How Runners Can Train the Posterior Chain

The posterior chain is our power house and is comprised of some of the biggest and strongest muscles in the body. These muscles, including those of the back, glutes, hamstrings and calves, are critical to all athletic movements, including running.

Why? The contracting of the posterior chain is what propels your body forward with each stride—the back muscles act to straighten and extend the spine; the glutes extend the hips and keep the femurs aligned; the hamstrings extend the hips and flex the knees (while also stabilizing the knee joints); and the calves extend the ankles and play a role in knee stabilization.

As runners, it’s easy for us to fall into a quad-dominant scenario, taking our hamstrings and glutes out of the picture or, at the very least, moving them to the back burner. Add to that the amount of time many of us spend sitting on our butts. In a sense, these posterior muscles forget how to work, forcing our anterior muscles to take over and do jobs they were never designed to do. This leads to a host of problems with reduced running performance and increased risk of injury topping the list.

How do you know if your posterior chain is weak? If you spend most of your day sitting, you can pretty much guarantee your posterior strength leaves something to be desired. If you regularly experience knee pain, your quad-to-hamstring ratio may need some improvement (i.e. stronger hamstrings). If you regularly experience back pain during runs or at rest, you may have tight, overdeveloped quads and hip flexors that are causing excessive anterior pelvic tilt and spinal lordosis (sway back). If your kick isn’t there or you feel your power is lacking, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not running on all cylinders.

The key to optimal stride efficiency and power is balance between the intricate system of the anterior and posterior chains. Because running is flexion dominant, adding extension exercises that target the posterior chain to your training will balance out the stress your body consistently endures. Work a few of the following moves into your routine to increase your power output and up your running game: