So, what is “joint balance?” Well, that’s a good question…
“Joint balance” is kind of a term that I made up, so let me explain!
I’d consider joint balance to be when a joint has proper mobility in all directions as well as a balance of muscular strength to help support it. It’s important because when a joint isn’t moving optimally and/or the muscles surrounding the joint are not balanced (i.e. one is a lot stronger/weaker than the others), it can increase our risk for injury.
Balance around each joint is important to help prepare those tissues for daily or sport activities and to reduce injury risk. When we have the appropriate balance of joint mobility and stability, we have strong and mobile joints.
To train this, we need to consider:
Planes of Movement
There are three planes of movement we want to include in our workouts, which include:
- Transverse plane – think rotational movements
- Frontal plane – think vertical pushing/pulling or side to side movements
- Sagittal plane – think horizontal pushing/pulling
When we consider these movements in planning our workouts, we can help minimize imbalances that may commonly occur with training in only 1 or 2 of these planes.
Think of an average runner that doesn’t cross train, for example. They do a lot of forward/backward movements with running itself (sagittal plane) and incorporate some rotational movements with the arm swing (transverse plane), but neglect side to side movements (frontal plane). This can lead to weakness in some important hip stabilizer muscles that impact running mechanics and impact not only the hip, but also the back, knee, and ankles.
Joint Range of Motion
Consider the joint’s full range of motion and what range the individual has access to is important when looking at balance.
1. The range of motion of the specific joint
You want to have access to the full, anatomical range of motion of the joint in all planes to improve balance and decrease injury risk.
2. The exercise itself
Is the individual able to access the full range of motion required by the exercise at all joints involved? This doesn’t necessarily mean compensating form to perform the full range of motion of the exercise, but using the full range of motion accessible to that person at that time to help build strength throughout the available range.
They would then work to improve the range of motion with other, more specific exercises targeting the areas where they’re more limited.
For example, when looking at an ass to grass (A2G) squat, a significant amount of ankle, knee, hip, and mid back motion is required.
If even one of these joints is limited, it can impact the depth of the squat one can perform with proper form. Utilizing the current range of motion with proper form, we can perform a modified range squat, then do specific exercises to target the joint where the limitation is occurring.
It may also be beneficial to consider active vs. passive motion. This will help determine if more strength at end range is required (if passive motion is more significantly limited than active) or if more passive range is also required (if active motion equals passive motion).
Rule of thumb is that you want to have as much active motion as you do passive motion, or at least as close as possible.
When mobility training, you can also consider the different planes of movement to determine where the joint is more/less restricted.
With this, you have to consider joint anatomy. So for example, the shoulder is a ball and socket joint and therefore has more motion in more planes as compared to the knee, which is a hinge joint. So depending on the joint, it may or may not be designed to move in all the planes!
Balance of Muscle Groups
Taking the example earlier of a runner, the side hip muscles (hip abductors) may become weaker due to lack of training the side to side motions.
In this example, the hip flexors (muscles that bring the knee to the chest) and hip extensors (muscles that bring the leg backward) may be strong, where hip abductors (muscles that bring the leg out to the side) and hip adductors (muscles that bring the leg back to midline) may be weak. Hip rotators may also be weak due to lack of training the hip rotation movements.
Focusing on balancing muscle groups helps keep strength balanced across a joint, improves performance, and reduces injury risk at that joint and even joints above and below.
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Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.