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Understanding Movement Part 1

Updated: May 12

In the previous two articles, I detailed the first two Pillars of Your Fitness: Stability and Strength. Stability mostly involves balancing and forcefully holding a post in space; once we start discussing Strength, Endurance, and Power, we need to understand the phenomenon of MOVEMENT clearly.

In this article, I will describe the two categories of movement, Cyclic and Acyclic, and what abilities we develop with each in a training program. I will also define the classes of movement according to the percentage of the body involved: Local, Regional, and Global, and detail the purpose of using each in your training program.

To make an athlete or client fit for their purpose, we drive adaptation to develop particular physiological abilities and attributes with a training program.  The abilities include Speed, Strength (in various modalities), Muscular Endurance, and Cardiovascular Endurance (in different modalities). Muscle Mass is an example of an attribute we develop through training.

The fundamental elements of a training program are the means (the "exercises") of the program.  Different exercises are known as various movements, like Snatch, Bench Press, Strict Curl, etc.

The choice of exercises in a given training period and cycle is based on the ability profile required at the specific moment.  We organize movements in classes and categories to determine the appropriate exercises for the training period.  

Categories of Movement

Movements fall into two high-level categories-

  • Cyclic Movements

  • Acyclic Movements

A cyclic movement is one that repeats in a pattern over time; most often, the right and left sides of the body perform the same motion reciprocally to move the body across terrain- as in running, swimming, and cycling. 

Running Stride

The force developed in cyclic movements is low, so exercises using them are used for developing cyclic speed (as in Sprinting) and cardiovascular (aerobic and anaerobic)  endurance (as in distance running).

Acyclic movements are the opposite; they involve motions that are not repeated (in any kind of patterned way).  All strikes, jumps, throws, and lifts fall under this category.  

Sumo Deadlift

Classes of Movement

Cyclic and Acyclic movements are further classified according to the level of structural engagement (percentage of the body involved) in the particular movement.  

This level of classification is relative to the kinematics of the motion.




  • the branch of mechanics concerned with the motion of objects without reference to the forces that cause the motion.

Kinematics classifications are broken down into kinematic Pairs, Chains, and Systems.

A kinematic pair comprises two rigid bodies and a joint that facilitates movement.  Example-

Kinematic pair

  • Rigid Body 1: Forearm

  • Joint A: Elbow

  • Rigid Body 2: Upper arm

Movement: Standing Barbell Tricep Extension

A kinematic chain is an aggregate of kinematic pairs. Example-

kinematic chain

  • Rigid Body 1: Forearm

  • Joint A: Elbow

  • Rigid Body 2: Upper Arm

  • Joint B: Shoulder

  • Rigid Body 3: Trunk

Movement: Standing Barbell Press

A kinematic system is an aggregate of kinematic chains. Example-

kinematic system

  • Rigid Body 1: Forearm

  • Joint A: Elbow

  • Rigid Body 2: Upper Arm

  • Joint B: Shoulder

  • Rigid Body 3: Trunk

  • Joint C: Hip

  • Rigid Body 4: Thigh

  • Joint D: Knee

  • Rigid Body 5: Shin

  • Joint E: Ankle

  • Rigid Body 6: Foot

Movement: Jerk

A Kinematic Pair movement is a Local Movement in terms of structural engagement; it involves only a Local area of the body.

A Chain is a Regional Movement; it involves an entire Region of the body.

A System is a Global Movement involving the entire body (or most of it).

Regional Cyclic Movement examples are cycling (legs) and boxing speed-bag work (arms).  These exercises are primarily used for regional speed, timing (rhythm), and endurance development.

Global Cyclic Movements examples are running and swimming.  These exercises are primarily used for total speed and endurance.  Another example is rope skipping, which can be used to develop timing and rhythm with endurance.

Local acyclic movements are isolation movements primarily used for bodybuilding purposes.  They are also useful for Prehab and Rehab.

Regional Acyclic movements are Compound Movements like Presses, Squats, and Deadlifts; these are the primary means for developing Absolute Strength, as they are the movements in which the human body displays maximum force; these movements are also the primary means for regional power development.  These are the most effective movements for developing muscular endurance and muscle mass.

Other Regional Acyclic examples are Pull-Ups, Chins, Dips, and Rows, which are useful for developing muscular endurance and muscle mass.

Acyclic Global Movements are foundation-to-extremity (foot-to-hand)  movements like Snatches, Cleans, and Jerks.  The Power developed in these movements is much higher than in Local or Regional movements. Since they involve the entire body (or most of it), they are the primary means of total Power and athleticism.  

acyclic movement


The Cyclic-Acyclic Local-Regional-Global labeling system provides a useful intellectual tool for choosing appropriate exercises in a training program.

Developing cardiovascular endurance or speed at moving the body across a distance requires  Global Cyclic exercises.

Absolute Strength, Regional Power, or Muscle Mass development requires Regional Acyclic Exercises with a Barbell.

Special Bodybuilding sculpting work is done with Local Acyclic exercises.

Total Power and applied Athleticism development requires Global Acyclic exercises.  

Cyclic and Acyclic Movements

In future articles, I will go into intensity and rep prescriptions for developing different abilities and general and special versions of exercises for special preparedness for specific sports.  The scheme of this article provides the point of departure for those concepts and a full understanding for designing integrated periodized programs.

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