Stability and Mobility: Do You Have Both?

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by JONG LEE, DC, ART
We are born with the ability to correctly — and quickly — develop and utilize mobility, but not stability.
I hear about mobility all the time from my athletes and their coaches. However, stability is not as popular as mobility in the CrossFit community yet.

We come to this world with mobility, but have to earn stability

Stability and Mobility: Do You Have Both?
When we come into this world, we are already equipped with mobility. Babies are able to move their limbs and activate certain prime moving muscle groups as soon as they enter this world. What they have to earn is stability.

When you see babies trying to walk, they are not stable during their first attempts. What happens when their mobility is not backed up by their stability during their cute first steps? They fall. We are born with the ability to correctly — and quickly — develop and utilize mobility, but not stability. After many weeks of attempts, when stability can finally support the walking mobility in full, a baby can walk without going back to the previous stage. This is how our mobility and stability work and develop together.

Stability is a crucial, often overlooked factor for optimum performance

Have you ever experienced an issue with flexibility and spent many hours, days and weeks on your stretching regime but experienced no improvement on your flexibility? When your stability is not performing at 100%, your prime-movers can’t either. It’s simple logic.

Our body will compensate in order to achieve the mobility even while stability is failing.
I see many athletes force their way through pushing their mobility while their stability is not backing up the motion properly. Limited range of motion, deviation of the body, and lack of coordination with certain tasks can be signs of mobility and stability failing. Our body will compensate in order to achieve the mobility even while stability is failing. This will lead our body into the injury-prone stage.

Many athletes with imbalance and frequent injury share common characteristics. They usually have compensation in their muscle activation pattern, limited range of motion, and imbalance in the muscle tone as well. When an athlete pushes the mobility while stability is not there, the body needs to compensate the pattern, limit the range of motion and activate different muscles to support the mobility. Again, this usually leads to injuries in the future.

Good news: With time and slight modifications, your stability and mobility can improve

Good news: With time and slight modifications, your stability and mobility can improve

You need to make the proper adjustments to your movement patterns so that mobility and stability have the opportunity to work together on an equal playing field.
Then how can I fix my mobility and stability issues?

First, you have to accept that you have a problem with your mobility. Usually, pain will force you to accept this fact. Otherwise, your coach can detect the problem or a mirror can give you some hints.

Second, we have to detect which muscle groups are compensating and having difficulty. Sports chiropractors and physical therapists can help you with this. I usually use Selective Functional Movement Assessments with patients to figure out which movement patterns are failing; acknowledging these can lead us to the specific muscle group where you need to focus.

Third, we have to customize exercises for your failing movement patterns based on where your stability is functioning at 100%.  For example, if you are failing regular air squats, you can scale down by holding on to the rings for assistance. You need to make the proper adjustments to your movement patterns so that mobility and stability have the opportunity to work together on an equal playing field, and eventually your stability will catch up to your next stage of mobility.

Great performance comes from great mobility. Great mobility comes from great stability.

Be a strong, tough, and smart CrossFitter.

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