November 5, 2017

A Wake-Up Call for Your Posterior Chain

A few weeks ago I taught the first iteration of my new workshop, Posterior Chain Awakening. “Posterior Chain” is a favorite term in the personal training world and in physical therapy clinics, but it’s less known in the yoga sphere.  

What is a Posterior Chain?

gluteus maximus

“Posterior chain” indicates the muscles (or myofascial network) on the back of our bodies. Most notably it includes the glutes, the hamstrings, the paraspinals (muscles on either side of our spine) and muscles between the shoulderblades.

Attention to the posterior chain should be a no-brainer for nearly all people who use chairs. It helps to balance the activity of sitting (hip flexion balanced with hip extension).

Why You Need It 

Don’t get too caught up in what it is and isn’t: Posterior chain is not scientifically agreed-upon language. However, it’s great short-hand for recognizing that the back of our bodies often need more or different attention than the front of our bodies in any sort of movement practice. Of course this includes strength training at the gym, but it also includes yoga asana. 

Sleepy glutes syndrome is a serious epidemic. 

Sleepy glutes syndrome is a serious epidemic Click To Tweet

Here’s the thing: most vinyasa-based yoga practices excel at forward folds, quad strengthening, pec strengthening. They DON’T include enough gluteal and hamstring strengthening…by far. To be clear, it’s not because students are not in alignment. It’s 100% secondary to the fact that there is not enough active hip extension to balance the hip flexion in vinyasa

What’s a Yogi to Do?

Here are some ideas — directly borrowed from my workshop — that will help to balance out this limitation, while still spending time on the mat:

Now it’s your turn. What are YOUR favorite yoga moves that engage glutes, hamstrings, scapular retractors or other posterior chain components? And if you teach yoga, how do you sneak these moves into your classes? Post away in the comments section below. 

6 Comments on “A Wake-Up Call for Your Posterior Chain

Kathryn Meacham
November 6, 2017 at 12:16 am

Reversed tabletop, reversed plank

November 6, 2017 at 11:08 am

YES! This would be in the next series. Tho I hate reverse plank so much hahhaha.

Becca Impello
November 7, 2017 at 8:28 pm

I agree all the variations in this video would get the gluts and hamstrings firing, however, i find students with SI instability do not do well with a rolling bridge. I have them focus on lifting and lowering with movement purely at the hip joint and then have them draw the tailbone toward the backs of the knees (or block) once the hips are up. Also, I have some students whose hamstrings will totally and painfully cramp if they activated them as in the toes up, heel dig bridge, too much flexion at the knees and hip ext at the same time. Would love to hear if you have any thoughts on these issues.
My go to yoga practices for the posterior chain are hip ext from prone or hands and knees, baby cobra, locust variations. I often cue the glutes in standing poses as well, such as a short stance warrior 1 (the back leg), warrior 2/triangle (the back leg, as well as the hip ext rotators in the front leg), even in kneeling lunge the back leg glut can/should be on (sometimes i have them poke it a bit to wake it up and notice if and when it’s working.) Of course there are other poses to work on the superior parts of the posterior chain. Totally agree that vinyasa sequences don’t emphasize enough posterior activation. I teach pure vinyasa less and less. Thanks
Becca, MSPT, C-IAYT in Birmingham, AL

November 9, 2017 at 2:05 am

Hi Becca,
You touch on many things! A few quick responses:
– SI instability means different things in different bodies. Rolling bridge is about rolling through the spine, so should not have a great effect on the SI joint itself. It’s quite neutral.
– Yes, many people do not use hamstrings in the range that I am suggesting and will cramp up. If they are not cramping elsewhere (and hydrated, and electrolytes, and no major medical issues) it’s likely due to hamstring disuse. There are ways to train the hamstrings to work up to these exercises, which I believe is worth training up to. Isometrics are usually a great go-to with undertrained or painful muscles.
Thanks for adding to the ideas list! Bests, Ariele

January 30, 2021 at 1:25 am

Indeed informative article..

Should posterior chain be exercised first or anterior chain??

Dr. Ariele Foster
January 30, 2021 at 10:34 pm

neither or either ;)! Most yoga and real life movements are compound exercises — using multiple joints if not your whole body. If I’m doing something other than yoga, I might warm up with air squats or lunge variations or a jog in place. Or a walk. Those all get anterior and posterior.


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