What is the posterior chain & why is it important for riding?
I speak alot about strengthening your posterior chain when I am discussing rider fitness & strength training. When you want to increase your strength for your riding you need to be training the same muscles that are used when we are riding, which in turn is the whole of the posterior chain.
However, how many of you actually have any idea of what the posterior chain actually is?
The whole fitness thing can be totally confusing when you first get going so when coaches start talking about posterior, bilateral, lateral it can all get a little confusing! Simply put the posterior is the back of your body. The body is a kinetic chain, where all your muscles & joints work together to create movement so hence it’s referred to as your posterior chain. The chain on the back of the body that works together to create movement & provide stability.
We’re talking about all the muscles from your feet up to your head on the back of your body. When riding the main muscles working predominantly are your glutes, lower back & core muscles, hamstrings, upper & mid-back muscles, shoulders & arms. Dependent on your discipline some areas may work more than others but that gives you an idea of where movement & strength is being generated from.
Typically riders tend to be quite weak & lengthened in their posterior muscles, this can be for many different reasons much of these lifestyle-related. If you spend much of your time seated then this can cause the muscles on the back of your body to become lengthened & weak over time so it’s important we give them a good focus in our own training time.
You’ve probably heard me talk before about your glute muscles (your bum) being the powerhouse of your movement in the saddle! This would be one of your most important muscles on the posterior chain for your riding so start here. Making sure that both the hamstring & glute muscles are equally strong is important. If the hamstrings are tight but glutes weak you'll struggle to maintain a neutral spine which could lead to lower back pain. The muscles on the back of our bodies not only allow us to generate movement, sit up straight but also act as stabilisers for the hip, knee & spinal joints.
The gluteal muscles are your first focus; you have gluteal minimus, medius & maximus. Each has a role when riding but focus on the maximus to begin with, this muscle allows your hips to move forwards & back. Exercises like glute bridges & hip thrusts are great to target this muscle. As you build your strength you can add in some more isolation-focused work that hit the other smaller glute muscles. This is where adding in some banded resistance exercises can be great.
Your lower back muscles & core should be your next port of call. It’s true you can have a six-pack but not a strong core so you want to really focus on building that mind-muscle connection & feeling the correct muscles working. Focus on training those deep stabiliser muscles such as your erector spinae & the transversus abdominis. That’s your deepest core muscle that is responsible for your stability.
Here you want some exercises that train the posterior movement such as hyperextensions; supermans are a great exercise to add in here. As well as movements that train the front of the core; deadbugs & pallofpresses are both two of my favourite core exercises. Leave the crunches at the door, they won’t give you anywhere near as much benefit as these two movements! If done with good form, control & you can effectively control your breathing to brace then these will build your core quickly.
Hinging movements such as deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, swings are the next movement to add to strengthen the hamstrings, once you have built a base of strength & got a good technique in your strength exercises. If done correctly & with good form then the deadlift movement is hands down the most effective movement to strengthen the posterior chain but often it’s done with super poor form that will cause you an injury if you then load with external load.
Start with lightweight & focus on working through a full range of motion feeling the back of the thighs & glutes work. The hamstrings allow you to engage your leg & create a deeper seat, if you’re weak in these muscles you’ll probably find you end up gripping more through your inner thighs & calves. In time once you’ve perfected your technique you can add in some single leg deadlifts to really work that strength on each side individually; this is a great way to identify any imbalances.
Focusing on both your hamstring & glute strength will help to stabilise your pelvis in the saddle & get your body working as one unit. If you struggle with lower back pain this should be the first port of call!
The mid-back muscles; the latissimus dorsi. This is your big wing like muscle on your back covering your shoulder blades running down the sides of your back. Movements like lat pulldowns, banded rows & banded pulldowns are all exercises to strengthen the lats. Strong back muscles will help to assist in all of your arm & shoulder movements such as taking your arm to the side or turning your hand out but also help you to stay strong & upright in the saddle.
The upper back muscles such as the rhomboids, upper traps help to stabilise the shoulder blades which for riders is essential! If you don’t have stability through your scapulas you’ll struggle to maintain a good posture & find yourself hunching over as you’re not able to support your posture. Strengthening these areas will avoid that horrible hunched-over position; exercises such as face pulls, banded pull aparts, rows will all build these muscles.
You can then add in some isolation work to target the smaller muscles of the posterior chain like the triceps & calves but using these compound movements I've listed above where we’re working multiple joints & muscles at the same time hits all these smaller muscles too so don’t spend too much time worrying about your isolation work as you're covering these areas already.
Hopefully, that helps you to understand;
A the importance of the posterior chain & what it actually is
B where to start to work on strengthening it!
Good luck & I hope this helps to simplify things for you! If you’re looking for help with your rider fitness I offer bespoke 121 rider online coaching. Feel free to drop me a message & let’s have a chat & see how I could help you.