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Mobility vs. Stability: Part 1

The topic of mobility and stability seems to be a very popular one.  In the field we have a group of individuals who claim there is way too much corrective exercise taking place; and, on the other side we have a group of individuals who will spend an entire hour performing correctives.  So the question is, what do you need and how much time should you be spending on it?  The easy answer is you need both and you should spend time on whatever needs correcting, but don’t forget about what you’re training for in the first place.

Mobility and stability are at the crux of neurological physical therapy, the foundation.  In physical therapy, it is taught that everyone first needs mobility everywhere.  Without mobility one can never truly gain proper stability.  Once mobility is acquired we can now focus on stability, and then follow the continuum through dynamic stability and skill acquisition.

If we follow Coach Boyle, co-owner of Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning as well as many others, and physical therapist Gray Cook, the co-founder of Functional Mobility Systems, we will know of the joint-by-joint approach.  Basically the joint-by-joint approach explains that there are certain joints that need mobility and certain joints that need stability in the functional model.  The hip for example should have three planes of mobility and the knee should have stability acting like a hinge joint.


When starting an initial evaluation with a new athlete, we should include some sort of movement screen that looks at the quality of movement at each joint.  Based on this knowledge we can assess what kind of corrective exercise is necessary.  For instance, if we are going to program an athlete to perform any overhead exercise, an overhead press or snatch for example, we should first make sure that the athlete can actively get their arm into that range without a weight first.  If they cannot, they will then sacrifice the stability of the necessary joints to attain the mobility they cannot already achieve.  If they are lacking shoulder flexion at the shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint) the will then subconsciously look to the next joint–scapulothoracic or thoracic (shoulder blade or upper back respectively)–to get their arm to get into the fully flexed overhead position.  This will create a cascade of issues both up and down the line like hyperextension in the lower back or flexion of the neck just to maintain their body within it’s base of support so the individual does not lose balance, which may also happen.


Another example, if the ankle joint does not have the proper amount of dorsiflexion (think toes toward shin bone) there is no way that they can achieve a proper squat without lifting their heel.  Simply coaching the athlete to keep their weight in their heels is ineffective in this instance.

Stability is necessary for the muscles performing an action to have a platform in which to push against.  In the case of the shoulder joint, the shoulder blade and it’s articulation with the rib cage (scapulothoracic joint) is a stable joint in which the muscles of the rotator cuff, the trapezius, the deltoids, biceps, and triceps, etc. all anchor to the shoulder blade.  If the shoulder blade doesn’t have proper stability then we can see a whole host of issues that will be created including rotator cuff tears, biceps tendonitis, trigger points throughout the upper traps just to name a few.

The complexity is in the instance when a stable joint must become mobile.  In life events and sport, sometimes it is necessary for that very same shoulder joint to move around to create a good angle for the shoulder to move.  The point is that the shoulder blade remain stable when a demand is in fact imposed upon it.

shoulder blade upward rotation and protraction

More on this post soon to come

1 thought on “Mobility vs. Stability: Part 1

  1. […] the items not highlighted here, I covered it in another post, check it out here and for part 2, […]

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