Mobility and Stability, part 2
Ben Jelinek posted earlier this week about “Mobility vs Stability”, and at least one commenter wanted to know more so I thought I’d throw a few more cents into the pile 🙂
First, I’d like to recast the issue as Mobility and Stability, rather than Mobility versus Stability. One thing I learned from my first K’bell instructor Master RKC Mark Reifkind, who got it from Paul Chek, is that there’s a highly suggested order in training,
Or as my Z-Health Master Trainer friend Mike T Nelson (PhD candidate in Kinesiology at the U of MN) likes to think of it,
1) mobility first
2) coordination (stability makes it sound like you don’t move)
3) strength (in what position?)
4) power/speed (everyone need to move fast since life is a full contact, fast paced sport)
5) CRF (cardio respiratory fitness).
But first let me take a step back and unpack what we may (or may not) mean when we say “mobility”. When some people say mobility, they just mean joint range of motion, whereas others mean specifically active range of motion (versus passive range of motion as in flexibility). To be specific, you may be flexible enough to stretch and pry into a rock bottom squat, but if you can’t drop from a neutral stance to a rock bottom squat in a coordinated fashion, you may not have great coordinated mobility. In other words, flexibility is about stretching, mobility in this context is about joint range of motion under active control of your nervous system and its motor programs.
If you can’t get enough of different ways to think about it, you can also think of athletic development as having three parts–MSD, NSD, and ESD, or Muscle System Development, Nervous System Development, and Energy System Development.
But back to basics, why is mobility so important? Well, Dr. Gray Cook and the folks at Athletes’ Performance put it well when they say that athleticism is fundamentally about movement. Do you own movement as a diverse skill set (from the movement alphabet of talocalcaneal range of motion and thoracic anterior/posterior glides to complex moves like the overhead empty bar squat, knees tracking but not breaking the plane of your forward-pointed toes as in the Functional Movement Screen)? Nervous system development, muscle activation, and motor patterns. Can you move your body under load? Opposing gravity as you sprint (check out Peter Weyand’s research article “Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements”), well yes, Muscle System Development. Can you play ten games at Trouble in Vegas? You have the ability to sustain movement over time, aka Energy System Development.
So, if you’re with me, you’ll agree that the skill of movement ought to be the cornerstone of your athletic training–a paradigm shift or retrograde you tell me–but think about it and don’t get too caught up doing bilateral back squats without thinking about getting all your joints moving well first 🙂
I heard about the list Ben posted from Gray Cook and Coach Boyle’s article a “Joint by Joint” approach to training, which has been influential in the S&C sports coaching world of late. Even though the list tries to separate joints by mobility versus stability, folks actually agree that you need basic mobility in all your joints, even your lumbar spine (just listen to the conference call in the StrengthCoach podcast episode mentioned on Mike T Nelson’s blog), they just disagree as to whether or not you need to mobilize the joints in question during/as a loaded exercise (rather than as unloaded mobility work). With the lumbar spine, the current trend in the athletic world is to base our training on one Dr. Stuart McGill’s research on the lumbar spine in athletics, which encourages abdominal bracing rather than hollowing (as you might learn in Pilates or some Yoga), and the development of core stability rather than core mobility in exercise (i.e. you do bird-dogs aka quadriped diagonals and side planks rather than crunches and Supermans, which is what they used to do in the 1990’s. It’s not the 90’s any more, so stop your crunches, there are better things to do!)
It’s getting late, so let me summarize. Movement is the cornerstone to athletic performance and durability. The way you move now can often be a better predictor of injuries, according to Dr. Gray Cook, than many other factors including previous injuries. Mobility drills are not the same as stretches for flexibility, although of course there is a non-zero overlap, but mobility work aims to encourage prioprioception, stimulate mechanoreceptors, and develop movement itself as a skill.
You especially want to mobilize areas which are typically immobile in developed nations peeps, namely the ankle, the hips, and the thoracic spine (mid-back). Ultimate players probably want to add in scapular mobility (I like Z-Health R-phase camshafts, but more on that another day) since I’m guessing that we don’t have much gleno-humeral internal or external rotation deficit (Baseball players throw overhead one way, we throw with both internal and external rotation). Personally, I’ve found thoracic and scapular mobility drills to greatly aid my throwing consistency over time. More on that another day too.. I like Z-health mobility drills, but there’s also plenty of other starting points at DaveDraper.com: http://www.davedraper.com/blog/2008/12/17/beginners-guide-to-joint-mobility/
I’m not going to touch on lower-back pain, but please read Dr. Stuart McGill (books and scientific articles) for the latest research. Deadlifts are a really advanced way to try combating back-pain, they may work for you, but McGill would suggest you start out with pyramid sets of bird-dogs (quadriped diagonals) and side planks for 8-10s since actually research shows that if you want to prevent lumbar spine injury, you want to train lower back strength-endurance rather than max-strength (again, citations in McGill such as his book on Lower-back Dysfunction), and bilateral barbell deadlifts are really CNS intensive anyway and may not be the best/most efficient bet for lower back strength-endurance…
Finally, mobility is great, but sometimes symmetry is better. This is actually open to debate in some circles, but I asked RKC Brett Jones to pop up some scientific references on the subject and he posted these citations which I’ll have to look through another day: http://appliedstrength.blogspot.com/2009/09/training-today-and-concept-of-symmetry.html
One last thing, the previous post recommended unstable surface training for the feet, but I’d like to throw in another perspective. Some people love their Bosu balls, but my sense is that unstable surface training for your feet is on the way out (unless you’re a skier or skateboarder, also see articles on the SAID principle–Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand…), whereas unstable surface training for your upper body is fine. Eric Cressey has a whole book on the topic, but my understanding is that unstable surface training is fine for rehab, just be careful messing with your balance and lower leg strength–recent studies show you can worsen both with unstable surface training for the lower body. I haven’t read Eric’s book, but the talks I’ve heard seem to come to this conclusion: ab wheels and Swiss balls for anterior core training and unstable surface for your upper body? Fine. Think twice before you jump on a Bosu ball and expect to get game-ready. I think folks today might recommend vestibular and single-leg squat (or even single-leg deadlift work if you want) for knee strength and stability.
Umm, long post, but I had a lot to respond to :). Move well and play strong!