Harmonize The Stability / Mobility Continuum To Move With More Power And Grace

mobility stabilityThe trending hot-topic in our Virtual Coaching forum deals with the stability/mobility continuum, and the role it plays in producing graceful and powerful movement.

It’s a discussion that was sparked by one of our member’s fabulous journaling – which by the way, if you’re NOT journaling in your own training, you should start NOW (more on that in a future post ;-)).

Anywho, I thought it would be a solid idea to let some of the discussion spill out to the blog, as it would hopefully make for some beneficial insights.

The Mobility/Stability Continuum is a big deal in the Rehabilitation, Sports Performance, and Strength & Conditioning worlds.  These arenas typically utilize the joint-by-joint approach to advise body segments that should be mobile and those that should be stable, in an effort to improve quality and safety of movement.

Movement and somatic disciplines, such as martial arts and dance, also pay heed to the mobility/stability continuum, though they often tend to speak of it in the conversation of tension regulation.  Breathing, Relaxation and Framing quite often form the perspective of their approach towards more powerful and efficient movement.

At the end of the day, we’re all looking for improved grace, ease and power in movement.  And much like finding the right movement cue in a training session, the perspective we use to “get it” can be very individual.

When Stability and Mobility Meet the Tank And the Noodle

One of the challenges in addressing stability and mobility issues is that many of us tend to latch onto extremes when first learning something new.  The polar ends of anything tend to be much more clear-cut and finite, with the in-between being made of the graded stuff that we’re initially unable to wrap our brains (and bodies) around.

wet noodle man

I recall going through this myself – then subsequently seeing it in others – when I first began studying the Russian martial art of Systema.  It was a very different discipline than the more “traditional” arts of Hwa Rang Do and Aikido that I was used to.

Systema took a much more somatic approach to its art, so I quickly became informed that I was a tank, holding on to way too much tension in my body, and, thus, needed more mobility to truly become a weapon of mass destruction.

Though I was insanely frustrated, I took to the task of relaxing and mobilizing… so much so that I became the proverbial wet noodle.

In general, this is not a quality to strive for, as I was giving up control of my body to some external puppet master.  In combat – which is what we were training for – this is a quality that will get you killed… quickly.

Yet, the extreme ends, the tank and the noodle, were all I could comprehend.  Even though I was informed of my less-than-optimal movement abilities, I was unable to feel the grading in between the poles.

When Stability/Mobility becomes Laxity/Rigidity

My floppy martial arts endeavor was a result of me trying very hard to become very mobile.

Kind of sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

However, when it comes to the “fitness” arena, our inability to harmonize the stability/mobility continuum can be for any number of reasons… and most may have nothing to do with a conscious effort to traverse the grading.  Aside from that, many people like to define stability and mobility issues simply as a matter of muscular strength and weakness.

I wish it were that simple.

Structural and functional impediments, body unity and coordination issues, selective tension, maintaining structural integrity, somatic disconnects and trying to run before you can crawl are just some of the things that get in the way of us “getting it”.

stability mobility polarWhile defining the grading in between the poles can be tricky, and more of a headache than it’s worth at times, defining the poles themselves plays nicely into feeling our way in between them… in so long as we can wrap our brains and bodies around those definitions and “feel” as though there is actually an in-between.

And when working with clients, I tend to find that trading in stability/mobility for rigidity/laxity presents with a clearer mind-body connection.

Essentially, we’re looking for the right amount of mobility to express movement and allow for energy transfer, yet, we’re not looking for so much mobility that we have laxity, thus losing stability (often at the joint) and leaking vital energy.

This usually results in superfluous movement.  And just to highlight that this isn’t always a strength/weakness issue, I often find that people produce superfluous movement by trying to mirror a movement that is out of their current sophistication range.  Often times, trying to make it “look pretty” simply ends up over-shooting the mark, and only makes it “look messy.”

As an aside, the idea of laxity extending into superfluosity (which we don’t want) is a very different notion, from working a larger, gross movement that acts as a safety valve for more sophisticated and refined movement.

Now, conversely, we’re looking for enough stability that we’re working safely and are able to express power, however, we’re not looking for so much stability that we have rigidity, and, thus, aren’t allowing for the proper transfer and flow of energy throughout the system.  Here, our over-exertion and truncated movement usually finds us under-shooting the mark.

Looking at laxity and rigidity speaks to efficient and effective work.  Laxity is a loss of energy due to leaks.  Rigidity is an over expenditure of energy due to exerting much more muscular effort than is needed to jaggedly shuttle over the disconnects.  The result of both is ineffective and inefficient work.

Exploring Rigidity and Laxity

While the following video is only an excerpt from some of what we’ve been going over in the Virtual Coaching forum, it still serves as a more visual example of what we’ve been discussing here, and specifically speaks to laxity:

My inability to count on the spot aside, expressed movement and mobility plus that controlled pulling back of the reigns equals some graceful and powerful stuff.

Stability, Mobility and speaking in riddles…

If a tree doesn’t bend, it runs the risk of breaking when the winds of change come blowing through.

And yet, it’s the pushover that tends to frequently get taken advantage of, and manipulated at the expense of someone else’s desires.

Often times, knowing when to hold’em and when to fold’em can be foggy at best.

Just breath.


Yeah… that’s how I felt when initially trying to find that right harmony within the stability/mobility continuum.

Bottom line is that graceful, powerful movement contains a synergy of qualities.  Semantics aside, the deeper we try to dive and define, sometimes results in us being farther from where we actually want to end up.  Yet, understanding that Laxity and Rigidity are not where we want to be may be all that we need to push us a little farther towards the bigger picture.

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4 Responses to Harmonize The Stability / Mobility Continuum To Move With More Power And Grace

  1. Anna April 25, 2012 at 3:03 am #

    Was juuussstt thinking/feeling bout this tonite w/mils- x-transfer of energy from toes, hips, elbow, tips… Great read, John :)

    • John Belkewitch April 25, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

      Anna! Great to hear from you. Hope all is going well in Boston.

  2. Renee April 25, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    Fortunately, and for what it’s worth, I’ve always been a good dancer (or so I’m told). Which means *I think* I have the rigidity/laxity thing down, just kinda naturally. That’s one aspect of movement with which I don’t struggle.

    But far and away the best part of this great post is at 2:07 in the video. Seriously! Not only is it ROFL funny, it’s a great demo of what *not* to do. Thanks!

    • John Belkewitch April 25, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

      Renee, I aim to entertain… even if it means being a little clownish at times, LOL. BUT some people do work at that extreme end and don’t even know it 😉

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