Mobility and stability are often confused with flexibility & strength, especially with golf fitness.
So the question is, what do each of these terms mean, and how are they related to each other?
Think of it this way:
Flexibility: length of a muscle.
Mobility: how the joint moves. Can the joint move through its whole range of motion?
Strength is the ability of a muscle to develop force against resistance. Pull or push something.
Stability is the resistance of muscle to control joint position. Can the muscle hold a joint in position while the rest of the body moves?
To see how these are interdependent on each other read The Importance of Flexibility, Mobility, and Stability in the Golf Swing.
Although flexibility and strength are essential parts of golf fitness and conditioning, first you need to make sure your mobility and stability patterns are sufficient to swing a golf club.
Ok, I added the word pattern to mobility and stability. What do I mean by mobility & stability patterns?
The human body has an alternating pattern of mobile and stable joints.
A mobile joint (one that moves in all planes of motion) is adjacent to a stable joint (one that moves primarily in one plane of motion). The mobility of a joint depends on the stability of the adjacent joint and the muscles that control it.
Mobility of a Stable Joint
For example, let’s take the knee. It is a stable joint. It moves in one plane, forward and back. Obviously, it’s important that these joints have full range of motion. It’s a lot easier to move when your joints will bend as much as possible.
Stable joints are pretty straightforward in how they move. Opposing muscles contract and relax causing movement. The length of the connecting muscles (flexibility) is important to stable joints. Will the muscle length allow the joint to extend or contract through its full range of motion?
Mobility of a Mobile Joint
Above the knee, you have the hip joint, and below you have the ankle joint. Both of these joints are mobile joints, and they move in multiple planes, they bend, turn, and twist.
Even though these mobile joints have a lot of freedom they often have limited motion due to flexibility but also stability, which is discussed below.
Interestingly, because mobile joints can move in several directions they don’t seem to cause much pain if they’re limited during movement. The joint is able to move and angle itself to make up for the limited movement.
However, the limitations of the mobile joints do cause problems for the adjacent stable joint. Since they have limited rotation slight angles in the connecting bones will torque the stable joints causing pain.
For instance, if you have knee pain, the pain might occur because the hip or ankle doesn’t have proper mobility. The knee joint has to compensate for this lack of mobility by twisting more than it should so you can walk in a straight line.
Stability of a Stable Joint
Stability is the resistance of muscle to control joint position. For stable joints, the question is can the muscles hold the joint in position so to not add unnecessary torque to the joint? If too much torque occurs, the joint moves out of its natural alignment causing pain or worst, the muscles, ligaments, and tendons could tear or break.
For example, a knee with good stability allows the calf and thigh to generate power and speed while the knee stays straight and in one plane of motion.
An unstable knee bows out to the side this reduces speed and forces the body to change direction unless another segment of the body compensates for this weakness.
Stability of a Mobile Joint
When it comes to forces acting upon a mobile joint, stability is the capability or capacity of that system to remain unchanged, or not allow an alignment change when an outside force is applied to the system.
Basically, can you control the joint? You have stability when you can hold the joint stable when forces are acting on it either to keep it in one place or move it exactly as you want.
A golfing example would be when swinging a golf club, can your ankle hold its position to drive off the ground while your body is moving above it? Or can your shoulder hold the club at the top of your backswing while the lower body starts the downswing?
Stability is also important to larger segments of the body. A stable section of your body keeps that portion of the body in place while adjacent segments are stretching and contracting.
More on Mobility
Mobility is the combined effect of the normal range of motion of the joint and the flexibility of the muscles around that joint.
Mobile joints allow the body move at infinite increments around the 6 degrees of freedom (shown below).
An example would be your wrist; it moves in all directions.
Mobility is important because the range of motion allows muscles to stretch and generate elastic energy that produces power for movement.
Therefore, if a person loses mobility, they also lose the ability to generate as much power they once could or should be able to produce.
The Yin and Yang of Mobility & Stability
Mobility and stability need each other if the goal is to move with purpose.
The movement of a person with poor stability will be inefficient, and a person with reduced mobility will not function under full power. If one is off, they’re both off.
It is like a sling-shot.
If the Y-branch is not stable (bends) you can’t pull the band back as far as it could go – the shot will have less power than the band is capable of producing.
The opposite is also true if the Y-branch is stable (it doesn’t bend), but the band doesn’t stretch back as far as it could, the potential to generate power is reduced.
The rock won’t reach the target with either of those two slingshots.
Let’s see how we would fix this if we want the slingshot to shoot at its full power potential.
First, we would have to observe the slingshot. We would see that the band doesn’t pull back very far.
This could be caused by the band not being mobile (this is flexibility but pretend it isn’t moving in its full range of motion) in other words, it won’t pull back to its full range of motion.
Or it could be that the stick is bending and not supporting the full tension of the band.
From our observations, we noticed that the band wasn’t going back far enough to produce the power we need to fire the rock.
To identify if the band or the stick is the issue, we hold the stick in place so it can’t bend. If the band now pulls all the way back, we know the stability of the stick is the problem. If we support the stick, but the band still doesn’t draw back all the way, we now know the band is the issue.
Once we understand the issue, we can devise a plan to fix the problem.
We can run the same observations on your body to see if you have mobility or stability issues. It’s called a physical screen or a mobility & stability screen.
How Physical Screening Works on Mobile – Stable Segments
Let’s say a person has a physical screen completed and it’s observed that they can’t perform a movement. The question becomes is the lack of movement caused by a mobility or stability issue? Is the lack of movement caused because the joints won’t rotate or because there is no muscle stability and no leverage for the body to rotate?
For example, we ask a person to rotate their hips right and left and to not move their upper body.
The person tries to do this but his pelvis is swaying, the hips aren’t rotating, and his upper body is moving.
The possible causes are he either can’t rotate his hips because they lack mobility or he doesn’t have the stability to hold his upper body still and give his hips some leverage to rotate.
To figure out if this is a mobility or stability issue, we hold his upper body still with our hands and ask him to rotate his hips again.
If he can rotate his hips, then we know he has a stability problem. We provided the leverage he needed allow his muscles to rotate his hips.
If he couldn’t rotate his hips when we held his upper body, then the issue we need to start with is hip mobility corrections, because more than likely he needs to learn how to move the muscles used to rotate the hips; or there’s a flexibility problem where the muscles aren’t strong or long enough to rotate the hips.
Now we can assign the proper exercises to this person so he can quickly learn to rotate his hips.
However, It could also be a combination of both, but generally, one limitation is more apparent than the other, and that needs attention first. Then re-screen to see if those corrections fixed the issue.
Alternating Mobility – Stability Patterns in the Human Body
The TPI Physical Screening method recognizes that the body has alternating mobility & stability patterns. TPI gives credit to both Mike Boyle and Gray Cook who first noted this pattern.
“The body works in an alternating pattern of stable segments connected by mobile joints. If this pattern is altered – dysfunction and compensation will occur.”
To explain this statement, I will introduce you to Bob.
Bob is my mobility & stability model and has the unique trait of being able to turn his body transparent so we can see his skeleton.
I have marked Bob with blue diamonds and green circles.
The blue diamonds cover the stable joints. By stable I mean they bend only one way. For instance, the knee only bends so the lower leg can be pulled back. It does not bend forward or side-to-side (sure there is some movement but with a very limited range of motion).
The green circles mark mobile joints. These are joints that bend in all ways – back, forward, up, down, left, right, and in all of the oblique directions.
Notice that the joints of the body alternate between stable and mobile joints. Stable, mobile, stable, mobile, all up through the body and down the arms. This is the alternating pattern that Cook and Boyle discussed.
The second part of the quote,
“if this pattern is altered then dysfunction and compensation will occur”.
This means if a mobile joint does not move in a particular way, that dysfunction will cause another joint in the body to twist or turn to compensate for the loss of motion.
So if a hip doesn’t move correctly, then the knee or lumbar spine will need to twist to make up for the lack of motion in the hip.
It works the same for stable joints, when walking, if the foot (toes) doesn’t bend then the ankle will have to compensate for this lack of motion. Nearby muscles will not be able to store as much elastic energy and power will be lost in the movement.
Mobility and stability patterns are essential to golf conditioning too.
The golf swing puts an enormous rotational force on the body and relies on the mobile joints to rotate while the stable sections of the body support the movement and resist the forces.
If those mobile joints are dysfunctional, then the rotational energy is transferred to the stable joints that are not designed to rotate.
The result of this is pain or injury.
How Mobility & Stability Issues Affect Training
If a person has a mobility or stability dysfunction, they should not start an exercise program where weight is added to the problem.
Weight only makes the problem worst.
This is why people should go through a screening process before they start an exercise program.
Dysfunctions need to be identified and corrected before weight is added to the fitness program.
I have created a guide to talk more about adding strength to dysfunction. Click the button below to have the guide sent to you.
Common Golf Fitness Exercises
When you see golf fitness exercises in magazines, on Pinterest, in golf fitness books, or even in the fitness DVD’s being sold at 1 am on the Golf Channel, most show someone pulling, pushing, and throwing things in an arc around their body in a faux golf swing.
There’s some fit dude holding a medicine ball while twisting their lower spine to the right and left.
Or a young guy in a golf stance pulling a resistance band across their body like there is no tomorrow.
Then there’s the guy laying prone on a stability ball with his feet firmly placed on the floor as he holds dumbbells straight out while twisting right and left on the ball.
Are these the golf exercises that we should all be doing?
The answer is you don’t know until you have been screened to see if you have any dysfunctions.
Now the guys and gals in the commercials and advertisements might be ok.
They all probably have great mobility and stability, and they can easily perform those movements.
But what about the average guy or gal who sits 6- to 8-hours a day behind a desk?
Do they have the ability to move that freely?
Should they be twisting and turning with heavy weights under tension?
That is why golf fitness professionals perform physical screens on individuals before assigning them fitness exercises.
We need to make sure you can move properly, efficiently, and without pain.
If you want to see the advantages of adding mobility and power to your golf swing, read 1.81 Reasons You Need to Increase Your Clubhead Speed.
Please Get Screened Before You Workout
Before you start a fitness program, please get screened by a professional. Don’t add weight to a dysfunction and make it worst.
I see it all of the time.
Someone can’t rotate their thoracic spine or hips, yet they are sitting on the floor with a medicine ball twisting away.
What are they twisting?
Not their T-spine which is meant to rotate, instead their lumbar spine is rotating when it’s only intended to bend forward and backward.
And these are the same people who wonder why they have back pain.
If you would like to know more about getting a TPI screen, click the button below. If you don’t live in the area, I can find a TPI Certified Fitness Professional in your area for you.
For more information on this topic and how they are interdependent, read The Importance of Flexibility, Mobility, and Stability in the Golf Swing.
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Todd Marsh Fitness
Focused on Golfers who want to improve their golf performance. TMF offers individual & group training on-line and in-person as well as DIY programs & courses.
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