Just Being Honest.

Sara Fleming

In one way or another, I tell all my clients this:  You need a bigger butt.  At least a stronger one.  Hopefully one that points up.  The only way to achieve this is training that involves the posterior chain; most importantly the posterior.  But why?  Well, because a well-developed posterior chain is key to preventing injuries, especially knee injuries, especially in women.  And unfortunately, we don’t use our rear ends to our full potential.

The posterior chain.  

The posterior chain is a group of muscles that run from your mid-back all the way down to your heels, the largest of which are your glutes.  I include in this group the muscles from the upper back all the way up to the back of the neck as they all play a role in maintaining erect posture. This group of muscles is referred to as a chain because muscles seldom work in isolation, instead they work as a unit to generate movement such as jumping, running, and lifting.  The posterior chain has an equal and opposite counterpart in the anterior chain, the muscles that run down the front of the body including the quadriceps, abdominal muscles, and chest.  Both chains are important in athletics, however, the posterior chain is often more underdeveloped.  Imbalances between the two can hinder reaching one’s athletic potential and also lead to injuries. Women in particular have a 4-6 times greater ACL injury rate than men and development of the posterior chain through plyometrics and strength development have been shown to mitigate this risk.

My kids think its hilarious that I talk about butts so much when training.  I can’t help it.  The muscles of your posterior are the largest muscle group in the body and when developed properly, are capable of driving most of the body’s movements and doing the bulk of the work.  I routinely train people who have never lifted heavy weights in their lives.  Getting them to accept that they need to use their rear end any time they extend their hips (ie, stand up straight or push their legs behind them) can be difficult.  I’ve also found that many folks  become anterior chain dominant as they get older, mostly from decades spent decades sitting and working in chairs, bent over computers.  In this position, the hamstrings and glutes waste away to tiny little versions of their previous glory, the chest and hip flexors become tight, and we often develop a slouched posture.  The posterior chain muscles, including those of the upper back and neck need to be strengthened in order to maintain good posture and properly drive movement.

Brazilian women are lauded for their amazing backsides.
  If you’ve ever observed Brazilian dancers in motion, they
utilize a lot of pelvic rotation and glute driven movements.

I can see the difference in anterior chain vs posterior chain driven activity based simply on how a person walks.  Anterior chain dominant walking is more of a reaching out and pulling forward motion, the hips may move back and  forth, but the stride is shortened and the legs rarely extend significantly behind the body.   Watching these people, I get more of a sense that they are falling forward rather than driving the movement from behind.  While utilizing gravity to assist locomotion is a good thing, too much and we appear to be stumbling through life as our muscles get weaker.  More posterior chain dominated movement involves pushing the feet off the ground to propel one foward.  The hips tend to rotate more, typically up to 40 degrees.  This rotation is supported by the gluteal muscles, specifically the glute medius.

The following video demonstrates the balanced muscle activation that occurs during a proper walking gait.  You can not only see how much the glutes are activated in a normal walking stride, but that the posterior muscles are activated for longer than the anterior muscles.

Its not fool-proof, but simply observing how someone moves and reacts can tell you a lot about potential strength or coordination deficiencies.  An imbalanced, shortened, or awkward gait can provide the observant trainer with a lot of information about their trainee.  For the record, strength and coordination and closely linked in that if an individual has a weak link, its usually because they aren’t coordinating their movements properly.  This can be the result of weakness, an injury, or just getting into bad habits.    

Sprinting may not give you a perfect backside,
but a big round backside is certainly an advantage
to these sprinters.

So, back to the rear-end.  As a weightlifting coach and a track and field coach, I’m very interested in figuring out what kind of movement patterns are more likely to impact performance and injury prevention both positively and negatively.  I’ve not done any long-term, in-depth research on the subject and I’m certainly no expert in kinesiology, but one of the few (and significant) observations I’ve made over the years is that the older and less active a person gets, the more anterior dominant they tend to become and the smaller their behind becomes.  The hips may start to drop as weight is put on them and you may also observe the shoulder dropping as well as the gait becomes much more of an exaggerated side to side movement.  In older folks this can happen both from weaknesses as well as pain from arthritis.  Why does this happen?  I can only speculate, but sitting in chairs and not squatting, our natural sitting position, seems to be a major culprit.  The deep squat, after all, is driven out of the bottom primarily by the glutes.

Our joints are not supported by the skeleton, they are supported by the muscle and connective tissue surrounding them.  Balanced strength development is the primary way to ensure proper joint health and function.  

Tinkerbell looks like a weightlifter to me.  

Now, we’ve all seen top level athletes perform.  From football players, to weightlifters, to sprinters and competitive distance runners, gymnasts, etc., they all have one thing in common:  A big round butt.  In fact, I can usually tell which weightlifters are going to do well at a meet based solely on the size and shape of their rear end.  Big thighs help as well, but the power comes from behind and healthy hips require strong glutes.

So, how does one get a big athletic posterior?  Well, there are a few ways to consider, but if you are starting from scratch, the best developer of overall body strength and posterior enlargement is the basic squat.  The heavier the better.  My personal favorite for both strength and size are back squat ladders.  You can see Dave’s article for more details on programming.

So, in conclusion, try thinking about a big rear end in a different way.  It is the power center of the body.  If you can harness its power, you will be much stronger in general.  Lifting things off the ground, pushing things overhead, running, sprinting, moving heavy objects, and simple locomotion should all utilize the posterior chain.  Try being more aware of how you initiate movement and see if sending the workload to the largest muscle group in the body doesn’t help somewhat with overall strength and fatigue management.  It will not only make you stronger, you are likely to keep moving well into your old age and you’ll have a glorious backside to boot.  

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