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The Kinetic Chain: Breaking The Weak Link To Optimize Your Strength

The Kinetic Chain: Breaking The Weak Link To Optimize Your Strength

  1. Are you familiar with the kinetic chain? 
  2. Are you training your body to eliminate weak links? 
  3. Are you currently battling with injury and tweaks throughout your body? 
  4. Are you looking to strengthen every muscle in your body, or kinetic chain? 

An illustration of the kinetic chain. When Achilles was a little baby his mother dipped him into a river of magic in order to protect him from the world. It worked because Achilles could not be harmed except on the one heel that his mother neglected to submerge in the water because of where she held him when she dipped him into the water.

Kinetic Chain: The Weak Link

Achilles was a mighty warrior that could not be stopped and was known for killing the famous Trojan prince Hector. However, some stories reveal that Hector’s younger brother Paris shot Achilles with an arrow in the heel that was neglected from the magic water which would end up killing him. Hence this is the origin of the name of the part of our heel that is the Achilles tendon.

In the realm of strength and conditioning and performance the goal for me is to train your body to be without weak links. My goal and intention is to be to build strength and performance without worry of breaking down with an injury due to a weak area of the body. This process is the whole point of training. Training should be intentional and purposeful with keeping this in mind whenever you walk into the gym, or hit your day’s training session.

As a strength coach I often end up examining a respective trainee and immediately  hone in to find where they may have weaknesses. Now having said that the “achilles heel” may in fact be the literal weak link for a respective trainee, but figuratively speaking it could be something else entirely. It may not even be physical at all. It could be mental, or even emotional when it comes to addressing issues with a respective trainee.

Strengthening The Kinetic Chain

A smart strength and conditioning plan in my view integrates movements that emphasize stressing agonist and antagonist muscles to optimize joint ROM. In other words you should strive to include movements that train both opposing muscles on a given joint. A good way to do this is by incorporating a push and pull method to your strength training. This is where you perform a push related movement and in turn perform a pull related movement. A brief example would doing a bench press followed by a pull up.

In addition to this I believe in training movement patterns initially with a closed kinetic chain movement to acquire the foundation of strength needed to develop this strong kinetic chain. So what is a closed kinetic chain movement? This is where the limb or extremity is in constant contact with an immovable surface. An example of this can usually can be seen the hands in contact with the ground during a push up exercise. The ground isn’t moving.

Just to be clear the kinetic chain is the notion that joints and segments have an effect on one another during movement. Obviously when one segment is in motion, it creates a chain of events that affects the movement of neighboring joints and segments. Muscles are attached to bone and create this motion so any muscle that is restricted, or inhibited (tight, stiff, weak, etc.) will in practice cause a weak link in the kinetic chain and we can end up folding like a tent if we don’t correct the problem.

In life, or during more intense physical movement this breakdown with the presence of the weak link will cause a chain reaction resulting in greater stress on other segments, or muscles of the body. This compensation is inevitable in this context and is where an injury usually occurs with the individual, or athlete. The thing is this

The Closed Kinetic Chain

So earlier I mentioned that initially I prefer using a closed kinetic chain exercise to build on the foundation of strength. To be clear a closed kinetic chain exercise involves physical exercises performed where the hand (for upper body and arm movement) or foot (for lower body leg movement) is fixed in space and cannot move. With this type of movement the extremity remains in constant contact with an immobile surface such as the ground, or at the base of a machine.

A good example here would be to look at the comparison of a push up versus a dumbbell bench press for the purpose of building upper body strength. The dumbbell bench press would be an example of an open kinetic chain movement because the resistance is not an immovable surface, but rather the arms are able to freely move the resistance…which in this case are the dumbbells. The dumbbells are freer to move around.

As I mentioned earlier when initially building on strength I personally prefer utilizing the closed kinetic chain of the push up movement to assess and to progress a trainee to building the necessary foundational strength needed to rid the body of any weak links. A push up is a great way to identify weak links in the chain.

I do this for a couple of reasons. First of all, the proper alignment and stability that is necessary throughout the line of tension required to hold the body in a proper upright push up position quickly becomes apparent with the push up exercise. By getting a respective trainee into an upright push up position I can quickly spot the areas of concern, or weak links along the chain.

An example here would be a common issue I see in many trainees attempting a push up and collapsing the neck by breaking down with a lack of stability at the scapula (shoulder blades). In the photo below I’m purposely demonstrating a visible example of this breakdown as you will notice.

I’m collapsing my neck, head, and even my hips as there is a breakdown at my shoulder blades. This technical flaw is what I refer to as roostering as the head tends to bob up and down like a rooster does when strutting. With this breakdown there is a failed attempt to keep my body rigid and properly aligned with the act of holding my body in an upright push up position.

By incorporating the push up exercise I can quickly assess this breakdown and correct it by addressing proper alignment with the scapula and neck. To do this I will cue you, or a respective trainee to push the ground away when in the upright push up position forcing a strong stabilizing scapula. This gets the neck and head back into proper alignment. I’m demonstrating that alignment here in the following photo. Notice the difference in my head and neck position between the two photos.


Once again this is a quick fix in getting the “set up” of the push up correct before progressing any further into the movement. Of course variations and other necessary adjustments can be made to a respective trainee based on individual strength and ability level. Of course the push up is just one example of a solid closed kinetic chain movement to assess and progress strength, but it’s a great one for you to start with if you’re looking to eliminate any possible weak links.

Kinetic Chain: The Takeaway

The truth is that we all have our own “Achilles heel” to worry about when it comes to weaker areas of the body and it may, or may not be the Achilles tendon in the literal sense. If we are going to step up our gains and reach serious goals we’ve got to be willing to figuratively attempt to cover our entire body in the magic water! Being indestructible may not be completely attainable, but we can surely strive to be.

Are you currently training your body to eliminate all of your weak links? 

Have you ever examined your own push up exercise the way I demonstrated here? 

What are you currently doing to optimize your strength and performance? 

Please post up and share here in the comments below. 

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I'm a Certified Strength And Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and author. I have had over 17 years experience in MMA fitness, strength and conditoning, and athletic performance for most every sport. As an author and specialist I've written close to a million words on fitness and strength. I'm also a Muay Thai practictioner and enjoy helping others to reach their peak potential through fitness and performance.

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