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13 Oct Mobility or Stability? Making Sense Of An Ongoing Debate.

Mobility, mobility, mobility.

We hear about it all the time and we all need more mobility, right?

Mobility is very important and I’m even working on a new program right now to improve mobility (although it actually addresses much more than that).

But what about stability and how important is stability in strength and performance training? Is mobility more important or is it stability that really matters most?

First, let’s get a clear definition of each. Both mobility and stability have to do with our joints and this is important to understand.

Mobility is how well the joints move. It’s the ability of the joints to move through for range of motion.

Stability, on the other hand, is the ability to resist range of motion or effectively stabilize the joints.

Just by understanding these simple definitions you should be able to see that both are very important. The amount of mobility or stability is dependent on the task or sport specific demand.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples so you can see what I mean.

BODYWEIGHT SQUAT

In a unloaded bodyweight squat what do we need? You need hip, knee, and ankle mobility to execute a full range of motion squat. You also need stability in the spine to prevent a bad position and to maintain normal, natural, and neutral spinal alignment during a squat. Excessive spinal flexion is not desirable – even in a bodyweight squat. We need mobility and stability.

KETTLEBELL SWING

Next, let’s look at a Hardstyle kettlebell swing in which the kettlebell is projected horizontally to approximately shoulder level. The individual performing the swing would need sufficient lower body mobility to get in the set up position in order to hike the kettlebell back and then swing the kettlebell forward to the shoulders.

In addition to strength, power, and motor control, mobility is definitely a requirement for performing the kettlebell swing. Stability is also an essential component of the kettlebell swing as the spine must be stabilized throughout the hip hinge pattern and the spine must be braced at the top of the swing – when the kettlebell momentarily floats to the top position.

Shoulder mobility is also needed, as well as shoulder stability. “Packing the shoulders” is the term that’s often used to provide stability in the shoulders during the swing. So, here’s another exercise where mobility and stability are both needed.

Mobility

BARBELL SNATCH

Lets take another exercise – the snatch (the barbell snatch, that is). The snatch involves taking the bar from the ground to an overhead position in an explosive and powerful movement combining many technical nuances.

The catch position of the snatch involves catching the barbell overhead in a full squat position. Obviously, this demands high degree of upper body and lower body mobility to execute the catch position. Mobility is needed in the thoracic spine, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles.

In that same catch position, stability is absolutely essential and if outstanding spinal stability is not sufficient, safety will be a huge concern. Once again mobility and stability must not be compromised to effectively perform a snatch.

sprint

SPRINTING

One last example is sprinting. When you sprint, your body requires a significant amount of upper and lower body mobility to demonstrate good sprint mechanics. You need sufficient shoulder and elbow range of motion and also hip, knee, and ankle range of motion (and lots of it).

A key component of sprint technique is also having an upright torso and properly braced or stable spine while accelerating to top-end speed. So, you guessed it – you need sufficient stability in the spine during running and let’s not forget the stability of the lower body joints that are needed during the stance phase in the sprint.

I could keep naming exercises, lifts, and activities and in all examples I could point out where varying degrees of mobility and stability are required.

Depending on the exercise, there may be more emphasis on mobility or stability – it just depends. But what can be said almost conclusively is that all movement requires a combination and synergistic blend of mobility and stability.

All movement requires a combination and synergistic blend of mobility and stability.

Mobility seems to be getting all the attention because many people today demonstrate mobility issues, but stability is just as important and maybe even more important depending on the movement or task.

In addition to mobility and stability, motor control is also critically important for movement and performance.

Motor control is the ability to effectively move our muscular system in a coordinated movement pattern demonstrating movement or motor skill. As motor control is improved, skill is developed.

There are many things that contribute to what could be called “good movement,” but in the most simple terms, good movement is a combination of mobility, stability, and motor control.

Good movement is a combination of mobility, stability, and motor control.

As we look to improve our performance – and our training – we have to remember to address these 3 areas and recognize if there are weaknesses or deficiencies.

Why is this important to understand?

The simple answer is to minimize risk for injury and to maximize performance and results.

Movement and performance is a complex and integrated blend of mobility AND stability (as well as motor control). Neither is more important as all human movements require both, although some tasks may demand more than the other.

It’s easy to get “hung up” in mobility exercises or mobility fixes, but the truth is that all exercises should effectively work to improve “the big 3”: mobility, stability, and motor control.

To me, mobility is movement. And, when we work on movement, we’re working on all the things that are important – mobility, stability, and motor control.

We need mobility. We need stability. We need a lot of things.

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Scott Iardella, MPT, CSCS writes about strength and performance methods to optimize physical potential. Don’t miss an article, podcast, or anything NEW – subscribe now to get a ton of cool, free stuff! Just go to RdellaTraining.com/join and you’ll see what I mean!
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