Find the Golden Rules for Working Out Safely

You’ve probably heard of the Anterior and Posterior chains, and if you haven’t then you’re in luck, because we’ve written about both on the blog*! But have you heard of the Kinetic Chain?

*Click here for the Anterior blog post or Posterior blog post.

The Kinetic Chain, sometimes known as the Kinematic Chain, is a concept used to describe human movement. It was coined in 1875 by a mechanical engineer named Franz Reuleaux and later adapted in 1955 by Dr. Arthur Steindler to include human movement.

The concept is simple. The body has joints that are stacked in a sequence of ‘mobile’ and ‘stable’ from your toes up. Your ankle being a mobile joint, knee a stable joint, hip a mobile joint and so on. The areas between these joints are known as segments.

As we move, the body's’ joints and segments have an effect on one another. When one is in motion, it creates a chain of events that affects the movement of neighbouring joints and segments. This effect differs depending on whether or not the kinetic chain is open or closed.

What are Open and Closed Chain Movements?

Below is a description of open and closed chain movements along with a short list of exercises to illustrate what each one looks like.

Open Kinetic Chain (OKC) - This is defined as a combination of successively arranged joints in which the terminal segment or distal aspect can move freely. This requires a better level of proprioception, which, put simply, refers to a person’s awareness of the position and movement of their body. For example, waving your hand is an open chain movement. Your shoulder, elbow and wrist are the successively arranged joints and the terminal segment is your hand. You can read more here.

Closed Kinetic Chain (CKC) - This is defined as a combination of successively arranged joints in which the terminal segment is fixed. This emphasises joint compression and stabilisation at the distal joint primarily. For example, performing a push-up is a closed kinetic chain exercise. By placing your hands on the floor with your body weight bearing down, your wrists become more stable due to compression of that joint. You can read more here.

So which is best, open or closed chain?

It depends on what you’re looking to achieve.

A commonly held belief is that open chain movements are more dangerous than closed chain movements due to a heightened risk of injury, as the distal aspect isn’t fixed and is often loaded during resistance based exercise.

In reality, the open chain simply requires greater control and demands more work from the stabilising muscles at the joint closest. So whether or not an open or closed chain movement is safer is less to do with its open or closed nature and more to do with the load and the persons efficiency at that particular movement.

A closed chain movement is thought to be safer because it creates stability through compression. A mobile joint, like the wrist or ankle, becomes more stable when in contact with the ground during a push-up or squat.

This stability is enhanced, up to a point, if the movement is then loaded, increasing compression. Again, the potential for injury increases as the load increases and tests one’s ability to execute the movement correctly.

So, as you can see, neither one is safer than the other and safety is all down to movement efficiency and loading.

Below, we’ve listed a few golden rules to follow when it comes to planning workouts.

Golden Rules for Working Out Safely:

  1. Efficiency of the movement itself - It’s important to remember that the body remembers movement patterns, not muscle groups. So, although you chose an exercise based on the muscle groups you wish to target, you’ll only ever successfully challenge these groups if you’re efficient enough in the movement itself to then add load safely.

  1. Compound Movements First - A compound movement or multi-lever compound movement like squats, deadlifts and clean and press, recruit multiple joints and therefore a large percentage of your muscle mass during their execution. These use a lot of the bodies stored ATP (energy) and should always be done first.

  1. Time Under Tension - The work a muscle goes through can be increased through Mechanical Tension, Volume, Tempo or a combination of the three. Your overall goals and the open or closed nature of the movement will determine which of these methods you utilise more. To learn more, read our Time Under Tension Blog here.


Written by,

Scott Phillips

Personal Trainer at Soho Fitness Lab

Published on 24th Aug 18