workout

A Prerequisite to Lifting Heavy Things: Stability

In my last article, I talked about the need for correct mobility in your exercises and workout. Mobility is extremely important and should always be addressed early on to ensure good positioning and a full range of motion in your lift. Mobility, however is only one part of the puzzle. There’s another aspect that the yogis don’t like to talk about and many people get confused with a BOSU ball: Stability

Mobility and Stability are the two components that provide the frame-work of movement. Mobility is the ability of a joint to move through a given range of motion, whereas stability is the ability to resist being moved. From a biomechanics stand-point they are like yin and yang, positive and negative, peanut butter and jelly. One cannot exist without the other. They are both equally important in training, however the body will always choose stability over mobility for safety and compensations.

Dr. Perry of Stop Chasing Pain is known for his saying, “stability rules the road.” What he means by that is that your body will always give up mobility in whatever joint it needs to create a stable environment if there is dysfunction(muscles not working properly). Will that cause pain and compensation patterns? Probably, but not always. If muscles aren’t working right, then they will not be able to control the motions in joints, and your body doesn’t trust that, so it will lock it down. It’s very similar to walking on ice. When you’re on the ice, you naturally stiffen up, and you consciously will keep your legs in and tight, not using big strides.

So essentially, if you lose stability, you will lose mobility somewhere else. It follows the joint by joint approach just as mobility did in my last article. This is why it doesn’t make sense to just stretch or just to weight train. When I talked about how to create proper mobility, step 4 was ACTIVATE. This is where stability is created, in the hopes that it will start to become automatic when used with movement.

The Misconceptions:

Stiffness is the Same as Stability

Many people confuse this notion of creating stability with creating stiffness. For an area to be stable, you want it to be tense/active during the appropriate movement and yet supple when not in use.

If you’re doing 50 reverse hyperextensions a day to keep your low back, “stable,” then you’re just creating stiffness by overusing the muscles and there for doing it wrong. If you want to create true stability in a particular area, then you must train that muscle/area as a stabilizer.

Stability training is done on bosus and wobble boards

Creating true stability in a joint DOES NOT need to be done on an unstable surface. It is done by creating mobility and then using a particular area as a stabilizer to hold a particular position. This is not to say that using a BOSU or wobble-board is always wrong. They do have their time and place for rehab, but that’s another topic for a blog post.

Anyway, an example of using a muscle as a stabilizer that I like is using the ½ knealing position for variations on exercises to help create some glute stability and open up the front of the hips. What about the guy doing the 50 hyperextensions? Well how about just try some simple plank variations or maybe even a kettlebell halo instead.

Maximize Each Workout: Train Like No One is Looking

Potentially - or probably - the biggest barrier keeping most people from making progress on their goals (fitness, build muscle, fat loss, strength, etc...) is their own state of mind. That feeling like "Oh, people are watching me, so I don't want to [X]..." [look like I'm trying], [fail], [struggle], [make a weird face], etc. But, all this self-limiting behavior successfully accomplishes is self-limiting progress. I've trained all over the place in a multitude of different environments and have often been seen doing off-the-beaten-path type exercises. But, even I sometimes get a little nervous about the liklihood of drawing attention to myself. When that hesitation kicks in, here are my top 3 reminders to keep my self-limiting behavior out of the way of accomplishing my goals:

1. No one is looking. Most of the time no one cares what you're up to in your daily workout and they really are not watching. Trust in this first rule.

2. Don't let your assumptions of someone else's perceptions affect your behavior. Okay, so you're doing something attention grabbing (read: weird) in your workout. Yes, you will probably catch a few eyes, so if #1 isn't working for you. Then ask yourself this: "So, someone is watching me train, why would I stop just because they're watching?" They're probably watching to learn something new. That's what I've found over the years. No one has ever approached me to tell me I'm "wrong" - rather it usually means I'll get to have a conversation with someone new about whatever it is I'm doing. They want to learn!

3. The world doesn't revolve around you. At least in the realm of weight training - I can't actually speak for other areas. This is really the bottom line. Whether you like drawing attention to yourself or dread it, the world doesn't revolve around you. So, keep your eyes down and power through on taking a small step towards whatever is going to help you accomplish your next goal.

The point in training for fitness, building muscle, or strength is making progress towards personal goals and achieving things you, personally have never achieved before. Don't allow those self-limiting behaviors derail your success!

Give Me Strength!: The Process

It hurts.  The short-term effects from strength training often leads to pushing the body to places the mind may not want to go.  But, if the mind is open and willing, the body can be pushed to places it may not realize are possible.  Strength-training, like any activity, requires a detailed process, which focuses on daily progression.  Below are three tips to help your mind stay right as you get your body tight:

  1. Goal-Setting:  It’s imperative to have daily, weekly, and monthly fitness and strength goals.  These should not just be based on weight loss/gain or amount of weight lifted.  Instead, there should be deliberate practice goals, which focus on progression.  Focus on the process of improvement rather than simply end results. Examples: Daily - Commit to trying one new exercise [pick one to help you put extra emphasis on a weak area or an area you enjoy training] for each daily training session for a month; Weekly - Commit to a weekly schedule of weight training, avoid a haphazard approach... what time does your workout begin? Don't be late!; Monthly - Did you achieve your daily and weekly goals? What does the next month look like, what are you planning to accomplish on a daily level? Is it time to do a quantitative test yet?
  2. Willpower Talk:  Use committed words like “will” over words like “gotta”.  Direct attention to what you will do rather than what you gotta do.  The more you talk about will the more you will get. For example, what is your weakest area that you WILL improve to build muscle and strength? A lower body unilateral exercise, perhaps?
  3. Expectation Scorecard:  Create a scorecard for yourself to grade your mental performance during a strength-workout.  Have categories like attitude, positive self-talk, energy management, etc. so that you will grade your mental-toughness.  This will hold you accountable to maximizing performance.

A couple other things to consider: what is your pre-workout preparation? It probably involves some foam rolling and a warm-up, but are you preparing your mind to take full advantage of the soon to start training session? Are you fully focused when the first set begins?

Like most things in life, success in strength training, fitness, endurance training, fat-loss, etc. is at least 50% mental. The process of engaging in a long term progressive program also teaches excellent (mental) practices that translate into many other areas of life (discipline, goal setting, enjoyment, commitment, etc.).