Dr. Warren – Mobility vs. Stability

Mobility vs. Stability

In today’s fitness world the word Mobility gets thrown around as the cure for any movement dysfunction. It seems that every trainer out there wants to give out golden “mobility” exercises to fix any and every movement problem. While these drills have their place many times they put the cart before the horse and completely ignore the underlying stability and motor control dysfunction. To start we will give a broad definition of mobility and stability as it pertains to the human body.

Mobility: the ability to move or be moved freely and easily

Stability: the ability to perform and control a movement throughout a range of motion without compensatory strategies

To be clear, these are very simple definitions and we could argue over how to describe the two words for days.

How do I know if I have a Mobility or Stability Dysfunction?

Mobility issues may be caused by a joint restriction or a tissue extensibility dysfunction.  If a true mobility restriction is present it should be addressed before attempting progressions that focus on strengthening a movement. Stability and Motor Control Dysfunctions arise from a variety of reasons: inactivity, over activity, and training beyond your thresholds too aggressively or frequently.

Now this is where it gets tricky.  How do you decide what the culprit is?  I will use a very common example to make the point.


Fred complains that he has tight hamstrings.

When you ask Fred to touch his toes he is over 1 foot away from being able to complete the task.


The answer: MAYBE

Possible reasons may include

  1. Tight Hip Capsule
  2. Decreased Tissue Extensibility of Posterior Chain Musculature/Fascia
  3. Impaired ability to posterior weight shift

If Fred is unable to posteriorly weight shift (Stability Issue), then he will fall over if he was to reach all the way to his toes.  His compensatory strategy would be to subconsciously tighten his hamstrings to keep from falling.  The moral of the story is that the feeling of “tightness” is not always a mobility issue.  For Fred we could have him stretch his hamstrings 1 hour each day and it is unlikely to help his toe touch.

If you chronically have the same issue over and over and feel that you are making no progress seek out a professional that can help identify the root causes of your dysfunction in order to help you continue your exercise journey safely with the results that you want.

Dr. Warren


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