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Understanding the Kinetic Chain’s Significance in Your Workouts

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

Depending on how enthusiastic you get about fitness, you might consider a variety of factors when planning out your workout of the day, including the muscle groups each exercise will target, how it will impact your heart rate, and how much rest time you will allow yourself between sets.

But there is one other aspect you should start considering before and during your workout session, even if you are not a complete exercise enthusiast: Your kinetic chain. Here’s an explanation of what the kinetic chain is and how different exercises that involve the kinetic chain affect your body and results.

What Is the Kinetic Chain?

Simply stated, the kinetic chain is the concept that your muscles, joints, and segments are all interconnected, forming a “chain” throughout the body, and they collaborate to produce movement, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “Everything in your body is linked together, so when you use one muscle, there’s typically a chain reaction of other events,” says Heather A. Milton, M.S., R.C.E.P., C.S.C.S., a board-certified clinical exercise physiologist at NYU Langone Health’s Sports Performance Center.

Think about how your body moves when you throw a baseball: You will plant your feet into the ground, then your lower limbs and core will generate a force that is ultimately transferred through your upper limb, including your throwing arm and hand, to release the ball, according to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Your kinetic chain is even at work when you straighten your leg while sitting, as your quadriceps contract to extend your knee joint, adds Milton.

Closed vs. Open Kinetic Chain Exercises and Movements

Every movement you perform can be classified as either “closed” or “open,” depending on whether the farthest end of the kinetic chain (typically the hands and feet) is fixed or able to move freely, according to ACE.

Closed Kinetic Chain Exercises

During a closed chain movement, the terminal point of a given limb is secured to the Earth or an immovable object (think: a bar, a plyo box, a machine), according to Milton. When you perform a push-up, for example, your hands and feet are fixed to the floor, while the rest of your body moves towards and away from them, she explains. In the gym, you might engage in closed chain exercises such as:

Closed chain exercises are typically compound movements, which means they recruit multiple muscles and their associated joints, says Milton. “If your goal is to improve your body composition or reduce body fat, then you should focus on using more compound movements because they result in a higher metabolic response,” she explains. “More muscles are involved in the given movement, so more energy is utilized.” For instance, you won’t engage as many muscles — and subsequently use as much energy — to complete a set of leg extensions as you would for a set of squats, says Milton.

Open Chain Exercises

With open chain movements, the terminal point of a given limb moves freely in space, rather than being supported by a stable object, says Milton. For example, during overhead tricep extensions, your hands press the dumbbell up towards the ceiling and lower it back down to your body. Open chain kinetic exercises also include:

Unlike their counterparts, open chain kinetic movements primarily involve a single joint, says Milton. As a result, they usually engage only the musculature associated with that joint during resistance exercises, according to ACE. In other words, open chain exercises are ideal for isolating and strengthening specific areas of the body, which can be beneficial for bodybuilders and individuals undergoing physical therapy, says Milton. “In physical therapy, when working towards rehabilitating a particular joint, it’s often beneficial to start with open chain movements to target that specific area before progressing to more complex closed chain movements,” she explains.

However, some exercises considered to be open chain movements can also function as compound movements and involve multiple joints, says Milton. For example, the bench press utilizes the shoulder and elbow joints, as well as the deltoids, triceps, and coracobrachialis muscles, to push the weight towards the ceiling, according to information published by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. This goes to show that the “open” or “closed” classification of an exercise doesn’t always provide a complete understanding of its benefits, but it can generally serve as a helpful guide when planning your workouts.

The Advantages of Considering the Kinetic Chain During Exercise

On a daily basis, you engage in both enclosed and unconfined dynamic chain movements, whether you’re ascending the steps, rising from the sofa, positioning a can on the highest shelf of your pantry, or retrieving a weighty book while seated at your desk, asserts Milton. And that’s why it’s crucial to incorporate both varieties of exercises in your workout regimen, she states. “When you contemplate your fitness [schedule], think about selecting things that would transfer to the capability to execute everything you would desire to perform in your day-to-day existence more effectively,” she adds.

If you’re a casual athlete, you’ll also want to take into account which dynamic chain exercises will assist you in making optimal use of your physique in your sport, suggests Milton. Softball players, for instance, may desire to focus on exercises that simulate the “throwing” motion, such as chops using a cable column, medicine ball throws, or lunges with rotations, she says.

Naturally, your personal fitness objectives are significant as well. If you’re striving to maximize efficiency, pay a tad more attention to enclosed dynamic chain exercises, which have a tendency to be more metabolically demanding and engage multiple muscles and joints, says Milton. “If you’re performing burpees, squats, lunges, those will be functioning throughout the entire chain of motion as opposed to using one solitary machine where you may be seated and employing one body part at a time,” she explains.

In summary: “It might be advantageous to engage in some unconfined chain exercises to isolate a muscle you wish to be exerting the most, but then also incorporate some of the enclosed chain movements as well,” says Milton. “It’s all about genuinely optimizing your workout.