Open Chain Vs. Closed Chain Exercises

Today’s post is all about open chain vs. closed chain exercises. If you don’t already know, a closed chain exercise is one in which you are moving your BODY in space. That is in contrast to an open chain exercise, where you are instead moving WEIGHTS in space. Let’s use a pushup as an example to clarify. In a push-up, your body moves in space (and the floor is stationary). That makes a pushup a closed chain exercise. If instead you are lying on your back doing a dumbbell chest press, you are then doing the open chain version of the same movement! It may sound like a trivial difference, but it isn’t. Closed chain exercises make you stronger. A lot stronger. This is because they use the whole body, better mimic the movements of real life, and thus are more functional. They are also safer for your joints because they generate compressive forces on the joints which helps to stabilize them. Conversely, some open chain exercises can produce sheering forces on joints which is damaging.

In preparation for an upcoming boot camp class which I’ll be teaching in August, I began focusing primarily on closed chain exercises this summer in my own training. I must say that the difference is amazing. Although I haven’t seen much growth in size, I’ve noticed a difference in muscle tone, and my core strength and overall strength have gone through the roof! I had always incorporated closed-chain exercises into my workout, but really focusing on them has made all the difference.

So should you drop open chain exercises altogether? Of course not! There are many that are close to my heart and that are excellent for strength. Also, because open-chain exercises are often more specific as to the muscle or muscle groups they are working, they can be better for creating hypertrophy (muscle size). Also, you must sometimes know how to modify and progress up to some closed chain exercises because they can have a steep learning curve (pullups for example). Either hit the books to learn the proper progressions, hire a fitness trainer, or join an excellent group exercise class.

Please feel free to ask any any questions about closed chain exercises or share your favorite! Stay strong.

By: Alex Cromartie, CPT, CHC

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