What is the Distinction Between Flexibility and Mobility (and Why Ought to You Care)?

man stretching shoulders by reaching behind his back

Picture: baranq (Shutterstock)

Flexibility was a easy idea to grasp: if you are able to do the splits or contact your palms behind your shoulder blades, you’re versatile. And if you happen to’re not versatile, you need to do some stretches. However in recent times, the time period mobility has change into extra fashionable, and it doesn’t imply precisely the identical factor.

Mobility work includes greater than stretching. You would possibly use a foam curler, or do workouts that construct energy similtaneously they provide you a higher range-of-motion in your joints. You would possibly do extra dynamic stretches than static ones if you happen to’re working in your mobility. And that’s as a result of flexibility is a part of mobility, however it’s not the identical factor.

Consultants’ definitions differ barely, however the consensus appears to be this:

Flexibility is how far you may transfer a joint with out damage. A passive stretch, akin to attempting to the touch your toes whereas sitting along with your legs on the ground, will take a look at the bounds of your flexibility, particularly how a lot your hamstrings can passively lengthen. It’s roughly equal to your passive vary of movement.

Mobility, against this, is how far you can transfer a joint. Think about a dancer who’s standing up, and lifts her straight leg off the bottom in entrance of her. If she will be able to convey her foot excessive up off the bottom, she’s bought nice mobility. However there’s extra occurring than simply hamstring flexibility: She additionally has the energy, stability, and talent to permit her leg to tackle that place.

Why mobility issues

Most issues in life require mobility, not simply flexibility. Whether or not you’re squatting with a barbell, or squatting to choose up a toddler, good mobility means you may bend your ankles, knees, and hips sufficient to maintain your toes regular on the bottom whereas holding the burden (the barbell or toddler) securely.

Folks with tight calf muscle mass typically wrestle to squat to an appropriate depth, and one step towards squatting higher is getting extra flexibility in your calves to enhance the vary of movement that your ankles can transfer by. However there’s extra occurring than simply flexibility. A number of different issues that may have an effect on your mobility:

  • The construction of your joints. For instance, some people’s hip sockets are more toward the front of their pelvis, some more toward the side. The precise place of muscle mass and their attachment factors will not be at all times the identical from individual to individual. Your physique’s construction determines the vary of movement that’s attainable, even earlier than contemplating flexibility.
  • Stability. Generally a muscle must contract to stabilize a joint, and because of this, it may’t chill out an excessive amount of whereas nonetheless conserving your physique secure and beneath management. Though we typically consider energy and mobility as opposites, getting stronger can typically assist mobility.
  • Extra energy. Generally we may not be robust sufficient to maneuver our physique right into a sure place. The dancer in our earlier instance can’t hit that place with solely flexibility; she additionally has to strengthen her hip flexors to have the ability to raise the burden of her prolonged leg.
  • Whether or not you’re warmed up or not. A heat muscle can stretch farther than a chilly one, so it’s commonplace to really feel stiff at first of the exercise and have higher mobility towards the top.

Tips on how to get higher mobility

Step one in working in your mobility is to find out what actions you could do, and why. Then, search a routine or ask a coach for steps to take to enhance that particular kind of mobility.

For instance, we’ve got some recommendations here for improving your ankle mobility for squats. The primary one isn’t a stretch in any respect; it’s a tip to make use of heeled footwear or plates. Though that technically doesn’t make your ankle transfer any additional in its vary of movement, it lets you transfer extra beneath management, which successfully will increase the mobility of your hips to permit you to squat deeper. Our different ideas embody stretches and the usage of a foam curler.

Foam rollers are fashionable for mobility as a result of they stretch your muscle mass on the micro-level with out requiring you to carry out a selected, static stretching movement. After foam-rolling the muscle mass that must be extra pliable, you’ll most likely discover which you can transfer them extra simply. For that reason, it’s typically finished as a part of a warmup.

Dynamic stretches can even assist with mobility, and so they work properly as a part of a warmup. As a substitute of sitting down and forcing a muscle right into a stretched place, you’re utilizing your physique to maneuver actively by a spread of movement. Controlled articular rotations, or CARs, are one kind of dynamic stretch that has you progress a joint just like the shoulder slowly by its vary of movement. As you progress your arm in greater and greater circles, you’re warming up the muscle mass concerned, and dealing on energy and adaptability on the identical time.

Static stretches have a spot in a mobility routine, too. Though flexibility is just one a part of mobility, it’s an essential half! Chances are you’ll or might not want static stretches on your mobility targets, however incorporating them could be an efficient method to construct your muscle mass’ means to elongate.


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