You may have heard your personal trainers, coaches or gym buddies talking about improving your stability, mobility and flexibility in order to progress in your training.
You may be asking yourself, however:
1) What are they
2)How do I know what I need
3) What do I need to do for each one and 4) Which is the most important one to focus on?
If you, like many others just really dont know the difference and want to understand a little more, read on.
1) What is stability, mobility and flexibility
- Stability is the ability of your soft tissues (i.e. muscles, ligaments and tendons) to support a joint through a range of motion (ROM).
- Mobility is the ability of a joint to move freely through a given ROM without restriction from the surrounding soft tissues.
- Flexibility is the ability of soft tissues to lengthen correctly, allowing a joint to move through its optimal ROM.
In reality, all three must be considered when designing a training programme. If you are limited in one of these areas, your body may start to overcompensate elsewhere which could lead to imbalances, decreased performance potential and increased risk of injury.
The most established system for the human body is theJoint-by-Joint approach developed by Mike Boyle and Gray Cook which describes movement as “an alternating series of stable segments which move on mobile joints.”
This explains how movement relationships between joints playa part in overall activity. For example, if the ankle is not mobile, this inhibits natural gait (walking) and ability to squat properly, in turn, inhibiting stabilisation in the knee joint. Knee instability can lead to valgus collapse (knee caving in) during the squat or preventing good rebound unilateral or jumping movements.
And poor hip mobility can prevent adequate twisting, squatting and hinging which can lead to lower back and knee pain.
2. How do I know what I need?
To address any restrictions in terms of movement, exercise selection through training and (pre)rehabilitation based on a FunctionalMovement Screening (FMS) are essential. An FMS involves an assessment of how you move by a qualified health & fitness professional. For example, a coach, sports therapist or physiotherapist. Among other aspects, they will ascertain whether you have appropriate mobility where you should be mobile, and are you sufficiently stable in the joint systems that should be stable in.
If you are unsure, ask a trained professional.
3. How do I improve how I move?
Depending on what you need to progress, here are some ways you can improve your stability, mobility and flexibility:
Help the body learn the correct muscles to use at the appropriate time, increasing muscular strength around the joint. This can involve isometric (holds) and eccentric (negatives/lowering)movements. Although applicable to other stable joints in the human body, many activation drills will involve core and glutes as these make up the “trunk” to help support hip and spine stability and mobility. Examples include:
• Single leg glute bridges, side shuffle, crab walk, clamshells
• Dead-bugs, Birddogs
• Cuban press, Single arm bottoms upKB press, Turkish Get Ups
This involves taking your joints through a series of movements in order to increase your range of motion (ROM), focusing on the areas in which you feel particularly limited, stiff, sticky or sore. Depending on your needs, you can practice every day, but 2-3 times per week is sufficient to see improvement. Examples include:
· Kneeling glute circles (CARS), lunge with elbow to instep, sumo squat to lateral lunge, duck walks
• Inchworms to dive-bombers, kneeling thoracic rotation, downward dog with toe taps, shoulder rotations/dislocations with PVC pipe/resistance band
Stretching not only feels good but does you a world of good too. Whilst you can stretch at any time, we advise saving stretching after your training where the muscles worked during your session are warm and most responsive. Within the countless stretching variations, find positions in which your muscles feel “tight”, get comfortable with the position and breathe until you start to feel the muscle relax.
4) Which is the most important to focus on?
This is largely independent; however, all three principles should be considered in a well-balanced, tailored training regime. More emphasis should be placed on one or another depending on your movement patterns, restrictions, training history, goals etc. For example, if you’re a powerlifter in the peak of your training season, stability and true expression of your strength potential are paramount, whereas an OlympicWeightlifter/Functional Fitness athlete will need a balance between stability to ensure their joints are secure in challenging positions while being mobile enough to get into those positions. A general gym trainee would do well to balance all three principles into their programming as early as possible in their training journey.
KEEP IT SIMPLE. Rather than getting caught up in the theory, ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve:
• Can you achieve the desired start and end position?
• Can you move slowly and with control?
Some takeaways to get you started:
1. Move in a variety of different ways in order to increase mobility, stability and flexibility
2. Challenge each aspect across your week of training in various ways
3. Like everything in fitness – there’s no magic bullet - but a lot of consistent work and patience goes a long way