Neil Dimmock

The Long and the Short of it

Why it’s important to create mobility and stability within your spine

Having recently created and delivered a workshop about spinal mobility, I thought I'd do a little research into what is currently being delivered and what sort of questions are being asked online right now.

It threw up all sorts of questions and opinions ranging from the somewhat reasonable to the downright absurd.

What surprised me was the amount of information based purely on opinion, rather than research. So here are my researched thoughts on creating mobility and stability.
To get in the right mindset, I want you to think of your spinal structure like a cable-stayed bridge. The most famous of these bridges would be the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

The 'tower' would, in this metaphor, represent the spine and the cables would represent the muscular network that resides around the spine (especially those superficial muscles). The role of the muscles (similar to the cables), is to distribute loading forces placed upon the tower.

Unlike the tower, the spine is shaped into a shallow 'S' shape. This enables the spine to dissipate loading forces from above and below. This is what we know as ground reactive forces. Very simply put, we absorb our own bodyweight when walking or performing an activity that involves us being drawn down via gravitational force.

The spine doesn't just keep us upright. It enables both mobility (as we walk and become active) and supportive mechanisms that provide stability.

This fact can be hard to acknowledge. But there are key differences between these two interdependent attributes.


The spine bends (front-to-back, back-to-front and side-to-side) and also rotates. As a result of these movements, the vertebrae segments act like a branch of a tree - they bend to accommodate the stresses placed upon them.

This controlled movement is the result of structures around the spine contracting and relaxing simultaneously, much the same as the cables on a cable-stayed bridge work to distribute load. The muscles that generate this movement are generally the large, more dominant infrastructure of superficial muscles. 

These muscles can also deliver stability, especially during physically stressful environments. However, the nature of these muscles is to create movement.
Active Mermaid is a good example of an exercise that promotes spinal mobility


Those who regularly exercise will understand the benefits of stability. Your spine has a safety mechanism that is designed to distribute the forces placed upon it known as a collective of muscles: the core.

An example of core stabilisation within a functional practise would be the loads placed onto the body during a squat-based exercise. Or, to those who don't regularly exercise, when you sit down without using your hands! When squatting without an additional heavy load, your spine should effectively maintain its natural shape.

There are many factors that will provoke the spine to lose its shape. However, with the stability of the spine through the core muscles, the workload can be distributed to the hips. The hips have the right hardware to turn a downward force (descent, sitting) into an upward force (ascent, standing).

These muscles do have the ability to create movement, as part of the greater muscle synergies. However, the nature of these muscles is to provide a network of support.

Overloading the globals, under working the locals

Over time, we shape our body to adapt to its surroundings. Therefore, if your job requires you to remain seated with your computer screen angled to the side, you will develop a loading (shortening) within one of your torso and an unloading (lengthening) on the other.

Over time this creates a dominance that is hard to reverse, as your brain becomes hard wired to think that this is the norm and structures its programme around a faulty equilibrium. The deeper problem appears when those muscles that help provide the safety mechanism become longer than their resting length due to the global (bigger muscles) problem.

Exercise with the goal to prepare for everyday life

I guess that I've given you a clue to answer the following question - so what's best, mobility or stability? The answer is - both. One cannot work without the other. We need to be stable and mobile. Therefore, your regimen should reflect this, as does life.

If you found something within my blog that was useful, please let me know or share it with someone that it may also benefit. Simply use the share buttons below, or submit your email to keep in touch.
Thank you!