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What is a Kinetic Chain?

 The concept of the kinetic chain has been around since 1875, when a mechanical engineer named Franz Reuleaux proposed that if a series of overlapping segments were connected via pin joints, these interlocking joints would create a system that would allow the movement of one joint to affect the movement of another joint within the kinetic link. Dr. Arthur Steindler adapted this theory in 1955, and included an analysis of human movement. Steindler suggested that the extremities be viewed as a series of rigid, overlapping segments and defined the human kinetic chain as a "combination of several successively arranged joints constituting a complex motor unit." The movements that occur within these segments present as two primary types—open and closed.

Open-chain Movement

Steindler defined open kinetic chain as a combination of successively arranged joints in which the terminal segment can move freely. In an open-chain movement, the distal aspect of the extremity, or the end of the chain farthest from the body, moves freely and is not fixed to an object. Here are some examples of open-chain exercises:

  • Seated leg extension
  • Leg curl
  • Bench press
  • Dumbbell biceps curl
  • Lat pull-down

Closed-chain Movement

Steindler defined closed-kinetic chain exercise as a condition or environment in which the distal segment meets considerable external resistance and restrains movement. In a closed-chain movement, the distal end of the extremity is fixed, emphasizing joint compression and, in turn, stabilizing the joints. Closed-chain exercises, such as the examples below, are considered to be more functional than open-chain exercises.

  • Squat
  • Wall slides
  • Lunges
  • Elliptical training
  • Stair stepper
  • Versa Climber
  • Push-ups
Understanding how the body and all of its segments work together is essential for developing effective exercise programs.  

Ellenbecker, T.S., and Davies, G.J. (2001). Closed Kinetic Chain Exercise: A Comprehensive Guide to Multiple Joint Exercises, (1st ed.). Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics.

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