by: Yuri Elkaim

Top 15 Posterior Chain Exercises for Your Butt Back and Hams

Your spine has a bone to pick with you.

It’s tired of holding you up all the time: at your desk, during your workouts, while driving your car. It’s exhausted.

Okay, so your spine can’t actually speak to you. But it does send you some pretty strong messages.

And it communicates with you by using the language of pain.

If you’re experiencing lower back pain, injuries, and stiffness associated with bad posture, chances are it’s not even your spine’s fault.

Even though it might seem like it’s your back that’s doing the talking, the problem doesn’t actually lie there. Instead, it originates in a group of often-neglected muscles.

This group is called the posterior chain. And along with taming your spine’s grievances, it has the power to turn your backside into a toned, pain-free girdle of muscle.

What Is the Posterior Chain?

The posterior chain refers to the muscles located in the posterior, or backside, of the body.

These include the glutes, hamstrings, calves, erector spinae (the little muscles surrounding the spine), and the lower and upper back muscles.

This group of muscles plays a huge role in just about any movement you make. They’re the power behind your ability to take the stairs two at a time and squat down to pick up something heavy from the floor.

Unfortunately, if you don’t use your muscles they can become weak. And for most of us, our day-to-day movements don’t require much of our posterior chain. For instance, if you’re sitting all the time, the glutes and hamstrings become lengthened and weak, which leaves your spine begging for proper support.

This can turn into low back pain and bad posture, as the muscles that are supposed to keep you upright are now so weak that they’re letting your shoulders round forward toward your desk.

Luckily, this situation can be fixed by properly activating – or “turning on” – the posterior chain.

How to Activate the Posterior Chain

If you’re not used to using your posterior chain muscles – especially your glutes – your body might not even know how to make them work. It’s almost like they are asleep.

Instead, when you don’t use your glutes or posterior muscles that often, your body begins to compensate by giving more work to the quadriceps and front side of the body.

This can lead to injuries during your workouts, since the front side of your body is now taking on loads that were meant for the glutes to handle.

An example of this is knee injuries in runners due to too much pressure coming down on their knee joints because their glutes and core muscles aren’t doing their job.

So as you can see, it’s important to teach your posterior how to work again by doing exercises that don’t let the front side of your body take over.

This involves concentrating on really squeezing the glutes and backside of the body during posterior exercises. Once you start doing this regularly, your glutes and backside will become used to being “used first,” and won’t have to rely on the front side of the body for support.

In addition to properly activating your glutes, these type of exercises will also improve your posture and balance and help prevent knee and back injuries during workouts (1).

You’ll find 15 of the best of these exercises below which will help your posterior wake up from its long nap.

The Top 15 Posterior Chain Exercises to Target Your Butt, Back, and Hams

The Top 15 Posterior Chain Exercises

Below are the 15 best posterior chain exercises you can do to tighten and strengthen your backside, relieve lower back pain, and also build a better posture.

Before you get started with these exercises, don’t forget to add in a 5- to 10-minute dynamic warm-up consisting of leg swings, bodyweight squats and lunges, and light stretching.

1. Supermans

  • Level of Difficulty: Beginner
  • Main Muscles Worked: Lower back, glutes

Supermans are great for strengthening the lower back and engaging the glutes, and also helping correct rounded posture caused by excessive sitting.

  • Begin lying face down on the floor on your mat. On your next exhale, simultaneously raise your arms and legs off the floor as high as you can.
  • Focus on squeezing your glutes and lower back as you hold for 2-3 seconds.
  • Lower and repeat for 10 to 15 reps.

Variations: To mix it up, try raising one arm and one opposite leg at a time, alternating for 10 to 15 reps on each side.

2. Bird Dogs

  • Level of Difficulty: Beginner
  • Main Muscles Worked: Lower back, glutes

Bird dogs are excellent for activating the glutes and low back, while also strengthening the stability muscles surrounding your core.

  • Begin on all fours on your mat, hand directly beneath your shoulders and knees hip-width apart, under your hips.
  • Extend your right leg behind you while simultaneously extending your left arm out in front of you. Focus on squeezing your glutes as you hold for 2-3 seconds.
  • Lower and repeat, alternating sides, for 10 to 15 reps.

Variations: If you find yourself losing your balance, try lifting only one leg or one arm at a time for 10 to 15 reps. For a more advanced bird dog, try this one.

3. Sumo Squats

  • Level of Difficulty: Beginner
  • Main Muscles Worked: Inner thighs, glutes, quadriceps

Sumo squats target the muscles that wrap around the inner thighs and glutes, helping you target your lower tush.

  • Begin by positioning your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly outward at a 45-degree angle.
  • Now lower into a squat, focusing on keeping your weight in your heels and squeezing your glutes and inner thighs.
  • Once you reach parallel, push back to standing and repeat for 10 to 15 reps.

4. Back Extensions

  • Level of Difficulty: Beginner
  • Main Muscles Worked: Upper back, lower back, shoulders

Back extensions are excellent for strengthening the muscles along the spine and shoulders, which can help improve your posture and even ease back pain.

  • Begin lying facedown on your mat.
  • You can either extend your arms in front of you or keep them at your sides as you lift your upper torso and hands off the floor.
  • Focus on squeezing your glutes.
  • Keep your gaze down and neck relaxed.
  • Hold for 2 seconds, then lower. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.

5. Glute Bridge

  • Level of Difficulty: Beginner
  • Main Muscles Worked: Glutes, core

Glute bridges are one of the best exercises for activating the glutes and engaging the entire posterior chain.

  • Begin lying on your back on the floor, feet hip-width apart and arms by your sides.
  • Pressing through your heels, thrust your hips toward the ceiling. Focus on squeezing your glutes at the top.
  • Hold for 1 to 2 seconds, then lower your hips until just off the ground, and repeat.
  • Aim for 10 to 15 reps.

Variations: You can make glute bridges more difficult by doing them on one leg or adding a band. Simply come into your bridge position and extend one leg skyward, performing your thrusts on the opposite leg.

You can also check out this post for more variations.

6. Donkey Calf Raises

  • Level of Difficulty: Beginner to Advanced
  • Main Muscles Worked: Calves

This exercise might look a little a little strange but it adaptable to most fitness levels and can hit all areas of your calves as well as improve ankle stability.

Strong calves can help with balance and add power to any forward movement, such as climbing stairs and sprints.

  • Set up low blocks or weight plates (about 2 inches high) to use as risers, parallel to a weight bench.
  • Stand on the risers so that your heels are hanging off the them.
  • Hinge forward from your hips, so your trunk is parallel to the floor, with your elbows on a bench.
  • Lift and lower your heels. Play with how fast you do this movement – going slower can build  more strength and size, while a faster tempo can work on explosiveness and power.
  • Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.
For more intensity, try this one with one foot or use a weight belt with a plate hooked to it. (And if you’re really motivated – and you also have a strong, pain-free back – you can what they do in the video above and have a “swolemate” sit on your hips for more resistance).

7. Stability Ball Triple Threat

  • Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Main Muscles Worked: Glutes, hamstrings, core

The stability ball triple threat combines three powerful posterior exercises into one, so no muscle in your backside is left untouched. You should perform these exercises in a continuous flow, with no pause between.

  • Begin lying on your back on the floor, legs extended, with your feet propped on top of your stability ball.
  • For the first exercise, keep your legs extended and push your hips skyward by engaging your lower back and glutes (similar to a bridge), keeping your knees straight. Perform 8 reps.
  • For the next exercise, keep your feet planted on top of the ball, but this time bend your knees and roll in the ball toward your glutes. Roll it back out and repeat, keeping your hips lifted. Perform 8 reps.
  • For the final exercise, bend your knees and keep your heels planted on the ball. Thrust your hips skyward to perform a glute bridge on the ball. Engage your glutes and core to keep your balance. Lift and lower for 8 reps.

8. Reverse Lunges

  • Level of Difficulty: Beginner – Intermediate
  • Main Muscles Worked: Glutes, hamstrings, core, quadriceps

Reverse lunges help activate and strengthen your glutes and hamstrings, while also engaging your core to balance.

  • Begin standing tall, feet hip-width apart.
  • Extend your right leg back behind you and come into a lunge on your left leg. Make sure your left knee stays behind your toes.
  • Lower until your thigh is parallel to the ground, then push back to standing through your left heel, engaging your glutes.
  • Repeat, alternating legs, for 10 to 15 reps on each leg.

Variations: You can also hold dumbbells for an additional challenge.

9. Back Rows

  • Level of Difficulty: Beginner – Intermediate
  • Main Muscles Worked: Upper and lower back, shoulders

Back rows strengthen the muscles of your upper and lower back, and also your shoulders. Use a challenging dumbbell weight for these, but don’t go so heavy that you can’t pull through the full range of motion.

  • Begin standing tall, feet hip-width apart, holding your dumbbells at your sides.
  • Hinge forward slightly at your hips and, with your palms facing down behind you, row your dumbbells back. Focus on pinching your shoulder blades together.
  • Slowly lower and repeat for 10 to 15 reps.

Variations: You can also try rowing with your palms facing up to engage more of the lower back.

10. Romanian Deadlifts

  • Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Main Muscles Worked: Glutes, lower back, core, hamstrings

Romanian deadlifts target the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back as you pull a weight up from the ground. They are also excellent for building core strength and stability.

  • Begin standing tall, feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell or dumbbells in front of you.
  • Bending your knees just slightly, hinge forward at your hips as you lower your weight toward the ground. Keep a slight “pinch” between your shoulder blades to help stop your back from rounding, and really focus on engaging your core and glutes. Keep your chin tucked slightly so your neck remains in neutral position.
  • Keep your weight close to your legs.
  • Stop before you touch the ground and push through your heels to come to standing.
  • Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.

11. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

  • Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Main Muscles Worked: Glutes, lower back, core, hamstrings

Single-leg Romanian deadlifts add some intensity to the regular Romanian deadlift by increasing your core engagement and working the stabilizer muscles of your core to improve balance.

  • Begin standing tall, feet hip-width apart.
  • Bending your knees just slightly, hinge forward at your hips as you lower your body toward the ground.
  • Extend one leg behind you as you lower. Keep your chest forward and your spine straight, focusing on engaging your glutes. Keep your weight close to your leg.
  • Stop before you touch the ground and push through your heel to come to standing.
  • Repeat for 10 to 15 reps on each leg.

Variations: Alternatively, you can do single-leg Romanian deadlifts with dumbbells.

12. Kettlebell Swings

  • Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Main Muscles Worked: Glutes, lower back, core, hamstrings, shoulders

Kettlebell swings are excellent for working nearly every muscle in your posterior chain and core. Not to mention, they also get your heart rate up for a quick fat-burning workout.

  • Begin standing tall, feet hip-width apart, gripping a kettlebell with both hands, in front of your hips.
  • Push your hips back, keeping your chest facing front, and draw the kettlebell between your legs. Now thrust your hips forward and propel the kettlebell up to shoulder height as you straighten your legs.
  • Keeping your core engaged, let the kettlebell swing down between your thighs and thrust your hips forward again. The power to propel the kettlebell should come mostly from your hips and glutes, not your shoulders.
  • Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.

Variations: Try the more advanced one-arm swings by swinging using just one arm for added core work. Be sure to avoid letting your body sway from side-to-side during these and only swing up to chest level.

13. Barbell Hip Thrusts

  • Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Main Muscles Worked: Glutes, lower back, core, hamstrings

If you’re looking for a tight, toned tush, barbell hip thrusts should be one of your go-to exercises. Hip thrusts also engage your core, lower back, and hamstrings for killer posterior engagement.

  • Begin by loading a barbell with a challenging weight for you (or no weight at all – see below). Find a low bench and sit in front of it with your upper back braced against it. Rest your barbell across your lap.
  • Bending your knees, plant your feet hip-width apart in front of you. Exhale and thrust your hips skyward, squeezing your glutes to come to parallel with the floor.
  • Slowly lower and repeat for 10 to 15 reps.

Variations: You can also check out this post for more variations.

14. Renegade Rows

  • Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Main Muscles Worked: Core, upper back

Renegade rows take the plank to a whole new level by layering in weights and upper body engagement. They also help strengthen your core stability muscles, which can help improve lower back pain.

  • Begin by coming into a plank position, hands directly beneath your shoulders and spine in a straight line from head to toe. Grasp a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Row your right arm back, avoiding letting your body sway to the side. Squeeze your glutes and core to help you maintain your balance.
  • Lower your arm and row with your left arm.
  • Repeat, alternating arms, for 8 to 12 reps on each side.

Variations: You can also do renegade rows from a kneeling position. If that’s still too challenging, try holding a standard plank for 30 seconds or doing bird dogs (above).

15. Pull-ups

  • Level of Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Main Muscles Worked: Upper back, shoulders

Pull-ups are the ultimate upper back challenger. If you have trouble getting a full overhand pullup, try the band-assisted version explained in the variation section.

It’s also important that you make sure to do back rows regularly if you’re doing pull-ups, since they can be hard on the shoulder joint. Doing this will help ensure you’re engaging the entire back during your pull-ups, instead of putting too much weight on your shoulders.

  • Begin by standing on a low bench or box in front of your pullup bar.
  • Grasp the bar with both hands in an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width.
  • Step off your box and pull up until your chin is over the bar.
  • Lower and repeat as many times as you can.

Variations: Try a band-assisted pullup.

Posterior Chain Workouts

Now that you know the exercises, it’s time to string them together for an effective posterior chain workout. Check out the two options below.

With both of these workouts, depending on your goal, you can either do these exercises nonstop or take 30 to 40 seconds between them.

For instance, if you’re after ultimate fat loss and muscle sculpting, work toward doing these nonstop until you reach the end of the circuit.
But if you want general strength and muscle building, you can take 30 to 40 second breaks between each of the exercises.

The Do-Anywhere Bodyweight Posterior Chain Workout

This workout can be done anytime, anywhere. It’s great for beginners since you’re only using your bodyweight, and also makes an excellent finisher to your regular workout routine.

For the full workout, perform 3 rounds of the full circuit 2 to 3 times per week. For the finisher option, do 1 to 2 rounds.

  • Burpees – 10 reps
  • Bird dogs – 10 to 15 reps
  • High knees – 30 seconds
  • Reverse lunges (bodyweight) – 20 reps total
  • Sumo squats – 10 to 15 reps
  • Step ups on bench/box – 20 reps total
  • Calf raises – 10 to 15 reps
  • Glute bridges – 10 to 15 reps
  • Rest 1 minute before repeating

The Weighted Posterior Chain Workout

For this workout option, perform each circuit twice with a 1-minute break between circuits, 2 to 3 times a week.

Circuit One

  • Back rows – 10 to 15 reps
  • Step ups – 20 reps total
  • Renegade rows – 20 reps total
  • Kettlebell swings – 8 to 12 reps
  • Calf raises – 10 to 15 reps
  • Rest 1 minute and move on to Circuit Two

Circuit Two

  • Glute bridge – 10 to 15 reps
  • High knees – 30 seconds
  • Romanian deadlift – 8 to 12 reps
  • Reverse lunges – 20 reps
  • Stability ball triple threat – one round of each exercise
  • Rest 1 minute and repeat Circuit 1

Keep in mind that you can switch up the specific exercises in these circuits as needed.

For instance, you can do single-leg Romanian deadlifts in place of the Romanian deadlift, barbell hip thrusts in place of the glute bridge, etc.

Rolling It Out

Whew. After putting your posterior to work, it’s only natural that you’ll experience soreness and/or tightness.

In fact, if you sit often during the day, you’ll probably have some tight glute muscles for a few days, considering they’ve been inactive for so long.

To ease any next-day soreness and help speed along healing, I recommend investing in a foam roller (they’re very affordable) and getting in some good rolls between workouts two to three times a week.

Check out this post for foam rolling options and instructions.

Foam rolling is essentially a form of self-massage that gets deep into the muscles tissue to break up knots and areas of tightness. This helps improve circulation, allowing you to heal faster and get some relief from soreness.

Get Stronger, Reduce Pain

Adding these exercises and workouts into your weekly routine is the equivalent of buying your spine a bouquet of roses.

You’ll be forgiven for all of your past neglects, and rewarded with a pain-free, toned backside.

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Yuri Elkaim

Yuri Elkaim

Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.