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How Lateral Stability Builds Functional Strength & Resilience

functional training

Jessica Bento, Physical Therapist (Creator of DVRT Rx Gait, Shoulders, Knees, & Pelvic Control Courses)

sandbag workouts

Back in the day when I first started out as a physical therapist, I would see people with knee issues that really didn’t have a true cause just the typical aches and pains…the “it hurts when I run,” the “if I step a certain way it hurts,” the “it hurts when I squat or lunge.” But no real injury or noticeable cause. 

Those were some of my toughest patients back then, but if only I knew what I know now. I feel like I say that a lot lately, does the make me sound old? Anyway… 

I spent so much time taping knees trying to get to “track” correctly or force them into some sort of pain free position that didn’t stick. There was plenty of isolated hamstring and quad exercises all day long, but very little progress was made in changing what my patients were experiencing. When really I should have been working on their lateral stability.

You are probably thinking what the heck do you mean lateral stability? Well, basically it is what keeps us from falling over to the side. When we look at basic motions like walking, running, climbing stairs, stepping down from a curb, these are all actions that we don’t even think about it, but require a great deal of lateral stability so we don’t collapse when we perform these actions. How does lateral stability help our efforts in improving people’s knees? Strengthening the lateral chain is often left out of training programs and even therapy programs. This is really interesting to me especially right now as people are regressing how we think about helping issues like knees, going back to trying to isolate muscles of the lower body or thinking extreme mobility of the knee is the solution. It is frustrating because a much more simple and profound solution is thinking about lateral stability.

So why is the lateral chain so profound and yet ignored? Why don’t we just focus on the knee joint? Well, lets revisit our old friend proximal stability, remember proximal stability allow for distal mobility of the joints. If we move our focus to the neighboring hip joint we can actually decrease our knee pain and improve function off the knee joint. The hip has great control over how the knee functions as well as the core musculature.

heels elevated squats

Instead of artificially providing stability like elevating the heels, solving mobility issues and building better stability should be our primary focus.

Remember…The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone.The thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone.The hip bone’s connected to the backbone….Everything is connected. (wondering if any remembers that song)? 

Looking at our anatomy in a real body helps us understand these important concepts. 

When we are talking about the lateral chain we are not talking about individual muscles were are talking about muscles that work together, nothing works in isolation. “The anatomy of the lateral sling consists of the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, tensor fascia latae (TFL), obliques, and iliotibial band (ITB)” (this is the main aspect of the sling but it goes much further). The lateral sling begins at the foot and goes up all the way up to our head. Understanding this means that issues like IT band are probably more of a function of a part of our lateral stability being underdeveloped as well as issues like patellar tracking.

So what are some of the best ways we can focus our attention to strengthening that lateral chain? Glad you asked! 

Take the step up, you can see a few progressions below, this very exercise goes so under utilized often times and the step up is a very powerful drill to improve our lateral stability and strength. 

Step downs are another powerful way to train that lateral chain and below I break down the difference you see often times and show how core tension and create better movement.

Another drill that so often gets over looked when it comes to what is actually going on is carries. Carries require a lot of lateral stability but often times people over look that aspect and don’t pay enough attention to the form and don’t know where to start. Below I break down some drills that will help build up to carries but in their own right work on that lateral stability we have been discussing.

Don’t miss the chance to get Jessica’s new DVRT Rx Gait Course for 30% off this week (less than $40) where she breaks down these concepts and more! You will get not only a great level of knowledge of human movement, but highly effective and easy to use screens, programming, case studies, and so much more. Just use code “gait” HERE for a limited time!