Every time we decide to create exercise programme for someone we need to follow some guidelines. If we are working with athletes, with regard to the client’s goals or sport demands, we use some test protocols that help us define training approach. With the help of today’s modern technology and with the possibility of sharing/buying information on internet, you can find different kinds of assessments, screening and testing which will produce different training approaches. The purpose of this article will not be a discussion about bad, good or the best testing approach. Instead I want to point out that regardless which starting point you are using to create a training plan and programme, you have to respect the difference between posterior and anterior chain musculature.
Let us first take a look at what posterior and what anterior musculature is. It’s very simple: posterior includes everything on your backside and, as you can guess, anterior on your front side – bingo! Therefore, on your backside there are hamstrings, gluteus, “lats”, all scapular retractors and rotator cuff muscles. On the front side there are big quads, hip flexors, abdominals and pectorals above them. Of course these are not all muscles nor on your back or on your front side; I named only the most important to show you why they should be considered and trained differently.
Now imagine a person who is standing and suddenly loses consciousness for a second. If that person is standing on the flat floor without shifting weight from left to right or from front to back its body will collapse in place like an old building in a city centre during demolition. Feet will pronate, knees buckle, hips will flex, shoulder collapse forward…
What is that telling us? Which muscles are responsible to protect us from this scenario in everyday life where we will hopefully not lose consciousness? To avoid this we primarily need our backside musculature! These muscles are our weapon against the everyday gravity forces. Our glutei – the absolute strongest and most powerful muscles in human body produce hip extension with abduction and external rotation preventing in that way our lower body from collapsing.
On the other hand, “lats” with scapular retractors and rotator cuff protect our upper body from simply slouching and collapsing forward.
If that is not enough for you, think about how we walk, run, jump during our lives. Always with angled tibia! This is not wrong (because moving with vertical tibia will be quite impossible from functional and efficiency point of view) but will give the emphasis on our quads and inhibit our glutei, which are our “anatomical engine”, from efficient movement. In this way, during our everyday activity, we “train” knee flexion movement pattern and avoid hinging at our hips. You must not forget that hip hinge is considered number 1 move for all running, cutting and jumping activities. That is why it is rather meaningless to train quads more intensively with all quads dominant exercises which include high angled tibia. Instead our hips should be trained in order to produce good extension-flexion movement pattern on a stable knee with as much possible vertical tibia position.
The way we use our arms in everyday life is also forward oriented. This creates natural tendency to lean forward which inhibits the middle back musculature and with time causes neck, shoulder or back problems. We bend our upper back whilst sitting, driving a car, running, 90% of all sports are forward dominated – football, soccer, basketball, ice hockey, baseball, all racket sports, you name it…. According to my opinion it is again senseless to train someone, for example, on a bike for 30 min and put him/her in more bended upper back position during cardiovascular training or even doing dominantly more pressing exercises with regard to the pulling during strength training.
Finally when we take a look at a posture of modern active or non-active individuals, professional or recreational athletes, we can find out that in most cases muscles on the backside appear to be weak or underdeveloped! Anterior pelvic tilt is a clear sign of inhibited gluteus-hamstrings and short hip flexors-quadriceps, rounded shoulders is a clear sign of “upper cross syndrome” named after Dr. Vladimir Janda where lower traps and rhomboids are inhibited with short upper trapezius and pectoral minor.
Brett Jones, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Master Instructor in the RKC program excellently explains this: “Front muscles look good, muscles on the back should perform good.”
Because all of this matter, next time think twice before you sit down to write someone an exercise programme. Be aware of the individual posture, daily activity when you decide how many exercises you are going to insert for anterior and how many for posterior part.