The Basics of Kinetic Chain Dysfunctions in Sports Performance Training

29 Jul The Basics of Kinetic Chain Dysfunctions in Sports Performance Training

The kinetic chain of the human body is comprised of the articular, muscular, and nervous systems. It is these three sub-systems of the kinetic working interdependently to create efficient movement within the human body.

Dysfunctional movement patterns within the human body and  during athletic actions are a result of impairments within these systems of the kinetic chain. Breakdowns within the articular, neural, and muscular system results in Serial Distortion Patterns.

A serial distortion pattern refers to the situation where the integrity of the kinetic chain is compromised because of dysfunction within one of the components within the kinetic chain. (Michael Clark, Integrated Flexibility Training, 4) This results in a decrease in functional efficiency within kinetic chain relative to the golf swing.

Two of the most common serial distortion patterns found in the kinetic chain are the lower cross syndrome, and upper cross syndrome. Both the lower cross syndrome and upper cross syndrome were first noted by physical therapist Vladimir Janda of the Czech Republic. Janda noted through research two distinct distortion patterns of muscles imbalances develop within the kinetic chain due to poor postures.

Lower Cross Syndrome & Upper Cross Syndrome

Over Active Musculature                     Under Active Musculature

Gastrocnemius/Soleus                                  Anterior/Posterior Tibialis

Adductors                                                       VMO

Hamstrings                                                     Psoas

TFL                                                                   Gluteus Maximus/Medius

Rectus Femoris/Piriformis                         Tranverse Abdominus/Multifidus

Erector Spinae/QL                                        Serratus Anterior/Trapezius

Pectoralis Major/Minor                               Rhomboids/Teres Minor

Latissimus Dorsi/Teres Major                    Infraspinatus/Posterior Deltoid

Sternocleidomastoid/Scalenes                    Cervical Flexors

Janda noted when muscles of the kinetic chain are shortened or contracted for an extended period of time reciprocal inhibition occurs. Reciprocal Inhibition is the state in which over activity in a specific muscle creates a decreased functioning of the muscle’s antagonist. As a result the antagonist becomes inhibited in terms of functioning properly during human movement. This results in muscular imbalances, synergistic dominance, and poor movement patterns.

Janda, during his research, noted Lower Cross Syndrome is the state in which an individual will have an anterior tilt of the pelvis in conjunction with increased lumbar extension. Lower cross syndrome will typically include a group of muscles that are tight and a corresponding set of muscles that are weak.

Muscles within lower cross syndrome found to be tight are the gastroc, soleus, iliopsoas (hip flexors), adductors complex, quadriceps complex, hamstring complex, erector spinae (lower/mid-back), tensor fascia lata (TFL), and quadratus lumborum (QL).

Lower cross syndrome will in addition find the following muscles/muscle groups to be weak with low neural outputs: rectus abdominus, multifidus, gluteus maximus, gliteus minimus, gluteus medius, latimus dorsi, transverse abdominus, and internal obliques.

The coinciding pattern of tight muscles and weak or inhibited muscles creates dysfunctional movement patterns within the kinetic chain. Common dysfunctions associated with lower cross syndrome are poor stabilization of the lumbar spine, over-active hamstring complex, decreased neural drive within the glutes, altered hip extension, and articular stress within the SI joint and facets of the lumbar spine. (Michael Clark, Director, National Academy of Sports Medicine)

Upper Cross Syndrome, also noted by Janda, is the state in which an individual is characterized by an anterior rounding of the shoulders with a forward extension of the head. This is again caused by reciprocal inhibition, where a specific group of muscles are tight and a corresponding set of muscles that are weak.

Muscles within upper cross syndrome found to be tight are the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, levator scapula, upper trapezius, sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, and suboccipitals.

Muscles found in upper cross syndrome to be weak and having low neural outputs are the lower and mid trapezius, serratus anterior, teres minor, serratus anterior, and infraspinatus.

Similar to lower cross syndrome, upper cross syndrome creates a common series of dysfunctions associated with it. Poor thoracic spine extension and limited spine rotation are common dysfunctions associated with upper cross syndrome. (Dr. Greg Rose, Titleist Performance Institute) Injuries such as rotator cuff impingement, gleno-humeral instability, and thoracic outlet syndrome are commonly associated with upper cross syndrome. (Michael Clark, Director, National Academy of Sports Medicine)

Both the lower cross and upper cross syndromes create numerous kinetic chain dysfunctions resulting in poor movement patterns directly affecting the biomechanics of the golf swing. In addition the structural integrity that is compromised by both the lower and upper cross syndrome increases the potential for injury exponentially.

Reciprocal Inhibition

Reciprocal inhibition is the decreased neural drive or force production in a functional antagonist caused by a tight muscle on the opposite side of a joint.

Synergistic Dominance

Synergistic dominance is the process by which a stabilizer, neutralizer, or synergist takes over functioning of an inhibited prime mover causing over use syndrome within the stabilizer, neutralizer, or stabilizing muscle.

Arthokinetic Inhibition

Arthokinetic inhibition is the inhibition within muscular system caused by dysfunction within a joint of the articular system. This results in limited ranges of motion and dysfunctional movement patterns.

Relative Flexibility

Relative flexibility is the process by which the human body seeks the least amount of resistance during functional movement patterns. Relative flexibility is typically a result of muscular imbalances within the kinetic chain causing altered length tension relationships. (Michael Clark, Director, National Academy of Sports Medicine)

Cumulative Injury Cycle

A cumulative injury cycle is a cycle of continuing dysfunction within the kinetic chain in the form altered length tension relationships, muscles imbalances, or articular deformation as a result of injury.  (Michael Clark, Director, National Academy of Sports Medicine)


Dysfunction within the kinetic chain adversely affects the ability of the athlete to execute efficient movements patterns during athletic actions. Common patterns of dysfunctions such as lower cross or upper cross syndrome impede the ability of the athlete to place the kinetic chain in the proper positions to generate speed, change direction, develop power, and execute finite movement patterns effectively and efficiently.

Muscular imbalances, reciprocal inhibition, synergistic dominance, and arthokinetic inhibition can result from either acute or chronic injury. Diagnosis of dysfunction by the fitness professional is the first step in the implementation of corrective exercise to address serial distortion patterns within the kinetic chain. A sound understanding of the characteristics associated with serial distortion patterns benefits in the diagnosis of dysfunction within the kinetic chain.

About Performance Coach Sean Cochran: Sean Cochran, one of the most recognized performance coaches in sports today. A career spanning positions with 2 major league baseball organizations, over 10 years on the PGA Tour and work with top professionals including three-time Masters, PGA, and British Open Champion Phil Mickelson, future hall of fame Trevor Hoffman, and Cy Young award winner Jake Peavy. He has been involved in the production of numerous performance videos and authored books including; Performance Golf Fitness, Complete Conditioning for Martial Arts, and Fit to Hit. He has been a presenter of educational seminars for numerous organizations including the world renown Titleist Performance Institute.


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