Stability is often perceived as a good thing; single-leg stability, core stability and scapular stability are all terms that are commonly referred to when we’re talking about functional training and we see those things as being positive outcomes we want to get out of our training program. Referring back to the joint-by-joint approach popularized by Mike Boyle and Gray Cook, some joints in the body should be geared more towards stability and some others should be geared more towards mobility.
The Joint-by-Joint Approach
But this doesn’t mean that those joints should have only one of the two (mobility OR stability). Every joint in your body needs a healthy balance of both; some just need more of one than the other. It’s also important to acknowledge that every joint in your body needs some sort of stability. As physical therapist Charlie Weingroff puts it: “you need stability before mobility”. In other words, if you can’t stabilize your joint, taking it into a full range of motion might not be a good idea.
Stability is very important per se. But stability is not always good. Confused? Perfect! Let me explain: as I just mentioned, you NEED stability in every joint in your body, but if you can’t get stability with proper muscle activation and balance around a joint, most of the time your body will find a way to get that stability. This is when compensation patterns occur; you have the wrong muscles trying to stabilize your joints because the right muscles that should stabilize aren’t doing their job. Some other times, when the muscles’ contribution isn’t enough your body will look somewhere else to find stability. This is when passive structures like ligaments and bones are being used for stability purposes, and that’s when things start to get pretty ugly.
When a baseball pitcher throws a baseball at 90mph and his arm rotates at 7,000°/second at the shoulder, if the the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizer muscles can’t control the deceleration, something else in your body will, because I can guarantee you that his arm is not just going to rip off his body and go flying in the air!
That means that something somewhere is stabilizing the arm at the shoulder in the deceleration phase. And again if it’s not the right muscles doing it, it might mean some added stress on the ligaments of the shoulder, some irritation to the labrum, compensation patterns taking place by stabilization from the wrong muscles, etc. There are plenty of examples like this one in athletic performance.
Always keep in mind that stability will happen one way or another. We just need to make sure it’s happening at the right places with the right structures. Otherwise we’re setting ourselves up for injuries.
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