According to Army National Guardsman Chris Kellum, it takes a strong posterior chain and a “brick-wall back” to navigate through the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) — particularly the deadlift and leg tuck events (the latter being a cross between a pullup and a leg raise).

Even if you’re not in the Army, it would still serve you well to have a strong, muscular posterior chain. A bigger squat, a bigger deadlift, improved performance in virtually any sport, fewer injuries, a more badass physique — you’ll reap all these benefits with his posterior chain workout, courtesy of Kellum. You can thank him later for your brick wall back.

Featured trainer: SPC Chris Kellum is a sniper team infantryman in the Florida Army National Guard. A NETA-certified personal trainer and member of the Bravo Sierra team, his mission is to inspire others by incorporating fitness and military on his YouTube channel and documenting the process of transitioning to a warrant officer to go to flight school. All of his workouts can be found on his Playbook fitness app.

Equipment needed: Fully equipped gym – hex bar, pull-up bar, adjustable bench, dumbbells, lat pulldown station, kettlebell, cable station, reverse pec deck machine, cardio equipment (optional).

Time commitment: Roughly 70 minutes, according to Kellum.

Workout overview: Kellum’s workout consists of heavy deadlifts, followed by four two-exercise circuits (i.e., supersets), isolated core training, and steady-state cardio to finish. The overall routine focuses mainly on the posterior muscles (upper back, lower back, glutes, hamstrings), though the abs, obliques, biceps, and forearms will get worked as well.

While deadlift sets are relatively heavy (dropping down to 4 reps by the last set) to boost pure strength, the other sets stay in the eight- to 20-rep range to promote hypertrophy and a bit of endurance.

“This posterior chain workout is designed to increase your aerobic capacity while building back strength,” says Kellum, who created this workout as part of his Hybrid Warrior training plan. “In order to be successful in this workout, you need to make sure to track your rest between sets. Shoot for 45- to 60-second breaks in between supersets. You’ll be lifting less weight than usual, as the intensity is increased. But we still want to focus on proper form, and that can be compromised with shorter rest periods and fatigue.”

Chris Kellum performing an exercise for his Posterior Chain Workout
Courtesy of Bravo Sierra

Chris Kellum’s ‘Hybrid Warrior’ Back Builder

Warmup (12 minutes)

  1. Upper Back Foam Rolling – 3-5 minutes
  2. Lats Foam Rolling – 1-2 minutes (per side)
  3. Spiderman Stretch with Rotation – 10 reps (per side)
  4. Groiners – 10 reps (per side)

Strength Work (Heavy)

Hex-bar Deadlift: 1-2 warmup sets, followed by 4 working sets of 8, 8, 6, 4 reps

Circuit 1 — 4 Rounds:

  1. Leg Tuck – 8 reps
  2. Forearm Plank – 30 sec.
  3. Rest 45-60 seconds

Circuit 2 — 4 Rounds:

  1. Chest-supported Dumbbell Row – 12-15 reps
  2. Hammer Curl – 12-15 reps
  3. Rest 45-60 seconds

Circuit 3 — 3 Rounds:

  1. Wide-grip Lat Pulldown – 15 reps
  2. Reverse-grip Lat Pulldown – 15 reps
  3. Rest 45-60 seconds

Circuit 4 — 2 Rounds:

  1. Kettlebell Swing – 20 reps
  2. Reverse Flye – 20 reps
  3. Rest 45-60 seconds

Core Work — 1-3 Rounds:

  1. Hanging Leg Raise – 15-20 reps
  2. Cable Woodchopper – 15 reps per side
  3. Plank Hold – Max time
  4. Rest 15 seconds between exercises.
  5. Steady-State Cardio

After a brief warmup of 20 forward leg swings and 20 lateral leg swings (per leg), do 20 minutes of steady-state cardio on your preferred cardio machine or jogging/running. Maintain an intensity of 65%-70% of your max heart rate the entire time.

“You should be able to say a complete sentence without gasping for air,” says Kellum. “The goal is to get the blood flowing to increase recovery. We’re not training to overly tax our bodies during this cardio session.”

How to Estimate Heart Rate Zone

  • 220 – your age = Max Heart Rate (Max HR)

Example: for a 28-year-old: 220 – 28 = 192 Max HR

To find 65%-70% of Max HR:

  • 192 x .65 = 125 BPM (beats per minute)
  • 192 x .70 = 134 BPM

Target HR zone for workout:

  • b125-134 BPM

Exercise Notes

  • Hex-bar Deadlift: If you don’t have a hex bar available, use a barbell or heavy dumbbells or kettlebells. ·
  • Leg Tuck: This is an official Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) event (video demonstration here). “If leg tucks are too hard, add a band to the pull-up bar to take away weight,” says Kellum. “Or, start with negatives: Jump up to the bar, hold yourself at the top, and slowly lower yourself to the bottom. Repeat this for 5 reps, shooting for 3 seconds on the lowering portion. I recommend 5 sets of 5 reps.”
  • Forearm Plank: Keep your core tight and body in a straight line from heels to head, forearms in contact with the floor.
  • Chest-supported Dumbbell Row: This is a two-arm dumbbell row performed face down on an incline bench to stabilize the upper body. Pull the dumbbells straight up from a starting position of arms extended perpendicular with the floor.
  • Hammer Curl: Hammer curls can be done with dumbbells, cables (using a rope attachment), or a resistance band. Keep your forearms neutral (palms facing each other) throughout.
  • Wide-grip Lat Pulldown: Take an overhead grip outside of shoulder-width, keeping your torso as vertical as possible (don’t lean back too much).
  • Reverse-grip Lat Pulldown: With the underhand grip, keep your hands at should-width or narrower.
  • Kettlebell Swing: Focus on the hip hinge, pushing your hips back to initiate the movement, with only a slight bend in the knees.
  • Reverse Flye: This exercise can be performed using cables, a pec deck machine (with a reverse fly option), a resistance band, or dumbbells.
  • Hanging Leg Raise: If you don’t have a pull-up bar or vertical bench (aka captain’s chair Roman chair), do leg raises lying face up on the floor.
  • Cable Woodchopper: If you don’t have cables, use a resistance band.
  • Plank Hold: Shoot for a 2-plus-minute hold; if you repeat this workout, try to beat your score the next time out.

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