My knees hurt. I had chronic lower back pain, and I was just a sore mess all over. To fix this, I started training more functionally using EXOS principles.
Related - 10 Exercises for Lower Back Pain Relief
EXOS is a top athletic training organization specializing in elite athletes. My training involved very few open-chain movements. Instead, I focused on a lot of closed-chain movements.
And it worked.
I felt great. My lower back pain was basically gone. I was still deadlifting and squatting, but for some reason I had no more pain.
Rather than leave well enough alone, I decided I needed more gains. I added leg extensions and leg curls back in. BIG MISTAKE! Before I explain what happened, let's explore what an open chain movement is and what a closed chain movement is.
Avoid These 2 Exercises - End Knee & Back Pain
Open and Closed-Chain ExercisesThe word "chain" refers to the kinetic chain of your body, meaning that all the links are connected. An open-chain movement is where the feet can move freely. For example, a leg extension or a biceps preacher curl. You are not standing with your feet on the ground.
These exercises tend to isolate a single joint or muscle, like the leg extension for quads working only at the knee joint. Examples include chest press, leg extension, leg curl, and biceps curls.
A closed-chain movement has the feet planted on the ground and in a constant, fixed position such as a push-up or barbell back squat. Weight is added (if added, they can be done with bodyweight) usually across the back of the shoulders or the front of the chest.
This placement is considered safer than where it is placed for open-chain movements which is the distal - far away - portion of the limb. This would be the ankle in a leg extension.
Closed-chain exercises are generally considered safer since they mimic everyday activities. For example, the squat. It is a fact that 60% of the world population do not have toilets, meaning they must squat to use the bathroom. This is also known as a "primal movement." This is something humans must do for survival.
Closed-chain exercises are also considered safer for your joints and ligaments, namely the knee joint. This is because the distal pressure on it from load in open-chain exercises is not an issue. When you perform closed chain exercises such as lunges and squats, it is compressive force, meaning it can help strengthen the joint, not harm it.
When my wife had terrible sciatica and hip issues after the birth of our third child, it got progressively worse when she went back to standard bodybuilding training. After consulting multiple movement specialists, including Dr. Stuart Hui out of Paradigm Performance in Elgin, IL, we removed all open-chain movements. They were replaced them with copious squats, deadlifts and presses.
The pain started to subside and was soon completely gone. Turns out, the harsh nature of the leg curl was also detrimental to her lower back integrity. This pimp-slapped common "bro-knowledge" of what is considered "safe" for lifting.
This is where we come back to my story.
Tiger Fitness CMO Marc Lobliner discusses how to relieve knee and lower back pain.
Avoiding Leg Extensions and Leg CurlsAt the age of 33 I realized I needed to address my issues. For two years, I did not perform any leg extensions or leg curls except for bodyweight leg curls with Slidez. My back pain was gone. My knees felt amazing.
But I am a pro bodybuilder. I always want more. I wanted more overload, more weight, and more gains. I added leg extensions and leg curls back in, relatively light for me, but the pro in me wanted more and wanted to progress.
The result? I was back to square one. Back pain, knee pain, and just overall crap. Did it help my gains? Nope and I would bet it hurt my gains since I couldn't train as hard due to knee pain.
I have since removed them, am squatting twice a day (read my article on frequent squatting here), and feel amazing. What is the take-home from this?
- Open-chain movements CAN indeed be used and have benefits. But if they start causing issues, you will not lose gains if you replace them with closed chain movements.
- Base your programming on closed chain movements. Squats, deadlifts, presses, and movements utilizing your entire chain NOT on machines. Go old school.
- Squat daily. As you have read in my article linked above, it is something that will make you a better human being with less pain.
- See a movement specialist if you are having issues. I recommend Dr. Stuart Hui at Paradigm Performance in Elgin, IL. If it is bad, he is worth traveling for.