In Part 1 of this series we spent time looking at shoulder girdle imbalances that could hinder performance by diminishing force capacity. We got a little technical and looked at specific musculature that can become inactive or weak in a specific movement. This leads to biomechanical inefficiencies and decreased performance. Prior to moving on to muscle imbalances relating to the hip (Part 3), and how to fix them, I thought it would be important to take a step back and evaluate the relationship between stability and mobility.
Maximal force output generates from power output surrounding joints that demonstrate exemplary stability. It seems logical to say then, that if you want to increase your power output, you need to improve your joint stability. This rationale makes sense, but the methods behind achieving this stability may surprise you. Remember this fact:
Quality stability cannot be achieved without quality proprioception. Quality proprioception cannot be achieved without quality mobility.
Proprioception can be defined as your body’s sense of relative position with adjacent parts of the body and strength of effort being utilized in movement. Basically, there are receptors located all throughout your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joint capsules that provide your body brain with information to process so that it can properly organize movement. If you closed your eyes and then raised your arm up in the air in front of your face you should know exactly where your arm is because of these neural pathways.
If you go back through the LBEB archives you will discover the disdain for training in front of mirrors. Many people who have poor proprioception will develop visual accommodation creating poor kinesthetic awareness. If your lack of kinesthetic awareness is compensated for by your vision, you will promote global inefficiency in mobility and stability in your body.
A simple test you can perform to assess your proprioception is a single leg stand. Stand barefoot on one leg, eyes open, with your other leg lifted at a 45 degree angle from the hip. Then repeat on the other side. If you are under the age of 60 you should be able to do this for 30 seconds without problem. Your arms shouldn’t flail around, the foot you are standing on cannot move and the elevated foot cannot contact the base leg.
Now perform the same test with your eyes closed. Give yourself a few tries per leg. If you are under the age of 60 you should be able to do this for at least 20 seconds keeping your eyes closed. Repeat on the other side and assess symmetry. If you find yourself struggling more on one side or a major discrepancy in time, you should take that into consideration as well. If you are incapable of hitting the goal times with your eyes closed, but you are fine with your eyes open, you demonstrate poor proprioception with visual accommodation. In other words, you MAY be someone who squats in front of mirrors.
Why does this matter? Go back to the lines above. You MUST have quality proprioception in order to achieve stability prior to force output. The other part states that you must have quality mobility to achieve quality proprioception.
If you lack joint mobility, you cannot achieve the necessary stability to maximize force output. Squat all you want, but it’s kind of like the saying, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” If you are repeatedly performing squats, and your body is making small compensatory adjustments throughout each one because of joint restriction, you are diminishing your returns.
You may still be able to move a ton of weight, but you could move so much more!
You think of the squat and typically you think of ankle and hip mobility, but think of the snatch instead. Ankle, hip, thoracic and shoulder mobility all at one time, working in harmony with speed and force from the legs, hips, core, back and shoulders. What I’m telling you is that reduced mobility in any one of those areas will reduce your lifting potential. Your brain will get bad input from your body. Garbage in > garbage out!
If it’s your ankles, perform closed-chain dorsiflexion movements, not just traditional calf stretches. Put your foot up on a stool, keep your heel down and press the knee forward while keeping most of your weight on the straight leg. See if you can get your knee four inches past your toes.
If it’s your hips there are a ton of movements it could be. Go to mobilitywod.com and run through some movements to see where you are restricted.
The thoracic spine and shoulder are covered decently by Starrett as well. Foam rollers, lacrosse balls, woody bands, seated rotation mobs etc., are all good for improving these areas.
Once your mobility restrictions are removed improve your proprioception further. Foam pads, wobble boards, rocker boards, and air discs are all good tools to use in order to improve your proprioception. And, hopefully it goes without saying to not try and strength train on these devices.
Proprioceptive training is crucial for athletes not only for the reasons listed in this article, but because it has also been shown to markedly reduce ACL injuries in soccer and basketball players, ankle sprains and a variety of other injuries.
The message here is to improve your mobility and proprioception in order to maximize stability. Stability allows you to generate maximum force. Use those recovery days you are supposed to be taking and focus on something that will still help you the next time you get under the bar.
Dr. Kevin Kerchansky, DC, DACRB, CSCS, CICE
Dr. Kerchansky is the Director of Physical Rehabilitation at Triad Pain Management Clinic, a multidisciplinary, functional rehabilitation facility in Tempe, Arizona. He is a Board Certified Diplomate to the American Chiropractic Rehabilitation Board, and has been certified to testify in court as an expert in Clinical Biomechanics. Dr. Kerchansky is a post-doctorate educator at Northwestern Health Sciences University, currently conducting seminars around the country on the Functional Rehabilitation of injuries. His pursuits have also led him to credentialing through the NSCA, USAW, CrossFit, and various other sport systems.