Charles Poliquin

Posterior Chain Strength Preparation for the Vertical Jump

In the early eighties, I was commissioned by a few National Sports Governing Bodies to write up strength training chapters for their technical certification programs, having to research background materials for the volleyball and basketball federations, I came to understand the importance of training the posterior chain to maximize strength gains as they clearly transfer over to the vertical jump. The muscles which are recruited most for the vertical jump are the glutes and hamstrings which contribute each relatively 40 & 25% of the force output. Contrary to popular belief the quads only contribute 5% or less to the vertical jump.

Training for a maximal vertical jump requires a solid base of strength work in evidently the right muscles. The posterior chain strength preparation exercises will give a foundation for the power exercises which I will outline in an upcoming article. The strength preparation exercises are outlined in table 1.

Table 1:
The top seven posterior chain exercises for the vertical jump

  1. Snatch deadlifts on podium
  2. Romanian Deadlifts
  3. Seated Good Mornings
  4. Standing Bent Knee Good Mornings
  5. Reverse Hypers
  6. Glute-Hamstroc Raises
  7. Pull-throughs

To make matters clear, a technical description for each exercise is listed below.

    It is one of my favorite ““pressed for time exercises””. That is, I will prescribe this exercise if the time to reach the training goal is somewhat limited. In other words, it is a ““most bang for your buck”” exercise. This exercise is excellent to improve the strength of the whole posterior chain and the vastus medialis muscle groups. Trainees who do it for the time experience incredible levels of delayed onset muscle soreness when doing this exercise. It is not uncommon for trainees to experience tremors after pushing the limit on this exercise.
    When used with the correct loading parameters for hypertrophy, it is particularly useful for athletes who need to increase their overall bodyweight in record time. For additional overload, chains or bands can be added to the bar.

Starting Position Set-Up
Stand facing a barbell placed on the floor. Step up on the 4 inch platform that is set under the bar. A Trap Bar can be substituted for the barbell as a source of variety. Squat down and grab the bar with a snatch, that is 4 to 6 inches wider on each side than your shoulders. For sets calling for 3 or more repetitions, you may want to use straps to prevent the isometric strength-endurance of your gripping muscles to be the limiting factor in overloading the posterior chain and your quadriceps.

Driving with legs first, raise the bar off the floor under control. The angle of your back to the floor should remain constant until the bar has reached at least mid-shin level. Make sure to keep a slight arch in the lower back throughout the movement. The bar should brush the body at all times. The elbows should be turned outward and remain locked throughout the movement.

Reverse the process of the ascent making sure that the chest is held high throughout the descent.
Be sure that you keep that lower back arched.
Throughout the ascent the athlete exhales.

Watch For’s

  1. There should be no kyphosis at any point during the movement.

  2. The bar should be glued to the body at all times particularly in the start position where you should ensure that the bar makes contact with the shins.

  3. Do not raise the hips prematurely, as it will shift the emphasis to the glutes and away from the hamstrings.

    When to do Romanian Deadlifts
    I was first introduced to Romanian deadlifts by former Romanian weightlifting star Dragomir Cioroslan as he was at the time just appointed U.S. national weightlifting coach. Dragomir went on to coach World Championship silver medalist Wes Barnett.

Of course, this exercise was around before it was popularized by Dragomir. It use to have names like Keystone Cop deadlifts, but the point is that it was somewhat forgotten, and the weightlifting performances of athletes like Nicu Vlad drew attention to its effectiveness.

Besides prescribing it to strengthen the posterior chain, I like use this exercise to improve its dynamic flexibility. In that case, I instruct the athlete to decelerate in the last few inches of the eccentric range and to concentrate on improving the range.

For this posterior chain exercise, contrary to lets say the seated good morning, I use a variety of loading parameter combinations. However, I don’t see the use of going lower than 3 repetitions per set. It is one of those exercises where form can easily be lost, that is why I want a minimum of 3 repetitions per set. Also, I prefer to always use at least 3 seconds for the eccentric phase of this lift. It is of paramount importance to control the load on this exercise.

Between sets, I recommend you stretch the hip flexors, as they tend to tighten up in most individual’s, as they tend to over cerebralize the exercise especially when first learning it.

Starting Position Set-Up
The grip on the bar should be pronated and just slightly wider than shoulder width.
Bend the knees about 25 degrees to relieve pressure on the ilio-tibial band.
If you are going to do more than 3 reps per set, I suggest you use a pair of quality straps like the ones made by Schiek.

Go down until you are about to lose your lordotic curve.
The glutes should shoot backwards during the descent to compensate for the shift in center of gravity.
Most trainees will not be able to go lower than mid-shins without losing their lordotic curve in the eccentric range. However, I have seen exceptional athletes like World Cup medal winner, alpine skier Cary Mullen, need to it on a bench so that the barbell plates would not hit the ground.

Lift the trunk to the starting position, maintaining an arched lower back, shoulders retracted, and chest up.

Watch For’s

  1. Do not round the upper back to initiate the movement.
  2. Trainee should hold breath in on the eccentric portion of the exercise to help maintain good posture. Exhale on the concentric phase.

Safety Concerns

  1. Do not hyperextended the cervical spine at any point.

  2. Do not allow to bend the knees more than the angle set in the start-up position.

    I was introduced to this exercise twenty years ago by former Canadian national weightlifting coach Pierre Roy, who himself had learned it from talking shop with his Polish colleagues.

I like it for athletes who have yet to be exposed to intensive lower back work. In other words, I am more likely to prescribe it to a beginner than to an Olympian. Even though at times, it might the proper choice of exercise for that elite athlete.

Every time I show this exercise to someone, I always make sure to warn them that they will get very sore hamstrings the next few days. Invariably after doing a few sets, I get this classic response ““Coach, this does not work the hamstrings, I only feel it in the lower back””. To which, I invariably answer ““lets talk about it tomorrow””. It never fails. I always get an apology the next day that sounds like this ““Coach, this is the last time I am doubting you, I couldn’t even sit on the john without wincing in pain, please forgive me””.

Since I use this exercise mainly in general preparatory phases, I tend to use slower tempos such as 3030 and higher repetitions (8 to 12) when I prescribe it. Therefore I use it mainly for anatomical adaptations. In this exercise, I am concerned with creating intra-muscular tension by forbidding the use of momentum. Of course, when I use such slow tempos, I rarely exceed 6 repetitions per set.

Starting Position Set-Up
Stand facing a barbell placed on a pair of squat racks or a power rack. In this exercise, I prefer to use the Tribar Olympic bar, as the unique shape of the bar prevents it from rolling.
Duck under the bar and place it on the meaty area of the traps.
The grip on the bar should be as wide as possible, preferably collar to collar.
Back up and sit down on an exercise bench.

Keeping a lordotic curve lower the upper body until the lower ribs make contact with the adductors. Very important to keep your eyes looking forward throughout the movement. Inhale and hold breath in for the eccentric phase.

Reverse the motion keeping your lower back tight and your torso up. Exhale on the concentric.

    It is one of the best hamstrings builders I know. It works the hamstrings in its hip extension mode, therefore it has a lot of carry-over to sports. This week, I had an intern from Wales who was doing the Westside Barbell version of the good morning, which also another great exercise, particular for speed-skaters. At the end of his workout, I showed him how to do this variation, he could not believe how sore he got in the hamstrings over the following days. Standing good mornings also strengthen the posterior fibers of the adductor magnus, thus helping to prevent groin pulls.

It was a staple of the training regimens of most Soviet athletes. In North America, it is rarely done. Or in some colleges, it is their interpretation of a full squat& I like prescribing it as a foundation exercise before starting a squat cycle. Particularly if the athlete has been diagnosed as having a weak lower back. If I prescribe the standing good morning for a given cycle, I will center the other leg exercises around the variations of step-up and the split squat exercises. When trying to drive the good morning poundages upwards, you should not try to increase the loads on squats concurrently. This will overtrain the lower back and lead you nowhere.

Starting Position Set-Up
Stand facing a barbell placed on a pair of squat racks or a power rack. In this exercise as-well, I prefer to use the Tribar Olympic bar to prevent rolling of the bar.
Duck under the bar and place it on the meaty area of the traps.
The grip on the bar should be as wide as possible, preferably collar to collar.
Bend the knees about 25 degrees to relieve pressure on the ilio-tibial band.

Keeping a lordotic curve lower the upper body until you feel your weight being the on the metatarsal joints. For some trainees that may mean the top of the trunk is 4 inches above the horizontal line, while for another trainee, it may mean 2 inches below the parallel line.

Lift the trunk while keep the knee joint angle constant.

Watch For’s

  1. Do not bend the knees more than the figure recommend in the start-up position as you do the movement. This would defeat the purpose by engaging the knee extensors too much.

Safety Concerns

  1. Do not hyperextended the cervical spine at any point.

    The vast majority of the members are interested in gaining large amounts of muscle mass and functional strength. This is best accomplished by concentrating the bulk of the work on legs and lower back training. One machine that can target very effectively those muscles is the Reverse Hyper Machine. I first got to try out the Reverse Hyper Machine. a few years ago while coaching our Bobsleigh team in Innsbrück Austria. After coaching my athletes, I stayed at the gym to do my workout. The gym being busy, I had to share the equipment with some of the local powerlifters who held a few National titles. These Austrian powerlifters swore by its efficiency at improving their deadlift and squat performances. Both athletes claimed it made a difference between 35 kg (77 lbs) to 50 kg (110 lbs) on each of their squats and deadlfits. Even though, I had seen its advertisement in back issues of Powerlifting USA, I had never paid any direct attention to it, until I tried the machine. Since the Austrian athletes did not sell the machine, I was intrigued, jumped on the machine and pumped away. The movement felt quite right, the glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae were being trashed by the machine. After my workout, I went to inquire about it with the gym owner/powerlifting coach.

This device is the brain-child of Westside Barbell Club owner and powerlifting coach extraordinaire Louie Simmons. This exercise has contributed to the building of many World Records in the deadlift and squat. Louie uses it as a staple in deadlift training. To gain more insight on the possibilities of this training, I made the trip to Columbus Ohio to speak to Louie about the machine.

The reverse Hyper machine will allow one to work the posterior chain in a synchronized manner. Your back extensions would target the same muscle group but not in the same recruitment pattern. Another disadvantage of the back extensions is the dizziness associated with their performance.

Starting Position Set-Up
Stand facing the reverse hypers unit.
Step in one leg at a time into the ankle strap provided, back up until your Achilles tendons make contact with the material of the strap or pad.
From this position, jump face down on the supporting surface and reach out to grasp the handles with a shoulder width pronated grip.

Thrust the legs backwards together by extending the hips forcefully.

Lower the legs under control following the prescribed tempo of execution.

Watch For’s

  1. Do not arch the lower back to initiate the movement.

    Former Soviet athletes, particularly their track and weightlifting stars such as David Rigert, have always been known in athletic circles to have erector spinae development parallel to Arnold Schwarzeneggers biceps development. One of their secrets to huge erector spinae development had to be the Glute Hamstroc Raise. It was originally done in the Soviet Union with no more equipment than a set of of Swedish bars and pommel horse with a few mats thrown over it. In North America, we are fortunate to have more comfortable and easily adjustable Glute-Hamstroc raises benches. The best ones on the market are the ones made by Atlantis and Powerlift.

The design of the glute-ham bench allows an athlete to strengthen the erectors especially in the middle range of the movement which, in most sports, is where the body is exposed to high forces. Another plus for the glute-ham raise is that it is one of the most important exercises for preventing back and knee injuries, especially the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The spine is exposed to great compressive forces in many sports, I have found that athletes who are weak in the hamstrings, glutes and lower back not only are more likely to injure their lower back, but are especially prone to tearing the ACL. Because the glute-ham exercise increases muscle mass and strength in the back, glutes and hamstrings, those athletes who include this exercise in their program are better able to withstand the compressive loads on the spine and those that occur with sports such as football and Alpine skiing.

I would advise only after having a base of good morning work, at least six weeks of it. As in for example, 3 weeks of seated good mornings followed by 3 weeks of standing good mornings.

Ready Position
Lie facedown on a back extension bench and place your ankles under the ankle pads. Adjust your hips on the hip pad so that when you bend forward your back is perpendicular to the floor, but not rounded.

Keeping your head in alignment with your spine and retracting your chin, lift your torso until your back is parallel to the floor. Continue the movement at this point by bending the knees (and pushing the balls of your feet against the footplate, if available) until your torso is almost perpendicular to the floor. Reverse the technique to return to the start.

Hold your breath, raise your torso, then exhale halfway down or at the finish.

When the exercise becomes easier, hold a weight plate across your chest to increase the resistance. When this becomes easy place a barbell across your upper back, holding the bar as you would when performing a squat. Do not, however, place weight plates on your head as this could result in injury.

    This exercise is another Louie Simmons movement. It is an outstanding exercise for developing explosive starts by focusing on the hips and lower back from a dead stop.

Ready Position
Stand facing away from the sled, holding one handle per hand. The athlete should straddle the straps. Bend forward at the waist until the trunk is parallel to the ground keeping a slight arch in the lower back. When the nylon strap is pulled tight, the elbows should be at a position even with the inside of the knees.

From this position, forcefully stand upright by firing the hips though to full extension. Do not use the biceps and/or deltoids as primary movers here. The hands should remain in very close contact to the front of the body at the end of the concentric movement. If the hands are far away, it implies that the delts and/or biceps have been used too much and too early.

Note: Make sure someone is standing between the athlete and the sled to decelerate it as it comes near the ankles, particularly during warm-ups. Once the training weight has been selected correctly, this should not be a problem, and the sled will stop short of the ankles at the end of the pull-through."

Any thoughts on Charles top 7.

Is that for Yin or Yang dominant athletes?

Be nice…

I find this hard to believe.

Ask TheSilencer his thoughts on that. He is National Dunk champion like 3yrs in a row and is adamant that Vertical height is Quad Dom. And looking at his legs at the time, its hard to argue.

But im sure, its also possible to be Posterior Dom and still be a good jumper.

Each to his own.

Also ask verchoshansky…

Simple common sense will tell you that the quads of course contribute more than 5%. Kelly bagget says that a 2 footed vertical jump is a quad dominant activity. However when jumping off one leg then the emphasis shifts more to the hip extensors.
What do you all think of the snatch grip Deadlift off a podium as his no 1 choice for posterior chain strength?
Also he says “Do not raise the hips prematurely, as it will shift the emphasis to the glutes and away from the hamstrings” I would have thought the opposite?

Why? if Charlie started spouting a bunch of utter gibberish, you wouldn’t pay attention to what he said

Why does Poliquin get a pass when 99% of what he says these days is total bullshit meant to sell worthless supplements to gullible athletes?

I agree with the SDL being the number 1 movement for the post chain. When following Charlie program SDL may not be the number 1 post chain movement, I may lean towards rev hypers, pull through etc.

What makes you say that 99% of what he says is bullshit?

I think if 10 very bright coaches/trainers were to be polled on posterior chain exercises, all 10 would have 75% of these exercises on their list.

There is no magic to Charles’ top 7.

Thank you, everyone has there fav guru…

I attended many of CP’s seminars in the late
90’s and early 2000’s, including a vertical jump/sprint seminar. My understanding of the strength training process jumped to a whole new level.

Would you mind giving us a brief sum up of most important topics?

I don’t understand how it is possible to put specific percentages on the role of a muscle on a movement.

Being that it was 10 years ago, I might have to search high and low for my notes. I’d be interested in a 2010 seminar to see how things may have evolved.

On a general note, I do know he was critical of NOT doing any pulling, whether olympic or dead variation, from the floor a la Mike Boyle circa 2000.

I don’t know where the EXACT numbers came from nor would I make it a point of contention. Focus on the big picture rather than debating the percentages.

Sorry, but I’m fed up with all this pseudo-scientific quantifications without any meaning at all. And it’s not even the exact number the problem, but the (missing) justification of a quantification (I like ending in -ation) without context.
Poliquin is surely entertaining, but throwing numbers like he’s doing here does not support his point.

That is why I try to focus on the big picture which, in this case, centers around exercise selection.

I hear you about the throwing numbers around.

I believe Mel Siff, upon hearing the buzz about optimal maximal strength ratios, commmented that the ratios can’t be set in stone because they will change WHILE an athlete moves through a certain exercise.

Stu McGill commented recently on Mike Boyle’s assertion that a RFESS would cut the load on the spine in half. He essentially said it wasn’t true. Just another example of a coach making assumptions and throwing numbers around.

Sorry but what is RFESS???


Rear foot elevated split squat aka Bulgarian split squat.