The common gym mistakes: Stable or unstable?

Stability training is one of those training principles that are highly misunderstood, wrongly executed and not given enough importance.

Published : Jan 06, 2020 22:06 IST

Plank with power band.
Plank with power band.

Plank with power band.


What is stability?

Stability training is the performance of exercises while on an unstable or stable surface or equilibrium with the goal of activating stabilisers and the prime-mover core muscles. Usually, that may get neglected with other forms of training. Training can be either bilateral or unilateral or anterior or of the posterior joints compartments.

Strength and stability are two commonly used terms in exercise programming. Unfortunately, they tend to be used incorrectly and interchangeably.


Strength is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to develop contractile force against a resistance in a single contraction.

Stability is the resistance of a muscle or group of muscles to control joint position and centration. Stability can be obtained through active, passive and neural subsystems.

TRX single-leg squat.

What is stability training?

Stability training is one of those training principles that are highly misunderstood, wrongly executed and not given enough importance to derive maximum output from the joints and muscle groups involved.

It is looked upon as part of a rehabilitation program or injury prevention or a physio’s domain rather than part of strength-and-conditioning coaches’ training. It’s more pertinent for strength-and-conditioning coaches to draw out the best from an athlete rather than being unidimensional. It’s the joint efficiency where the body is able to use the range and force generated effectively through proper neural network patterns being set. It can be made very functional to specific sports and specific skills. For example, for batsmen, pacers, wicketkeepers, spinners or fielders, or for other skills like the backhand, forehand, serve, volley or smash.

Modified Airex Bulgarian squat.

What are the stabiliser muscles?

These muscles work to stabilise the body and its extremities during multi-planar movement. During an exercise, there are primary movers, neutralisers and stabilizer muscles. Muscles are designed to work in collaboration with each other to help produce coordinated movement during exercise.

Research have proven that stabiliser muscles react quicker than the other muscle groups when the body is prepared to move or a part of the body is preparing to move. For example, the transverse abdominal muscle fires before you even move. It actually anticipates your movement and contracts to support and stabilise your spine prior to anything being done.

Single leg pulloff press.

Usually, stabilisers are weaker and smaller than the other large muscle groups. The only way they can work efficiently is by firing first while integrating the movement patterns with the other muscle groups.

Just because a muscle is weak doesn’t mean it cannot stabilise the body and vice versa. There is a strong neural aspect to stability that ultimately places more emphasis on the brain with the stabilisers than any one specific muscle.

Why stability?

Stability training prior to strength training is indispensable to build the proper foundation from which your body can move more efficiently in multiple planes of movement. Researchers have proven that if you cannot efficiently stabilise your body and joints, then you cannot generate the muscle force required from them.

The hip area is where strength and stability are often neglected and misunderstood because of various reasons. One such reason is maintenance of alignment. Here the joint stabilisers should anticipate and react to the movement through instant firing and communication via neural pathways from the brain. For example, working on the glutes’ strength would not solve the problem without working on stability first.

This is applicable to any joint in the body, that stability and proper alignment are important to produce the desired force for efficient movement in any frame of reference.

Working to improve your strength before you have improved your stability can be counterproductive. The most important factor in becoming a stronger and faster runner is to stay injury-free, which at the end of the day improves the performance for a particular sport and skill over a long period of time.

The next time you hear that you are weak within a stabilising muscle, find out if it is the muscle or the neural pathway that should be the target. Often, the people thought to have weaknesses and still suffering from pain and faulty movement patterns have to embark on stability training prior to strength training. To learn the proper movement patterns, one must learn to create the proper neural pathways, or else have to undo and redo the movement patterns, which is 200 percent more work to be done.

Stabiliser muscle training is a different subject altogether and we’ll explore it the days to come.

10 ways to improve stability

•Challenge yourself with unstable surfaces. For example: wobble board, Bosu ball, cushioned mat, Swiss ball, band, tube.

•Focus on firing the core stabiliser muscle group. For example: transverse abdominal muscle.

•Progressively increase the range of motion and difficulty once proper form is achieved.

•Choose unilateral or bilateral exercises according to the need of each person or their requirements.

•Practise with a focal point or mirror and progress to eyes closed once you master the range of movement.

•Start from a stable equilibrium and progress to an unstable equilibrium and then to a stable equilibrium according to the sport and skill required. The transition should be functional to the sport and the skill.

•Develop proper breathing patterns to be in sync with the movement, avoiding intra-abdominal pressure.

•Focus on form, rather than load or repetitions, and a good exercise tempo.

•Choose the appropriate exercise for specific needs. One size does not fit all.

•Finally, believe in yourself, that anything can be achieved through perseverance.

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