Understanding the kinetic chain is essential for general movement, training, and sports performance. The kinetic chain is used for specific sports movements like a tennis serve, a pitcher, a sprinter, a golf swing, etc. It is even used and useful for general training like lunges, squats, pulls, presses, etc. The idea is to understand how movement works through the kinetic chain to maximize your strength, speed, power, and explosiveness as well as prevent injury.
What is the Kinetic Chain?
The best way to understand the kinetic chain is by dominos falling. If you align dominos in a linear or circular pattern, the chain reaction will cause the next to fall over when you push the first domino. The force is transferred to each domino to fall. If one domino is not aligned correctly, the sequence is broken, and the energy is lost for the rest of the dominos to fall over.
Now, think about throwing a ball. When you throw a ball, you don’t just use your arm. Your arm is the last thing to move when throwing a ball. It is a sequence of chain reactions happening like the dominos. First, the foot and leg step, the hip and torso follow, then the arm throws the ball. If the sequence is not followed, maximum force will not be generated. And if you are not using the correct movement sequence, then like the dominos, the energy leaks out, and speed is lost.
Your joints and muscles need to function correctly for energy to transfer efficiently and effectively. Joints need to stabilize and mobilize, and muscles need to shorten and stretch effectively and adequately. This will allow you to produce functional timing and coordination to optimize movement. If one joint, muscle, or area of the body is not working correctly, compensation occurs. Compensation will place stress and force on other joints and muscles. Many times, these other joints and muscles are not used to handling higher amounts of force, leading to strain, pain, or an injury.
A compensatory pattern is when a joint or muscle is not functioning correctly, causing another joint or muscle to alter its function to make up for dysfunction. This usually causes an alteration of the whole chain. Using the throwing example, if you do not use your legs and torso properly, it creates a compensatory pattern that will force your shoulder or elbow to work more, eventually leading to an injury.
Or when running, if your hips are tilted forward, it places more force and stress on the hip joints, lower back, spine, neck, knees, and ankles. It also limits their movement. That is where the compensation comes in. When you have weakness or an issue in the kinetic chain, your body will compensate for moving less effectively. When you run with poor stability of the hips, your lower back, knees, neck, and spine will take on a lot of force.
Without understanding the kinetic chain, you may decide to do lower back strengthening exercises when the real issue deals with weak glutes. Strengthen the glutes are all joints and muscles will begin to self-correct.
The Kinetic Chain Flow
The kinetic chain is the flow of energy from body parts, joints, and muscles that all function and work together to move. The kinetic chain is based on interdependence. Each joint and muscle optimize function based on the functionality of others.
FMS, Functional Movement Systems, explains the kinetic chain simply and easily. Gray Cook, the inventor of the system, says, you have to look at it like a stability-mobility sandwich when looking at each joint.
- Foot- Stability
- Ankle- Mobility
- Hips Joints- Mobility
- Pelvis and Lower Back- Stability
- Thoracic Spine- Mobility
- Lower Cervical Neck- Stability
- Upper Cervical Neck- Mobility
- Shoulder Blades- Stability
- Shoulder Joints- Mobility
One of the most important factors to prevent injuries is by looking at alignment, symmetry, mobility, and stability. For example, if the ankles become more stable and lose mobility in the FMS kinetic chain, it will push more mobility to the knee when it should be stabilizing. Or, if the hip joints become more stable, it makes the lumbar more mobile when it should be stable. Therefore, one issue at one joint or muscle causes compensation in the whole kinetic chain, and it is essential to fix.
Compensation is like a spare tire. It only lasts for so long before it wears out.
All joints have stability. Mobility joints stabilize, and stability joints have limited mobility. You can see this from a standing position how all the joints align. It is primarily important to see the alignment of the kinetic chain. You can identify issues and predict movement outcomes beforehand. The ear, shoulder, elbow, hips, knee, and ankle joints should all line up in a straight line down to the ground.
The hips and shoulders should be even and level from the front and back view. Do you stand and shift your weight on the left or right leg? From this, you can identify muscle tightness, inflexibility, poor stability, asymmetry, or muscle strength imbalances that are causing pain and strain.
The way to a functional kinetic chain is through alignment. Unfortunately, many people have a dysfunctional kinetic chain because of sitting too much. Sitting misaligns your hips, spine, and shoulders. Sitting restricts mobility and compensates joint stability, and produces dysfunctional movement.
Many people are training more today to become stronger and healthier and find the best version of themselves. Understanding how your joints and muscles function, will help you understand the kinetic chain. And this will optimize and maximize your strength, speed, power, and explosiveness properly. And at the same time, lower your risk of pain, strain, and injury.
For more information about the kinetic chain and exercises, check out my book, The Balanced Body.