Back and butt. These are usually the two areas we focus on when we think of our “backside” and making sure it’s strong and (let’s admit it) looks good.
However, there’s much more to your backside than just your glutes and back. In fact, there is an entire “chain” of muscles that form your backside, called the posterior chain, that play a huge role in taking your performance and even physique to the next level.
What is the Posterior Chain?
The posterior chain is the group of muscles that run down the entire backside of your body. They are made up of your erector spinae (the muscle around your spine), latissimus dorsi (mid back muscles), you glutes, hamstrings, and calf muscles. It also includes muscles in your upper back, like your traps and delts, as well as the backside of your obliques. These are referred to as a “chain” of muscles because they all form a chain that works together to support almost every movement you make in and out of the gym.
Why is Having a Strong Posterior Chain So Important?
In essence, your posterior chain is what propels you forward. If you want to run faster, jump higher, or pivot and rotate more smoothly (and without causing injuries), you need to develop this string of muscles.
Your posterior chain also helps you maintain your balance and posture, which becomes crucial when you start working with any type of weight (especially kettlebells, which challenge your balance due to their asymmetrical and unsteady weight distribution when you’re holding them). A strong posterior also helps prevent injuries in day-to-day activities, including moving furniture or any other movement that requires rotation and pushing or pulling.
At its core (pun definitely intended) a strong posterior is your stabilizing and coordinating force, as well as power source for any movement. The stronger it is, the surer and stronger your movements will be in (and out) of the gym.
Best KB Moves To Strengthen Your Posterior Chain
These are a round up of some of the best functional moves to strengthen your posterior. If you find you’re struggling to keep form with some of these, try performing them with just your body weight.
1. Single-Leg Deadlift
Single-leg deadlifts work your entire backside, while also engaging your core and obliques as they work to keep you balanced. Holding a kettlebell adds another layer of challenge.
Begin with your feet hip width apart, with the kettlebell in both hands. Hinge forward from your hips, keeping your chest up as you raise you right leg out behind you, flexing your foot. Lower the kettlebell to just above the ground, engaging your glutes as you return to standing.
2. Single-Arm, Alternating KB Swing
Standard kettlebell swings are great for your posterior, but single-arm alternating swings add a bit more core work. This is because the alternating weight of the kettlebell causes your obliques and lower back to work move to keep your balance as the weight shifts.
Set up your swing by grasping the kettlebell in one hand between your legs, knees slightly bent. Thrust forward with your hips (your primary power is coming from here – avoid letting your shoulders do the work) to send the kettlebell to just above shoulder height. Now, grasp the kettlebell with your other and repeat using your other arm. Continue alternating.
3. KB Snatch
The snatch is a progression of the single-arm kettlebell swing. Make sure you master the traditional swing and single-arm swing before jumping into the snatch, as it requires a good deal of shoulder girdle and glute strength to stop of upward trajectory of the kettlebell (which is also the reason it’s such an effective posterior move).
To start, place your kettlebell on the floor directly under your hips. Keep your chest up, shoulders back and down, and hinge your hips to grasp the kettlebell with your right hand. Now, push through your hips while pulling the kettlebell up, keeping it close to your body. As it passes your gaze line, allow it to rotate around your forearm as you push it toward the ceiling at the top. Lower and repeat on the other side.
4. Turkish Get-Ups
While it might seem like simply getting up off the floor holding a kettlebell would be a breeze … trust me, every muscle along your backside is going to be asking “why?” when the burn sets in. Every muscle in your body is activated during the Turkish Get-Up, including your upper and lower back.
Place your right foot on floor, angled outward, close to your right hip. At the same time, reach across with left arm and grasp under thumb side of right hand. Lift the kettlebell off the floor and press over right shoulder until arm is straight, then place your left arm back to its original position.
Now, raise your right shoulder off the floor by rolling onto your left elbow. Sit up, pushing off the floor with your left arm until straight. Re-position your right foot on floor while keeping your knee bent. Lift your hip off the floor and pull your left leg under your body. Position your forward foot and knee on the floor behind your right foot and left hand. Stand upright, re-positioning your legs in lunging position. Stand up fully by extending legs and placing rear leg next to forward leg.
To return to starting position:
Step back with your left leg and kneel. Bring your rear lower leg inward to place your forefoot on the floor behind your opposite hip. Lean to your left side and place your left hand on the floor. Shift your weight onto your left arm.
Now pull your left leg forward between your right leg and left arm. Extend your left leg outward onto the floor while sitting on your left hip, close to your right foot, with your right leg bent. Extend your right leg outward.
Slowly lie down, rolling onto your back. Position your left arm to its original position out to your side. Return your kettlebell to the side of your shoulder (assist with your left hand if needed). Lower your right leg onto the floor in its original position.
Repeat on the other side.
5. KB Squats
Traditional, but effective: squatting it out activates your glutes, hamstrings, and even core and calves when done correctly. Add a kettlebell to the movement and you get even more low back activation.
To do a kettlebell squat, begin with your feet hip width apart, holding a kettlebell (single or you can double it up like in the photo above) close to your chest. Sit back as you squat, making sure to keep the weight in the heels of your feet. You should be able to lift your toes off the ground while at the bottom of the squat. Keep your chest up throughout the entire movement, and focus on squeezing your glutes to come back to standing.
As you progress through these moves for a couple weeks, you’ll probably start to notice your other flows are improving (and your back and glutes might be flexing like no tomorrow. Major side benefit). Keep upping the challenge by adding a heavier bell when you’re ready.