Understanding Stability

Written by Caroline Sparno


June 14, 2021

Understanding Stability

Struggling to hit depth in your squat? Ankles popping up every time you lunge? Unable to raise your arms straight overhead? If you answered yes to one of these questions, then poor mobility and/or instability could be the cause. Don’t worry though, you’re not alone.

Mobility and stability problems affect almost all weight lifters at some point in their lives. Luckily, there are straightforward methods to screen for the exact problem and develop the appropriate solution for you. Read on to find out how stability work could be the missing link in your training.


First, let’s define “Stability.” Stability is the ability of muscles to resist unwanted movement.


Why is stability important? Expanding on the above, stability is the foundation for sustainable strength training. For instance, if you are struggling with knee instability in your squat, which would look like your knees caving in or wobbling as you ascend from your squat, then you won’t be able to build a stronger squat.

Think of it this way, is it most effective to produce force (strength training) from an unstable surface? It’s like trying to perform a backflip off a rocking boat versus the ground. Who’s going to have an easier (and safer!) time? When stability is lacking, other muscles attempt to compensate, and this can lead to acute or chronic injury.

Most Common Stability Problems and How to Screen for Them

  • KNEES- Referring to above where we discussed wobbly knees or knees caving in during a squat, we know a lack of stability is to blame.

  • SHOULDERS- Shoulder stability is essential to the safe and effective performance of both horizontal pressing (ie bench press) and vertical pressing (ie shoulder press). Due to the shoulder joint being relatively mobile compared to other more stable joints (ie hips), it is also less protected. Ensuring we have adequate shoulder stability ensures we are keeping our shoulders healthy for long-term strength training.

One method to screen for shoulder stability: start on your hands and knees, then raise one arm to the side perpendicular to your torso. Have a partner gently press down on your arm and shoulder for a few seconds. Then move your arm slightly in front of you in a “Y” position. Have your partner press down again. If it was difficult for you to prevent your arm from moving, you may lack sufficient shoulder stability.


Knees- If you suffer from wobbly knee syndrome during squats and lunges cue yourself with “drive knees out” or “drive hips back.” Driving hips back is a great cue, because it reminds us that the squat begins with a hinge at the hips, which reminds our bodies to use our glutes, and then bend our knees.

If the cues are not doing the trick, unilateral (single-leg) movements can help promote knee stability. Split squats, lunges, and single-leg squats are all great options that have many regressions and progressions depending on your training age and ability-level. Ensure you are performing the movements in a controlled manner.

  • Shoulders/Rotator Cuff- Shoulder rotations are an excellent way to improve stability of the shoulder muscles. Start seated on the long end of a bench with one knee bent and the foot placed on the bench. Holding a light dumbbell, bend your arm to rest on your bent knee. Then, rotate the arm with the dumbbell down toward the ground in a controlled manner, before rotating back to the starting position. Repeat for 12-15 reps on each arm.

  • Bottoms Up KB Press is another challenging yet effective corrective exercise. While standing, hold one KB with your knuckles and the bottom of the KB facing the ceiling. From there, with your elbow turned outward slightly, press the KB until your arm is straight. Hold for a second, before slowly controlling the KB down to the start, making sure the KB doesn’t tip over.

Final Thoughts

While it may seem like a daunting task to determine your stability weaknesses and adopt the modalities to improve them, by doing so and practicing consistently, you will ensure you get to lift weights pain/injury free for the long-haul!

-Coach Caroline

P.S. Special thanks to Squat University and Dr. Aaron Horschig’s content which has been integral to my knowledge as a coach.

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