When we devote copious amounts of time to just a few parts of of fitness, like aerobic endurance and strength, it’s easy to forget some of the underlying principles of fitness that contribute to how we move and perform. Developing optimal mobility and stability is all about minimizing your risk of injury during training. Regardless of whether you go to the gym to lift weights and take group fitness classes or you are trying to improve your 5 mile run time, good mobility and stability in the right places has the potential to boost performance.
Mobility is commonly confused with flexibility. While flexibility refers to how much you can relax a muscle, mobility is concerned with range of motion at the joint. For instance, if your hip joints are stiff, you’ll have trouble doing everything from squatting to effectively swinging your legs forward while running. Improved mobility allows you to execute those kinds of movements optimally.
You don’t want to increase mobility in every region of the body. To move most efficiently, you should be mobile in certain areas and stable in others. It’s most important to have good mobility in your ankles, hips, shoulder joints, and thoracic spine (upper back). Athletes of all fitness levels will move better and improve performance when they have full range of motion in these areas.
Stability is all about managing and controlling the spine to offer a foundation from which powerful movements can originate. For instance, consider the rotational forces involved with running a 100-meter sprint. If you can’t hold proper posture and stabilize your spine effectively, the risk of injury goes up as you move your arms and legs with any level of speed or power. The result of poor stability is a lack of control, which puts you at risk for a whole host of injuries. It’ll also slow you down.
The most important areas to maintain stability in the body are the lumbar spine (lower back), shoulder blades and the knees. When you can effectively stabilize these areas before and during movement, you’ll reduce the chance of injury and the quality of your movement will increase.
HOW TO INCORPORATE INTO WORKOUTS
Training proper mobility and stability only takes a few minutes at the beginning of each workout. By incorporating these three steps into your warm-up, you’ll not only ready your body for the day’s training session, but also for healthy movement in the months and years ahead.
1. Dynamic Mobility: Start by utilizing a foam roller to increase range of motion in your ankles, hips, and back. To do this, roll the calves, glutes, and spine for 30 seconds each to bring blood flow to those areas and eliminate any tension you may be holding. Revisit each area as needed.
2. Neuromuscular Activation: Now that you’re loose, you can begin to get your body prepped for the workout ahead by waking up your muscles. This simply involves jumping rope, doing jumping jacks, or choosing another exercise that requires quick feet and arms to improve speed and coordination. Do this exercise for 30 seconds, take a 30 second break and repeat for several minutes. Your heart rate should be elevated at the end of this portion of the warm up.
3. Stability: Be sure to incorporate exercises into your workout that focus on 3D stability (front, side and back) exercises such as planks, side planks, and bridging for your glutes and lower back. Doing these exercises before your workout can turn on your stabilizers and give you the opportunity to scan your body for any warning signs that may lead to injury. How do your knees feel? What about your lower back? If your lower back is hurting in a body weight plank position, it’s likely a sign that you’re fatigued or over-trained and maybe you should lift less or move slower or run fewer miles that day. By finding alignment and bracing your core before you do any other more complicated or loaded movements during a workout, you build stability and minimize risk.