Include Closed-Chain and Open-Chained Core Exercises

by Developing the Core
Kinetic Select December 2020


This excerpt from Developing the Core briefly defines closed- and open-chain exercises and their respective roles in training.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book Developing the Core, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

A closed-chain exercise is performed with the distal end of the extremity fixed, as in a push-up, dip, squat, or deadlift (Floyd 2009). Several closed-chain exercises for training the core musculature have already been mentioned. Exercises such as the side bend, diagonal plate chop, and resistance band walkout are all excellent closed-chain movements.

Most, but not all, sport movements and activities of daily living involve ground-based closed-chain movements, especially for the lower extremities. Popular sports such as football, basketball, soccer, baseball, track and field, golf, and hockey are good examples. These sports require the body to move in and out of various body positions and foot stances. It is recommended to occasionally vary the stance in which the exercise is performed to simulate more closely the type of positions the exerciser might encounter in daily living. In the case of an athlete, the practitioner can intentionally have an athlete perform core muscle exercises in a stance that closely simulates the actual stances and foot positions common to the particular sport.

For ground-based exercises, a variety of stances can be used to increase the level of difficulty and stimulate greater activation of the core musculature. There are three basic stances that can be altered to vary the level of difficulty: the squat stance, the lunge stance, and the single-leg stance.

The level of difficulty for each stance can be increased by shortening the width between the feet. For example, a progression for the squat stance could initially involve placing the feet wider than hip width, then at hip width, and finally at less than hip width or with the feet touching. Similarly, the lunge stance could initially involve placing the front foot one to two foot-widths wider than the opposite foot. The next level of difficulty could involve placing the front foot on one side of an imaginary vertical line and the rear foot just on the other side of the same imaginary vertical line. The most difficult lunge stance involves placing the front foot and rear foot in direct heel-to-toe alignment, as if standing on a balance beam. The basic single-leg stance presents the greatest challenge to whole-body balance and stability; the difficulty of this stance can be increased by standing on an unstable surface (e.g., a foam cushion) (Willardson 2008).

An open-chain exercise is performed when the distal end of the extremity is not fixed to any surface (Floyd 2009). Open-chain exercises are also very effective and may be used in a core muscle training program when applicable. For instance, three-way hanging knee raises are a good exercise to train the core musculature through the frontal and sagittal movement planes while simultaneously training the muscles involved in grip strength. This would be important to a wrestling athlete where grip strength and core strength are important in performance. A reverse hyperextension machine is a great tool to train the posterior core muscles (e.g., erector spinae and gluteals) and can be used in place of trunk extension movements. The reverse hyper machine keeps the upper body (trunk) in a fixed position, allowing the only movement to occur in the lower extremities. This exercise trains many of the same muscles as trunk extension movements but without any movement of the trunk.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the world’s leading sport conditioning organization, offers its unrivaled expertise in a book perfect for any athlete seeking to strengthen the core and improve athletic performance. Featuring 11 ready-to-use sport-specific programs, Developing the Core provides more than 50 of the most effective exercises along with science-based assessments to help athletes understand their individual needs. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.

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