Recently on my Facebook page I linked to an article about Posterior Chain training. That’s a fancy phrase that powerlifters use to describe the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. These are basically the “pulling” muscles if you lay flat on the floor on your front and pull your knees off the ground and up behind you.
I mentioned that I normally trained these muscles hard, as they were majorly involved in mountaineering. Ryan of Climbingreport.com asked me for my opinions about why it was important, and while I gave a short answer on Facebook, I have a little more here.
When walking uphill you normally place your foot out in front of you, then pull yourself over it. That’s the posterior chain working. When climbing vertical, either rock or ice, you place your foot higher, but generally under your body, then use mostly your quads to lift your body up over your foot. As your quads become more tired, you’ll have a tendency to stick your butt out some then pull it into the crag. That’s to roll off some of the work to your glutes and hamstrings. Of course that’s an over-simplification, but you get the drift. Another consideration is the agonist/antagonist balance. If your quads are too big for your hamstrings, you’ll be more likely to have injuries and pain, and they’ll most likely be manifest in your knees or hips – where the muscles from both groups attach. Most people like training their quads more than their hamstrings from my experience.
I made a couple videos of my Posterior Chain Warmups:
In this first video, I’m using a Back Hyper Extension bench. I keep my back fairly still, while hinging at the hips and as I hit the bottom and top, my hamstrings flex a bit. Since there isn’t much angle at the knees it’s an interesting difference, contracting a fully extended muscle. If you do this and don’t feel your hams and glutes firing at all, go slower and consciously squeeze your glutes at the top, and try to feel that squeeze all the way to your knees. If you look at the video as I come to the top, you’ll see my hamstrings flex some.
I usually do sets of 25 for this, since it’s really easy. YMMV.
In this second video, I’m doing one of those classic “not as intended” movements. The Glute Ham Raise bench is a powerlifting classic, and hard to find at most facilities except maybe some basement gyms. I can’t really see you getting away with taking ski poles into Gold’s or 24 hour, but this is just an idea. You can totally make do with the knee pads on a lat tower and a cardio step held out in front of you. Be creative. I am doing this move with the poles way out in front, similar to a core training move called a fallout (if done with straps) or rollout (if done with an ab wheel). I’m not putting a lot of weight on them, using them mostly for balance, and to give a little boost if I get tired so I don’t fall forward and snap my legs off at the knees.
I ride the poles out as far as I can go feeling sure I can get back up, then bring my butt back to over my heels, then do it again. The majority of the stress with this is at the fully extended position, and a little pause there is good. I normally do sets between 10 and 25 depending on what my training goals are for the day. If I’m doing 25 I don’t hang out to the front for as long a period, and use a little momentum to start my ride back. With sets of 10 I hang out there quite a while, and use a lot more hamstring to pull my butt back.
While I call these warmups, for some people just starting out who’ve never done serious hamstring or glute training, these might be a dang tough workout all on their own, so go slow, be careful, and be safe. Remember that anything you do is better than nothing you do.