Whether you're a powerlifter, a physique competitor, or just someone who wants to go through life feeling good and avoiding back pain, you need a strong posterior chain. Yes, things like barbell squats and deadlifts are important, but they're not enough on their own! Muscles this important deserve a full support staff of assistance moves as well.
Here are six of my favorites, plus a bonus move that looks too simple to work—but will have your backside screaming. Enjoy!
1. Traveling RDL Lunges
It's no secret that Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) are a great hamstring and glute exercise. But there are definitely ways you can vary them other than just switching between dumbbells and barbells. One of my favorite variations is what I call the traveling RDL lunge.
Put simply, traveling RDL lunges are a version of walking lunges that are more hamstring and glute dominant. They involve taking a shorter step forward than you do when performing walking lunges, and a lot less knee bend but a lot more hip hinge.
2. Low Cable Split-Stance RDL
Performing single-leg RDLs with a dumbbell loads the glutes more in the bottom range of the exercise, when your torso is closer to parallel to the floor. Simply switching to a low cable allows you to manipulate the force vector involved, loading the glutes more in the middle of the range of motion, when your torso is more upright.
To perform these, set the cable at its lowest setting and position yourself so that the cable comes to you at about a 45-degree angle. Hold the D-handle with the hand opposite your front leg, and perform RDLs while keeping your knee slightly bent, perhaps 15-20 degrees.
3. Super Band Deadlifts
Powerlifters often attach bands on each side of a barbell, which serves to increase resistance at what is otherwise the easiest part of the movement. This is what's known as "accommodating resistance."
You actually don't need a barbell to get the same benefit. One of my favorite RDL variations to use in high rep ranges, such as 15-30 reps or more, requires nothing other than a band.
If you've got a rack that accommodates bands, you simply hook the band under each side of the rack and go to town on RDLs holding one or both parts of the band depending on how much tension your strength allows.
You can also do band RDLs without a rack, using your own feet to anchor it, which is also very easy to set up:
- Step 1: Step your left foot inside one end of the band and your right foot on top of the band, with your feet just outside of shoulder-width apart.
- Step 2: Grab the other end of the band that's on the outside of your right foot, pull it over your right foot, and loop the end around your left foot the way you did in the first step.
- Step 3: Grab the middle of the band with your hands roughly shoulder-width apart, and begin performing RDLs in a fairly fast manner while demonstrating spinal control throughout.
4. Exercise Ball Glute-Hamstring Hat Trick
This killer protocol was inspired by a slightly different variation I learned from coach Juan Carlos Santana that he called "the triple threat."
Like JC's original version, this complex also involves three movements. Perform the following exercises back-to-back with resting, in any order you'd like, and feel free to experiment with different sequences:
- Ball leg curls: 12-20 reps
- Ball hip bridges, 90-degree knee bend and heels on ball: 12-20 reps
- Ball hip lifts, slight knee bend, and toes on ball: 12-20 reps
5. Bulgarian Split Squat and Single Leg RDL Combo
This combination of two proven lower-body exercises will have your glutes pumped and burning like never before.
Perform a rep of the Bulgarian split squat, lowering your body toward the floor while keeping your back straight and your torso leaning forward at about a 45-degree angle. Reverse the motion by driving your heel into the ground to raise your body back up to the starting position.
Then, perform a single-leg Romanian deadlift, keeping your back straight while hinging at your hips and lowering your torso forward toward the floor, keeping your front knee bent at roughly a 15-20-degree angle. Once your torso is roughly parallel to the floor, reverse the motion to stand tall again and complete the rep. Perform all repetitions on the same side before switching sides.
Make sure to keep your weight on your front foot throughout the exercise and do not allow your back to round out at any point.
6. Hip Thrust and Hamstring Curl Combo
Most fitness professionals and exercise enthusiasts are very familiar with the hip thrust exercise by now. But there are plenty of great variations on this movement! One of my favorites combines the hip thrust with a hamstring curl, giving you a lot of bang for your posterior-chain-training buck.
Position yourself between two weight benches, with your shoulders resting on one bench and your legs on top of another, so that your knees are bent at about 90 degrees and your ankles are flexed. Keep your toes up, so that only your heels contact the bench.
Drive your hips up until they form a straight line with your torso, making sure to extend from your hips, not your lower back. Pause for 1-2 seconds at the top of each repetition. Lower your hips toward the floor until you either lightly contact the floor or can't go any deeper, thus completing the rep.
You can make this exercise more intense by performing it on a single-leg.
Bonus: Anchored Band Monster Walk
Have anything left in your glutes? Then burn them out this way. You may have tried banded lateral walks with a mini-band around your knees or ankles, but by attaching that band to a rack—or to someone else's legs—you can give your glutes a unique stimulus.
The exercise itself is simple. You walk backward, taking big steps, while keeping a slight bend in your knees, allowing your glutes to do most of the work. When you're walking forward, which is the eccentric part of the exercise, keep the same form as you did while walking backward by avoiding excessive pelvic rotation. These burn like crazy!
- McAllister, M. J., Hammond, K. G., Schilling, B. K., Ferreria, L. C., Reed, J. P., & Weiss, L. W. (2014). Muscle activation during various hamstring exercises. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(6), 1573-1580.
- Schoenfeld, B. J., Contreras, B., Tiryaki-Sonmez, G., Wilson, J. M., Kolber, M. J., & Peterson, M. D. (2015). Regional differences in muscle activation during hamstrings exercise. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(1), 159-164.