Stability training is probably one of the most talked about topics in the modern world of strength and conditioning. Unfortunately, core stability training has become so mainstream that some people don’t even think about other body structures that should be stabilized. No doubt that the core region is very important, but we have to consider the human body as an inter-related chain that needs to be well balanced and connected. In my previous blog articles I have tried to present the functional movement philosophy and its importance when trying to enhance athletes’ performance. Together with mobility, stability plays an important role in each movement. Therefore, it is a good time to write more about this helpful motor skill.
Body parts that should be stable are: feet, knees, hips, lower back and shoulder blades. The shoulder is a specific joint which has to be mobile and stable at the same time. Just to give some examples why stability is needed, I will cite one paragraph from my previous article:
Feet and knees should be stable for efficent kinetic energy transfer from the lower limbs into the upper body. The core region (abdomen + hips) needs to be stable for lumbar spine integrity and force transfer from upper to lower limbs and vice versa. Shoulder blades should slide firm on the rib cage in order to give stability to shoulders when moving. A sturdy body, especially in the dynamic environment of sport, allows efficient muscle activation. Simply said, all the effort we put into one action gives the optimal end result with little or no energy leaks. Furthermore, when body parts that should be stable become shaky, there is significant mechanical stress (overload) on different body tissues such as muscles, tendons, bones and nerves.
In the content below, I will share some of my general ideas that cover stability development for each body part.
When trying to improve foot stability, I suggest two different methods- strengthening and activation. It is very important to distinguish between these methods and use them in the right way and at the right time. Strengthening of the foot comes first and it depends on basic movements such as dorsal and platar flexion. However, stability will be even more enhanced when we include inversion and eversion strengthening. Activation comes after and it implies balance-related exercises in a static and dynamic environment where we develop quick muscle response throughout the activation of kinesthetic receptors.
Knee stability is crucial in sports. Not just for top performance on the court but also for injury prevention. Factors that provide knee stability can also be divided into strengthening and activation. The hamstrings – quadriceps strength ratio should be in balance: scientists suggest a hamstrings strength of at least 60% of quadriceps maximal strength. That is enough strength to keep the upper leg (femur) stable on the lower leg (tibia). The activation part can be separated into two categories – gluteal activation and development of balance around the knee joint. For gluteal activation we try to activate the gluteus medius muscle that keeps our upper leg stable and hip joint under tension. Balance is developed through proprioceptive training, very similar to dynamic exercises for foot stability.
HIPS and LOWER BACK
The hips and lower back are commonly known as “the core“. As force runs through the central part of our body, the hips and lower back should stay firm for protection of the spine and transfer of kinetic energy. When developing core stability, we can split exercises into three categories. The first one is called “bracing and hollowing“ where we aim to create abdominal pressure by activating the diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles and transversus abdominis muscle. The second part are exercises where we resist gravity or some external force on the core region (such as planks or farmer’s walks). The third category consists of “force production and control“ exercises such as lifts and chops.
We have previously mentioned the phenomenon of the shoulder joint – it needs to be mobile and stable at the same time. When the shoulder is moving, the shoulder blades are very important shock absorbers. Strong muscles around the shoulder blade should provide a smooth and firm glide around the rib cage. The glide of shoulder blades can sometimes be impaired by muscle stiffnes which can be treated by myo-fascial release with a lacrosse ball. Strengthening is achieved by exercises like animal walks and letters.
As you have learned, functional shoulder blades are the most important aspect when we talk about shoulder stability. Secondly, we should work on balance between internal and external rotators of the shoulder (rotator cuff muscles). One very useful rotator cuff exercise is called the cuban press. Finally, we should work on balance between biceps brachii and deltoid muscles. When all previously named muscles are balanced and they fire in proper sequence, we provide our upperarm a safe central position in the joint socket.
Remember, training is not all about what you do but rather HOW and WHY you do something.
Movement is all about “HOW you do it“.