Open Chain vs. Closed Chain and Your Shoulders.

     This post is somewhat supplemental to Chris’ post early in the week.  It’s not that it is completely about posture, but poor posture leads to poor shoulder health; and we will look at how balancing open chain and closed chain upper-body exercises can help to keep your shoulders healthier while probably helping out your posture at the same time.  So, let’s define open and closed chain.  An open chain exercise is defined by moving at the distal point (extremities) while keeping the proximal point (body or joints closest to the body) still.  Two good examples of open chain upper-body exercises are the bench press and lat pull-down.  Closed chain is exactly the opposite, your hands or feet will be planted and your body will be moving.  Great examples of upper-body closed chain exercises are the push-up and the pull-up.  When it comes to building absolute strength in the upper-body, open chain is going to trump closed chain.  However, closed chain will always trump open chain for keeping your shoulders healthy.  There is a very simple and all encompassing explanation for this, closed chain movements are more natural for your body.  Movements such as push-ups and pull-ups allow your scapulas (shouder blades) to move through a full range of motion, activating muscles such as the serratus anterior and rhomboids which are important for shoulder stability.  Closed chain exercises are also more efficient movment patterns for the body, which means they are easier to learn.  I can teach someone to do a proper push-up in about 5 minutes, whereas mastering proper bench press technique can sometimes take years.  Granted, there are a lot of people that struggle to do even one pull-up, but assisted pull-ups combined with negative pull-ups (help getting up holding your back tight as you slowly descend back down) can give you the same benefit.  How do we incorporate this into a program?  Well, how creative can you be?  Its very simple, make sure that closed chain exercises are included in every upper-body resistance training session.  An example could be including closed chain pulling exercises on the days you have an open chain push exercise and vice versa.  Check the video index for exercise ideas and proper form. 

Get Stronger,


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Chris Merritt

Strength Coach/ B.S. Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University/ FMS/ Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist/ Certified Kettlebell Instructor/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance and Beyond Strength Performance NOVA

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