Mobility, Stability, Movement control, and Strength- what does it all mean? Why is it important ?

I am a personal trainer, I get paid to make people sweaty, kick their butt in workouts, and have them feeling healthier, stronger and happier.  Within that framework it is also my responsibility to assess the body and incorporate exercises specific to each client.  Exercises that will improve the functionality of my clients, and in the end kepeing them fitter, stronger, and injury free for longer.

Therefore, each session I need to find the fine line between enough of a butt kicking workout, and enough programming for what I know is good for the body.

Let's break this down a bit….

One of the first things I need to ensure when training a client is do they have adequate mobility?  In plain terms mobility is defined as range of motion within a joint, it's kind of the combination of flexibility of the muscles around the joint, and proper joint positioning.  In scientific terms mobility can be defined as:

1)  The ability to move a joint through it's full anatomical and available range of motion
2)  Mobility is the ability to produce a desired movement.
3)  Mobility is the degree to which a joint (where two bones meet) is allowed to move before being restricted by surrounding tissues (ligements/tendons/muscles).
4)  The range of uninhibited movement around a joint.

Here is a video you can watch for simple test of ankle and hip and shoulder mobility:

Most people who 'walk in my door' are restricted in their mobility.  Before I move any further with people I need to adress the lack of mobility in their body.

Training a body with poor mobility is like trying to make your dinner taste better just by adding more salt. Salt is going to mask the taste, and perhaps make it a bit more delicious, but it won't adress the underlying issue- that you started with a crappy recipe!  Just like piling a bunch of exercises on a restricted body is in the short term going to get someone stronger, but in the long term this is a guarantee for injury!

How to increase mobility:
1)  Foam rolling, facial release, and soft tissue work.  Here's a basic article to get you started on this here:
I also have foam rolling videos on my youtube channel.
2)  Warming up dynamically.  Each of client sessions starts with 5-10 minutes of dynamic warm up to get the joints moving through their full range of motion.
3)  Finishing your workouts with 5-10 minutes of stretching.
4)  Practicing yoga, pilates, and doing regular mobility training outside of your workouts.

*  This is a topic that there are books written on, this 4 outline is just to get you thinking about what else you need to be doing in the gym.

Once you master mobility, it's time to move on to stability.

In plain terms I like to think of stability as the strength of the joint, and the tissues that surround it.

Scientifically stability can be defined as:
1)  The ability to resist movement in a joint from an outside force.
2)  The ability to maintain or controlled joint movement through the coordination of tissues surrounding the joint capsule and the neuromusclar system.

Strength training without first gaining stability (after mobility) is a guaranteed precursor for injury.  Stability of joints allows for us to produce powerful movement from the body without causing injury, and without other areas of the body compensating.  You don't want to move into a weighted overhead pressing movement until you know that the shoulders, and core and stable enough to support the motion.  Same with squats, you want to know the hips, core, and ankles are stable enough to support the motion.  What can go wrong without stability?  Blow a knee squatting, tear a rotator pressing overhead or doing a chin up.

The mobility, stability chain of the body
Another common theory with mobility and stability is a joint by joint approach.  Starting from the foot to the head,
Ankles should be mobile.
Knees stable
Hips mobile
Low back stable
Thoracic spine (mid back) mobile.
Scapula stable.
Shoulder joint mobile.

Therefore with each individual, before performing loaded exercises (with weights) we need to ensure that this sequence of mobility and stability is gained in order to prevent injury!  Ps- It doesn't mean that because I put knees as 'stability' that they don't need any range of mobility, just means that this joint's primary function is to stabilize during movement, it should still have an adequate range of motion.

How do we gain stability?
You gain stability by performing body weight exercises that move the body through it's full range of motion.  Eventually progressing to light weight exercises until the stabilizers have strengthed enough to move to heavier weights.  As an example, downward dog yoga sequence (I think it's called sun salutations) would be a great way to gain stability in the core and shoulder regions for a beginner.  One leg deadlifts are a fantastic way to gain asymetrical stability in the hips.  There are 100's of exercises depending on what joints you are trying to make stable.

Low back pain….
This is one of the most common issues I see in people.  Our low back pain is often cause by lack of mobility in the hips, and lack of stability in the core and back.  By mobilizing the hip joints, and strengthen the core and lower back using effective exercises low back pain can go away.

What do I do once I've gained mobility and stability?
After achieving a high level of mobility and stability it's time to start to train movement patterns like rowing, squatting, deadlifting, pushing and pulling etc, and start to build strength.  This way you are almost guaranteed to prevent injury, see faster gains in the gym, and keep a long lean, flexible body rather than create short bulky muscles that only have half range of motion!

I hope this made sense to you today, it's fairly technical, but here's the take away message I would love for you to understand:

To prevent injury, exceed your current level of strength and fitness, prevent pain, keep your body moving well longer term you need to create a mobile, stable, and strong body!  Don't skip the first two, or you'll be sorry!

resources used:

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