The Long and Short of it - Part 1

Why it’s important to create mobility and stability within your spine

Having recently created and delivered a workshop for clients called 'Spinal Mobility', I thought I'd do a little research into what is currently being delivered and what sort of questions are being asked within the cyber-sphere, right now. It threw up all sorts of questions and opinions that ranged from the somewhat reasonabl' to the downright absurd. What surprised me, was the amount of information based purely on opinion, rather than research. So here are my researched thoughts on creating mobility and stability.

Trainers - You really should.  Picture courtesy of: Kyle Glenn

Trainers - You really should.

Picture courtesy of: Kyle Glenn

To get in the right mindset, I want you to think of your spine structured like a 'Cable-Stayed' bridge. The most famous of these bridges would be the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The Tower (doesn’t matter which one!) would, in this metaphor represent the spine and the cables represent the muscular network that reside around the spine (especially those superficial muscles). The role of the muscles (similar to the cables), are to distribute loading forces placed upon the tower.

The Golden Gate Bridge.  Picture courtesy of: Eric Ward

The Golden Gate Bridge.

Picture courtesy of: Eric Ward

Unlike the tower, the spine is shaped into a shallow 'S' shape. This enables the spine to dissipate loading forces from above and below. This is what we know as ground reactive forces. Very simply put, we absorb our own bodyweight, when walking or performing any sort of activity that involves us being drawn down via gravitational force.

The spine doesn't just simply keep us upright. It provides both mobility (as we walk and become active) and supportive mechanisms that provide stability. To some, this fact can be become hard to acknowledge. It's something that tends to be discussed at length when delivering our courses. The following paragraphs explain the differences between these two inter-dependant attributes.

Mobility

The spine bends (flexes/extends) front-to-back, back-to-front and side-to-side and also rotates. As a result of these movements, the vertebrae segment and like a branch of a tree, they bend to accommodate the stresses placed upon them. The control of this segmentation, is the result of structures around the spine contracting and relaxing simultaneously. Much the same as the cables as part of the Cabled-stay bridge (to distribute load). The muscles that generate this movement are generally the large, more dominant infrastructure of superficial muscles. 

These muscles can also deliver stability, especially within physically stressful environments. However, the nature of these muscles are to create movement. 

Stability

For those that regularly exercise, especially those that do so within a gym will understand the benefits of stability or creating a stabilising effect. Your spine has a safety mechanism, that is designed to distribute the forces placed upon it. This safety mechanisms generally take the form or rigidity within the spine, engaging the deeper infrastructure that are located deeper to the spine - known as a collective of muscles, the core. An example of core stabilisation within a functional practise would be the loads placed onto the body within a squat-based exercise. Or, to those who don't regularly exercise, when you sit down without using your hands! When squatting without an additional heavy load, your spine should effectively maintain it's natural shape. There are many factors that will provoke the spine to lose its shape. However, with the stability of the spine through the core muscles, the workload can be distributed to the hips. The hips have the right hardware to turn a downward force (descent, sitting) into an upward force (ascent, standing).

These muscles do have the ability to create movement, as part of the greater muscle synergies. However, the nature of these muscles are to provide a network of support.

Overloading the globals, under working the locals

Over time, we shape our body to adapt to its surroundings. Therefore, if your job is one that you have to remain seated with your computer screen angled to the side, you will develop a loading (shortening) within one of your torso and an unloading (lengthening) on the other. Over time this creates a dominance that is hard to reverse, as your brain becomes hard wired to think that this is the ‘norm’ and  structures its programme around a faulty equilibrium. The deeper problem appears when those muscles that help provide the safety mechanism, become longer than their resting length due to the global (bigger muscles) problem.

Exercise with the goal to prepare for everyday life

I guess that I've given you a clue to answer the following question - so what's best, mobility or stability? The answer is - both. One cannot work without the other. We need to be stable and mobile. Therefore, your regimen should reflect this, as does life.

Within the following part to this series, I'll focus on the hows to mobility. It's often the things that we do, from day-to-day that have the most profound effect of the way we live our life. I have selected a group of exercises, that for most are easy to execute and also fit into a daily routine.

If you found something within my blog that was useful, please let me know or share it with someone that it may also benefit. Check out other pieces that I have written on my  blog, they may also help you make some sense of what can be over-complicated.

Thanks for reading.