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The Master Template

The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains are the master template for not only the walking gait as I’ve explored in my anatomy art, but for all locomotion and movement. Different movements have different relationships to gravity and the environment, and they use different muscular activations. (These activations are referred as kinetic chains, force transmission systems and sling systems.)
For example, swimming doesn’t have ground engagement like the strike phase of the gait. Instead, the spear phase (reaching through the water) is analogous to the deep longitudinal system. The kinetic sequence runs from the hand and through the anterior body to the opposite leg. The arm lines are doing the work in swimming that the leg lines are doing in walking.
Let’s dissect The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains as movement concepts:
1) Intrinsic:
The intrinsic system is the nervous system’s relationship to breathing. Our breathing apparatus, the mechanism of pressurization systems, has a direct effect on the autonomic nervous system. “You can’t own your movement until you own your breath.” This is about our breath mastery in relationship to our movement.
2) Deep Longitudinal:
The deep longitudinal system is about shock absorption. Shock absorption is the ability for kinetic energy to wave through the body joint by joint. If the wave is unable to move freely through the fascial system, that energy has to be absorbed in some way (such as a compensation). Imagine ocean waves breaking on the beach. The forces flow rhythmically absorbed by the sand. Now put a rocky buttress in front of the same wave and there is a tumultuous energy exchange of the crashing into the buttress.
3) Lateral:
The lateral system is the midline stability of the structure. The axis of the spine (axial skeleton) needs dynamic stability so that the appendicular skeleton has a platform by which to generate energy. Without the stability of the axis, the arms and legs will be impaired to generate power or work production.
4) Posterior Spiral:
The posterior spiral is the generation of stored elastic energy. The fascial matrix is a potential energy system. Efficient movement uses muscular activation to act on the fascial system. The fascial system spreads the load over as much area as possible which increases efficiency. As the energy winds up in the tissues, the potential release of that energy assists work production in the complementary movement.
5) Anterior Spiral:
The anterior spiral is the release of elastic energy into the complementary movement. Elastic energy can be released in different ways across the structure. When you are watching graceful athletes moving in profound ways, you are seeing elastic energy being stored and released in an efficient way. The energy is spread across the entire fascial fabric and the result is seemingly effortless movement.
These concepts are always present in integrated movement:
Breath~Shock Absorption~Axial Stability~Stored Elastic Energy~Translation of Elastic Energy
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Synergistic Dominance

The charts in the Five Primary Kinetic Chains Anatomy Poster Series outline a primary physiological principle in movement: bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and fascia do not work in isolation. They work synergistically to create movement.

When movement is balanced and efficient, the players are all cooperating with each other. If movement is out of balance and inefficient, the result is compensation in the structure. This maladaptive compensation follows some specific physiological principles.

The first of these principles, synergistic dominance, is when one synergistic component of the structure is compensating for another synergistic component. More specifically, one component is overworked or up-regulated in relationship with another synergist that is underworked or down-regulated.

Synergistic dominance can show up over a spectrum of compensatory strategies. It can show up locally or globally. A local example would be the relationship of a muscle to itself. The distal end of a muscle can be up-regulated for a down-regulated proximal end of the same muscle. Synergist dominance will also show up when multiple muscles are working together. For example, hip flexion has several muscles that work synergistically. The iliacus, psoas, tensor fasciae latea, rectus femoris, adductor longus, and sartorious are the major contributors to hip flexion. If one of these muscles is up-regulated, that can functionally down-regulate the others.

Synergistic dominance also shows up globally. Kinetic chains, the manner in which the musculoskeletal system organizes itself, is not merely a local occurrence. Kinetic chains organize across the entire fascial fabric. The lateral kinetic chain provides a good example of global synergistic dominance. Throughout the dynamic platform of the stance phase of the gait, the ankle, pelvis, torso, and neck all need to play well together. If they are unable to do so, then one player will take over doing the job of the player unable to engage. Single leg stance is a great global assessment protocol to discern synergistic dominance of the lateral kinetic chain.

Synergistic dominance can also show up in kinetic chains that work in unison. For example, during the gait cycle, the posterior spiral kinetic chain is paired with the opposite deep longitudinal kinetic chain. Likewise, the lateral kinetic chain is paired with the opposite anterior spiral kinetic chain. These pairings of kinetic chains have an interdependent relationship. One relies on the other in the efficiency of storing and releasing elastic energy. If one chain has a dysfunctional component, it is going to have an effect on the other, they are in a synergistic relationship.

The other side of the synergist coin is the functional opposite. Muscles that work in opposition to one another rely on a principal called reciprocal inhibition. Reciprocal inhibition defines that the agonist, contracts or shortens, as the opposite, the antagonist, must lengthen. Simply, if one muscle is shortening then the other must be lengthening. If the muscle that should be lengthening is unable to do so, the effect is that the muscle that needs to shorten becomes down-regulated. It is unable to overcome the up-regulated muscle, as it can’t compete.

Functional opposites happen across kinetic chains just as synergists do. The foundation of understanding synergistic dominance builds the prerequisite for investigating functional opposites. As movement evolves, essentially there are two things happening:  some tissues are shortening while others are lengthening.

The charts included in The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains posters provide a map for synergistic relationships. By mapping the synergists, one can then decode functional opposites. This is a very useful learning tool as well as a visual reference for your clients and patients.