Look Great, Perform Even Better!
Quick, name one thing that the average woman and an international level athlete have in common? Answer: Both can make drastic improvements by focusing on the muscles of the posterior chain, especially the glutes, hamstrings and back muscles.
The glutes tend to worry women the most. This is where most of them store their body fat, and as a result this area can become a source of frustration. For many women, it's hard to get a well developed set of glutes. A lot of women are actually afraid of working that area because they don't want to make it bigger than it already is. (This is kinda like men who don't want to work their abs because they believe that it'll give them a bigger belly.)
This is a serious mistake. Strengthening the glutes is sure to make them firmer and will eventually facilitate fat loss in that region via an increase in vascularization and blood flow. The same could be said about the hamstrings and back muscles. Having firm muscles in these areas will improve a woman's look as well as her posture.
As for elite athletes, it's important to understand that posterior chain muscles are the key to speed and power and thus will directly influence running speed, agility, and jumping capacity. All of these are obviously very important in most sports, except maybe darts and billiards!
The muscles that form the buttocks are the largest muscle mass in the body. The "glutes" are actually three distinct muscles: the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus.
Problematic fat storage locations generally include the lower back (mostly men), on the abdomen and above the hip bone (men), on the side of the hips (mostly women), on the glutes (women), under the gluteal fold (bottom of the buttocks), and the upper leg (women). Increased fat storage is due, of course, to lack of exercise and bad nutritional habits.
To improve your appearance, three things can be done:
- Strengthen the muscle groups in the problem areas.
- Increase cardio work to increase overall fat burning.
- Adopt correct nutritional habits. (T-Nation has a ton of great nutrition articles in the archives, so I'll just focus on exercises in this article.)
When it comes to cardio training, I recommend the Stairmaster or treadmill set on a relatively high incline (8-12 degrees). Both of these burn a lot of calories and can actually strengthen the glutes and legs even more! Studies have shown that these two modes of exercises burn more energy at an equal level of intensity than the stationary bike, especially if performed free-handed (i.e. don't rest your hands on the rails).
For those who aren't in tip-top shape, taking a daily walk is a good place to start. The addition of a good fat burner such as HOT-ROX will also go a long way in helping you get faster results.
While you'll increase the amount of fat you lose if you perform cardio work, losing fat is not enough to get that lean/firm look: the muscles need to be strengthened to be firm and shapely. The only way to accomplish this is via a good resistance training program including specific exercises for the target areas.
A little tip that can be of some help is to include isometric contractions (like a butt squeeze) throughout the day. Contracting intensely for 10-30 seconds several times during the day is an easy way to get additional results. It won't replace a resistance training program, but every bit helps.
Now, let's look at the exercises I prefer when it comes to developing the posterior chain.
The Rock Hard 8
1 – Combo Extension-Pull
This is as close to a "miracle exercise" as you can get! It works the whole posterior chain as well as the arms. Just perform a back extension and a two-armed dumbbell row at the same time. It's simple and effective, a must for all good training programs!
2 – Hip Extension on Swiss Ball
This exercise may look simple, but it can actually be quite challenging. It'll strengthen the glutes, hips and hammies while improving your stability.
3 – Deadlift
A great lower body and back builder. As a general movement it allows us to work a lot of different muscle groups at the same time. The deadlift is a fantastic exercise if properly executed; however, if done wrong it can become dangerous, just like any other exercise.
The following image explains the important technical points of this exercise:
4 – Combo Leg Adduction-Extension
For this movement, set yourself up on a bench in front of a low cable. Using the ankle attachment, sweep the leg out and back, squeezing the glutes at the top. This exercise is effective at building all three gluteal muscles.
5 – Reverse Hyper
This movement is effective at building up the whole posterior chain. As an added bonus, it can increase lower back recovery. Weight can be attached to the feet as you become stronger.
6– Leg Curl
This is an isolation movement for the hamstrings. For athletes, this exercise can reduce the risk of leg injuries by improving the quadriceps-to-hamstring strength ratio.
7 – Low Cable Hip Extension
This is a simple exercise that's effective at building up the glutes and hamstrings. I feel the best way to perform it is to explode as you kick back and return slowly to the starting position. Women who want to focus on their buttocks should hold a 1-2 second peak contraction at the end of the kick.
8 – Zercher Good Morning
This is a cousin to the Zercher squat and Zercher deadlift. It's basically a Romanian deadlift with the bar held in the crook of your arms (to change the resistance arm and force lever). To maximize the effectiveness of this exercise, you want to really push the hips backward as far as possible and keep the shins perpendicular to the ground.
Choose Your Weapon
As you can see with this chart, exercises which will benefit athletic performance overlap quite a bit with exercises that'll make you "look good naked." Use this chart to choose the exercises that best fit your goal:
|Exercise||Athletes||Wanting to "Firm Up"|
|Combo Extension-Pull||* * *||* * *|
|Swiss Ball hip Extension||*||* *|
|Deadlift||* * *||*|
|Combo Adduction-Extension||*||* *|
|Reverse Hyper||* * *||* * *|
|Leg Curl||* *||* *|
|Low Cable Hip Extension||*||* * *|
|Zercher Good Morning||* * *||*|
These extremely effective exercises are sure to improve your posterior chain. Whether your goal is performance or appearance, these movements will give you quick results!
For all the women out there, give these a serious try for three months and you'll be ready to buy a smaller bikini. And for all the men, well, the posterior chain muscles are known as the "speed muscles," so build 'em up if you want to be able to catch the women who followed my advice!