Understanding the Kinetic Chain for Better Performance and Fewer Injuries

  • July 17, 2014

When discussing human performance and anatomy, there are a number of different ways to look at the body and a number of different useful analogies. One interesting way you can describe the human body, for instance, is as a ‘kinetic chain’. In other words, you can think of the body as being a conduit for energy that travels from the feet to the head and the hands and back again.

And no, this isn’t some New Age ‘Star Wars’ type stuff. This is good old fashioned ‘energy’ in the sense of movement – that’s what kinetic energy is. In other words, if you were to try and lift something up, you should be aware of not only the energy you are channeling through your arms and hands in order to shift the item, but also of the energy that will be running through your legs and even through your core. This is what is meant by ‘kinetic chain’ and it’s a powerful concept to bear in mind if you want to optimize your performance and avoid injury.

Equal and Opposite Force

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Martial artists are well aware of the way that energy travels throughout the body, and it’s by understanding this concept that they are able to generate huge amounts of force across a small distance. This is in fact the secret behind Bruce Lee’s famous ‘one-inch punch’ – with which he could send somebody flying across the room from a starting point of only one inch away.

This was possible because the power wasn’t being generated in his arm. Rather, he would start by pushing against the floor with his foot in order to provide the ‘equal and opposite force’ that Einstein talks about. From there he would then add to this energy chain by using the torque in his hips and exploding his fist outwards. Even the fist itself would play a part here – by clenching at the very moment of impact.

In order to generate this kind of power, you need to think about energy transfer in the same way: as starting at your feet and traveling all throughout your body. This means tensing your whole body as well as you train/perform in order to provide rigidity and stability. If you are doing a bench press, then believe it or not, the tension in your abs will actually improve the amount you can lift.

For General Health

Now this won’t be relevant to a lot of people who are neither Bruce Lee nor Arnold Schwarzenegger – but it is important to understand how energy leaks can affect general health.

Here the word ‘energy leak’ refers to a weakness in your body that prevents you from maximizing the muscle working towards the task. What’s crucial to understand is that when one part of you isn’t performing optimally, this prevents the energy from moving as it should through your body. As a result, you end up compensating – a weak leg, for instance, will cause you to walk with an incorrect gait as you attempt to compensate for the weakness.

This can then not only negatively impact on your posture or potentially cause you to trip or fall, but it can also cause an imbalance in your muscle development. This is why it’s so important that even for a small weakness, you make sure to get proper physical therapy and spend time correcting the problem.

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