Added On September 14, 2011
Posterior Chain Training
What's better High Bar Squats, Low-bar Squats, Deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts...
It seems that lately many fitness coaches made the "posterior chain" training more and more popular. I would even say that at least to me the whole mysterious posterior chain thing seems a little over emphasized. For those of you who don't know the posterior chain includes - hamstrings, glutes, calves and lower-back.
Another very interesting topic regarding proper posterior chain training is the constant battle between the high-bar and the low-bar squat. Usually the fans of low-bar squats will say that because of the more extreme back angle (you bend over more when you perform low-bar squats) there is more posterior chain involvement. This is 100% correct and I'm the living proof. On the other hand the high-bar squat lovers believe that the longer range of motion of this squat variation promotes better stretch of the rear muscles and works them much more completely. This is also true 100% and I know that first hand. However as a person who has done a lot of low-bar squats and high-bar squats I believe that the low-bar really hits the posterior chain harder than the back squat. I would even say that the fastest way to build big glutes is the low-bar squat. At the same time I believe that both squats are NOT the most complete posterior chain exercises since the hamstrings are never taxed enough. That's why I think squats are an overall lower-body builder but NOT the best thing you can do if you want to fully target the posterior chain. I prefer Romanian deadlifts, good mornings, leg curls, kettlebell swings and Russian curls.
When you perform Romanian deadlifts (RDL) and good mornings (GM) the hamstrings are stretched to the fullest and the contraction is much more complete than when you perform squats since the squatting movements are usually quads and glute dominant. RDLs and GMs are much more complete posterior chain movements. On top of that the spinal erectors have to work extremely hard during both exercises especially good mornings. That's another bonus. However the RDL and the GM are using mainly the hip insertion of the hamstrings while neglecting the insertions at the knee. Usually most of the hamstring injuries will occur behind the knee since this is the most vulnerable portion of the hamstring. That's where the legs curls and the Russian curls join the game.
I remember the first time I did leg curls. At this point I was able to deadlift easily 2 times my bodyweight. This is not a lot but it's something. However I was so sore after only 2 sets of leg curls with light weight that the next day my lower hamstrings and tendons behind the knee were hurting units. I'm talking about out of this world soreness. I wasn't able to strengthen my leg and had serious trouble walking. That's how I got the memo that while the deadlifts and squat variations hit the hamstrings they omit the insertions at the knees. Since then the leg curl is an important part of my routine. And I'm no longer sore from doing it. Another great benefit from performing leg curls is the fact that your hamstrings are working without additional help form your glutes. I know some of the "functional training" fans will say that the hamstring and the glutes are meant to work together during most movements such as jumps and so on. This is 100% true. But there are situations when people do need direct hamstring work. For example I have very strong glutes but my hasmtrings are weak. My glutes have to compensate for the weakness of my hamstrings when performing deadlifts and in the end my hammies never get enough work. That's where the leg curls come into play. Of course for those of you who are too blind to admit that the machines can be useful you can perform Russian curls. They are harder than leg curls and will murder your posterior chain.
In conclusion my advice is to forgeň about squats if you are looking for the ultimate and complete posterior chain exercise. High-bar and low-bar squats are great exercises but when it comes to pure hamstring and glute work nothing beats Romanian deadlifts, good mornings, leg curls, swings and Russian curls. If your posterior chain needs direct training give those a try.
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