The Relationship between Mobility, Stability, and Strength

Over three and a half years, I have had a number of clients, each with a variety of goals; everything from losing fat, to preparing for an athletic event, to simply building muscle. 

Though there are many differences in the preparation, diet, and results of each goal - there is a common thread among them all - efficient and pain-free movement,

"How do I lose weight (fat)?"
Well, once you move well, you move frequently - the faster the better - while focusing on decreasing calories.

"How do I gain weight (muscle)?"
Well, you move well, push heavier weights (because the body is moving efficiently) - while focusing on increasing calories.

"How do I get better on a bike?"
Well, make sure your body can move in every direction (that isn't what you normally use on a bike), and strengthen muscles used on a bike.

"How do I get rid of this low back pain?"
Well, make sure the muscles and joints around the low back are moving, then strengthen the ones that support the back so that it doesn't take the brunt of the work.

The list goes on...

So how do we move well?

I find the simplest way to break it down is to look at the relationship between Mobility, Stability, and Strength.


Especially when I am working with clients initially, I run into an inability to lift heavier weights (weight loss clients, this still applies to you - heavy weights = more calorie burn). It has nothing to do with their lack of desire. Rather, an inability to get into a biomechanically favorable position to begin the lift, basically sets them up for failure. Oftentimes I even get an, "I've never been good at _______(insert lift here)."

Yeah, well no wonder, I wouldn't be good at ________ if all the work went right into my back or I was insanely uncomfortable at the bottom position!

So, it is important that you are mobile at the joints being used. Only once you are at a minimum level of mobility, can you then stabilize the joint at the level of mobility achieved. Finally, once you have stabilized the joint(s), you can strengthen the movements that require the joints, effectively. 

My favorite visual of how this works is with a simple overhead press (think military press or likewise). It is REALLY HARD to press heavy weights overhead if when you press "up" it is actually going forward a bit. The less mobile one is, the harder that lift becomes. This is why it is SO IMPORTANT to make sure you are able to attain a minimum range of motion BEFORE building the stability and eventually the strength in a desired lift. 

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Stretching 101

I have gotten a lot of requests to discuss stretching on here from clients, so I will do so now. 

Couple things to think about before I dive into stretches to do at home/work.

Why do we think we stretch? 

  • Because it increases flexibility
  • Because it decreases soreness
  • Because it increases mobility
  • Because it warms us up

Stretching 101:
What happens to a muscle when it is stretched?
In short, muscles are like rubber bands. If they get overstretched, they actually lose some of their ability to contract. Short is technically stronger until it reaches a point where it is no longer biomechanically advantageous. 

On Increasing flexibility:
Yes. This is a thing. This is how gymnasts, yogis, dancers, cheerleaders, etc are all able to reach their foot to their head (poor hamstring...). However, this should only be done to a point. Stretching a muscle past that point, especially when the surrounding musculature is not equally stretched and such, ends up actually subluxing the ball-like part of bones (i.e. humerus/femur) out of the joint. 

In fact, it is more important to focus on repositioning the hip/thorax/spine rather than hyper stretching the hamstrings, for example but we will talk more specifically about that in a future post (PRI FTW).

For the sake of this post, it is important to be able to move through ranges of motion that allow you to move well in daily life. So, if your hamstrings are SO tight that you can't bend at the waist even a little bit without your back rolling downward because you literally sit 15 hours a day, then yeah, perhaps a little hamstring stretching is in order along with a hip mobility exercise.

On decreasing soreness:
Yes. There was study done that showed that stretching (especially when done post-workout) can decrease soreness. So, try to stretch after workouts, and especially the muscles that would be tightening up from overuse in the workout.

On increasing mobility:
This is the tricky one. Mobility is not flexibility, but they are related. I think of mobility as the ability to get into a certain position in order to perform a movement successfully. For example, in order to do a deadlift correctly, it takes a certain amount of hip mobility (which includes hamstring flexibility, glute flexibility, core strength, femoral joint laxity/support). So yes, stretching can influence a part of the mobility, which is why stretching out a group of muscles could potentially aid in increasing mobility when combined with other aspects.

On warming up:
This one's quick. Dynamic greater than Static. Dynamic stretching (my clients know this very well), is better to do for a warm up. You want to get the system of muscles moving as a unit - because that is how your body moves - as a unit. Static stretching (sitting there and lengthening the muscle - like what would aid in soreness prevention) has been shown to decrease a muscles' ability to contract and inadequately warms it up. 

That being said, stretching is better than sitting in a chair all day. I would recommend moving enough to make sure that the entire system gets a chance to warm up, then doing some of the stretches once they are warmed up - especially the ones that will benefit YOUR functional movement patterns. I am posting my favorite mobility and stretching exercises that I have seen work well for the hip and chest. Not my videos but good ones to go with. 

Hamstring/Hip Mobility:

Hip Flexor/Glute/Piriformis: all are good on the page. Pigeon included

Adductors (he throws in a hamstring stretch...not sure how I feel about it, stick with the adductors): Tactical Frog

Chest stretch: This video...I have no words...but the stretch is good. Door Frame Pec

Lat/Serratus Anterior: "Hanging" stretch


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