Strengthen Your Posterior Chain: Glutes and Hamstrings

If you’ve been hanging around here for a bit, you’ve seen my exercises for strengthening your posterior chain, upper body edition.

If you haven’t been around, let’s get you up to speed. The posterior chain simply refers to the muscles, tissue, and bones that make up the back of the human body. In a nutshell, this part of the body tends to be weaker (and somewhat neglected!) when compared to the front of the body, but I want to give you a few simple ways to fix that!

This post will focus on strengthening the lower posterior chain, which includes your gluteal muscles, hamstrings, and other muscles that can increase your hip strength and stability.

Here are a few of my favorite exercises for strengthening your lower posterior chain.

Note for those who have had spinal fusion surgery: The following exercises can be performed with a scoliosis spinal fusion (read the notes within the descriptions below!), but please try them under the supervision of a trained movement professional before attempting them on your own. Each person’s body and behavior after a spinal fusion is different, so you’ll want to have support from a well-educated, compassionate movement pro to ensure you’re working within a beneficial, safe range of motion for YOUR unique body.

Strengthening Your Glutes, Hamstrings, and Other Posterior Hip Muscles

Hamstring Lifts + Curls

Come onto all 4s on your hands or forearms, and tuck a hand weight behind one knee (the hand weight is optional). With your knee bent, pull your bellybutton up and in to engage your core, then lift and lower your knee, keeping it bent to isolate the hamstrings.

After 8-10 reps of lifting and tapping, hold your knee up in line with your hip. Squeeze your heel toward your hips, as if you’re gripping the weight even tighter, to further engage the hamstrings for another 8-10 reps.

If you have a spinal fusion, this exercise likely will not require any modifications for you. Woo hoo! However, you may want to experiment with working on your palms vs. forearms to determine the most comfortable angle for your hips.

Diagonal Glute Lifts

On all 4s (propping on hands or forearms is fine here!), extend one leg straight back behind you. Then, take it away from your body at about a 45 degree angle (if you’re on a mat, you’ll point your foot toward the outside corner of the mat). From this position, lift your leg up in the air, maintaining that 45 degree angle and focusing on using your outer hip muscles to create the motion.

Much like the last exercise, this move can be done with no modifications if you have a spinal fusion, but you’ll want to try different arm/hand positions to find what feels best for your back and hips.

Prone Glute Lifts

Come onto the floor and lay on your stomach. Starting on one side, straighten your leg directly behind you (we’re talking, really lock it out straight!) and tuck your toes under. Keep your pubic bone pressed into the floor, and lift your leg straight up.

Think about reaching your heel away from your hip to keep your knee straight. Why? Because a super straight knee will keep this work in your glutes, rather than your hamstrings.

If you have a long spinal fusion and it doesn’t feel good to lie on your stomach, try doing this exercise on your hands and knees instead. the concepts are the same, but you’ll want to start with your leg in line with your hip and then lift slightly from there.

Alternatively, for a spinal fusion, you can try lying prone (on your stomach) with a pillow or rolled up blanket under your hips/low stomach area. This can take a bit of compression out of your lumbar spine (particularly if you have a few unfused vertebrae at the bottom of your spine).

Reformer Scooter + Lunges

Using one red and one yellow spring, bring one foot to the floor beside the reformer, and the other foot against the shoulder block closest to you. Stand up tall, and look down at your knees… you want them to be right in line with one another (as in, one of them is not further forward or back).

For scooter, stand up tall, and float the carriage knee (the side with the foot on the shoulder block) up and off the carriage. Bring your hands to your hips or to the footbar, and push back with the foot that’s on the shoulder block. Push back and return for 8-10 reps on each leg.

If you have a fused spine, you can also try hinging forward in this exercise to increase your range of motion.

For lunges, bring your standing foot forward, and let your back knee rest down on the carriage (your knees will no longer be in line). Then, with your hands either on the footbar or on your hips, deeply bend your front knee, and push the carriage back with your back knee. Again, if you have a spinal fusion, you may want to try hinging forward at your hips as you push back.

In both of these exercises, you may feel work in the back of your carriage leg, as well as in the side of your standing hip. Totally normal! It’s all great work for your glutes and hamstrings.

For anyone with a scoliosis spinal fusion, I recommend consulting an experienced movement practitioner before attempting these on your own. Overall, you want to be mindful not to hyperextend (aka, overly arch) through your lumbar spine (where any unfused vertebrae may be vulnerable to too MUCH motion).

Why You Should Strengthen Your Glutes and Hamstrings

Let’s be real here- even if you don’t care about a “sculpted” booty, you still need to work your glutes, hamstrings, and deep hip muscles!

Sitting for long periods of time (like at your desk all day!) can lead to tight hip flexors and generally stiff hips, which more often than not translates to that feeling of, “Ugh, I just can’t unfold my body all the way when I stand up!” Sometimes, tight, immobile hips can also lead to low back pain that stems from a misaligned pelvis.

So, to counteract wonky alignment in your hips, we need to strengthen the muscles that AREN’T your hip flexors! This includes glutes, external and internal hip rotators, and hamstrings, to name a few.

Want More Posterior Work to Fight Back Pain?

Whether you have a scoliosis spinal fusion or just want to combat everyday aches and pains, posterior chain work can be a big help! Looking for a new exercise program or accountability to improve your existing one? I’d love to help! Book an in-person or virtual private Pilates session with me today!