Mobility is in vogue. Foam rollers and lacrosse balls litter the floors of training facilities worldwide. But this ‘herd mentality’ fuelled ‘in thing’ is only half the picture. We’re creating a generation of exercisers who can put their feet behind their head, but fall apart when you put a bar on their back.
The other half of the picture is stability.
Picture a rowboat sitting in the water. Now dump a cannon on that boat, light the fuse and stand back. The cannon ball might move a couple of metres, but so will the boat. As Newton tells us, for every action, there is an equal or opposite reaction.
Now put that same cannon on an aircraft carrier. Light the fuse. The cannon ball disappears over the horizon – the ship hardly shudders. The ship has stability, the rowboat doesn’t.
Mobility puts you in position, stability allows you to generate force from this position. This force means more weight lifted more efficiently, and it means less injury.
There are few places in the body where stability is more important than in the shoulder blades (scapulae). Unstable scapulae and winging shoulder blades are common problems.
One of the primary functions of the scapulae is to provide a stable base from which to create movement in the upper body. The shoulder is a complex joint with multiple articulations (between the spine, scapulae and humerus). During movement of the arm, a set process known as ‘scapulo-humeral rhythm’ occurs (below).
Basically, the above image shows the stages of shoulder movement:
- An initial movement of the gleno-humeral joint (where the shoulder blade joins the humerus).
- A movement of both the gleno-humeral and the scapulo-thoracic joint (where the shoulder blade joins the spine).
- A secondary movement of the gleno-humeral joint.
- A final movement of the scapulo-thoracic joint.
The correct order of movement allows for a healthy joint, and maximum force generation.
However, as much as the scapulae play a major role in creating movement – they play an even more important role in stabilising, or resisting movement.
We have a team of muscles working together to create stabilisation – trapezius, levator scapulae, rhomboids, serratus anterior and deltoid. The key term here is ‘stabilisation’. They have not evolved to create movement, but to resist movement. Their function is to keep the scapula stable, the position where the body is most protected from damage.
So can we create stability through the scapulae to more efficiently create strong and safe movement – particularly overhead? The good news is that similar exercises can be completed to improve both the movement creating and resisting functions of the scapulae. Instability with a weight overhead? Shoulder pain? Unable to engage ‘active shoulders’ with presses, snatches and overhead squats? Try these exercises as often as possible. They are designed to target all the muscles involved in scapula stability – creating stable, strong and healthy upper body movement.
How often should you do these? It’s hard to overdo it, but very easy to not do enough. The recommendation would be to do them at least as often as you complete movements where scapula stability is required.
Add stability work into your mobility routine. Complete the picture and become healthier, more powerful and more functional because of it.