Kinetic Chains Demystified: How Open & Closed Chain Exercises Shape Your Workout

Cathe Friedrich using open and closed Kinetic Chains

Who doesn’t want to get the most out of a strength-training workout? But to maximize the returns you get on your strength-training efforts, you should understand the concept of kinetic chains. What the heck are those?

Think of your body as a well-oiled machine, with all its parts working together in perfect harmony. A beautiful remarkable sight, right? Your bones, joints, and muscles all play a role in how you move, and they work together synergistically to help you move smoothly through space.

Now, imagine your body as a bicycle chain. Each link in the chain connects to help you create fluid movement. A kinetic chain follows a similar principle – your muscles and joints are interconnected segments that work in unity to help you move.

Fitness instructors and scientists divide exercises into two types – open chain and closed chain exercises. Once you know the difference between open and closed-chain exercises, you can choose exercises that target your goals, whether its strength building or functional fitness.

Now, let’s look at how to do that. Fitness instructors and scientists divide exercises into two types – open chain and closed chain exercises. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Open Chain Exercises: Freedom of Movement

Let’s get back to the idea that your body is an intricate chain. Your joints are the links in the chain and your muscles are like connectors. Open chain exercises unlock the chain, freeing up the outermost link – your hands or feet – to move freely through space.

Need a specific example? Picture yourself performing a bicep curl or a leg extension. As you execute these exercises, the distal end (the part farthest from the body, such as your hand or foot) moves through space. Because this exercise is an open chain you have freedom of movement.

Benefits of Open Chain Exercises

So, what are the benefits of open-chain exercises and why would you want to do them?

  • Isolation and Targeted Muscle Development: Open chain exercises make it easier to isolate and focus on specific muscle groups. This makes them ideal for correcting muscular imbalances or targeting areas you need to bring up to speed strength wise.
  • Improved Range of Motion: Open chain exercises improve joint mobility and flexibility, as there’s no support or resistance to restrict your movement.
  • Rehabilitation and Injury Recovery: Rehab specialists love open chain exercises, as they’re safer for people recovering from surgery or injuries.

Examples of Open Chain Exercises

  • Bicep curls
  • Leg extensions
  • Triceps extensions
  • Hamstring curls
  • Lateral raises
  • Lateral pull-downs

Closed Chain Exercises: Grounded in Functionality

Unlike their open chain counterparts, closed chain exercises anchor your outermost link, so you can’t move your hands or feet freely through space. This creates a stable platform, as the distal end, your hands, or feet are in constant contact with a stable surface.

Advantages of Closed Chain Exercises

  • Functional Movement Patterns: Closed chain exercises create a closed chain that makes your body more stable. Such stability offers additional functional benefits. Think of the movements you do daily, such as pulling, and lifting. So, they help with your daily activities as well as sports performance.
  • Improved Joint Stability: By engaging multiple muscle groups and joints simultaneously, closed chain exercises offer joint stability and give your body more control.
  • Increased Muscle Activation: Due to the stable foundation they offer, you can get greater muscle activation with a closed chain exercise. This could lead to greater muscle gains.
  • Reduced Joint Stress: The compressive forces involved in closed chain exercises can help reduce shear stress on joints. Less joint stress makes them a safer option for individuals with joint issues.

Examples of Closed Chain Exercises

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Leg press
  • Wall sits

Striking the Perfect Balance

Both open and closed chain exercises offer unique benefits, so which do you choose? The key is to perform a balanced combination of the two. By including both exercise types in your routine, you can target specific muscle groups, building strength, while still getting the benefits of functional training.

For example, you might include open chain exercises like bicep curls and leg extensions in your routine to isolate specific muscle groups or correct a muscle imbalance. For example, if one biceps muscle is stronger than the other, you can train your weaker biceps in isolation.

But you don’t want to neglect closed chain exercises. With their increased muscle activation and functional benefits, they give you an edge for strength building. So, don’t neglect closed chain movements, like squats and push-ups.

Tailoring Your Routine

When putting together your exercise routine, it’s wise to start by reflecting on your goals. What are you hoping to accomplish – build strength, boost endurance, improve flexibility? Your objectives should steer you towards the ideal exercises. But don’t just consider your aims; take stock of any physical limitations or past injuries too. If you’ve got nagging aches or mobility issues, you may want to emphasize open chain exercises that allow more controlled movements.

On the flip side, if your priority is boosting functional strength for sports or everyday activities, you might incorporate more closed chain exercises. These compound moves that engage multiple muscles and joints can help translate your fitness gains into real-world capability. The key is crafting a balanced regimen – one that challenges you, yet safely accounts for your body’s specific needs and circumstances.

By blending open and closed chain movements in your routine, you create a multifaceted program that targets all the different components of physicality. One day, you might focus on building stability through closed chain staples like squats and pushups. Next, switch it up with open chain moves to zero in on isolated muscle groups or work through sticking points. This diversity keeps your muscles adapting and staves off plateaus. It’s an ongoing process of listening to your body, challenging yourself smartly, and relishing the journey of fortifying your spirit as well as your physique. Happy strength training!


  • Open Chain Exercise. Physiopedia. Published 2017. Accessed March 25, 2024. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Open_Chain_Exercise
  • Closed Chain Exercise. Physiopedia. Published 2023. Accessed March 25, 2024. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Closed_Chain_Exercise
  • Kwon YJ, Park SJ, Jefferson J, Kim K. The effect of open and closed kinetic chain exercises on dynamic balance ability of normal healthy adults. J Phys Ther Sci. 2013 Jun;25(6):671-4. doi: 10.1589/jpts.25.671. Epub 2013 Jul 23. PMID: 24259825; PMCID: PMC3805008.
  • Second T. Kinematic and Kinetic Chains. Nsca.com. Published June 2017. Accessed March 25, 2024. https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/kinetic-select/kinematic-and-kinetic-chains/
  • Understanding the Kinetic Chain. Human Kinetics. Published 2024. Accessed March 26, 2024. https://us.humankinetics.com/blogs/excerpt/understanding-the-kinetic-chain

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STS Strength 90 Day Workout Program

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