One of my clients asked me this question today:  “I put down below what I’ve been doing recently and was wondering if I’m doing sufficient work on the posterior chain.”

Here is his list of exercises:

  • Wheel Roll Out
  • Anti Rotation Planks
  • Bird Dog
  • Bulgarian Split Squat
  • Deadbug with Physio Ball
  • Glute Bridge
  • Reverse Lunge
  • Hip Flexor Stretch (Knee hug on back) – with core activation
  • Knee Hug, Calf Raise, Warrior Lunge Walk
  • Rotating Plank (lifting one arm up and then into a side plank)

The posterior chain, or PC for short, is composed of normally three muscle groups:

1. Paraspinals which line your spine
2. Gluteals
3. Hamstrings 

These muscles are considered the PC because they are on the back side of the body.  Some coaches include any muscle you can’t see as part of the PC (e.g. upper back and calves); however, normally, only these three muscle groups are considered part of the PC.  Therefore, any exercise that utilizes and strengthens these muscles would be a PC exercise.  
Makes sense right?

Typically, runners have overdeveloped quadriceps and hamstrings, but more importantly is the strength ratio between the hamstrings and the gluteus maximus.

Runner’s need to have a strong posterior chain because that is where a lot of the power comes from seen in the running stride.  Typically, runners have overdeveloped quadriceps and hamstrings, but more importantly is the strength ratio between the hamstrings and the gluteus maximus.  The big glute max should be the power house of hip extension, but most of the time, the hamstrings like to crash the party and take over.  This can be problematic for a runner.  This muscle imbalance can lead to long term issues with the hamstrings, hips and knees.  Runners need to improve the strength and recruitment of their posterior chain to:

  • improve power output (improve running performance and top end speed)
  • improve gluteus maximus strength relative to hamstrings (injury prevention)
  • improve tissue resiliency to overuse injuries

Well, lets go through the list of exercises above and see what their individual focus is.

Wheel Roll Out – Core stability (anti extension); target muscles anterior core; NOT PC specific.

Anti Rotation Planks – Core stability; target muscles entire core; paraspinals are involved but not PC specific.

Bird Dog – Core stability; target muscles abdominals, paraspinals and gluteals.

The paraspinals are activated to maintain a neutral spine.  This is one of Professor Stuart McGill’s favorite core stability exercises.  He’s the man who wants to kill crunches.  Anyway, the gluteals are also activated to maintain an extended hip to hold the leg straight out.  This exercise however is still not PC specific enough.  The main focus of this exercise is core stability.  Also, it can only be progressed and loaded so much that it will not develop strength in the PC as other exercises can.  These exercises will be discussed a little later…

Bulgarian Split Squat – also known as a rear foot elevated split squat or RFESS; target muscles quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals

This exercise is one of my favorites for developing lower leg strength and pelvic stability.  Because this exercise is performed on one leg, the stance leg’s hip has to stabilize the entire body.  This muscle does not get strengthened with running alone and is associated with knee injuries and IT Band Syndrome.  (This muscle I’m referring to is the gluteus medius by the way).  Anyway, like I said, this exercise is great and can be progressed by adding more weight or holding the weight in different positions.  For example, a weight can be held in each hand like a suitcase or a barbell can be placed on the upper back.  To increase difficulty, a heavy kettlebell can be held in the front racked position or even over head.  However, after saying all that, this exercise is still not as PC specific as others.

Deadbug with Physio Ball – Core stability; target muscles entire core; NOT CP specific.

Glute Bridge – WINNER; CP specific; target muscles gluteals, hamstrings and paraspinals.

This exercise is considered PC specific because it utilizes the posterior chain to work together to perform the exercise.  Essentially, by lifting the hips, they are moving from a flexed position to an extended position.  The movement can be performed for reps or held for time.  It can also be loaded by placing a dumbell or barbell across your hips.  This exercise can actually be loaded very heavy depending on how much weight is added to the barbell.  However, in most gyms, you wont see any one perform this exercise loaded, unless they have been coached.  To improve strength, runners should lift heavy (sets of 5 or less) and this is one example where sets of 5 can be performed with a heavy bar held across the hips.  Normally, I include this exercise, unloaded with weight, but enhanced with a band in the muscle activation section of a runner’s warm-up.  The version in the picture not only activates the gluteals to extend the hip but also the hip abductors and the tibialis anterior (front shin) (both very important to a runner’s health!).

Reverse Lunge – target muscles are similar to the RFESS; NOT PC specific enough even though the hamstrings and gluteals are involved in the lift.

Hip Flexor Stretch – obviously a stretch to lengthen the hips flexors; NOT an exercise.

Knee Hug, Calf Raise, Warrior Lunge Walk – this is a dynamic warm up exercise I have my runners perform in their dynamic warm up (duh!).  The quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals are involved in the lunge but this drill isn’t loaded; it’s only performed with body weight; therefore, it does not strengthen the PC as good as other exercises which are loaded can.

Rotating Planks – Core stability; target muscles entire core; NOT PC specific.

So, out of the exercises listed above, only one focused on improving the entire PC. Therefore, to answer his question, I would say he is NOT training his posterior chain as effectively as he could.

Stay tuned for important posterior chain exercises that are important for runners to perform.

Thanks for reading,

RUN STRONG.

-Jon

JKC was recommended to me by my good friend Casidhe Dyke. Cas had been training with JKC for a while, and both he and his father had seen great results from the personal training that Jon and Thomas were giving them. I was and still am primarily a triathlete and I’ve always struggled with injuries. I was talking to Cas about incorporating more strength training in my program to try and prevent injuries going forward and Cas suggested that I give JKC a try. I reached out to Jon not long after, and the rest is history! After working with Jon and Thomas for a few months, I was getting stronger, faster, and most importantly, I was staying injury-free. I ended up being able to train the whole season without significant injury and posted a personal best at Ironman Copenhagen in 2018. A big part of that was due to the strength training and coaching I received at JKC.

I had spent a fair bit of time in gyms in my teens and twenties but I turned away from the gym to focus on activities that I enjoyed more. What keeps me at JKC is that I do really enjoy it. I always feel that I’ve accomplished something when I leave at the end of my workout. The environment is really positive and focused on challenging yourself whatever your level of comfort and fitness. I’ve also seen results that I’m really happy with; having someone who really knows what they’re talking about to guide your workouts makes them way more effective and focused than just “going to the gym”.

Shortly after I started at JKC, I sustained a fairly major injury that took me off my feet for several months. When I started to get back to activity, it was very difficult. Jon and Thomas worked hard to tailor my workouts to my goals and what I could do. With their help, I’ve been steadily building back strength and function.

I’ve always struggled with both my weight and anxiety throughout my life. As a writer you live a pretty sedentary lifestyle filled with both realistic and unrealistic deadlines, so I needed something to get me off my butt and to get me moving. JK has been a godsend during this past year and a half in particular. The pandemic has been tough, but workouts with both Thomas and Jon have really helped reduce the stress and strain of a global pandemic, and added an anchor of normalcy back into my life — which has been worth its weight in gold.

JKC has created an incredibly inclusive environment that’s filled with all kinds of supportive folks from all kinds of different backgrounds. For folks like myself, being surrounded by people with such athletic ability can be intimidating in most gyms. It can actually be a deterrent, and it sometimes has been for me. But, at JKC it’s far from that — it’s inspirational. Everyone supports one another. Which is something that’s not easily found in this day and age, inside of a gym or out. Not to sound like a total cheeseball here, but it really feels like a family.

Tara Rector-Whelan

Personal Strength Training by Thomas King

I started at JKC after a good friend recommended it to me. She had been coming for about a year and I was envious of her great results. I felt sluggish after failing to motivate myself with various home workout routines. I love the fun and relaxed atmosphere at JKC. It’s such a comfortable gym space and I enjoy knowing so many of the people I work out with. Jon and Thomas make an effort to introduce everyone to each other and with all the joking around,  it starts to feel like a family. Not to mention the awesome results. I’ve always liked to run on a treadmill but I’ve never had the drive to lift weights on my own. Going to JKC makes me accountable which was what I really needed. I feel so much stronger and healthier than I did 4 years ago when I started.

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