The posterior chain is a group of muscles that make up the back (posterior) portion of the body structure. They include the back, glute, and hamstring muscles. The abdominals (mostly the inner portion) tie this chain together into one functional unit.
Most people, and especially women, have a weak posterior chain, and these are the muscles you need to strengthen when you want to improve performance, body composition, health and posture. They are also extremely helpful in pregnancy as your weight will be pulled forwards with the baby, so maintaining strength through the posterior makes child-bearing less uncomfortable.
Exercises that require a strong posterior chain in order to do them well include the squat, lunge, bench press, push up, pull-up, and deadlift. Interestingly, these are the movements most people seem to want to start on. I never program these exercises until a client has a strong enough posterior chain to handle them well.
Personally, I have never met a woman who doesn’t have ‘symptoms’ of weakness in these areas, and who isn’t experiencing issues with their hips, knees, or lower back when they start training with me.
IDENTIFYING IF YOUR POSTERIOR CHAIN IS WEAK
In posture, you can identify it through forward-rounded shoulders (palms tend to face backwards when relaxed), kyphosis (the upper spine is over-rounded and hard to extend), lordosis (where the lower back arches inwards creating what you may call a ‘duck butt’), and/or collapsed feet, which usually come with inwardly rotated knees. You may have one, or all of these imbalances.
When you train, weakness can be noticed if performing weight training causes upper body discomfort including your lower back or upper traps (top of your shoulders), or lower body discomfort such as painful knees, hips, or tight hip flexors.
When squatting or lunging, if your glutes and hamstrings are weak your knees will want to rotate inwards, and you will want to push back up with your toes. You may over-arch your lower back in order to press back up to the beginning of the movement. You may feel like you never get the ‘burn’ through your glutes that you are aiming for.
When pressing or rowing, you may find that you never feel your back muscles the way you want, or your upper traps and neck might feel painful and inflamed the next day. Shrugging your shoulders when performing upper body movements is a sure-fire sign that your posterior chain is weak
Abdominally, you may find your lower back hurts, or your hips and thighs take more weight, and ‘burn’ more, than your abs do when you’re trying to strengthen them
Essentially, if too train on a weak posterior chain, although you may get stronger at first you will find that eventually you will stall in progression, as your body isn’t in it’s ideal position, and the larger, stronger, supporting muscles whose job it is to perform those movements, are hindered or inactive.
IMPROVING THE STRENGTH OF YOUR POSTERIOR CHAIN
Strengthening the posterior chain is simple but can take a bit of messing around depending on how out of line your posture is, and how tight you are in the ‘wrong’ places. Below are the steps you would take, and that I take with my clients, to get their posterior chain working efficiently;
Learn how the movement is supposed to look and where you are supposed to feel it, for any exercises involving the glutes, hamstrings, abdominals, or back
Choose a weight that is light when you are learning. Leave your ego at the door. It is also a good idea to keep your learning to machine-based exercises until you get the basic principles, and move on to things like squatting and deadlifting later on when you’re ready. If you are re-learning, then you will need to lower your weight compared to where you were at before, if you aren’t feeling it in the right muscle groups.
Note where you are feeling the exercises, if it’s your back, glutes and/or hamstrings, this is correct. If it is your neck, upper traps (shoulders), lower back, knees, or hip flexors, this is incorrect.
Use stretching and activation exercises for the muscles that aren’t ‘switching on’ for you. This includes band exercises, bodyweight exercises, ball or foam rolling, static and dynamic stretching, and some basic/light strengthening movements.
Continue this process until you ‘feel’ the muscles you’re aiming to feel. Once you feel them on basic exercises, then move on to harder ones such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, or other full-body movements.
Keep in mind, results won’t come unless you take the time to master this
Remember that results, whether you are seeking a muscular look, posture correction, enhanced performance, or any other objective, come when you do the movements well, regardless of how heavy the weight is. I have had women come in and see me who are squatting 80kg+, but in order to get their glutes ‘working’ and supporting the movement, we have had to drop the weight down to 30kg and, much to their shock, they find this harder
When your posterior chain is ‘activated’ and functioning as it should, your nervous system will become more resilient and powerful, as will your body in general.
Heavy weights should only be lifted once technique is perfect, as building more muscle on unsupported foundations creates more work in the long run to correct it, and trust me when I say this, at some point, you will have to correct it.
Hope this helps you to accelerate your results in the gym 😉
In January this year I was interviewed by Bulk Hackers, they were interested in my philosophy and background and how I overcame chronic fatigue. Here is my interview:
Tell us about yourself and your training
My name is Jenifer Lee, I am 36 years, living in Australia. I specialize in women’s health and lifestyle change. My education centres on nutrition, personal training, and naturopathy, as well as energy medicine. I have been training for 20 years and a personal trainer since I was 18.
I own my own holistic health coaching business, which combines multiple health disciplines to offer women health, body and mindset transformations, both online and in person, locally and internationally.
I approach all coaching from a whole-health perspective, aiming to restore balance in both body and mind whilst my clients chase their individual goals. A large portion of my business is in body re-composition, including bodybuilding competitions and prepping for photo-shoots.
Outside of that I enjoy writing, drawing, painting, playing music, travelling and reading. I practice meditation daily and always strive to learn more about the world.
Training wise, I have tried everything from dance to martial arts, cycling, powerlifting, bodybuilding and strongman. I was once a cardio bunny totally addicted to the ‘runners high’ until I learned about the value of lean muscle and eating to help your body grow strong.
Since finding a balance with weight training and nutrition, I haven’t pursued any other forms of exercise as this brings the most benefit for me in both body and mind.
Describe a typical day of training
My training philosophy is based on a combination of powerlifting and bodybuilding, which I’ve developed over the last 10 years of coaching. I focus on weight training and building strength, and prescribe nutrition to fuel that.
For me personally, I follow that same philosophy, but I train for fun now and not with the intention of competing. My training split varies but generally the balance is legs twice per week, back and shoulders twice per week, and chest/arms once per week.
I do some cardio for fun but I don’t prioritise it. My favourite exercises are for the posterior chain; deadlift movements, squats, lunges, and rows.
I like to train alone, as I train clients most days. It’s my time to focus on myself and my own health and well-being.
At the moment, I am training intuitively, since I just recovered from chronic fatigue. I don’t like to set targets for myself and risk over-doing things. I generally remember all the weights I lift anyway and thus don’t log it, though when I had competition goals in the past I logged everything in a diary.
As I am predominantly weight training, I don’t focus so much on measuring heart rate, just session times and energy expenditure, to ensure its consistent week to week.
How do you keep going and push harder?
I don’t necessarily push my limits in training any more. I suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for around five years and only in 2019 was recovered enough to train again. I used to be all about pushing as hard as I could, whereas now I maintain a healthy balance and focus on remaining strong and enjoying myself.
I think in order to stick at training for the long term, you need to spend time finding a routine and discipline that works for you. People tend to love cardio for the ‘high’ you get afterwards, but in my opinion it is fleeting and you have to keep training hard to get it again.
Weight training is the easiest to invest in long term, but you do need to spend some time with a trainer in the beginning, building foundations and a split that works with you in order to really feel the benefits of weight training that you can benefit from in the long term.
Another tip to keep the momentum going is to ignore what’s going on around you. Train for yourself and eat to be strong and healthy, but don’t over commit or put too much pressure on yourself to look a certain way.
A healthy body looks fabulous no matter what percentage of body fat you carry, and I think women sometimes get discouraged by the fact that they don’t look like a professional within the first year.
It takes a long time to build a physique, but your efforts never go unnoticed and once you are consistent enough to feel the benefits, the motivation to continue comes easily!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
If I could start over in my bodybuilding/fitness journey, I would do a lot of things differently. I came up in a time where very low calories and high amounts of cardio were the norm in exercise prescription for women, as well as very restrictive food choices.
I used to eat around 10 different foods as they were considered ‘clean’ foods. I don’t think these methods are beneficial for women at all in the long run (not even really in the short term), so I make sure to pass on better wisdom to my clients, and also ensure I never go down that road again myself!
My goals for the future are just to remain strong and healthy, and focus my energy on building my business. I love sharing my knowledge and supporting women in their journeys to becoming healthier, stronger, happier women.
How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?
I train consistently in a split that works for me, I have never been injured but in saying that I have had a lot of postural issues that took a lot of correcting along the way. I don’t push beyond what I consider to be good technique, because doing that only sets you backward in the long run.
I have been out of training for a period of about four years due to chronic fatigue, and I managed that through natural therapies and light training, until I was well enough to build my training back up again.
I think listening to your body and training smart is the key to longevity in training, and many people get caught up in their egos and miss the signals their body is sending.
I generally sleep around six to seven hours per night, and this is plenty for me. I started turning my WiFi and phone off at night, and avoiding lights after dark as a management tool for my chronic fatigue, and since recovering I maintained this habit as I sleep much deeper, and wake up feeling rested.
When I travel, I either cram my sessions in on the days I am home (if I’m away only for a weekend), or if its longer I either have active rest or do full body sessions only a few days per week. It really depends on where I am and whether a gym is easy to get to.
How is your diet and what supplements do you use?
My diet consists of primarily whole foods, I don’t like to eat processed foods, mostly because my body doesn’t agree with it and after battling health issues, I have learned that low-inflammatory nutrition is essential for optimal mind and body health.
The only supplements I use are a Evolve WPI (Whey Protein Isolate) and glutamine. My favourite brand is Evolve by Australian Sports Nutrition (all products), and NoWay protein by ATP Science. I leave the rest to my food. In times of stress, I supplement with magnesium and zinc, and around my cycle I take a liver supplement to support detoxification. I take a more specific approach these days, rather than taking all the traditional training supplements, as I find it more beneficial for me now.
What has inspired and motivated you?
I am inspired by learning more about the mind and body, and inspired by supporting others to see and experience their own potential. This is what keeps me going and what I invest all my energy in.
I am inspired by music and other health professionals as well. Learning new information and applying this to my business and myself is key to keeping me inspired and motivated towards the future.
Music wise, I listen to a broad range, for training it’s mostly 90’s RnB, but in my free time it’s Soul music and a lot of world music. I read a new book roughly every two weeks, and frequently listen to podcasts on health and well-being.
Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?
If you want to improve yourself, the best advice I could give is to find a mentor. When I started out, the Internet was new and there was not much knowledge going around. Progress was much slower and in most cases, a result of trial and error.
Doing your research into a good mentor will fast-track your journey in ways you can’t imagine, and I think skipping this step is a big mistake. Self-research, YouTube, and free online programs just don’t cut it (especially if you have the added difficulty of a health condition, or a history of disordered eating).
I often think to myself, imagine how different my life would be if these people were around when I was younger!
I have had at least 10 significant mentors in my health and fitness journey, including a psychologist, naturopath, chiropractor, homeopath lifting coach, and energy medicine practitioners. I learned a lot from them and as much as it costed me money, I would not have the knowledge or health that I do now had I not learned from them.
The biggest mistakes I find are those who self-prescribe strict eating regimens, try to train way ahead of their training age, not paying attention to their body signals, underestimating the importance of eating healthy food, and not eating enough calories to fuel their training.
Are you taking on clients right now?
I am currently at capacity with my coaching, as it is all one-on-one and I only have so much time every day to commit to my business! I do have a waiting list so when spots open up, I offer them to the next person available.
To go on the waiting list, I have a short interview process that I run through, to ensure that person will be a good ‘fit’ for my coaching. I think it’s important to make sure you’re both on the same page when it comes to expectations, before beginning any coaching journey.
With COVID closing gyms and leaving us hanging out at home twiddling our thumbs and looking for online training routines, I thought I would share some great resistance-band exercises that my clients have incorporated into their home programming.
Resistance bands are a great training tool, and when performed well can keep your body in great shape whilst you wait for gyms to open up again. Benefits of resistance bands include greater joint stability, greater strength as the resistance varies, and the obvious fact that you can take a band ANYWHERE to train with.
I have broken the workouts up into three splits;
Day 1: Legs & Abs
Day 2: Chest & Arms
Day 3: Back & Shoulders
The equipment you will need to complete these workouts is a band, either circular or with handles, somewhere in the home to attach a band to, and a broomstick (optional). Each video contains various options for you to try, as it does depend on how many bands you have, the type, and the attachments you have available to you. If you have other equipment, then these exercises will make great additions to your training routine!
Performing 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps is pretty standard for resistance band exercises, though you may need to adjust it based on your own strength and endurance levels. Start there as a guide, and modify as needed.
Day 1: LEGS & ABS
Legs should be supported all the way through to your upper back. Keep your lats/middle back engaged throughout the movements
Keep your pelvis slightly tucked
Aim to keep the glutes (bum) and hamstrings engaged throughout
Day 2: CHEST & ARMS
Always support the weight through your lats (middle-back)
Push your chest out to increase support and engagement through the upper body. Keep your shoulders down and relaxed. Avoid flaring your elbows
Focus on the muscle you’re using, so with triceps focus on extending with that muscle, for chest focus on squeezing it in order to press
Day 3: BACK & SHOULDERS
Always start by locking your lats into position, and pulling from your middle-back. There is no need to pull it any further than you can pull with your back muscles
Push your chest out to maintain good posture and a natural spinal curve
With shoulders, always keep your elbows in front of the weight. Avoid flaring them outwards. Support the weight through your abs and lats/middle back.
I hope you find these exercises helpful! There are so many great exercises you can do at home with limited equipment. Stay tuned for more exercises in the future
Strength training isn’t just about getting a bikini body. When I began lifting weights I was focused only on physical goals but it wasn’t long after I started that I realised how diverse the benefits really were!
Curves, improved body composition and muscle tone are all amazing benefits but there are so many others, like how your confidence improves with muscle and nervous system adaptations regardless of body composition changes, or the benefits to your health in mobility, posture, circulation, bone density, immunity and mentality.
Becoming a stronger woman physically helps you become a more powerful woman internally and over time it teaches you that you can do anything you set your mind to.
You don’t have to be an athlete to begin weight training, you just need to be committed to the idea of becoming a stronger, healthier and more powerful version of you
Body re-composition can be a complex, layered process. Some people respond easily and others don’t, and this is simply unavoidable. Genetics, your athletic background and your emotional/mental state play a HUGE part in this.
I find men often respond easier than women, which comes down to hormones, as well as attitude. Women have been prayed on and taught to hate their bodies for years, and I hear it ALL the time, women saying ‘nothing works for me’, but 9/10 of those women are following generic nutrition and training plans. With the right support and programming/nutrition, transformation is definitely not impossible. The same applies to men when it comes to achieving optimal strength/nutrition
What needs to be considered though is that EVERYONE is different, and I can tell you from personal experience that if I didn’t personalize my clients meal/training programs, AT LEAST 80% of them wouldn’t have gotten any tangible results.
So, why does your programming need to be individualized?
Because you have you own experience level, weak points, strong points, levers, limb lengths, schedules, lifestyles, preferences, etc. Programming should become more difficult over time if you wish to get stronger over time. Likewise, if you follow the same program or intensity of training forever, your results will eventually halt.
I find the worst examples of ‘halt’ programs are the very generic ones such as body-pump and circuit training. You will get results at first, but after a few months you will just get/stay ‘fit’. This is fine, however if it is body re-composition, or strength development you are after you need to lift weights, and push yourself progressively harder in weight/volume/intensity in order to keep getting results. And this needs to be teed up with a good nutritional plan. The human body is like an adaptation machine.
I follow a basic template with my girls as most will have similar weaknesses (eg hips and upper back), but I then adapt this template to suit individual requirements. NONE of them are exactly the same, unless one client has the exact same circumstances as another.
Why does your food plan need to be individualised?
Because no one is the same hormonally, metabolically, physiologically, psychologically, and no one has the same history. Many fitness/nutrition businesses these days work on the following model – make three templates, hand out the closest one to the client, cross fingers, hope for the best. If it doesn’t work, scrap that person and highlight the person that it does work for. It’s more of a business model rather than a service model, but the fitness industry is a big-money business now.
Take for example the following women (and for this example, lets just assume that they are all aiming to increase muscle and decrease body-fat so they can feel good in a bikini in summer);
Client 1:Weighs 90kgs, used to suffer from bulimia, has just introduced some light training, has been predominantly inactive throughout her life, and has little or no education about the fundamentals of nutrition
Client 2: Is tall, thin and underweight, and really wants to build muscle. She has tried to in the past but just doesn’t see results, which effects her motivation
Client 3: Suffers depression, allergies and fatigue, walks 3-4 days per week, works and studies full-time, and has two children
Client 4: Is active, has always been active, had a six-pack since childhood and can eat whatever she wants, and generally remains pretty lean
There are some massive differences there, but this kind of variety is NORMAL. All of these women want to change their body composition but each require a totally different approach to their nutrition
So lets assume I give them all the same 1800-calorie meal plan, and the same program with 5 days of weights and two cardio sessions per week. Here is an example of the potential outcome for each of those clients;
Client 1: Could become overwhelmed and drop off very quickly, returning to old habits
Client 2: Will probably get through the training okay but will struggle to stick to that many calories as she will churn through them once she adds the exercise
Client 3: May struggle to find the time and energy to complete all the workouts, which will leave her feeling doubtful and defeated. The training may also add to her fatigue
Client 4: Most likely, she will breeze through, probably even go off the plan here and there because she’s looking good and feeling confident. This is what you call a high-responding client.
So as you can see in that situation, one of these clients has succeeded and the rest aren’t too happy. Which is why they need to be taken care of individually, which takes effort on the part of your coach, but you shouldn’t be expecting anything less.
If you are just aiming to improve your health and overall wellbeing, then a generalized plan will most often suit. These plans are often much cheaper and also serve as a good starting/introductory point.
However, if you have specific goals and you feel like there are a few ‘layers’ that you will need to work through, then you may need support and no matter who you hire for the job, make sure what they write up for you is ESPECIALLY FOR YOU – an individualised plan with a long-term goal in mind
Trying to lose weight? Here are a few examples of why you need to monitor your progress with more than just checking the scales, ESPECIALLY when weight training
When it comes to body composition it’s important to note the difference between the density and appearance of fat and muscle. 1kg of fat is soft, lumpy and sits right under the skin, and it takes up more space on the body as 1kg of muscle, which is tightly packed and close to the bone.
I get the women I work with to take measurements along the way as well and pictures and bodyweight, as your weight will fluctuate constantly throughout the process. When it does, it can seriously mess with your head! You also want to build and/or maintain as much muscle as possible in the process, so measurements and visual changes are more significant than scale weight
So here are some of the girls results over the past 8 weeks just as an example – you can see that the ‘cms’ lost are a lot higher than you would think for the ‘kgs’ lost. You can also see that one girl has actually ‘gained’ weight
2.2kg lost > 20cm down, 4.5kg lost > 34cm down, 1.8kg lost > 20cm down, 4.5kg lost > 34cm down, 4.1kg lost > 35cm down, 2.5kg lost > 19cm down, 3.1kg lost > 22cm down, 700gms gained > 15cm down, 2kg lost > 14.5cm down, 4kg lost > 23.5cm down
Preserving muscle and strength is achieved by keeping a good balance between training and calorie consumption, and it will also leave you with more sustainable changes in the long run
*Please note that the attached image is not an EXACT representation of size, it is merely being used as an example