Can’t seem to get stronger and more powerful in the gym?
No amounts of stretching or mobilisations seem to help your mobility?
Your fitness program doesn’t seem to carryover to the golf course?
As a coach I’ve had a fair few clients who would answer yes to most if not all of these questions (I’m sure all of us coaches have) so what’s the deal?
You could be trying to add functional adaptations and sports skills to an unstable base.
The goal of this article is to give you some ideas for developing that stable base. If you can learn (or teach your clients) to effectively stabilise, the answer to those questions above should start to change for the better. But first:
A Quick Look at Performance Model’s
I am a big fan of Gray Cook’s performance model. In case you haven’t seen it before, here it is:
As you can see, the foundation of the pyramid is quality movement. Movement quality is the base you want to build athletic development on top of.
Without high-quality movement, you’re simply laying strength, power or sport-specific development on top of a cracked foundation.
But let’s break that foundation down a bit further (and hopefully guys like Gray and Charlie Weingroff would agree here).
Within that bottom tier, you have at the very least two primary goals:
- Reflex stabilization/motor control
Many factors will affect mobility, the least of which is muscle length. There are 3 reasons why a muscle shortens:
- You tell it too
- It feels there is a need to protect something in the body
- It’s hanging on for dear life, to keep you balanced
Note those last two. They mean that the mobility you can display will be effected by the ability to stabilise (simply put, if the joint is stable at a particular range of motion the the brain will allow you to go to that range of motion).
For those with stability issues static stretching is on par with having someone with a headache bang their head against a wall.
So now lets look in a little more detail what stability actually is. As Gray is famous for saying:
“stability doesn’t mean strength.”
Stability can be even further broken down into static stability and dynamic stability. An example of static stability would be training someone in half-kneeling, whereas a lunge or split-squat would be training dynamic stability.
Once you have good mobility and stability, you’ve earned the right to load those patterns. There are many many ways of going about adding load, and this is another area where a good coach can be vital in determine what is appropriate. I believe that, as well as creating physical adaptations and increases in strength and power, once you have adequate mobility and stability, loading those squats, deadlifts, etc, helps cement these quality movement patterns.
Now that we have a baseline understanding, let’s look at some of the ways I try to improve stability with unstable clients. We’re also going to assume (just to make things simple), there are no obvious mobility deficits or asymmetries – as always a movement screen such as FMS or TPI is recommended to determine this.
Method #1 – Utilise Continuums
We all know that trying to fit a round peg into a square hole doesn’t work.
So why would we train athletes with a “one-size-fits-all” approach? Or list of exercises?
This is exercise progressions and regressions. Without it, you’re really just throwing random exercises and hoping they will stick.
For example, If someone has trouble demonstrating stability in a hinge or bend pattern, you probably wouldn’t want to start them off with a kettlebell swing. It’s a fantastic exercise, but the speed of movement may make it difficult to dial-in the technique. A conventional or Sumo-style deadlift may also not be appropriate due to the integrated nature of the movement.
Another option could be if someone simply can’t figure out to hinge in a standing position, you may want to give them a more isolated regression of that same pattern, without the weight bearing demands. As far as the hinge pattern goes, hip thrusts fit the bill here:
This will allow the athlete to perform and develop the movement pattern without too many inefficiencies in movement, re-learn the movement with proper reflexive stability and progress from there.
Here are just a few factors to consider when developing progressions and regressions for any movement pattern:
- Low to High Speed
- Isolated to Integrated Movements
- Low Complexity to High Complexity
- Small to Big Ranges of Motion
- Single to Multi-Joint Movements
- More External Stability to Less
Method #2 – Slow down rep speed
For those who are unstable, I like to use times of slow concentrics, as well as a ton of slow eccentrics.
Slow eccentrics provide several benefits for unstable clients:
- They improves proprioception and body awareness
- They shift the focus on active stability versus passive (it’s harder to hang on joints when you’re moving slow!)
- The develop strength in the muscle
- They develop connective tissue strength (tendons, ligaments, and joints)
Too often, people who are floppy and/or unstable get overuse injuries. Various studies have shown the effectiveness of eccentric exercises in dealing with/ managing tendonitis.
In my experience, when movement patterns are dialed in, and slowed tempos made a dedicated component of a training program, stability and performance increase dramatically.
Finally, isometrics and paused reps are an excellent choice as well. When you force someone to pause and control a motion at the midpoint, they really have no choice but to learn how to stabilize more effectively.
Method #3 – Add External Stability Initially
This is my go to option to begin with. Too often, we assume that just because our clients/athlete walk around every day, that they have earned the right to exercise on their feet.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
If an athlete can’t even stand on one leg without falling over during an assessment (incidentally the single-leg balance is probably one of the most commonly failed assessments we use, particularly in a sedentary population), then we need to dial someone back as far as necessary for them to get some traction. Again, you have to earn the right to exercise standing up!
The progression may look something like this…
These positions are in reference to the methods in which baby humans learn to explore movement. Yes, infants are basically made of rubber and their hip joints look more like shoulder joints, that possess ridiculous mobility. However, those little guys learn to control that mobility by putting in months of work and progressing from position to position – supine/prone, sidelying, quadruped, half/tall kneeling; until they have developed the necessary stability to stand, squat, walk, run, jump, etc.
As adults, it’s beneficial to revisit these positions to hone and refine our movement -especially since today’s more sedentary lifestyle seems to cause some loss of mobility and reflexive motor control.
The half kneeling position, for example, is a fantastic tool to improve these attributes. By lowering the centre of mass (compared to standing), the athlete can practice moving through the hips and shoulders with less compensation and unnecessary motion through the pelvis and lumbar spine – which is common and more difficult to overcome in a standing position.
If you’re more prone to injuries, and/or the progress you do see isn’t as significant as you would like then instability could be the issue. Get you movement assessed, then try incorporating some of the options outlined above, and let me know how they work out!
If you’re interested in having us conduct a movement screen or develop a program individualised for your needs, that will absolutely get you more resilient, improve your athleticism and see carryover to your golf game get in contact via our online coaching page.