Sick of Your Gym; Part 5 - Getting on the P-Chain

TAGS: stiff leg dead lift, sick of your gym, glute ham raise, romanian deadlift, reverse hyper, GHR, dave tate

Since I started the "Sick of Your Gym" concept we have received hundreds of emails and posts in regards to the many challenges you all face when training in commercial, private and school weight rooms. These emails and posts have given me many different ideas, and I've decided to address these one at a time. Many of these challenges are as simple as not having chalk, unable to find quality training partners or not having a power rack that you can floor press out of. Others are challenges such as "How do I train my posterior chain if I don't have a Reverse Hyperextension or glute-ham raise?"

Training the posterior chain is not as complex as we all seem to make it. Yes, the posterior chain is extremely important and should be a very high priority of any training program. Everyday I answer questions regarding this and while some are legitimate questions, others just baffle the mind. How many times per week? What kind of tempo should I use? What should the total volume be? If I don't use bands on squat day, should I use glute ham raises as a fourth exercise and if so, should I superset them with hammer curls? How do I know if my hamstrings are my weak point? Should I use wide stance or close stance? Should I point me toes in or out? How long should I stay with one movement? How many sets? How many reps? What about extra workouts? How long should a set last if I'm just coming back from an illness of 4 days? This is making my head spin just writing this. We all need to remember how to get back to the basic principle of hard work and let the rest fall into place.

Training is not supposed to be easy. Gains do not come easy and it's easy to get frustrated. Sometimes a 5lbs PR is a huge PR! The biggest mistake I see with training the posterior chain is not choice of movement, number of sets or the number of reps; it is basic hard work and the effort you put into the movement. I once read a post by Paul Childress when asked about extra workouts. Paul's answer was very simple and I think many people missed the point in what he said. Paul advised this lifter that if he was busting ass during the main session he would not have the energy to put into any extra workouts. Now take a minute and let this sink in. I do not want to see his advice go by the way side for a second time. Did you take a minute, or are you still reading? Well, take a minute and let it sink in. Now, are you training your posterior with the intensity it needs to get stronger? Think hard and be honest. I have asked my self this same question many times and the answer was usually the same. NO! I was not putting enough effort into training the muscles of the lower back, glutes and hamstrings.

Now don't get me wrong. I like nothing better than watching a 115 pound silicone princess (complete with sports bra, some "headlights" and some tasty spandex that various cracks seem to eat, if you know what I mean) doing lying leg curls or light straight leg deadlifts. But this kind of training is best left to the people that want to "tone" and "sculpt" their bodies, not lift record breaking weights. Here are some classic posterior chain movements and their offenders. These were inspired by my own experiences as well as your "Sick of Your Gym" contributions.

1. Swiss ball leg curls - What the hell is this supposed to do anyhow? There has been such an overabundance of exercises being done on the Swiss ball that it's pretty much a competition to see who can do the stupidest thing while using them.

2. The seated leg curl w/ cheat swing - More often than not, the weight stack is being dropped loudly and the low back is arched as if replicating an intense orgasm. Body language is also reminiscent of being in an electric chair. Strictly restricted to males.

3. The half rep standing leg curl: The hell with full range! This is usually done because it's not in the user's best interest to NOT use the full weight stack. When confronted, the offender will mumble something about "the burn". The head is usually turned towards the hamstring which really helps with the "mind-muscle" connection. The irony is that neither is present.

4. The single-leg low cable leg curl with ankle strap while wearing Valeo nylon weight belt: Hmmmm….

5. The "stiff" leg dead lift - While this is a great hamstring movement many still have not figured out that there is a difference between the conventional dead lift and stiff leg deadlift. These are always done with wrist straps, a super-cinched belt, headphones and a bounce off the floor. In case you have your back turned or are blind, each rep is finished with a large bellow signifying that he is one rep closer to going to the Smoothie shop and getting his Super Mass Colon Cleaner shake.

6. The stiff leg deadlift (done on bench press) - If male, the offender must wear a hat, turned backwards and a B.U.M sweatshirt. The neck should be cut out to reveal some sun spots and "trips". ("Trips" are traps that aren't big enough to even be recognized as a real muscle.) If female, this movement is acceptable and at all times, encouraged. Once the weight is un-racked, the perpetrator shuffles "tight-rope" style on the bench and sets up to do some seriously deep deadlifts. He then begins the movement but in no way does the bar come close to the bench. In fact, if he did these while standing on the floor and just touched the plates to the floor he would be doing twice the range of motion. Don't feel guilty if you secretly wish he'd take a dive off of the bench. We all feel that way.

7. The partner resisted lying hamstring curl - Now this is only done by those that really like their training partners or haven't had a girlfriend in years, if you catch my drift. Speaking of catching a drift, don't be surprised at the amount of butt-funk that can exude from the poo-crevice. Again, this movement is encouraged for the females and should always be recommended over any other hamstring movement. This is also a great biceps workout if you happen to be the spotter.

8. The butt lift - This is done only by females and has it's origins from the "Buns of Steel" fad that came several years ago. This is a convenient way to check out some serious camel toe, moose knuckle, ninja boot, vulva vacuum, etc. Can also cause other kinds of "lift".

9. The dumbbell leg curl - I'm all for free weights and recognize them as being superior to machines in almost everyway. But if you are such a damn purists that you have to do leg curls with a dumbbell, then maybe it's time to take the money you spent on a gym membership and go see a psychiatrist.

I could go on but it would require too much thought and research. This list was hard enough to come up and 90% of these lifters (if you can call them that) don't train legs. They think that playing basketball, riding the bike or walking on the treadmill is all the leg work they really need. These are usually the same people who complain about knee and low back pain.

Now onto what I feel are the top 5 movements we can all do for the Posterior chain.

1. The Glute-Ham Raise (GHR) -
I have a very distorted view of this movement since I am in the equipment business and strive for perfection in the equipment we bring to market. I do not see all GHR machines the same. This is probably because we use this piece of equipment every week and have done so for over 15 years. Many manufactures, well most of them, have no idea on how this bench is supposed to work or do not take the time to do any research. There is a reason for the pad and toe plate. They can't just be tossed on a machine and called a GHR. We have tried over 20 pad designs to come up with what we fell is the best pad and angle to hit the entire hamstring. Here is a huge hint; if there is a split in the pad then most of the time the pad is not designed correctly. Your jewels should never be touching the pad in the first place. The toe plate should also be long enough to allow your toes to push into it. This will allow for a stronger contraction. This may sound like a plug and it is. I have read for years how people think they have found the best GHR for $150.00 bucks and then I look at the unit and it is nothing more than a back raise! As lifters, coaches and customers we all need to educate ourselves on the equipment we use and purchase. We should know what it is supposed to do and how it should be built. We should demand nothing less than the best. Ask anyone who has used our GHR and compared it to the others. They will all tell you, "You get what you pay for." Don't get me wrong, I will be the first to say that anything is still better than nothing. If all you have access to is a bad GHR it is still 100% than any of the before mentioned movements.

There are many way to do a glute ham raise and I feel that I explained it best in the "Eight Keys, Part Two" article I wrote for T-Mag.
To do a GHR, you'll start with your body in a horizontal position on the bench with your toes pushed into the toe plate. Your knees will be set two inches behind the pad and your back will be rounded with your chin tucked. You then push your toes into the pad and curl your body up with your hamstrings while keeping your back rounded. As you approach the top position, squeeze your glutes to finish in a vertical position.
The sets and rep scheme for the GHR depends on the strength of the lifter. I find most athletes and lifters to be very bad at these as the hamstring strength of most people is downright terrible. For those who fall into this category, I'd have them do two to three sets of GHR as part of their warm-up for every workout of the week. I suggest they strive to get 3 sets of 10 reps. This will mean for most that they'll be doing three sets to failure, failing around 3 to 5 reps each set. Over time this will improve.
Once they get better, I'd have them keep the GHR as a warm-up movement and drop the sets and reps to 3 sets of 8 reps. At this time in the program, they'd now add the GHR as a main movement as part of the main session at least one time per week. Yes, they'll be doing GHR's five times per week!
For the main session there are several suggestions to follow for the highest success. While doing the GHR as the main movement, it's "bust ass" time. The reps and sets will fall into several categories and should be rotated every few weeks. Examples of these programs would include:
o Three sets to failure
o One hundred total reps (using as many sets as needed)
o Three heavy sets of 5 to 6 reps while holding weight across chest
o Three heavy sets of 5 to 6 reps while holding weight behind head
o Three heavy sets of 5 to 6 reps with the back of machine inclined up 4 to 30 inches.


o Dynamic GHR sets - Here you get to the top position and drop fast and rebound out of the bottom with as much force as you can. You can use a heavy medicine ball or weight to lower faster and drop the weight at the bottom.


o Static-Dynamic GHR - Start at the horizontal position and have a training partner place his hands on your back for a three to five-second count. While doing this, drive into your partner's hands as hard as you can. After the five seconds, your partner will pull away and you should fire up as fast as you can to finish the rep. This is best preformed with 5 to 6 sets of 3 reps.


o Yielding GHR - For this version you'll break the movement into three holding positions, each for 5 to 10 seconds. Start at the horizontal position and hold for 10 seconds, raise halfway and hold for another 10 seconds, then rise to the top and hold for 10 more.

o Timed GHR - In this version you'll give yourself a set time and do as many reps as you can. For example, you use five minutes and end up with 70 reps the first time you do it. The next time you'd use the same time and try to beat the 70 reps.
o GHR with bands - This is a movement for the more advanced lifter. Strap each of the bands around the bottom of the GHR and place the other end around your upper traps. The bands will add heavy resistance at the top.
o Forced GHR with heavy eccentric - This is a good version for those who aren't strong enough to get one rep. With this version the training partner will help the lifter get to the top and then he'd lower the rep on his own. Only enough assistance should be applied to help the lifter get one rep. Sets of 3 to 5 reps are best with this style of the GHR.

2. Reverse Hyperextension - This is one of the best ways to strengthen your low back, glutes and hamstrings. Not only does it strengthen your posterior chain, but it does wonders for rehabilitation. There are several ways to perform these, but the two most popular ways are what I call "loose" and "strict". A loose Reverse Hyperextension is done with a free swinging motion and will allow for more weight to be used. This does not give you license to swing uncontrollably. A strict Reverse Hyperextension is done with much less swing and should be lowered slowly. This is very difficult so be sure to leave your ego at the door when doing these.

3. Romanian Dead Lift - This is done by holding a barbell with an overhand grip. Begin by arching your lower back and pushing your butt back. Your knees should bend slightly and remain that way. As you push your glutes back, the bar should slide down your legs. Be sure the bar remains close to your body. Lower the bar until you feel you are losing the arch in your lower back. At this point, return to the starting position. You should feel a tremendous stretch in your hamstrings. How far the bar travels is dependant on the flexibility and strength of the lifter and varies accordingly.

4. Stiff Leg Dead Lift - This is just how it sounds. Begin the exercise just like the Romanian deadlift, but continue going down until the plates touch the floor. Be careful that you don't overstretch your lower back. These can also be done while standing on mats which increase your range of motion.

5. Pull-Through - This is a great exercise for your low back, glutes and hamstrings. Begin by attaching a rope or triceps strap to the low pulley. Face away from the weight stack, grab the strap and walk forward. At this point, take a wide stance and let the weight pull your arms through your legs. You should be far enough away from the stack that the weight plates do not touch while in this position. At this point, use your hamstrings, glutes and low back to pull yourself back to a standing position. Do not turn this into an arm exercise. Your arms should be held straight the entire time. These can be done with bent legs, straight legs, round back or arched back. High reps are usually used because of the limited nature of low pulleys.

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