Posterior Round-Up: Part 1

Remember that time you said “Man, I wish my back was weaker?” Yeah, I didn’t think so. This is the first of a two-part series by Jacob Tsypkin on effective movements for training the posterior chain. Tsypkin coaches competitive weightlifters, CrossFitters,and even a powerlifter or three (if you force him) so his advice works well for most of you. As with most things in the gym, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do these, so read this carefully, watch the videos, and get to work. 

Ariel says “Don’t be such a guppy. Get swole.”

To anyone remotely familiar with strength training, it is quite obvious that the posterior chain plays an important role in the sport of weightlifting. However, developing strength in the hamstrings, glutes, and back for improving performance in the snatch and clean & jerk isn’t quite as simple as it may seem.

I break the movements I use for this purpose down into two groups. This article discusses the first of those groups, the general: These movements are designed to create strength throughout the posterior chain in a way which is not specific to the snatch and clean & jerk. You are probably at least familiar with most of these movements.

1. Romanian Deadlift

If you are a consistent reader of 70’s Big, it is pretty unlikely that you haven’t heard plenty about the RDL. I’ll keep it simple here: we train it once a week, usually for 3×5, occasionally building up to a top set of 5 with good form before resetting.  For mechanics, I’ll refer to you Justin’s post on the topic

2. Pendlay Row

Basically a strict barbell row. The man himself tells you how to do it in the video below. We usually do these for heavy sets of 3-5 across, occasionally doubles or singles. In a lighter training phase, or for a lifter who needs some hypertrophy, we’ll do sets up to 10-12 reps.

3. Glute Ham Raise

I like sets of 5-10 on these. If 10 reps is easy, add some weight. Use with great care; these will make you sore for days. Once a week is plenty, and start with a low dose, like 3×5 (if you can do them at all…a lot of very strong people can’t.)

(I had Tsypkin create a GHR video because 90% of the GHR’s I see out there in the cold dark world are turrible. Just turrible. He got Ariel to be his lovely assistant. You’re welcome. – Cloud)

4. Back Extension

This is a true back extension, as taught here by some strange non-bearded Pendlay impersonator. Typically I start a lifter with 3×10-15 at bodyweight, and increase the reps up to 20 over a week or two, then add load at 3×10.

5. Back Raise

This is what most people refer to as a back extension. In reality the hips and hamstrings are doing the work here, but it’s still a very useful exercise. I follow the same protocol for applying these to a lifter’s training as I do for the back extensions, and Glenn covers this in the back extension video. 

In the next segment, we will discuss posterior chain exercises specific to the sport of weightlifting.

Jacob Tsypkin is a CrossFit and weightlifting coach, the co-owner of CrossFit Monterey and the Monterey Bay Barbell Club in Monterey, CA, and a very handsome young man. He is available for weightlifting seminars and orders triple meat on his Chipotle burritos with a straight face. 

 

47 thoughts on “Posterior Round-Up: Part 1

  1. I could be mistaken here, but it seems like the eccentric portion of the Pendlay Rows seems to be pretty quick. Is there a reason for not doing a more controlled descent?

    • Just guessing, but I’d explain it by saying that Pendlay coaches weightlifters who train ~10x/wk. A slow eccentric would be much more likely to induce DOMS and impair other, more important, training. Glenn has written about how a slow eccentric has not been required to induce hypertrophy in his lifters.

    • The pendlay row is intended to be a mainly concentric exercise – similar to the way a deadlift is a mainly concentric exercise. Hence you basically want to lower the weight ‘quickly’ or even simply drop them one the bar gets as high as it can.

      At least that’s how Mark Rippetoe explains it!

  2. If only my gym had a GHR. Every time I ask them to get one, they insist the roman chair is a GHR. They repeatedly deny my requests for them to get on it and do an actual glute ham raise in the damn thing.

  3. I was doing ghrs for about 8 weeks, once a week three sets of 10 solid reps (I actually did sets of 15 but last 5 had some momentum from the torso swinging upward).

    I’ve done them here and there over the past year and a half but this was the most consistent period.

    Last week I was dicking around at the gym with a friend (waiting for the bench to open up) and we decided to see what we could leg curl. He did a couple reps with a pretty heavy weight, when I got on I could barely move it a few inches.

    The odd thing is i squat about 50 lbs more than him (I’m around 480 he”s around 420) , and its not like I don’t do hamstring work. He said he does a lot of banded leg curls and that they work the area in a different way, namely that ghrs get easier towards the top where the banded leg curls get harder.

    I should also throw out that he does crossfit aka his actual squatting regimen is pretty random which would account for his actually fairly low squat (relative to what I would expect…. a year ago he was stronger than me but while doing crossfit he has only gotten weaker, while I have gotten stronger)

    I always felt like ghrs hit the muscle more towards the knee.

    So yea…. any thoughts on banded leg curls? Or wtf is going on with the seeming discrepancy and more importantly what relevance it has to lifting?

    • So, your buddy does leg curls on the reg, and is better at them than you, and you’re surprised?

      Accessory work is just that – accessory work. Everyone will end up finding certain movements that they enjoy the most, and that they feel are the most effective for them to attain whatever goals they have set.

      It sounds like your squat is doing well, so assuming that’s the goal, I’d wager your accessory work is doing a fine job. If your goal is to out-leg-curl your buddy, then yes, I think you better start hitting them hard and often.

      Personally, I think everything on the list above is leaps and bounds ahead of banded leg curls as far as general strength development for the posterior chain. Remember, here at 70sBig, we try and use mostly big compound movements whenever possible, so we can get in and out of the gym, then go rock our beards and muscles in the real world.

    • I do them 3×12 after deadlifting, as I DL sumo and someone with an opinion I value said they work well for that purpose, as the leg curl is harder at the beginning (similar to the usual high hips DL start position).

      Can’t really say if they’re working or not, haven’t been doing them more than a month or so.

  4. Also I’ll just clarify that the vast majority of my friend’s strength was obtained through powerlifting in high school and it has only gone down through doing crossfit, even though he still does more strength work than the “constantly varied” met-con based programs.

  5. GHRs, along with heavy reverse hypers, have been a game changer for me. It’s a very humbling experience when you first get up on the deck and can’t even hold yourself out at parallel, much less pull up.

    • JT, if you couldn’t complete a full rep at first, how did you progress the exercise? I’ve tried GHRs a few times and couldn’t figure out how to scale them, for lack of a better word.

      • It’s pretty easy to wrap a band around your neck (hold it with your hands to keep from dying) and use that as assistance. Even some of my strongest lifters do this. Another option is to have a box or person on the bottom to push off of for assistance.

      • A band like Cloud suggested could work. If the GHR has dip bars in the front you could maybe throw a band across that and push up with your hands.

        I basically started with some assistance from a coach and using a very low throw setting with partial movements, then building up over a couple sessions from there. It actually progresses fairly quickly, or at least it did for me. The GHR can be a very frustrating movement to get down because the initial temptation is to just bend at the waist to put some english on the movement. For me, the cue that works is to lock the hips and pull with the ass.

        If you are lucky enough to have access to a GHR deck and aren’t taking advantage of this every time you squat or deadlift, you’re screwing the pooch big time IMO.

      • I’m not JT, but I progressed mine by putting the foot plate further back so that more of my thigh rested on the front. When I could do 10 reps I moved it up. This worked very quickly and now I do them with a 10# plate.

    • The spinal movement inherent to the SLDL make it a much more dangerous movement, so I wouldn’t really compare them too much. However, in regards to glute/ham development, I think a proper RDL can be loaded and performed heavier and more safely, and they seem to hit the hams harder in particular, whereas the SLDL hits more of the spinal erector, etc. For erector work, see the Back Extension video above.

  6. I really liked this post. My deadlift and bench both improved big time when I increased rows to 2x/week. I’ve only been doing RDLs for 3 months but I can already tell they’re making a big difference.

    Question: Why are bent over barbell rows called Pendlay rows?

    I’m just curious because I first learned about them from Doug Hepburn’s little book “Hepburn’s Law” which I believe was published ~1980. (a terrific read and fantastic program if anyone’s interested, link: http://www.sandowplus.co.uk/Competition/Hepburn/Hepburns%20Law/Hepburns%20Law.pdf) If I’m not mistaken they’re also covered in John McCallum’s articles from the 60s.

    I do hip thrusts as a warm up every time before I train. I wonder how I can get people to start calling them Maslow Thrusts? I’d love that.

  7. I was doing GHRs this summer and they seemed pretty beneficial. However, I will say that the first few times I did them, the pressure on my quads was excruciating in a foam rolling sort of way. I had never foam rolled before when I started doing them, so that probably had something to do with it.

    • I know this feel. We have two GHRs at my gym. and one of them is like a damn PVC pipe digging in your VMO the whole time you do them. The other is kinda worn out so doesnt dig as hard.

      I sometimes put a yoga mat over it and it helps a TINY bit on the quad crusher one.

  8. Where does everyone program their RDLs, Rows etc?

    I’m on a TM template (M/W/F). I do 3×5 RDLs and 4×10 (band) pull-ups on Mondays and 3×5 Rows on Wednesdays. I do the RDLs and Rows as a LP, 2.5kg jumps.

    Deadlifts on Friday have nosedived in the last couple months. I’m wondering whether too much/poorly programmed accessory work is a cause or, perhaps, the real problem lies elsewhere.

    • I usually do RDLs on Monday and rows on Wednesday, but I don’t pay too much attention to the weight/sets/reps. Sometimes I’m gassed from squatting and just do a pretty easy 3×8, or sometimes I’m feeling good and do 3×5 on the heavier side. Rows are pretty similar. I know what I’ve done in the recent past, so I have a general idea of what kind of stress a set of RDLs will produce each week. It usually not worth fucking up my squat or DL progression later in the week just so I can add 5 lbs to my RDL on Monday.

      • Fair comment.

        Having now read Justin’s post on RDLs, I suspect I’m guilty of sacrificing form for weight, and reallly just doing shitty deadlifts. Will drop the weight back and get the form right.

    • RDLs on Mondays are fine and where they need to be, but I think doing rows, especially if they’re a true Pendlay row (I’m assuming they are), on Wednesdays is too close to your deadlift day and is leaving your back fatigued. If I were you, I would move the rows to Monday or do them on Friday after deadlifting. Otherwise the sets and reps are fine.

      Personally, I’m on a Greyskull-based setup. I lift S/Tu/Th, so my deadlift falls on Tuesday. I do RDLs on Sunday and Pendlay Rows on Thursday, and I haven’t had any problem with my deadlift with this format (pulled 380×7 yesterday for an all time PR after RDLing 215x5x3 on Sunday). I should note that I do some sort of direct upper back work every day I train – chest supported rows on Sunday (really a bastardized plate loaded hammer row), shrugs on Tuesday after pulling, and the Pendlays on Thursday, as well as high rep face pulls every session.

      • Thanks Harvey

        I will move the pendlay rows from Wednesday to after deadlift Friday, drop the weight back on Monday’s RDLs and see how the deadlift feels then.

        • I agree with Harvey. This is anecdotal but I’ve found that doing RDLs and Rows on Monday AND Friday after all of the other lifts works. If your legs tremble while you do your rows because they’re so exhausted from squats or deadlifts, you’re doing it right. This way you can still do both of them twice a week without interfering with your squats and deadlifts. I think doing Rows 2x/week really boosted my bench and deadlift.

  9. Adding these into training. Thanks for the videos and explanation. I have a training question: Im having issues with hemorrhoids after I lift squat. Its kinda a pain in the ass (heeyoo!!) Anyone else or am I lifting wrong?

  10. This isn’t specifically aimed at the posterior chain, it’s more general programming, but hopefully someone can help me out with my TM.
    The Texas Method books and the training logs on the site seem to have assistance work programmed for 3 sets of 5 reps following a standard progression. Adding 5 lbs to Chris’s 395 RDL sounds great, but adding 5 lbs to my 185 RDL might burn out a smaller lifter like myself at a quicker rate. Would doing 3 sets of 6 reps, going up in weight when I can perform 8 good reps be a good balance between strength and hypertrophy while still keeping some sense of a progression?

      • I hate to get involved with only part of someone’s programming, but I will say that in general, I don’t care if you are advancing the weight of an assistance exercise weekly. A month at 185 on RDLs done CORRECTLY (and improved upon every week) isn’t the end of the world.

        Even volume days on the big lifts remain stagnant for weeks for the more advanced lifters. It’s all about setting yourself up in the long run.

  11. I’m a fan of goodmornings, not only because they trash my hammys unlike anything else I’ve done (no access to a GHR and have never done one) but I also get a lot of funny looks from people at the gym while doing them.

    Quick question for all of you smarter than me. My wife recently started strength training (starting strength) and has trouble keeping her knees out while squatting. This, even though she isn’t really going heavy. She has never done barbell work before so I started her on an old standard weight set we had laying around and to get reps in before it got heavy and she started with the 10lb bar and has now worked up to 40lbs, which she has no problem getting the reps in with.

    Is there something mobility or accessory-wise that she can do to help with this? or is it just a matter of cue-ing it constantly and getting more squat reps.

      • Have her keep squatting and practicing. Lower the weight and just get in hundreds of form-perfect reps and the musculature will balance out, right now the hips and glutes especially are probably weak, if abduction is failing. Just some quadruped hip extensions, frequently, will directly target the glutes as abductors and extensors, in a way where they get to maximally contract.

        The GHR never, ever in the history of lifting could make my hams as sore as GoodAMs.

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