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The Posterior Chain, Desktop Glutes & How To Activate Them

The posterior chain is the collection of muscles that all run in synchronicity all along the backside of the body. It comprises of the calf, hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae (muscles around the spine that extend your back – lower back), multifidus (stabiliser muscles around the spine that take load & pressure off of the spinal disks so that weight can be distributed down the spine – lower back), external obliques (side abs), trapezius (upper & mid back), Rhomboids (mid back) & rear delt (back of shoulders), levatator scapulae(neck) & a collection of other smaller muscles that all perform various stabilisation & support roles to the larger muscles.

The P-chain is essential for when we engage in high intensity movement such as jumping, sprinting, lifting heavy loads or biking up a hill to name a few. Our bodies have certain sequences by which muscles are activated to perform optimally for example in a sprint, the calves will activate first followed by the hamstrings then glutes then lower back then upper back with all muscles moving in the right order in concert with eachother enabling the athlete to sprint. The bottom line is that without a strong P-chain you will struggle perform optimally in athletic tasks as the backside of your body is where a shedload of your power to run & jump comes from.

Problems arise when the sequence is interrupted by under active muscles, a big culprit being the glutes. If the glutes do not fire correctly then what can happen is the sequence will adapt (as our brains are very clever) not to use them anymore. The hamstrings & muscles of the lower back take over the job of the glutes which is a lot of load to distribute considering the glutes are the biggest muscles in our bodies. This overloading effect can manifest itself in lower back pain & tight hamstrings & eventually can lead to injury, especially if engaging in high intensity sports activities.

Under active glutes are a big problem as many people in modern life spend a long time working at desks each day. What happens by sitting at a desk is that your quad (thigh) muscles become dominant & tight along with the psoas muscles which are deep in the hip. Because these become over active & tight it puts the pelvis into an anterior (front) tilt whereby the glutes are supposed to bring it back & balance it out (imagine the glutes & quads work to keep water in a bucket, your pelvis being the bucket) but if the glutes are not functioning due to never being used then this tilting effect will happen which again serves to put pressure on the lower back. The tilt & tight quads in the desk position also further exacerbates the glute activation issue as they will remain inhibited because they are the opposing muscle group. Muscles work in pairs to move with on contracting while the other relaxes; think bicep contracts while tricep relaxed. The same is happening with the glutes, hip & quads.

A similar thing happens throughout the rest of the body if bending over a keyboard a lot of the time; the front is working so becomes strong & tight while the back becomes stretched & weak. The same will happen if the front of the body is prioritised through training. The good news is that all of these effects can be reversed & helped by training the P-chain & stretching out the front of the body in a planned exercise program.

You must first check if your glutes are activated & whether or not you can control them. To do this clench both butt cheeks together several times. If you can feel both moving then try to independently squeeze each cheek. I used to have an underactive right glute so just doing this this was a struggle. Touching the glute with your hand helps as you tell your brain that it is there.

Once both glutes are activated you can progress to light strengthening exercises such as bridge, clam, single leg bridges, side leg raises & air squats.

Once they are further activated & firing nicely you can then progress to heavier work such as weighted thrusters, deadlifts, weighted squats & single leg squats.

If you try to go too heavy too fast then the glutes say no thanks, stop working & the slack is taken up by other muscles so progress slow & steady.

Once the glutes & posterior chain are strong you have a fighting chance at helping back pain caused by this issue & you can then go on to be an absolute beast, capable of deadlifting a car!

For more advice & a training program call me on 07971730269.

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