The human body is a structural marvel. All too often, we take for granted our body’s ability to move - but actually, just the very fact of being able to stand upright is a huge feat. It is made possible by hundreds of structural balancing acts take place every second of every day and it’s made all the more challenging by movement.
The multitude of muscles, big and small, that go in to this constant balancing act are typically grouped in to ‘chains’ of connective tissue: the Posterior Chain and the Anterior Chain.
We’ve already written about the Posterior Chain in a previous blog - check it out here if you haven’t already.
Today, we’re going to explain what the Anterior Chain is, looking at what muscles it comprises and how and why to train them.
What does it do and what is it made up of?
The Anterior Chain, put simply, is made up of muscles down the front of the body. They work to directly counterbalance the Posterior Chain (muscles down the back of the body), in order to maintain structural integrity, provide flexion of the spine and pelvic stability during movement. The majority of these muscles are found in the abdomen and deeper hip musculature.
The muscles of the anterior chain are:
- Pectoral Muscles - Pectoralis Major which has three heads, the Clavicular, Sternocostal and Abdominal. These are commonly thought of as the upper, mid and lower pec. And Pectoralis Minor, which sits under Pectoralis Major and runs from the Coracoid Process and attaches on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th rib.
- The entire abdominal corset -Transverse, Internal and External Oblique and Rectus Abdominis.
- The Hip Flexors - Illiopsoas and Iliacus.
- Quadriceps - Vastus Lateralis, Vastus Intermedius, Rectus Femoris and Vastus Medialis.
All of these muscles work together to provide the body with the stability required for movement. If neglected and allowed to weaken, there is an increased risk of postural anomalies that can lead to chronic pain and in some cases long-term injury. The best way to avoid this is to work the anterior muscles.
How do we train it?
It can sometimes be difficult to specifically target these muscles, however they can be trained through full body movements. There are a vast number of exercises that work the Anterior Chain. If you’re a bit of a beginner, try using simple movements such as plank, side plank, push-ups, deadbugs and single-leg drops to kick start your anterior chain training.
Soon, you’ll be able to progress to harder movements, such as weighted push-ups, bench press (barbell or dumbbell), leg raises (flat or hanging), loaded side planks, v-sits, v-sit Russian twists, beast squats and so many more.
Below are two Anterior Chain workouts for you to try. As they are written as a circuit, try to work through each movement before resting!
Beginner / Intermediate
Use your knees if you’re unable to do a full push-up
Try a side plank is a full side plank is too difficult.
Pull your belly button in tight
Chest to floor with a jump at the top
Pull your belly button in and roll your pelvis up
Heavy bench press done at 70% max capacity
Hanging Leg raises
Can be done hanging or on a dipping station
Loaded Side Plank
Plate will sit on your hip. Long lever side plank.
Plate will sit high on your back, between shoulder blades
Can be done bodyweight or loaded depending on strength level
Training both your Anterior and Posterior Chains is incredibly important to maintain structural balance and good posture. Our day-to-day lives tend to cause too much flexion and can lead to tight hip flexors, resulting in lower back pain. More often than not, tight hip flexors are weak hip flexors, so training your anterior chain and strengthening them up can actually help to reduce the risk of low back pain. But this is a preventative measure. If you already have low back pain then it’s best to see a specialist to help get you started.