Open Chain Exercise


The Kinetic Chain is a way of describing human movement and it can either be an open kinetic chain or a closed kinetic chain.  An open kinetic chain is defined as “a combination of successively arranged joints in which the terminal segments can move freely”. Thus, an open chain movement is when the peripheral segment/joint of an extremity is free to move. [1]

Open kinetic chain exercises [1] Example: seated knee extension[2]
Stress pattern
The primary stress to the joint is rotation of the proximal tibia on the distal femur
Number of joint axes
One primary
Knee extension primarily occur in the sagittal plane
Nature of joint segments
One stationary, other mobile

Number of moving joints
Isolated joint motion
The femur remains stationary while the tibia is moving
Planes of movement
One (single)

Muscular involvement
Isolation of muscle group activation
Minimal muscle co-contraction is used to do the movement
Movement pattern
Often non-functional

Biomechanical and Neurophysiological Factors

OKC exercises allow for motion in the distal segment while movement is restricted to a single joint. This typically includes exercises to improve strength and range of motion. [3]

Characteristics of typical non-weight bearing activities: [3]

  • Increased distraction and rotational forces
  • Increased acceleration forces
  • Decreased resistance forces
  • Increased deformation of joint and muscle mechanoreceptors
  • Increased concentric acceleration and eccentric deceleration forces
  • Promotion of functional activities
  • Requires agonist-antagonist force couples


Open chain exercises are beneficial to target specific muscles. Below are some examples.

Open Chain Upper-Body Kinetic Exercises

  • Bench press
  • Biceps curl
  • Chest-fly
  • Lat pull down
  • Tricep extensions
Bench Press
Bicep Curl
Lat pull down
Tricep extension

Open Chain Lower-Body Kinetic Exercises

  • Seated leg extension
  • Terminal knee extension exercises
  • Hamstring curl
  • Plantar / dorsiflexion (calf pumps)
Leg extension
Terminal knee extension
Hamstring curl

Clinical Bottom Line

Many factors should be considered when deciding to use open kinetic chain exercises versus closed kinetic chain exercises. The patient's condition and stage of rehabilitation will aid in the clinician's judgement of exercise prescription.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ellenbecker TS, Davies GJ. Closed kinetic chain exercise: a comprehensive guide to multiple joint exercise. Human Kinetics; 2001. Available From:
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hyde TE, Gengenbach MS. Conservative management of sports injuries. Jones and Bartlett Learning; 2007. Available from: