In the vast world of strength training (regardless of the type of athlete: sport star, bodybuilder/figure athlete, or general gym-goer) there is always the same one or two reoccurring goals or questions: “How do I get my squat and or deadlift up?” and “How do I grow my booty?” While the simple answer is to squat and deadlift more frequently, it goes a little deeper than just those two fundamental exercises.
Building a strong posterior chain most certainly involves the big two (squat and deadlift), but the bulk of your gains, whether its performance or aesthetic based, will come from your supplemental or assistance exercises.
Training the posterior chain does not have to be overly complicated. With the wide variety of information and sources at our fingertips, it’s hard for us to stay focused on our goal and we should try to avoid re-inventing the wheel with the experimentation of tried and true movement patterns.
With this being said, there are four primary benefits of glute and posterior chain strengthening:
- Postural improvements
- Injury and pain prevention
- Increased athleticism, strength, and power
- Physique improvements
The average human’s glutes/posterior chain are usually weaker than other large muscle groups. This is largely due to the multidirectional action of the glute max and roles such as, hip extensors, abductors, and external rotators. Increasing the strength of the glute max and posterior chain can increase and improve the following:
- Acceleration and top speed in forward sprinting
- Power in vertical and horizontal jumping
- Agility and quickness in change of direction
- Acceleration and top speed in lateral movement
- Rotational power in throwing
- Squat and deadlift strength
- (the list can go on and on)
The Top 10 Posterior Chain & Booty Building Exercises
Whether your goal is to improve performance, gain strength, build your booty, or to move well in the weight room and in life, I feel that incorporating one or two of these exercises below will benefit you greatly.
The list of movements below can be varied in a number of ways such as loading, tempo, and volume so feel free to modify these as you see fit for your specific goals and needs. Here’s my list of the top 10 (in no particular order) posterior chain and booty building exercises:
#10 Sled Push
For some, having access to a sled with space long enough might be difficult, but for those who do, please take advantage. Using a moderate to heavy load, push the sled with a medium-low grip. This grip variation will result in your glutes burning without the high stress of other loaded variations/grips, making it slightly easier to recover from. This exercise will also help train the anaerobic energy system making it a great alternative to types of cardio as well. Alternatives to the sled push can also include resistance sprinting, partner band sprints, resistance treadmill, or keeping the power on the treadmill off (creating more resistance).
#9 The Reverse Hyper
Again, another piece of specialty equipment that is hard to find, but if you do please give it a try. The reverse hyper is an amazing piece of equipment that will help strengthen your hamstrings, glutes and hips while also helping to reduce lower back tightness. Alternatives to the reverse hyper include reverse hyper on the GHD, Nordic Hamstring Curl and Superman back extensions.
#8 Single Leg RDL
A great exercise to help improve hip stability, improve balance, and increase strength in the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. The RDL is a great tool to have for any athlete because it recruits a tremendous amount of hamstring and glute engagement along with core strengthening. Variations of this exercise can include the regular RDL, Kick stand RDL, Single leg RDL with support (using a doweling or foam roller to balance on the moving leg).
#7 Glute Ham Raises
The GHR is another one of those great exercises to crush your backside. This exercise is a potent hamstring and glute exercise for both strength and hypertrophy, muscle function and balance along with overall posterior chain performance. The GHR is also a fantastic way to train eccentric and isometric strength of the hamstring which will greatly benefit any athlete that plays a sport involving change of direction or deceleration and plays a key role in injury prevention (the Nordic hamstring curl is similar – see #4). This exercise can be varied in many ways to accommodate any level of lifter such as adding additional loads in the form of band tension or weights for the seasoned strength athlete or accommodating resistance by banding the athlete to the foot support to help with lowering for full range of motion.
#6 Band Resisted Kettlebell Swings
A great spin to a traditional movement pattern. This variation really hits the glutes and hamstrings and in addition the band adds an “overspeed eccentric” portion where the band forcefully pulls down the kettlebell. You’ll have to be more resistant to this action and create more eccentric demand as well as forcing you to be more aggressive on the concentric. Squeeze the glutes at the top but try not to over-extend the hips at the top range of this movement. Alternatives to this exercise include regular kettlebell swings, SA alternating KB swings, SA KB swing.
#5 Barbell Good Mornings
Good Mornings are among the most fundamental lower back, hamstring, and glute accessory exercises. This exercise strengthens numerous posterior chain muscles including: glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors, upper back, and scapular stabilizers. This exercise can also be done from a sitting position to isolate the spinal erectors and minimize hamstring tension. Good Mornings can be a great hip hinge alternative to deadlifts and can be done with both higher rep ranges and lower. If you are new to this exercise start off with exercises like dead bugs, glute bridges, and bird dogs to gain strength and stabilize the spine, then move on to a resistance band to learn how to perform the good morning.
#4 Nordic Hamstring Curl
One of the best bodyweight hamstring exercises, the Nordic Curl has it all. With a tremendous amount of hamstring recruitment this exercise can aid in muscle growth, strength, and injury prevention with recent studies showing a link to running speed.
#3 Pistol Squats
Arguably one of the most challenging unilateral and bodyweight leg exercises out there, the pistol squat can lead to serious strength development, balance, coordination, and even help increase sport specific goals. This movement requires a high degree of ankle, knee, and hip mobility, unilateral leg strength and body awareness. When done under control this exercise can have extremely high muscular activation in the lower body resulting in both muscle strength and size. For the novice lifter a progression must be used to ensure proper movement and mechanics. Pistol squats to a box with the aid of a TRX, pistol squats to box, pistol squats to low box followed by tempo bodyweight pistol squats would be an example of proper progression for this difficult but extremely beneficial exercise.
#2 Back Raises
The 45 degree back raise may seem like a common movement pattern and perhaps a bit mundane, but it works. This exercise has been proven to have high EMG ratings for glute activity. To crank this exercise up a notch you can increase the demand of this movement in a number of ways: adding additional resistance through band tension or a loaded barbell, additional resistance with a safety squat bar or kettlebell, or simply changing up sets/reps and tempo.
#1 Hip Thrust
If you’re looking at isolating your glutes look no further, this Instagram and fit fam favorite is one trend that won’t be phasing out anytime soon. The reason why your glutes will be left burning more than ever is because the knee remains bent throughout the entire movement. When the knees are bent and the hips are extending the hamstrings stay relatively dormant, which leaves most of the hip extension coming from the glutes. By isolating your glutes, you’re able to increase strength and power which results in enhanced performance for movements that require hip drive (like sprinting and jumping). This exercise is a personal favorite of mine and I incorporate multiple variations of this with all my clients.
Exercises that Reign to Maintain a Healthy Posterior Chain
Although this list of exercises seems lengthy, you don’t have to base your next gym session on solely the above mentioned. Pick and choose the above exercises to compliment your leg day and use those legs often. Normalize multiple lower body days a week rather than a traditional “leg day” bodybuilder style split. You can lift lower body two or three times a week if the intensity, volume, and frequency is right. These exercises have a nice balance between heavy, moderate, and light loading with complementary low, moderate, and high volume for each which will provide a solid base for any athlete or lifestyle program.