different movement patterns:
1. Horizontal Pulls (Rows)
You're pulling from in front of you. The "rowing" motion.
A few of my favorite horizontal pulls to program for clients:
→ Train one “metric based” rowing variation weekly with a focus on progressive overload. Prioritize increasing the weight here (while maintaining good form, of course), for 3-5 sets in the 5-10 rep range.⠀
→ Choose 2-4 more rowing variation. Increasing weight is still a priority here, but slow these down, and focus on feeling your upper back work as well. 3-4 sets of 8-15 each. Here, you’re free to add a lot more movement variety and have fun with your training.
→ With rows, going too
heavy typically leads to sloppy form. It's way too easy to cheat on
rows, and move heavy weight, without really using the muscles you WANT
to be targeting.
→ Your upper back can handle a lot of volume, but be sure that you're not doing an excessive amount of movements that are taxing your lower back (e.g. Barbell Rows, Pendlay Rows). Your lower back already takes literal tons of stress during your leg training, and can quickly break down without smart programming.
Cues for horizontal pulling:
→ Initiate each rep by pulling your shoulder blade(s) back and down - It’s all too easy to think of rows as an “arm movement” instead of a back focused movement. To properly engage your back, your rows need to start with the scapula retracting.
→ Follow through with your elbows, imagine your forearms as lifeless hooks - Now that you have your shoulder blades pulled back, follow through by imagining “pulling your elbows back”. The pull is now coming from your elbows - NOT your hands. Your hands are simply lifeless hooks.
→ Avoid shrugging - Another common issue with back training - overactive upper traps take over, and keep the rest of the upper back muscles from getting adequate work. The shoulder blades together + DOWN cue is super helpful here.
→ Imagine “crushing a pop can” between your shoulder blades at the back of every rep - Squeeze your shoulder blades together HARD at the back of every rep. Imagine you were crushing a pop can.
2. Vertical Pulls
Pulling from overhead.
→ Vertical pulls can be trained in a wide variety of ranges. Weighted chin-ups and the like are often trained as low as 5 reps. Moves like straight arm pull downs are better served to the 10-20 rep range.
Cues for vertical pulling:
→ Initiate each rep by pulling your shoulder blades down - Just like rows, proper scapular movement is key to activating the right muscles. Before any bend comes into your elbows, pull your shoulder blades DOWN as much as possible (the first part of every vertical pull should be just like a scap pull). Imagine trying to “pull your shoulder blades to your back pockets.”
→ Follow through with your elbows, imagine your forearms as lifeless hooks - Now that you have your shoulder blades pulled down, follow through by imagining “pulling your elbows to your hips”. The pull is now coming from your elbows - NOT your hands. Your hands are simply lifeless hooks. Be sure to KEEP your shoulder blades pulled down through this portion of the rep.
→ Protect your armpits - You know how you’d squeeze your arm down over your armpit if someone was trying to tickle you and you were attempting to “protect your armpits”? Do the same thing here. This will lead to extra lat activation.
So yeah - training your posterior chain is super important.
Basically, train the back side of your body twice as much as the front side.
You'll feel lean, strong, and aesthetic.
You'll be very functional and pain-free.
You'll get lots of compliments on your butt.
No matter how big the dog, you'll be able to lift it with ease.
The benefits of lots of posterior training are endless.
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