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  • Writer's pictureThe Med Gym

A Three Step Approach to Optimal Movement: Part II – Stability

Welcome back to part II of my three part series on optimal movement! In Part I, we focused on mobility as the first key in optimizing how you move and train. Today we’ll get into the second, and possibly least understood part of optimizing movement – stability. Most people understand mobility and strength training, but when you understand stability and know how to incorporate that into your training, it goes to a whole other level!

P.S. Lunging with a cat is optional for training stability.

Read on to find out more…


In Part I of this series, I focused in on mobility, and I discussed why bringing your mobility up to at least a minimum acceptable standard is the first key to ensuring that you are optimizing your movement over the long run. However, once mobility is achieved, we can’t stop there!

In that article, I made reference to the fact that a three-step approach involving mobility, stability, and proper loading of each movement pattern is key to achieving and maintaining optimal movement.

I also referred to the old adage of “stretch and strengthen” and began to discuss why that model of thinking about fitness and movement is limited. Today, we’ll dive into the biggest key that is missing from the stretch and strengthen model, and that is stability.

You see, when you jump right from mobility work to strength training without introducing stability to the new-found range of motion you achieved during that mobility work, often the body will put on the brakes and re-engrain the stiffness that was previously present.

Why does the body do this?

It does this because you’re introducing a load that is too much for the body to control within that newly achieved range of motion. In essence, you’ve given the body more range of motion, but you haven’t given it control over that range of motion. In other words, you can now get to a bigger range of motion, but you can’t yet own it.

So, what does the body do when you jump right from increased mobility to heavy strength training? It runs right back into the safety of stiffness. It says, “let’s lock down here and make sure we don’t get injured!”

On the other hand, when you introduce stability training at a low intensity, you’re telling your body that it’s OK to be in this position, and that you’re not going to die. Once you achieve this, only then can you progress into proper, full range of motion strength training without re-engraining the stiffness that the body defaults to.

An elegant analogy that Functional Movement Systems co-founder, Gray Cook is fond of using is the analogy of hitting save on a document. If you think about mobility training as a way to create a new movement document that your brain can then access and use, stability training serves to hit save on that document.

When you go from mobility training right into heavy strength training, you may be throwing that movement document in the trash and reverting to old movement patterns that are engrained in your neuromuscular system just to survive. But, when you utilize stability training within the newly gained ranges of motion from proper mobility training, you hit save on the document, and allow your body to access that document when moving into real life, sport, or strength training.

So, that’s why moving from mobility training to stability training to functional strength training is the route that yields the best and most long-lasting results.

Now, at this point you may be wondering what exactly stability training is. I think most people have an idea of what stretching, and strengthening is, but it’s that middle piece that’s a bit fuzzy. So, let’s take some time to elaborate on stability training.

Importantly, stability training is not strength training. Most of the stability work that we require of our muscles to maintain proper movement occurs at about 20% of maximal voluntary contraction. That means that you don’t have to be overly strong to have good stability, and that you also don’t have to be maxing out in strength training to train stability.

Stability, simply put, is having proper control of the body throughout a range of motion. It’s the ability to prevent unwanted motion, while maintaining desired motion.

Basically, you can think of stability as the coordinated firing of various muscles to keep the joints aligned properly and the body moving efficiently.

With that definition in mind, training for stability requires that we train the body to move within desired ranges of motion, while simultaneously NOT moving in undesired ranges of motion. Much of stability training, then, is teaching the body to resist unwanted motion.

In order to do this, we can perform two distinct levels of stability training:• Level 1: Static Stability Training • Level 2: Dynamic Stability Training

Static stability occurs when a group of muscles fire to create stability and reduce motion in one part of the body in the presence of motion somewhere else in the body. A good example of this would be a kneeling or standing anti-rotation chop or lift exercise. The lower body and core muscles fire to maintain stability and prevent motion throughout the lower body and core, while motion occurs at the shoulders and arms.

When performed in a controlled, low-intensity manner, these static stability drills help to build movement integrity. They help you to start owning the increased ranges of motion that we build during mobility work, and thus hitting save on the new movement document. This allows you to maintain better movement over the long-haul and safely move into dynamic stability and functional strength training.

Dynamic stability occurs when you have the coordinated firing of the right muscles at the right time and in the proper sequence to create efficient movement. This is where you put all the mobility work and static motor control work together to move through a full and functional range of motion under control.

Dynamic stability training may look a lot like strength training, but the key is that the focus is on quality movement over quantity and intensity.

For example, a split-squat or a lunge are great dynamic motor control exercises when done properly.

In order to perform these challenging movements, you must first possess and utilize the requisite amount of mobility to move throughout a full range of motion in a split-squat or a lunge. On top of that, you must also achieve the coordinated firing of prime mover muscles, along with stabilizing muscles in multiple planes of movement in order to properly perform these movements.

When moving someone through this sequence of static and dynamic stability training, the key is quality and control. Quantity of movement, with higher amounts of sets and reps, as well as intensity of movement, with increasing resistance, will happen later. For right now, you must first demonstrate control throughout a range of motion.

Only after this control is demonstrated can you move on to functional loading of movement patterns in a well-designed strength training program.

So, to summarize to this point, there are a few prerequisites to engaging in a strength training routine for each movement pattern.• First – you must demonstrate at least an acceptable amount of mobility within the pattern of choice. • Second – you must demonstrate proper static stability within the pattern. • Third – you must be able to dynamically stabilize the body within the movement pattern while moving through a full range of motion.

Only after these three steps are achieved can someone be cleared to engage in a strength training routine within a given movement pattern without the risk of injury, or at the very least the risk of re-engraining faulty movement techniques.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we need to take a long hiatus from strength training while we go on an extended journey of mobility and stability work. Firstly, if you can demonstrate mobility and stability right off the bat, we can jump right into proper functional loading within the movement patterns that you’re cleared in.

Plus, if you demonstrate good mobility and stability in some patterns, but not others, we can begin loading the movement patterns that are clear while we work on mobility and stability training to bring the other pattern up to par.

However, if you skip the necessary steps of first screening for proper mobility and stability within the movement patterns you’re going to be training, and then taking the requisite time to bring up faulty or limited patterns before loading them, then you’re just asking for less than optimal results and possibly injury to occur.

Make sure you don’t skip steps in developing your training routine, or the training routine of any of your clients. If you jump to loading movement patterns before they are clear with proper mobility and stability, problems will ensue.

So, first mobilize, then stabilize, and then move on to functional loading in each movement pattern. This will ensure optimal results are achieved in your training programs.

Stay tuned for the third and final part to this series on how functional loading of each movement pattern is key to optimal long-term movement success!


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