The posterior chain includes some of the most important muscles in the body: our glutes, hamstrings and back muscles. “These muscle groups tend to get weaker the more often we sit in front of our computers, in our cars to drive or even on a spin bike,” explains Annie Mulgrew, VP and founding instructor at CITYROW.
In particular, sitting shortens and weakens our hip flexor muscles and the gluteus medius, a muscle that sits over the gluteus maximus on the side of the butt, says Emily Servante, a personal trainer at Ultimate Performance. “All of the gluteal muscles (the gluteus maximus, minimus and medius) work to create stability,” she adds. “If we aren’t stable, this impairs our ability to stand, walk and run and increases the risk of injury when doing so.”
Since our relatively sedentary lifestyles are unlikely to change anytime soon, one of the best things we can do to regain strength in our glutes, hamstrings and hips is incorporate exercises targeting these areas into our workouts.
Before getting started, Servante recommends doing two things during your warmups.
“Daily in the morning and before training, warm up by stretching the hip flexors (without bouncing on the joint) and performing some bodyweight hip bridges,” she says.
Secondly, incorporate hip-hinge practice.
“Stand tall and proud with your chest up, shoulders back and abs tight,” Servante instructs. “Imagine you’re trying to make your spine as long as possible throughout. Hinge over at the hips, pushing them backward.” Keeping your knees soft, go as far as you can without rounding your lower back. Pause for at least one second at the bottom and return to the top, squeezing your glutes hard when you get there.
8 STRENGTHENING MOVES
90/90 EXTERNAL ROTATION STRETCH
This is a great mobility exercise for the hips, according to CJ Hammond, XPS certified trainer with RSP Nutrition. “Strength exercises are not always about how much weight you can carry, but how well you can move. It’s important not to underestimate the ability to engage stiff muscles properly.”
The move: Sit on the floor and place the one leg in front of you at a 90-degree angle with the outside of your ankle, knee and thigh on the ground. With the opposite leg, place the inside of the ankle, knee and thigh at 90 degrees. From here, Hammond recommends leaning forward and dropping your chest as close to the ground as you can 10–15 times, then switching legs.
ROMANIAN DUMBBELL DEADLIFT
This exercise focuses on the glutes and hamstrings and is a great introduction to deadlifting, according to Servante, as it allows you to get familiar with your range of motion.
The move: With your feet in a shoulder-width stance, hold a set of dumbbells in front of your thighs, keeping your shoulders pulled back and down. Take a deep breath and start to push the hips backward, keeping the dumbbells tight to your body. Send the dumbbells down along your legs until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Once your hamstrings feel tight, tense the glutes and push through the heels to return to the start position. Repeat for 8–12 reps.
This exercise works your whole posterior chain, from the hamstrings to glutes to back, Mulgrew says. It also works your core.
The move: Start with your feet hip-width apart and shins right next to the barbell. Sending your hips back and bending your knees, hinge forward to place your hands on the barbell. Pull the bar into your shins with straight arms, squeezing them in close to your body. Take a breath in, and stand up. “Think of pushing down into the floor to extend the hips through an explosive action,” Mulgrew suggests. Once you stand all the way up, reverse the motion. Repeat for 5–12 reps total, depending on how heavy the weight is. (You can find more tips on perfecting your deadlift here.)
BACK EXTENSIONS WITH GLUTE FOCUS
“This is a fantastic exercise that reinforces the hip-hinge pattern and works the glutes and hamstrings in their lengthened range,” Servante says.
The move: You can do this exercise using a back extension machine or a stability ball. The ball or machine pad should hit just below your hip bones. Instead of feeling your lower back in this exercise, you want to adjust your body position so that you primarily feel your glutes and hamstrings working. Starting with your glutes engaged and chin tucked, place your hands on your glutes. Initiate the movement by first squeezing the glutes, then imagine you are thrusting your hips into the ball or pad as you bring your upper body up until your hips are fully extended, keeping your upper back rounded.
Return to the starting position and repeat for a total of 12–20 reps. You can also hold a dumbbell close to your chest to increase the difficulty.
BANDED MONSTER WALK
This exercise helps improve glute and core strength. “This is my go-to exercise because you can use it in a forward or lateral walking pattern,” Hammond says. “It also helps to engage the intrinsic muscles to work in conjunction with the prime movers in squatting, jumping and running.”
The move: Place a resistance band above your knees or ankles. Step out to a 45-degree angle, then bring your back foot up slowly and with control, maintaining space between your feet. Repeat for the desired number of steps.
You can switch up this exercise by stepping to the side, stepping backward or increase the difficulty by looping the band around the arches of your feet. “Make sure that when you’re walking in any direction, you keep high tension on the band,” Hammond says.
BARBELL HIP THRUSTS
This movement works all the gluteal muscles, Servante says.
The move: Align a bar across your pelvis, making sure your body is in the middle of the bar. If you’ve added weight to the bar, you may need to use a pad or yoga mat to protect your hip bones. Place your feet flat on the floor with your knees at a right angle at the top of the movement. Drive your hips up off the floor, pressing through your heels, keeping your pelvis tucked under and your neck in a neutral position. Once your hips are fully extended, slowly return to the start. Depending on how heavy the barbell load is, repeat for a total of 8–15 reps.
This exercise works both legs and is adaptable in the sense that you can change your body position to target specific muscles, Servante says. To get more quad action, keep your body upright. To target the glutes, angle your upper body forward.
The move: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and dumbbells down by your sides — or hold one dumbbell in front of your chest. Step one foot forward, and keep this foot planted flat on the floor. Come up onto the ball of your back foot. Lower the back knee toward the floor in a controlled manner, driving the front knee forward and making sure the heel stays planted. Drive back up, pushing all the weight through your heel on the front foot.
“If the heel of your front foot lifts, take it forward slightly,” Servante says. “Make sure to keep the feet aligned with the shoulders as if you are on train tracks.” Repeat for 8–12 reps total, then switch to the other side.
While compound exercises (like squats and deadlifts) are efficient and effective when performed well, if hamstrings are your weak spot, doing this concentrated, isolated exercise helps you develop strength and build awareness, which is just as important, Mulgrew says. This exercise is also highly adaptable. Use sliders, a stability ball or a hamstring curl machine depending on what you have available.
The move: Lie on your back with your heels on sliders or a stability ball. Keeping your body in a straight line, lift your hips up into a bridge and pull your heels in toward your butt at the same time, until your knees reach a 90-degree angle. Then return to the starting position. It can help to imagine you are tucking your tailbone as you complete this exercise. To kick things up a notch, go slower on the curl or extension portion of the exercise. Repeat for a total of 8–12 reps.
Check out “Workout Routines” in the MyFitnessPal app to discover and log workouts or build your own with exercises that fit your goals.