Fitness wellness spotlight

The Kinetic Chain and How to Apply It

Dana Bender
Dana Bender
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The human body is not made up of isolated segments of muscles, bones, connective tissue, and ligaments. Rather, the body is a series of interconnected parts that all impact each other. This impact can either be positive or negative. Ideally, when the kinetic chain is incorporated, the human body works as a holistic collection of parts working in harmony to help create coordinated and optimal movement patterns.

When this concept is incorporated into a training program, it can play a fundamental role in unlocking the body’s performance potential and reduce the chance of injury.

In this blog, we’ll go over the kinetic chain and how you can assess your clients’ needs and program effective and safe exercises for their fitness goals.

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Table of Contents 


The kinetic chain concept in fitness, established on mechanical engineering principles introduced by Franz Reuleaux, a German engineer, in 1875, describes how the body's joints and segments are interconnected during movement. This idea highlights that movement in one body part can significantly influence other areas.

In the 1950s, scientists in human anatomy, led by Dr. Arthur Steindler, applied this principle to the human musculoskeletal system. This application revolutionized the understanding of human movement, reinforcing the concept of bodily interconnectedness. Ongoing research on the kinetic chain continues to shape sports performance, injury prevention, and fitness programming.

A Connected Body, A Connected Program

The kinetic chain theory proposes that movement in one part of the body produces forces that are transmitted to adjacent parts, creating a domino effect. This underscores the human body's interconnected nature and highlights how a holistic approach in training can enhance movement patterns. Implementing the kinetic chain concept can improve fitness recovery, lead to more comprehensive training routines, and boost overall fitness and sports performance.

The kinetic chain also helps explain why pain or discomfort might appear in a different area than where one might have exercised previously. For example, it's often surprising to learn that low back pain could originate from tightness in a seemingly unrelated area, not just the lower back muscles.

For instance, tightness in the feet or hip flexor muscles can trigger low back pain. These instances underscore the importance of understanding the kinetic chain in effective fitness recovery and overall body health.

Upper & Lower Kinetic Chain

The kinetic chain can be broken down into upper and lower kinetic chains in the body.

  • Upper Kinetic Chain: The upper kinetic chain includes the upper body such as the fingers, wrists, forearms, upper arms, shoulders and shoulder girdle, and spine. These parts of the body help with pushing and pulling movement and provide a wide range of movements powered by the shoulder girdle. Each part of the upper kinetic chain coordinates together for upper body movement.

  • Lower Kinetic Chain: The lower kinetic chain includes the lower body such as the toes and feet, lower legs, ankles, upper legs, hips, and pelvis. These parts of the body are often included in major movements such as walking and running, and core stability. Each part of the lower kinetic chain plays important roles in core stability and forward movement in space.

The kinetic chain can also be categorized into both open kinetic chain and closed kinetic chains of movement which we will discuss more below.

It is essential to incorporate both open kinetic chain and closed kinetic chain exercises within a fitness training plan due to their own unique benefits that accentuate each other. Incorporating both open and closed exercises into a training program help ensure the program is well-rounded and can help maximize performance outcomes.

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What are the benefits of kinetic chain exercises?

To better understand the unique benefits of both closed and open chain exercises, it is first important to understand the principles behind each type.

Open Kinetic Chain exercises:

Open chain kinetic chain movement is where the distal, or part further from the center of the body, segment of the body is free to move around in space.

For example, open chain exercises include movements like a seated leg curl where the leg is moving in space, or a bicep curl, where the arm is moving in space. Open chain movements help focus on targeting specific muscle groups which is an important focus in sculpting and bodybuilding.

This type of exercise helps an individual strengthen a targeted area of the body, and isolate specific muscle groups. This can also be incredibly important after an injury on one side of the body (i.e., an individual breaks the femur bone in their left leg), or if an individual notices they are weaker in a certain muscle group (i.e., weaker triceps versus stronger biceps). Another benefit of open chain exercises is that they can help improve range of motion.

Closed Kinetic Chain exercises:

Closed chain kinetic chain movement is where the distal segment of the body is fixed, or in contact with a stable surface, like a floor.

For example, if an individual is performing body weight squats as part of a workout; this is the entire body working as one holistic movement with the feet stable and fixed on the floor. Other examples include stationary lunges, body-weight push-ups, and forward or backwards lunges.

Closed chain exercises include full body movements that play an integral role in functional movement and core strengthening. These types of movements can help an individual improve coordination, balance, and help an individual work multiple muscle group all at once. Another benefit of this type of kinetic chain exercise is that generally there is more stability for the joints since the distal part of the body is connected to a stable surface. This is an important benefit used in athletic training when stability is important for rehabilitation and recovery.

For more information on 5 kinetic chain checkpoints, check out this video about analyzing your clients before training them:

Tips to get started

  • Start small by incorporating a mix of open and closed chain exercises.
  • Focus initially on proper form and stability.
  • Gradually include more complex closed chain exercises.
  • Continue incorporating open chain exercises tailored to specific training goals, weak muscle groups, or joint mobility improvement.
  • Prioritize exercises based on individual fitness goals and fitness levels.
  • Understand that there is no universal approach; tailor the ratio of open and closed kinetic chain exercises to individual needs and progression.

Final thoughts…

Understanding and optimizing the kinetic chain is the key to unlocking one's full potential in movement, athleticism, and overall well-being. As we've explored the interconnectedness of joints and muscles, it becomes evident that a well-balanced and coordinated kinetic chain is essential for peak performance and injury prevention.

By incorporating targeted exercises, corrective strategies, and mindful movement patterns, individuals can enhance their functional fitness and move with greater efficiency. Embracing the holistic approach of the kinetic chain not only transforms the way we exercise but also empowers us to live healthier, more resilient lives.

What'S next

The Author

Dana Bender

Dana Bender

Dana Bender, MS, NBC-HWC, ACSM, E-RYT. Dana works as a Wellness Strategy Manager with Vitality and has 15+ years experience in onsite fitness and wellness management. Dana is also a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, an Adjunct Professor with Rowan University, an E-RYT 200 hour Registered Yoga Teacher, AFAA Group Exercise Instructor, ACSM Exercise Physiologist, and ACE Personal Trainer. Learn more about Dana at


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