Yoga Anatomy: The Posterior Chain

Most yogis, whether beginner or advanced know where their hamstrings are but do you know what your posterior chain is? Or is it just a phrase you’ve heard banded about that you nod and pretend to know what it means? We’ve all done this, don’t worry! I’m here to let you know what the posterior chain is and how we can use it in our yoga practice.

What is the Posterior Chain?


The posterior chain refers to a collection of muscles that sit along the back of your body. The word posterior means on the back of something in anatomy and the muscles cover almost the whole length of your body hence the name ‘posterior chain’.


What muscles make up the Posterior Chain?


The posterior chain is made up of many muscles, sometimes they work together like the links of a chain, and sometimes they work individually. Which muscles of the chain you use is related to what movement you are doing. The posterior chain runs from your heels to the back of your head and includes: the calves, hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae (little muscles along the spine) and latissimus dorsi muscles (big muscles that cover your upper back, sometimes called ‘the lats’).


What does the Posterior Chain do?


The posterior chain is responsible for many actions, one you may be familiar with is a deadlift, or in more simple terms, picking something up from the floor by bending at your hips, and when contracted creates back extension, or simply put helps you backbend. The posterior chain also helps support your posture (along with other muscles).


Chances are you’re slouching reading this, so take a moment to sit tall, find a neutral spine and draw your shoulder blades together a little so your shoulders are no longer rounded. And notice how the muscles on your back engage. These are some of your posterior chain muscles.


So now that you know what the posterior chain is and how it works you might be wondering why it is important and how it relates to your yoga practice!


Well, the posterior chain is a superhero when it comes to muscles, it houses some of the powerhouse muscles in your body like the glutes, helps you do daily tasks with ease and it looks after your posture and your spine. What’s not to love!


Of course, it is important to have a balance of anterior and posterior strength and flexibility. As we yogis know balance is the key to the world. However, for many of us our lifestyles lead to a weakening of the posterior chain, even popular activities like running, yoga and boxing can continue to create this imbalance between the increasingly strong anterior and less strong posterior chain. But don’t worry it is possible to help address this this imbalance without giving up our yoga.

We know that if the posterior chain contracts it can create a backbend. So, this first tip is super simple; in your backbends use all the muscles of your back body to get you there. Modern yoga culture has romanticized super deep back bends, but what you really want to be doing is using your muscle strength to get you into your backbend not just forcing the spine deeply backbend. By using your posterior chain in your backbends you can increase its strength and also create a safer backbend. Put it into practice - Next time you’re in cobra try hovering the hands and holding yourself up using all the muscles of the posterior chain, it’ll be hard work, but so good for your body!

The posterior chain is used when we pick something up from the floor, a movement which is mimicked by the transition between Uttanasana (forward fold) and Tadasana (standing). Often in yoga we flop down and rush up with little awareness of our muscles. This transition when done badly can feel horrid on the lower back, so much so most yoga teachers give an alternative, and while there are many reasons to take an alternative, we can also make sure we are using our posterior chain to make the transition which will help support the spine.


Put it into practice – Next time you transition from a forward fold to Tadasana think about engaging all the muscles along your back to create a strong torso and using these muscles along with the glutes, hamstrings and calves to draw you to standing.

Hopefully, this has helped you with understanding what the posterior chain is and why it is so important, and how you can use it in your yoga practice.

© Copyright Naomi Chavasse

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