So, you’ve decided to take a long, hard look in the fitness mirror and figure out if your lower half is out of whack. We’re talking about testing your “quad dominance,” which is whether your legs are able to effectively recruit your glutes and hamstrings, or if they overly rely on your front half.
Why does this matter? “The muscles in the front of your legs (quads, which we’ll call ‘anterior chain’) and the back of your legs (glutes and hamstrings, which we’ll call ‘posterior chain’) exert control on the pelvis, dictating its position in relation to the ribcage,” says Tim Landicho, CSCS, a coach for the at-home fitness platform Tonal. “So if your posterior chain strength isn’t up to par, you won’t be able to control your pelvis in a way that truly maximizes trunk stability.”
Trunk stability is important because it affects our posture and can cause lower back pain if our pelvis isn’t in line with our ribcage. Essentially, all-important core strength starts in the lower body. Yet many of us have relatively weaker hamstrings and glutes from so much time spent sitting, which means our quads take over when we’re moving—and therefore keep getting stronger.
Quad dominance, and trunk instability by proxy, can affect our activities. Distance running requires the ability to engage your glutes and hamstrings to maintain proper form. Strength training requires “appropriate range of motion,” explains Landicho.
“When it comes to strength training the lower body, having better trunk stability can help you access more range of motion at your hips, knees, and ankles, thanks to your ribcage and pelvis being in a better position,” Landicho says. “When you shore up glute and hamstring strength, you’ll get a better pelvis position. A better pelvis and ribcage relationship leads to better trunk stability, which yields better range of motion and better force production—that is, more strength!—during your lifts.”
How can you assess whether you need to make changes to your training to get those anterior and posterior chains to work in harmony? A viral Instagram reel by the running trainer Kaila Morgante aka @bodkick raised the issue by posting about the “chair of death” quad dominance test. Here’s how to do it: Stand in front of a chair with your knees close to, but not touching, the seat. Then lower yourself down into a squat. The farther you can go down without your knees touching the chair, the less quad dominant you are.
“Many of us assume we’re quad dominant but this test will give you a window into just how much,” Morgante writes. “The farther you can go down before your knees touch, the better glute recruitment you have.”
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Landicho agrees, and sees the test as a useful tool to check how effective your workouts are. “You can use the chair test to determine if the exercises are actually moving you in the right direction or not (i.e., are you able to sit lower over time?),” he says.
Bringing that lower body into balance is all about lengthening and strengthening, says Landicho: “Create length through the front (our quads and hip flexors), and create strength through the back (our glutes and hamstrings).”
He suggests progressing from more beginner-friendly moves to more advanced options. To lengthen the quads, begin with a standing quad stretch.
Next, try a kneeling quad stretch.
Finally, progress to the couch stretch.
To strengthen the hamstrings and glutes, Landicho suggests a series of glute bridges. Begin with a glute bridge hold.
Then move to glute bridges with hip dips.
Progress to glute bridge marches.
Finally, tackle the most advanced variation, the single leg glute bridge.
Incorporate these moves into your workout routines regularly, and the chair of death will eventually be no match for you!