T Nation

Closed Chain vs. Open Chain


I haven't encountered a discussion regarding this before. It would be interesting to hear what you guys think.


To be honest I get the terms mixed up. Mind explaining them?


It's dumb. Somebody created a definition to something that is completely pointless.


Closed Chain. You are pulling or pushing against the floor or another immovable object causing your body to move relative to what you are pushing, if what you are pulling or pushing moves and your body is stationary this is open chain.

Closed chain exercises are generally thought of as more biomechanically sound because this is usually the way you interact with the world, especially from a legs standpoint. Since your body cannot move what it is pulling or pushing, it is up to your body to get into an optimal position to work.

There are advantages and disadvantages depending on your goals. Bodybuilding makes use of an inordinate amount of open chain movements because there is so much more control and freedom of movement.


It is definitely not pointless. Closed chain is always the better option if there is a choice. Think about it...

Closed Chain - Squat
Open Chain - Leg Press

Closed Chain - Pullup
Open Chain - Lat Pulldown

The only reason bench press (open chain) is favored over pushups (closed chain) is because it's very difficult and impractical to get proper loading on a pushup.

Closed chain is always the better option because that is the way your muscles naturally work. This provides two benefits:
1) It is much easier on your joints. Everyone knows it is healthier for your knees to squat heavy than to leg press heavy.
2) It leads to better muscle and strength gains. Again, there's a reason everyone suggests pullups over lat pulldowns.


A closed chain exercise is any exercise in which you apply force to a fixed object, thereby moving your body plus any weights you have loaded. An open chain exercise is any exercise where you apply force to a moveable object while your body remains still.

Just look at the exercises I posted above and you should get a pretty good idea.


Closed chain movements can also involve unstable surfaces such as pushups and fatman pullups with blast straps.

Speaking of blast straps...I'm still waiting for mine to be delivered from EliteFTS and damn am I excited.


My gym has a close chain leg press machine (the seat moves). Is that better than an open chain leg press?

And how would you classify olympic lifts? They seem to be both closed and open chain.


Hmm, not quite right there. A closed chain exercise is one where your hands/feet remain in constant contact with the resisted force, while in an open chain exercises, the feet and hands do not remain in contact with the resisted force. So both squats and leg presses are closed chain. Squats are better, but crediting it to "it's better because it's closed chain" is a vast over simplification. An open chain exercise for the legs would be a leg extension.

When I say it's pointless, I mean that I see it as needlessly over analyzing these exercises.


Man, our definitions are different. Shadowzz4's definition is the same as mine.

Brant, aren't the legs always in contact with the resistance in leg extensions?


Legs, yes. Feet, no. My definition is coming out of my NASM textbook, but after poking around online I see sources that use your definition.


That is not the way AFAA teaches it, but after doing a search I have seen both definitions come up. It appears the only real disagreement is whether leg press is considered open chain or closed chain. I still think it should be universally agreed that when there is an option, closed chain is the better choice.


As for the leg press, it may or may not be better depending on how it is designed. I say avoid leg press at all costs, but I read in another thread that you don't have a squat rack so you are definitely limited in your choices.

The olympic lifts are closed chain because you are applying force against the ground. The jerk could be considered open chain, but in my opinion it is closed chain because the majority of the force is being produced by the legs against the ground.


Dude you have no idea what you are talking about. So leg extensions and leg curls are the only open chain exercises for legs? There is no difference in the definitions, you just have no clue what you are talking about. No wonder you think it is dumb you dont even have the concept down.

Closed Chain refers to closed kinetic chain. The kinetic chain of a leg press is not closed because you can push the weight period, that end of the chain is not closed, it is moving. When squatting even if doing jump squats, when you press your legs into the floor the kinetic chain is closed on that end. Leg Press, Lat Pulldown, Bicep Curl, all these are open chain.

There is basically no limit to where the kinetic chain can end, thus it is open. The floor is not going anywhere. The same as a pullup bar. These are closed.

To answer the other posters question, I dont know about the closed chain leg press being better or not. I dont think that is the take home idea, as long as you can manipulate an exercise to be closed chain it is better. It may be a bit better somehow but it is definitely not as good as bodyweight exercises.


If that is what NASM is teaching, my opinion of them just went down a few notches. I dont know if Mike Clark is trying to outsmart basic biomechanics but it sounds really bad for his certification.

From my CSCS textbook

"A closed kinetic chain exercise is one in which the terminal joint meets with considerable resistance that prohibits or restrains its free motion."

Leg presses and leg extensions are precisely why this term was even invented. They are not closed chain.



Do I really have to clarify this? According to the definition which I am familiar with*, I stand by my original statement. It seems that you agree with me on that point.

*The NASM interpretation of "A closed kinetic chain exercise is one in which the terminal joint meets with considerable resistance that prohibits or restrains its free motion," places emphasis on the terminal JOINT having free motion.

You have a different interpretation. Therefore, my statement does not apply to your definition. So don't be an ass.


[quote]k1t0r5 wrote:
The only reason bench press (open chain) is favored over pushups (closed chain) is because it's very difficult and impractical to get proper loading on a pushup.

Assuming we are talking about sports, you're going to encounter many more situations in which the upper body has to perform an "open chain" type movement than the lower body. Thus, the issue of loading is not the only reason why the bench is a good option (there are many).

Guys, the biggest thing is to find out if the actual exercise makes you better. If an O-lineman finds heavy leg presses help him over countless sets of lunges, then so be it....



Tags wins.


This is absolutely true and you are correct on this point. However, you will be hard pressed to find someone who derives more benefit out of a leg press than a squat. Sure many athletes prefer leg press, probably because they can't squat correctly and like the ego boost of being able to load huge amounts of weight on the leg press.

Ask any strength coach who knows anything at all whether they prefer open or closed chain for the legs and they will say closed chain every time. There is no legitimate reason anyone should use a leg press over the squat. Even if there is some physical limitation preventing someone from putting a bar on their back, they can squat with one of the countless other squat variations.

Bench press is probably the only exception where open chain is a better option than closed chain, something I already mentioned. The only reason the pushup would be favored over the bench press (if it was possible to get adequate loading) is because the scapulae are given free range of movement. In a bench press they are pinned back against the bench. This is why the bench press is linked to shoulder problems in some populations.

Read the shoulder savers articles and you will see that they recommend simply performing a few sets of pushups every week to help keep the shoulders healthy. Obviously pushups can never compete with the bench press simply because in anyone with decent strength levels, it is near impossible to add enough resistance to do anything besides high rep work.

Now if you were looking at all this from a bodybuilding perspective, it would be best to include both open and closed chain exercises in your routine, especially for upper body. This is because you want to hit the muscles from every angle possible to get them to grow.


And you lose.