A common misconception in training is that mobility is the most important component in self care and training. In my opinion, mobilization and mobility techniques are important for many reasons; decreasing tension on joints, adhesion removal, increasing tissue range of motion, etc. However, while seeing athletes in my office, if we are only mobilizing, we often see sub par results. The concept of “stabilization” is probably, in my opinion the most important missing piece in training. Whether you are an athlete in my office or an athlete that is wanting to learn more on their own, learning to stabilize may be the missing link to your progression in the gym.
Terms to understand:
Range of Motion -- the distance and direction the joint can move.
Flexibility -- the absolute range of motion in a tissue, joint or system of joints.
Mobility -- the body’s ability to achieve proper range of motion without restriction.
Stability -- the body’s ability to create a stable and strong environment during activity, includes mobility and the ability to achieve proper movement patterns without compensation; decreasing the probability of injury.
Lets just describe the overhead movements to create a visual.
Mobility is a very important piece in training overhead, but not the most important piece.
Many individuals are not capable of achieving full range of motion overhead, especially if they are a newbie at their sport. And these individuals need to work at increasing their range of motion before they attempt to achieve weighted movements overhead. Otherwise, injury potential is at an all time high.
Some athletes are fully capable of achieving proper range of motion, so they do not need to work harder at achieving better range of motion, as the range is fully achieved. This seems obvious, however the point I am trying to make is that whether you do or do not need to create an increase in range of motion to achieve proper overhead positioning, every single athlete needs to create stability to prevent injury.
In my office, if we only address a patient's mobility component of training, the patient will often continue to experience similar (the same or maybe less intense) symptoms, be frustrated with their lack of progress and waste “rest”/recovery/healing days. When we address the appropriate mobility restrictions, and then teach the athlete how to stabilize correctly, we see really great results and the athlete tends to experience less symptomatology and increased positive outcomes in the gym.
What does instability look like?
In the overhead position, a few things we look for to see instability:
-rounding shoulders forward
-over active traps
-bending of the elbows
-overactive grip on weight
In the squat position, a few things we look for to see instability:
-knees tracking inside the foot
-rounding or excessive arching of the low back
-arch falling inward
-fore foot moving outward (often at parallel)
These positions above tell us that we are lacking stability somewhere in the kinetic chain. Keep in mind that the above positions may also change when we perform useful mobilization techniques. Once the position is achieved, stability through the entire movement is a necessity.
How do we create stability?
Stability is created first by good posture. I hate to be the preacher of posture, but this is the foundation that the body uses to create efficient movement. This is why technique is so important while training. After we have good posture, activation of proper musculature is next. Using the example of the overhead movement mentioned above, the activation of the strong, mid back muscles (serratus, middle and lower trapezius, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi) properly stabilizes the shoulder blade (scapula) during overhead movements. Before the arms even begin to raise into the overhead position, good stability of the shoulder blade has to happen. In the catching/receiving position of a snatch, lack of proper activation of these muscles creates weakness. As you can imagine loading an unstable joint(s) repetitively, can cause issues over time.
When to mobilize?
I get questions regarding when the optimum time to mobilize and stretch is. It all comes down to the athlete directly. If you lack the range of motion to achieve the movement patterns you are about to attempt that day, you need to attempt to mobilize and stretch the tissues stopping you from achieving that position. This is often built into a warm up, however, knowing your specific mobility restrictions will help you optimize your specific warm up and help you be better prepared for your training that day.
So, overall, in my opinion, everyone has to work on creating a stable and strong overhead position (you can insert any and all training movements into this statement), but only patients who cannot achieve proper overhead position, have to work on mobilization techniques to achieve it. I want to share that I do believe mobilization is an important component in self care. This is not an all or nothing statement. The combination of mobilization and stability allow for the greatest results overall.
Dr. Heather Russell-Bourdon
Owner of UnBroken Chiropractic
Doctor of Chiropractic, B.S.