| | | Make Like a Phone and Go Mobile

Author / John

We’ve all been there.  Someone walks into your gym, you put them through a basic assessment looking for biomechanical feedback that can potentially tell you something about the athlete’s limiting factors.  For many coaches, it’s the air squat (although, we have a much better tool).  You stand back and evaluate range of motion issues, general movement pattern flaws, and analyze stability status from virtually every angle.  As with any assessment tool, we are looking to maximize athletic awesomeness by identifying the body’s limitations, and then correcting those limitations with an array of training tools.  That’s what being a strength and conditioning coach is all about.

But what are the “order of operations” for exposing and diagnosing the bod’s incapabilities?  Is there a hierarchy of movement standards to best address the most pertinent weakness first?  Until a recent article written by The Physio Detective, Antony Lo, I hadn’t heard anyone challenge the almost unanimously accepted theory that mobility takes precedence over stability.  As Lo describes in his piece, it’s just not that simple.  Never one to shy away from stirring up a bit of conversation to refute training norms, Antony goes on argue “Why attempt to improve mobility if one cannot control and stabilize within the range of motion they currently have?  Mobility should never exist without stability.”

292828-south-korean-weightlifter-jaehyouk-saSouth Korean Olympic lifter, Jaehyouk Sa, just doing some light mobility work.

Part of the controversy lies in semantics.  Like so many other aspects of our field, we need to qualify our theories by first defining what the shit it is we’re talking about.  Antony gives us his understanding and working definitions for the following terms:


The ability to move or be moved freely and easily.

 In Sport: The ability to move through the necessary range of motion for the required movements to achieve optimal efficiency and/or the required movement standards – how well can you move with what you have.


The ability to maintain the desired trajectory despite kinetic, kinematic or control disturbances.

 In Sport: The ability to complete the required movements without excessive shearing or unwanted motion in all joints – how well you can control your movement and posture.


The quality of bending easily without breaking.

 In Sport: The amount of range of motion you have across one or more joints – how far can you move (range of motion).


The disconnection or separation of something from something else or the state of being disconnected.

In Sport: The ability to move one body part without moving other body parts – How well you can keep something still while moving something else.


A recent conversation with Antony helped to shed light on some of the questions and quandaries that most of us struggle with when identifying these barriers.  He recommends that athletes start with mobility and not just any type of mobility work.  “Sitting at the bottom of a squat for a length of time whether it be 2 minutes or ten will not improve mobility alone”.  As he describes, mobility requires movement because of the need to allow synovial fluid- our body’s natural joint lubrication- to sufficiently spread throughout a joint.  This protocol will more accurately reflect a bod’s true mobility.  So, if you decide to do an isometric hold at the bottom range of your squat it’s necessary for you to then walk around before resuming your end range of motion.

Lo also see’s this drill as an opportunity to view someone’s ability to stabilize.  As stated before, what is the purpose of spending countless hours doing pre-hab and mobility work for something like the squat, if you are incapable of supporting your system in your existing ROM.  Once that becomes stable, we can utilize flexibility training (stretches) as a tool to improve ROM.   The emphasis on stability really stems from the idea that with a stable structure, we are actually requiring less muscular activity and therefore a more efficient movement pattern.  When I asked Lo to elaborate, he gave me the following example:

“Let’s compare a back squat on a lifting platform vs a back squat on two BOSUs. The load on the bar is the same. How many reps can you get out and in what time? Experience and common sense will tell you that because you aren’t having to deal with a stability issue on the lifting platform, you can output more work in the same time compared to an unstable surface. A lot of the problems people have with flexibility and mobility are that they lack the stability in certain regions and in a coordinated way as a whole. Providing the body stability allows you to become more efficient at maintaining stability and less reliance on protective muscle’s spasms by the big torque producing muscles. Because your torque producing muscles are less active in stability, they can be more active in developing torque to move the heavy load.”


I asked The Physio Detective to speak about some of the most common mobility and stability issues among athletes and to no one’s surprise, he had this to say: “The most underrated control/stability region has to be the thorax – the thoracic spine and ribs. Just this area alone can affect every single athletic movement.”  Similarly, he discussed some of the lesser diagnosed issues which often times go overlooked by coaches.  “Hip flexors, such as the TFL (tensor fasciae latae) are frequently undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.” In his own words, Lo describes what is really occurring when seemingly, the problem appears to be the vague and often used statement: tight hips.

The problem is that a lack of internal rotation leads to an anterior translation of the head of femur (ball of the hip) in the acetabulum (the socket). Because of that anterior translation, the hip flexors and TFL will often fire up in protective muscle contraction to prevent the hip from “dislocating” anteriorly (out the front) meaning the hip flexor and TFL are trying to keep the ball in the socket! People beat up on their hip flexors and TFL in an attempt to free them up but the brain has decided it is more important to stabilize the hip than to let go of the tension.  Therefore, they will find little relief from their 30 minutes of rolling out. For those that genuinely NEED more flexibility in the hip flexors, they will see improvement over time but most people are too tight in their hip flexors and TFL BECAUSE their posterior hip is too tight.  So, the over-diagnosed conditions are tight hip flexors and TFL and the UNDER-diagnosed conditions are lack of Internal rotation and tight posterior hip muscles.

Hopefully I don’t need to tell you how imperative this particular articulation is for sport  not only regarding joint stability, lateral movement, but also eliminating force bleed.

Another problem coaches run into is seeing beyond the start and finish phases of a lift/movement/exercise.  He asserts that most coaches were not taught to evaluate movement between point A and point B and that’s really “where the gold is”.  If a coach can not correctly assess the entire execution or the “meat” of the movement, they may be missing out on some serious stability, mobility, or flexibility problems.  In any gym at any given time, there’s someone capable of starting and finishing a lift decent but doing so “with some dodgy trouble or traffic in between” as Ant puts it.  More specifically, you might even find someone is hyper-mobile in a particular movement pattern and because we “tend to search for a bit of tension to learn where our body is in space, these athletes are more prone to adopt some pretty extreme postures”.  This obviously leads to poor position and an unsustainable mechanism for developing stability.

Take it from The Physio Detective, each component is key to maximizing performance but there is an intelligent way to organize your pre-hab training.  Focus on being stable in your existing ROM before prematurely attempting to increase it which could inhibit strength and in serious cases, cause injury.  Having the luxury of time and the knowhow to tackle your limitations or those of your athletes will translate to big gains on and off the field.

Share this article


John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


  1. Murray Daniel on March 20, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    We hosted Antony at our Box. I met him at the CFFB cert in Sydney just less the 12 months ago. At that cert I had a bit of a knee flair up. I just put down to a bit of tendonitis and old age.

    About 3 weeks ago we hosted him for a seminar. I managed to get a private consult as I hadn’t been able to fix the knee since the Cert.

    I couldn’t pistol on my left leg, squats took ages to warm up and I was shifting weight to my right to avoid the pain. Walking around and sleeping was painful. While I had him I thought I’d get him to look at my dodgey snatch set up.

    It took him 2 mins to diagnose my rib as the problem. Within 5 mins he had me do a pistol bare foot and pain free.

    My snatch set up also was unrecognizable. ..in that it now looks like a snatch set up. My overhead positon and press instantly improved.

    It still boogles the mind all of this knee pain grief was because of a rib out of place. 5 mins of work and a quick drill to help rest it. Boom! Sorted.

    Now I am back to lifting in chucks and wear knee sleeves to look bad ass rather than warm up a shitty knee.

    He isn’t a Physio Detective. He is Gandalf!

  2. THilton on March 20, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    Murray: How the heck did he determine it was your *rib*, of all things, causing the issue? Please share more on that, as you’re just giving us Point A and Point B!

    (Also glad to see that today’s workout differentiated between Pro and Collegiate, and that we got a full PAHQ article.)

  3. TMiles4212 on March 22, 2014 at 7:46 am

    Great read. I’m definitely guilty of over-emphasizing mobility, particularly in the hip flexors and TFL. Despite that effort, I’m only recently getting over an injury to that area where my flexor popped during a heavy back squat. Five months later and I’m starting to feel normal again. It would be interesting to hear more about Antony and his methods..

  4. Taylor Smith on March 23, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    This article is gold. I would give anything to have professionals like Antony in my gym helping me become the best athlete possible, next best thing is the PAHQ forums though.

  5. Denny K on March 24, 2014 at 6:06 am

    Look for Antony to join us on the podcast tomorrow Tuesday 3/25/14 at 11am PST.

    Listen live on Google +

    Great read Cali!

  6. Zigg on January 28, 2015 at 6:59 am

    @cali anyway to get Antony to write some articles for PA?
    @physiodetective I would love to hear a monthly segment on “Ant’s Eyes” and what you see when you travel or attend seminars or see in athletes who come to you for these types of issues.

  7. Antony Lo on January 28, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    hi @jzig – great idea.

    I do post stuff to my YouTube Channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9j236Z2YvikVaedOS9wv4A) every now and then and of course my blog at http://www.physiodetective.com

    I will have a chat with Luke about how best to sort something out.


  8. March-2014 - Ultimate CrossFit Charlotte, NC on December 30, 2018 at 11:48 pm

    […] great post about mobility vs. flexibility on Power Athlete: […]

Leave a Comment


Never miss out on an epic blog post or podcast, drop your email below and we’ll stay in-touch.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.