A strong posterior chain is absolutely essential for athleticism. To be honest, I'm struggling to think of a type of client or sporting activity that can't benefit from a well developed posterior chain. After all, they are the prime movers of forward propulsion.
What is the posterior chain?
It's all the muscles that make up the reverse side of the body.
- Spinal erectors
- Traps etc.
Strengthening the posterior chain not only gets you extremely strong, improving your sprinting and jumping ability, it will also leave you with a set of well-developed glutes and if the exercise are trained correctly reduce the risk of injury.
There are plenty of exercises that develop the posterior chain.
Glute Bridges, RDL's, Deadlifts, Cable pull throughs etc. But my absolute favourite bit of kit is the Glute Ham Raise because it can be very quickly adjusted it many ways to hit all of the muscles of the posterior chain differently.
When performing glute ham raises the hamstrings, glutes and spinal erectors will always be working together the adjustments to the machine change only which muscle is influenced the most. This allows us to build and work on specific weaknesses within the posterior chain.
Before we get into my favourite variations, let's go over some benefits of the glute ham raise.
Increased glute and hamstring hypertrophy. If Instagram is anything to go by a well developed posterior is enough to get you famous these days. The GHR is superior to traditional leg curl machines as it trains the muscle at both joints simultaneously traditional leg curl machines do not allow this. It also allows you to develop the entire posterior chain in a single movement and teach the muscles to work together as they would in athletic endeavours.
The Traditional GHR exercise primarily works the hamstrings aka the leg biceps, and If I've learnt anything from my time in the fitness industry it's that the ladies love a good set of biceps. Setting this variation up requires you to have your knees wedged into the pad. Now while flexing the glutes to prevent hip flexion lower your self slowly over the domed pads keeping the body as straight as possible. Once parallel to the floor flex your hamstrings, while driving your knee down into the pad to bring yourself back to the starting position. This exercise is pretty tough, so not everyone will be able to start with full reps. If this is the case, we do partner assisted GHR's where you would perform the eccentric portion of the movement as slowly as possible and have your partner help you back into the starting position.
( I find people who struggle here will try to keep their knees flexed throughout and use hip extension to achieve the movement. If this is the case instruct them to allow the knee to move off and over the pad throughout the eccentric portion of the movement. This is a sign that the hamstrings are weak and building eccentric strength in the hamstring should be the primary focus for 3-4 weeks before moving onto full reps )
The next variation is the hip extension movement which is very similar to a 45 degree back raise except you are parallel to the floor so the muscle will be working harder when you reach extension. The only adjustment here is moving the foot plate back 1-3 spaces usually. Note the further down the thigh the domed pads support to move the hamstring influence the extension and the harder the movement is. If you are looking for hip extension and glute development specifically, you should set it up, so the domed pads are closer to the hip but allow full movement.
Setting the pad up the machine for the hip extension not only hones in on the glutes it allows you to work on your lumbopelvic rhythm. It allows you to work on what? Lumbopelvic rhythm refers to the way the lower back, glutes and hamstrings collaborate to extend the hips. Also sometimes called the hip hinge. If you are looking to prevent low back pain then working on developing your ability to perform the hip hinge correctly is essential and the hip extension variation of the GHR is a brilliant way to establish this movement pattern. It can be used as a primary strength exercise for beginners or elderly clients and then a super assistance exercise for stronger clients who are already deadlifting.
It has excellent carry over to strength sports movements because of the two previous benefits, and this is the number one reason why I decided to upgrade our compact GHR. The hamstrings, glutes and lower back often get neglected in training but are absolutely essential in your ability to perform squats, deadlifts, snatches, farmers carries, atlas stones I think you get the picture. In terms of bang for your buck, the GHR is a good investment as an accessory movement for pretty much everyone.
The third variation that I like especially for the low back, and it involves moving the spine through slight flexion and extension. This goes against the grain a little with training philosophy as everyone knows flexing the spine means blowing a disc out right. I remember reading an article from a physiotherapist that talked about neutral spine being a between a range or flexion and extension and not a set specific movement and that there are not just as wrong movements only an individuals ability to tolerate the movement and load at that given time. My case in point would be looking at some Olympic weightlifters in the bottom of a snatch at huge hip internal rotation, knees collapsed with more than 2x their body weight overhead. You'd expect a catastrophic collapse and resulting trauma to hips and knees, yet they stand up easily and come back to the platform year after year injury free. I'm not saying to copy these guys, but they have the ability to tolerate those positions even at extreme loads where most wouldn't. Now in the lifting of atlas stones or carrying odd objects a very common strongman event, it's impossible to ensure back is perfectly straight so I want to strengthen these end ranges, so the muscles and ligaments can safely tolerate these positions. Again my philosophy in training is about building a robust, resilient body. One that can handle whatever is thrown at it and bounce back uninjured I'm not interested in developing a savage deadlift if as soon as I round over an inch to tie my shoelaces, I'm susceptible to injury ( try to tie your shoelaces without rounding your back). This is not a movement I would load up or even prescribe to someone whos not been cleared by their physician I'm just showing you the different things that I do.
The Glute ham raise is a fantastic piece of equipment that can be used in many ways to build a very strong posterior allowing you to reach your full powerhouse potential.