Which one would you choose between increase in strength, increase in stability or increase in mobility?
The flip side to that is that you can only express that strength safely based on the level of mobility you have. And what will govern the amount of that strength that you will express is stability. Based on my interactions with you either in class or during the Open, I noticed that many of us have a hard time getting into certain positions e.g. in a front squat, proper depth or keeping your elbows high which puts you out of good position and might lead to injury.
People think of tightness as a shortening of muscle but that is not the case, it is a neurological thing. Consider that you can use a lacrosse ball for about a minute rolling your muscle and all of a sudden you are able to get into a position you otherwise could not.
Is that really lengthening of a muscle? It is not. It is just that the muscle through the nervous system relaxes which then allows you to access certain positions. And there is a hierarchy of development that is necessary for us to move better and safely.
I am sure you are now thinking of a movement that you have been having a hard time getting into… it could be the depth of a squat, a fully opened or flexed shoulder position for example when doing a shoulder press or even an overhead squat. The reason could be two fold:
- Lack of mobility and what most people normally neglect:
- Lack of stability.
Imagine you trying to do a squat but you can’t get all the way down. There could be a couple of reasons, if it is not a deformity or because of pain, then there is a very high likelihood that it is because of tightness either in your ankles, hamstrings or lack of external or internal rotation around your hip area.
What would you need to do? Stretch or foam roll into those positions.
Would that then be enough? Not really.
Because foam rolling or stretching will just open up your muscles through your central nervous system to get into those positions. Most people would do stretches and then immediately take weights and start loading, but what we tend to forget is that we haven’t activated the stabilizing muscles which are equally as important as the big muscles that help us to push the big weights.
Think of stability as the governor to the amount of strength that your body can exert safely without the likelihood of injury, and that the higher your strength gets without stability, the higher the likelihood of injury. How this works simply put is, when you lack stability, your body through the central nervous system speaks to your brain and tells your brain to disengage the amount of strength you have the ability to apply as a way to protect you from getting injured.
So the long and short of it is this: If your strength outweighs your stability, the higher your chances of injury.
Once you have accessed a new found range of motion through foam rolling, you need to activate your stabilizing muscles through stability drills so that it doesn’t become a never ending loop of tightness…stretch…workout… tightness…. stretch… workout.
Sometimes lack of mobility starts to manifest as pain over a long term. And this is because our tight muscles will put a lot of pressure on our moving joints and structure which leads to pain.
The best way to know whether we are headed towards the wrong direction in terms of what we lack is gatekeeper exercises. These are exercises that have the most demand on our body in terms of mobility or stability and if there is any imbalance or deficiency or weakness then they make that so apparent. It is the difference between squatting on 2 legs and doing a Bulgarian split on one.
A hip shift, a hip tilt or a sway of the body towards one side might not be so apparent when squatting on 2 legs but it might be on a Bulgarian split squat. And it might manifest as knees caving in, the raised knee flaring out or even
the inability of keeping your upper body upright.
The approach of mobility-stability-strength can also be applied for prehab and rehab. You increase active range of motion to be able to get into proper positions and then you stabilize the joint to be able to exert force safely.
The exercises of stability are not the same as the exercises of strength. They are 2 different adaptations and over simplification can lead to a paradigm flaw and this is where people get it wrong. In addition, there are 2 aspects of stability – structural stability and functional stability e.g. when squatting on 2 legs there is not a lot of demand called on your body to stabilize because your body depends on structure.
But if you are to do a lunge for example, then all of a sudden functional stability is called into place. To increase that stimulus of stability, then you can hold onto the dumbbell and do something like a Romanian deadlift.
Deficiencies, weaknesses and imbalances are sometimes hard to realize when always working with a barbell, or always working on same planes of movement and neglecting others and never challenging your body to call onto function by using stability exercises.
The focus of this month will be on mobility and stability and in every class we shall do a few drills for the upper body and the lower body to see what each one of us lacks, and what everyone needs to be doing every time they come into the Box, preferably before class.
Mobility. Stability. Strength.
“Your formula to a winning performance lifestyle.”