August 23, 2010

Everything You Need To Know About Mobility And Stability To Maximize Results

If we look at the body and identify the primary purpose of each major joint as it relates to optimal human movement, it would look like this:

Shoulders – stability

Upper back – mobility

Lower back – stability

Hips – mobility

Knee – stability

Ankle – mobility

You’ll notice that each major joint alternates as far as what its function is, as you move up, or down, the body. This is important because if a joint is unable to perform its assigned task (especially while under load) then the body will seek compensation at the joint directly above it to allow for full range movement, which not only develops and reinforces poor motor patterns, but could result in serious injury.

For example, if the musculature at the ankle joint is not mobile enough the knee joint will be forced to be mobile during dynamic movement that requires a greater range of motion than something like walking, and stability as a whole, will be compromised. If the hips are tight and immobile, then the lower back will forced into compensation at end ranges of hip flexion motion, which is a bad thing because the lower back should always remain stable. When the lower back is forced to move/round and not remain stable is when acute injuries are most likely to occur, and chronic injuries are most likely to develop from doing this repeatedly.

Most low back pain is often the result of short/tight hip flexors. Tight hip flexors seem to be one of the most common mobility issues which negatively affect stability and thus force generation, of nearly every standing exercise you do from squats to barbell rows to overhead pressing movements.

If the ankles or hips, or both, are tight when trying to do something as simple as a squat, the heels will elevate during the descent to allow for more range, which takes the center of gravity off of the base of support, which then causes the torso to tilt forward to allow for more range, thus reducing the effectiveness of the movement, while at the same time increasing the risk of injury due to additional stress unnecessarily being placed on the erectors (lower back). Same goes for rows and standing overhead presses. Stability and balance is compromised when there is a lack of hip and ankle mobility and very often the stress is placed upon the erectors.

While mobility can’t be permanently restored immediately, it can temporarily be enhanced by performing a proper warm up which includes exercises that strengthen, stretch, and activate the primary muscles and joints involved in the upcoming workout. 5-10 minutes of stretching at the end of a workout will NOT be sufficient if there is a lack of mobility in a certain joint, although any little bit counts, but if mobility seems to be a serious issue, it’s of paramount importance to perform movements through various planes and ranges of motion to force the desired adaptation upon the body.

Mobility/stability affects everybody differently so it’s important to identify what movements that you perform which are limited, so you can go about addressing them in your own specific manner. There are functional assessments/screens available to identify asymmetries and imbalances to help identify where your focus needs to be to perform optimally which can be readily found online, or if you’re interested you can contact me directly and I can put your through a screen myself.

If you have any questions about mobility/stability, and whether or not you, or a client has a mobility/stability issue that is affecting performance, feel free to contact me at I'm available for online consulting and personalized program design, as well as one on one training if you are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

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