Today I want to talk about closed chain versus open chain exercises. You are probably wondering what they are and if they will help you get in better shape, but, believe it or not, you actually cannot perform an exercise without it being termed either a closed or an open chain. Knowing the reasons why you do them is very important to best understand your exercise programming.
Closed chain exercises are exercises that keep your hands or feet in a constant, fixed position (on the floor, a box, etc). Closed chain exercises work multiple joints and muscle groups at one time. The squat is the perfect example of one of these exercises. You are moving your knee, hip, and ankle joint complexes, as well as using multiple muscle groups (quads, glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, and calves).
You can perform closed chain exercises with your body weight alone or also with added external weight. Typically when you add weight to these exercises, the weight rests across the front of the chest or the back of the shoulders, which is safer than what is done during open chain exercises. Some examples of closed chain exercises include squats, pull-ups, push-ups, and lunges, as well as most TRX exercises.
Open chain exercises are exercises where your hands or feet are free to move. These types of exercises tend to isolate a single muscle group or joint. For example, during a seated leg extension, the knee is the one joint that is used, and it isolates the quadriceps muscle group.
Similar to closed chain exercises, open chain exercises can be performed with just body weight or with extra weight too. When weight is added to the exercise, it is at the distal (far away) position, such as in the hands or near the ankles. Some examples of open chain exercises are chest presses, biceps curls, leg curls, and leg extensions.
Most trainers and physical therapists will agree that closed chain exercises are better for you in your workouts. Closed chain exercises help improve your “functional” fitness. Moreover, they are great for athletes, as sports require multiple joints and muscle groups working together. There are very few real life movements or athletic movements that require only single joint movement, so open chain exercises are not as valuable.
Because closed chain exercises work multiple joints and muscles groups simultaneously, you get more bang for your buck. Not only will you burn more calories and transport more oxygen and blood, but you will also perform a safer lift. The force involved in a closed chain lift, such as a lunge or a squat, is compressive, which means that it actually stabilizes the joint and helps strengthen it. An open chain exercise produces force, which actually puts stress on the joints and is more likely to result in an injury.
I certainly am not saying that I would NEVER perform open chain movements, because I often do. However, I am stressing that you use caution when performing them and that trainers do the same when programming open chain exercises into a client’s exercise routine. There is little room for error when performing these, and the high risk for the average person is not worth the reward. Always be sure to consult with a fitness professional before venturing into a new workout regime that is unfamiliar to you.
As always, feel free to continue sending your feedback! Bill@nextlevelnj.com