Building Stability in the Hip and Shoulder

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When it comes to lifting weights, stability and mobility are two of the more important aspects that we need to address to improve performance.

Most young people have the stability of Gumby and as we get older, we lose mobility and stability where we need it most.

The reason they work hand in hand is because stability allows for mobility to shine.

Mobile hips will never hit a deep squat in the presence of unstable core or knee.

When we talk about developing stability in the hips and in the shoulder, we are dealing with two of the most mobile joints in the body.

The connection between the humerus (upper arm bone) and the glenoid fossa (shoulder) has been described as a golf ball on a tee.

anterior scapula

That can easily be disturbed without much effort.

It then is on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the shoulder to stabilize the humerus in place to allow for such mobility that it is capable of.

The hip is designed in a very similar fashion to the shoulder. It has more static stability in that it is less volatile than a golf ball on a tee but still of concern.

Both of these joints are made to display tons of motion in all three planes.

As a result we need to make sure that the joint is properly aligned first and foremost.

Bad posture takes us out of good alignment and forces us into compensations. Rounded shoulders can really chew up a labrum and leaning on one leg all of the time can throw the pelvis out of whack.

Do not let those very scientific terms fool you; bad posture causes more issues than we think.

Once the joint is in good alignment we need to train the stabilizing muscles for stability.

Training stability is done by putting the muscles in a stabilizing role. Most people think good rotator cuff exercises are band external and internal rotations, but they are mistaken.


These band exercises are turning the rotator cuff into a prime mover instead of a stabilizer. This means that they have to perform motion instead of assisting it.

When the rotator cuff is trained for strength and not stability, it lacks its ability to perform its function.
If enough of them are done, the 4 muscles will experience hypertrophy and also run the risk of getting impinged.

The hip goes through very similar changes and without stability of the femur, the passive structures of the hip are in danger as well.

Building Stability through the Hip and Shoulder

Stability can be accomplished for a number of reasons. In some cases stability can allow other prime movers to do their job more efficiently.

This can usually be done by externally rotation, an outward turn of the humerus or femur.

To build real stability in these joints the hands/feet must be fixed to a certain point. This is a point that Kelly Starrett hammers home in his book Becoming a Supple Leopard.

An example he uses is that during a pushup, the crease of the elbows should be facing forward. This forces the humerus into external rotation and makes for a very stable shoulder.

The same goes for the hips during a squat/deadlift. Thinking of splitting the floor or screwing your feet into the ground stabilizes the hip.

A stable hip will be able to move through a better range of motion and take stress off of the low back.

The same applies for upper body work. A pushup will be done by the triceps and chest instead of the shoulder muscles.

We can also think about bending the bar in half when gripping a bench press or deadlift to really make stable shoulders.

When we talk about stability the idea is to allow for better movement, or resist movement.

Holding a kettlebell overhead and walking with it will train shoulder stability because the shoulder does not move.

We do not get this from pressing. When pulls (rows, chin-ups, etc.) are done correctly we get shoulder stability.

Another good exercise from Kelly Starrett is lying down on the back, shoulder blade flat, and holding a kettlebell. The next step is to rotate the point of the elbow away from you.

This is that external rotation that we were talking about.

When we externally rotate, the ligaments/tendons become under tension and hold the head of the femur/humerus in place.

An internally rotated position is a weak one.

To use this idea in your performance think about the following cues:
• Screw your feet/hands into the ground
• Spread the floor
• Bend the bar in half

These will all build stability in the right places and activate the muscles needed for the movement.

Your performance in major lifts will improve if you are able to master stability in these two joints.