Mastering Stability to Maximise Strength

Jan 10, 2024 | by Matt Brown

The human body is an amazing vessel and there can be many different analogies used to describe both the body and its functions.  The analogy best suited when referring to stability training and strength is: building a house on a solid foundation.  Before we dive into the science of muscular output and mechanical efficiency we must first look to understand what exactly is stability training.

Stability Training

Put simply, stability is the ability to resist force and maintain control and/or efficiency through movement. Many muscles do have an action and a function and can serve as a strength muscle in one instance, and a stabiliser in another. This means your body utilises both passive stabilisers (ligaments, joint capsule, discs) and active stabilisers (muscles, nerves, receptors) interdependently to create stability. For example, when you are doing a biceps curl, your core, and shoulders also work to stay stabilised as you curl the weight toward the shoulders.

To get a better understanding of stability through action we will look at both active and passive stabilisers:

Active Stabilisers

Active stabilisers consist of the muscles, nerves, and receptors that help maintain varying postures and correct/adjust your body from external forces.

Some examples of active stabilisers doing their job:

  • Keeping an upright posture when sitting in your meetings, at your desk, or classroom.
  • Keeping you balanced and upright after landing from a jump.

When your stabilisers are weak, they are not equipped to handle unpredictable movements or situations, which often result in injury.

Passive Stabilisers

Passive stabilisers (ligaments, joint capsules, discs) play an important role in strength training as well.

For example, studies show that following an initial shoulder dislocation, the risk of recurrent dislocations in those <20 years old is 72–100%

Because the stability of that shoulder is now compromised from the laxity (looseness) of the ligaments and capsule (passive stabilisers) of the shoulder after being hyper-stretched from the previous dislocation.

Unfortunately, once these passive stabilisers become lax, they tend to stay lax to a certain degree. This includes sprained ligaments of joints like ankle sprains, sacral ligaments (pelvis and low back), MCL sprains, etc.

What is Joint Instability

Instability happens when tissues — such as muscles, ligaments, and bones — weaken. Once they are weak, they no longer hold the bones of the joint in the proper place.

Joints are flexible, allowing for movement, however, they also must be stable and strong.

Strong ligaments hold the bones of joints in place while the joints are in motion and at rest. Muscles and tendons hold the bones of the joints in place most often when moving. Common cases of joint instability occur in the: ankle, elbow, hip, knee, neck, shoulder, thumb, or even big toe.

Common causes of instability are:

  • Injury can cause a dislocation of a joint or stretch or tear the ligaments.
  • Overuse or repeating a movement over time can cause instability. Swimming, for example, can lead to shoulder instability.
  • Overloading a specific joint or muscle on a specific movement 
  • Multidirectional instability (known as being “double jointed”) happens to some people who are born with more loose joints than most others.
Strength Training

Strength training stimulates a variety of positive neuromuscular adaptations that enhance both physical and mental health. Strength training boasts a wide range of benefits for both physical and mental well-being.  Here are some of the key physical benefits that can be tied to stability:

  • Improved muscle strength and tone.
  • Maintaining flexibility, mobility, and balance, which can help maintain independence in ageing.
  • Weight management and increased muscle-to-fat ratio – might be even more beneficial than aerobic exercise for fat loss.
  • Greater stamina – as you grow stronger, you won’t get tired as easily.
  • Improved posture.
  • Decreased risk of injury.
  • Increased bone density and strength and reduced risk of osteoporosis.

As mentioned with strength training, there is a long list of benefits we can look at but there will come a crossroads where a decision needs to be made on whether we abandon good form and technique and focus on moving load or lessen the amount we move to maintain correct form and technique.  Reading the above statement it seems obvious what the choice is – good form and technique should always be the priority and yet everyone will come to a situation where your competitive nature, ego, or curiosity convinces you to increase the weight.  This of course is how overload happens and improvement occurs but it’s also where we can lose stability and control through specific joints or joint actions.  

Common Strength Program Mistakes

When doing strength training you are trying to move the most amount of weight possible, as efficiently and effectively as possible.  Compound movements are the bread and butter of strength training as they recruit almost the entire body to complete the action.  Whether it’s as obvious as the hip hinge or as ‘passive’ as your ankle stability, the body needs all parts working together efficiently to maximise strength.  If we think of each limb, muscle, and joint as a link in the chain, the idea is the chain is rock solid from start to end.  If 1 or more of the links in this chain are weaker or compensate for another, this has a knock-on effect on the following links in the chain and starts to decrease our muscular output.  

Here are a few of the key common mistakes in strength training as it relates to stability throughout the body:

  • Cutting warm-ups short – not allowing adequate time or movement to prime the body for the output required.
  • Not sticking to the basics – your ‘standard’ compound movements, both bodyweight and loaded, are the gold standard of strength.  There is no need to overload other movements to elicit a greater response.
  • Unbalanced programming – Overemphasizing muscle groups relative to their antagonist muscle groups may increase the risk of injury and/or alter bodily posture and lead to weakness, imbalances, and instability.

We now have guidelines and an understanding of what stability is and what happens if we ignore stability training so let’s now dive into stability training itself and how you can utilise it to maximise your performance.

Stability Training Benefits
  1. Control
    The greater your stability, the greater your control through a movement or task.  As we touched on earlier, there will be a point in an exercise or in a session where your stability will give out and the focus will become ‘moving load’.  If you continuously work on your stability you will improve your control and be able to maintain your technique for a longer period of time and/or under a greater load.
  2. Move Reproduction
    If you are able to prolong your stability output you will be able to work for a longer period of time in a safe way.  If we look at a plank (gold standard stability movement), if you can hold your mid-section stable aka strong you will be able to last longer than if your mid-section sags towards the ground.
  3. Force Absorption
    This is more for those in a sporting environment but stability will give you greater ability to ‘brace’ or ‘hold’ when absorbing force.  In basketball, if you are looking to box someone out for a rebound, you need a strong and stable position so the opponent cannot move you out of the way.
  4. Decreases overuse and acute injuries
    Throughout exercise programs, the word “compensates” may be used as a word to explain imbalances e.g. your upper traps are compensating for your pecs on the bench aka your pecs are strong or stable enough to handle the load or volume you are putting on them.  Increased stability allows the body to hold strong in a certain position while executing a movement.  If we minimise compensations, we minimise overuse which minimises injury.
Examples of Stability Training

Any movement that enhances the focus on how you hold your body or how you control a movement will help improve your stability.  Something as simple as a standing dumbbell shoulder press can be manipulated into a stability movement by focusing the least on the press and focusing more on how strong you can hold your body.  Another way to manipulate this movement is to use a single dumbbell and do left and then right side presses.  This forces your weak side and strong side to work equally but exaggerates the load on your mid section as the weight is only on one side.

A great standard of stability training is isometric holds such as planks, gymnastic holds, lunge holds, etc.  All of these movements put the emphasis on holding your body strong.

Finally, another huge factor in your stability training will be balance.  Being able to once again hold your body strong when your base of support is compromised or there is a variable introduced that may throw off your balance.  Balancing on 1 leg with a slight hip and knee hinge without losing balance will highlight the stability in each leg.  This can be compromised by joint or muscle imbalances but will also help you improve your stability.  Altering the surface from a hard gym floor to standing on a cushion and trying to replicate your ability will also increase your strength.


Stability training should be introduced as early as in adolescent exercise as this is when the building blocks are raw and the ability is low thanks to growth spurts.  Having younger clients/athletes understand the power and importance of strength training will give them a headstart on performance improvements.  If you ever see training footage of elite athletes, you’ll generally see 2 kinds of training – pre-season high-intensity and balance/stability training.  Elite level performers need every advantage in their output so stability training is put on a pedestal for performance and longevity.

In a way, we could say that stability training IS strength training as we are mastering and enhancing muscle and joint function to increase our output. Without stability straining we are at the whim of the joint and muscle’s natural capability but also their incapability.  Stability training will help lay a rock-solid foundation so you can build yourself a solid house without issue.

Happy lifting.

REFERENCES Kyle McKee 14/7/23,must%20be%20stable%20and%20strong. 2023

Matt Brown

Matt Brown

As a personal trainer of 11 years, I have had the privilege to work with a wide array of clients and limitations. My role is to not only support my client’s wants but to address their needs and incorporate this into our planning and programming. From beginners to athletes and everyone in between it has always been my role to make my clients feel supported, welcomed and give them the sense of achievement.

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