| Article written on March 14th, 2015 at 12:30pm | Follow Garrett on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram |
Strength and stability are two commonly used terms in exercise programming. Unfortunately, they tend to be used incorrectly and interchangeably.
To break it down:
Strength is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to develop contractile force against a resistance in a single contraction.
Stability is the resistance of a muscle or group of muscles to control joint position and centration. Stability can be obtained through active, passive, and neural subsystems.
As you can see from the definitions above, strength and stability are two different qualities within the human body. Just because a muscle is weak, doesn’t mean it cannot stabilize. And, just because a muscle cannot stabilize, doesn’t mean it is weak. There is a strong neural aspect to stability which ultimately places more emphasis on the brain than any one specific muscle.
The hips are a common area where strength and stability are often misunderstood. This rings true when seeing a valgus collapse at the knee (see picture to right). Notice how the knee rotates inward during single leg stance? Although it appears that the knee isn’t moving correctly, this can be a foot, hip, or core issue.
From a hip standpoint, poor control of the femur can cause faulty alignment of the knee. When it comes to maintaining alignment, the joint stabilizers must anticipate and react to movement. This means the brain and hip are required to communicate instantaneously through their neural pathways.
Strength of a particular muscle or muscle group, the gluteals in this situation, have nothing to do with this outcome. In this situation, clam shells and sidelying hip abduction would strengthen those muscles very well, but with little impact on the overall movement pattern.
The above mentioned example can be applied to any joit in the body that stability and proper alignment are important. For example, the scapulothoracic joint, or shoulder blade and thoracic spine.
At Charlie Weingroff’s Rehab=Training Training=Rehab seminar several years ago, he showed a person with a winging scapula (see picture to left). Instead of giving strategies to strengthen the scapula retractors and protractors, which would logically pull that medial border of the scapula back into its correct position, a kettlebell was held overhead.
Typically when the scapula stabilizers aren’t functioning properly, the overhead position can be dangerous and cause injury. But, when we add a threat into the system, as the kettlebell being held overhead, we force the brain to develop proper neural pathways to improve function and prevent injury. As the person above did this, his scapula immediately positioned back into its normal alignment. Notice there was no strengthening done in this situation, because stability was the correct approach.
Next time you hear that you are weak within a stabilizing muscle, find out if it is the muscle or the brain which should be the target. Often, the people who are deemed to have weakness are still suffering from pain and faulty movement patterns from focusing on the wrong intervention.
By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART