In 1875, the concept of the Kinetic Chain originated when Franz Reuleaux a mechanical engineer concluded 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 chain. In 1955, dr. Arthur Steindler adapted this theory and included an analysis of human movement. He suggested that the extremities can be viewed as a series of rigid, overlapping segments and defined the 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. Therefore the concept of Closed and Open Kinetic Chain exercises developed.
Open Kinetic Chain exercises (OKC) are exercises that are performed where the hand or foot is free to move.
The opposite of OKC are Closed Kinetic Chain exercises (see below).
Made simple – In an OKC exercise, the foot or hand is not in contact with the surface on which you are exercising.
Open Kinetic Chain exercises for the Upper Body - Examples
– bench press
– Biceps curl
– DB External Rotation
Open Kinetic Chain exercises for the Lower Body - Examples
– leg curl
– leg press
– reverse hyper
Closed Kinetic Chain exercises (CKC) are physical exercises performed where the hand - for an upper body movement - or foot - for a lower body movement - is fixed in space and cannot move. The extremity remains in constant contact with the immobile surface, usually the ground or the base of a machine.
The opposite of CKC exercises are Open Kinetic Chain exercises (see above).
Made simple - In a CKC exercise, the foot or hand is in contact with the surface on which you are exercising.
Closed Kinetic Chain exercises for the Upper Body - Examples
– pull ups
– push ups
Closed Kinetic Chain exercises for the Lower Body - Examples
– 45° back extension
Summing up the differences and putting them into a practical perspective, these are the points that need to be considered in real life when differentiating and applying the concept of Open Kinetic Chain vs. Closed Kinetic Chain Exercises in Program Design:
The 2 main benefits of Open Kinetic Chain exercises over Closed Kinetic Chain exercises
1. Less demand on the lower back, nervous system & body – in times when fatigue is already present getting a training session in with a lower demand on the nervous system and body will still lead to a progressive training effect without blowing out energy reserves and recovery even more. Strategically applying this based on recovery potential and other demands besides strength training such as sports training and the demands of daily life will facilitate constant progress.
2. Greater degree of isolation - Most OKC exercises involve only one primary joint which also a greater degree of isolation of a specific muscle and an individual weak link. This allows and facilitates are greater local training effect and the adaptation of more specific fibers of a chosen muscle. For the same reason OPC exercises are highly important in optimizing muscular balance as a base for pre-/rehabilitation and maximum progress in training.
The 2 main benefits of Closed Kinetic Chain exercises over Open Kinetic Chain exercises
1. Greater training effect on the lower back, the nervous system & body - CKC exercises generally put a much greater demand on nervous system and the body, especially the lower back. Another great example to differentiate the strain of each group is the difference between a Pullup/Chinup, an CKC exercise and a Lat Pulldown, an OKC exercise. Everyone who has done these two has felt the difference in recruitment and overall demand therefore the training effect.
2. CKC exercises are more functional – CKC exercises resemble real life movement such as jumping and running which leads to a great carryover in improving these functions for training, sports and daily life. Especially considering Lower Back Strength and Capacity as the base of high intensity real life efforts a wide spectrum of CKC exercises is the base of developing this. The only primary outlier would be the Reverse Hyper, an outlier in many ways. Besides that Reverse Hyper all primary Lower Back Exercises are CKC exercises such as all variations of the squat, all variations of the deadlift and all variations of the Backextension & Glute Ham Raise. Choose these exercises to develop the strength you need – in sports or daily life.
All the best applying the concept of Open Kinetic Chain vs. Closed Kinetic Chain Exercises!
References: Ellenbecker, TS, and Davies, GJ (2001). Closed Kinetic Chain Exercise: A Comprehensive Guide to Multiple Joint Exercises , (1st ed.). Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics. Available here on amazon.
Picture: YPSI Coach and MMA Pro Mert Özyildirim demonstrates a Pullup with a close, neutral grip which is a Closed Kinetic Chain Exercise and a Lat Pulldown with a close, neutral grip which is a Open Kinetic Chain Exercise.