This week, I was talking to a friend about the Mobility training that I am learning to teach. I explained excitedly about how my understanding of these concepts and tools was taking shape through assessments and skillful multi-faceted work. She responded “But you’ve been teaching this flexibility thing for a while – with yoga.” I clarified that I was talking about MOBILITY and not FLEXIBILITY. She fired back, “but it’s the same thing!”
Well, it’s not.
The two are generally used to describe “bendy” folks who can do acrobatic moves or fold into impossible yoga shapes. A common misconception is that mobility is the same as flexibility. Mobility and flexibility are both essential for establishing and maintaining a healthy performance-ready body. Below are key differentiators and how to improve both mobility and flexibility to achieve a strong capable body that will last for a lifetime.
Flexibility is the ability to lengthen soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments), which passively moves joints in a given range of motion.
It’s when you move into a specific shape with assistance. For example, flexibility is when you face a wall with your hands placed on it and use the wall as support to stretch the backs of your legs. Your outstretched arms and the wall create the force that generates the flexibility. Your muscles aren’t doing the movement, they are passively being moved into another position through external forces.
Why Flexibility is Important
Having adequate flexibility plays an essential role in improving your mobility.
For you to move to a specific range of motion, your muscles must have the capacity to lengthen without strain. This is where flexibility is handy. Whether you’re aiming for a specific skill or performance-based movements, or you just want to be able to move comfortably in your everyday life, flexibility must be regularly trained and implemented in your routine.
How to Improve Flexibility
Holding static, passive stretches is a fantastic way to develop flexibility, but when you do it matters. The best time to train flexibility is after your workout, so your muscles are warm and supple enough for the stretch. You can improve flexibility through yoga, stretching classes or stretch sessions with a trainer. Holding a shape at end range without strain for at least 30 seconds will help to do the trick if done on a consistent basis.
It is possible to stretch the joints and joint tissue and this is not what we want. In fact, over-stretched joints can lead to instability and increased wear and tear over time. Also, keep in mind that there are many instances where improved flexibility is not possible due to poor range of motion and/or motor control issues.
The mobility counterpart of this exercise is when you perform the movement WITHOUT external assistance. Mobility is a broader term that accounts for a full range of motion with active control. This is much more than flexibility of the muscles. Mobility also includes joint stability, overall strength, control, and coordination.
Why Mobility is Important
- Reduces risk of Injury – Being mobile means having more stable joints capable of handling the demands of performing a wider range of motion. It’s about control of your movements through full range of motion.
- Improves quality of movement – With a greater range of motion, you’ll feel your muscles and joints less stiff when performing even the most basic tasks or even just standing comfortably.
- Improves posture – Research shows that a lack of hip, leg, spine and shoulder mobility contributes to poor posture. And poor posture can lead to cognitive declines as well as emotional dysregulation.
- Minimizes aches and pains – There are tons of people enduring avoidable aches and pain through the years just because they don’t have the proper mobility in certain areas. Some research shows that back and shoulder pain can be due to poor mobility.
- Keeps joints strong and healthy – Slow degradation of joint quality starts as early as 30 years old. While we cannot stop this process, we can slow it down through constant use of the joints and training them to improve motor control through the maximum attainable range of motion.
How to Improve Mobility
- Do dynamic warm-ups before exercise – Studies show that passively held stretches prior to workouts reduces performance, Not only will it prime your muscles and joints for the upcoming demands, but you also improve mobility by challenging the range of motion with minimal loading.
- Perform mobility drills – Mobility drills improve overall joint stability, and muscle strength in a wider range of motion. Start slowly so you can increase your range of motion with control without force, which lessens the chance of injury.
- Do exercises through the full range of motion – For example, regular slow and controlled push-ups performed with perfect, full form strengthens not only the targeted muscles but also the shoulder joint range of motion.
Which one should you focus on?
Both factors are important to be able to perform well.
Without mobility, your flexibility is worthless if you can’t stabilize and control your joint motion. This results in less power and inefficient movement patterns, which might lead to compensation faults, injuries and poor performance. Without flexibility, you might not achieve your target mobility as your muscles are unable to lengthen to your desired range of motion.
It’s about creating and maintaining the balance between the two that matters. A little bit done consistently goes a long way. 10 minutes daily might be all you need to regain and maintain both mobility and flexibility.
Free Assessment Offer
Currently, I am training to becoming a certified mobility coach and am fully equipped now to perform assessments and provide recommendations to help athletes function to their satisfaction and fullest potential.
I have been an athlete for more than half of my life and have had my share of injuries. What I have found most helpful is getting the body into more functional alignment before any other modality. The first step in this process is an assessment to see where the deficits lie, then there is prescriptive work to help you move better. This could be done through improving breathing mechanics, joint mobilization and/or soft tissue work – depending on what each individual needs most.
I am giving away free mobility assessments to determine your strengths and weak links. You will walk away from this session better informed about your unique needs and several key tools you can use right now to enhance overall function and performance.
Schedule your free assessment here (we can do this online or in person if you are in the St. Louis metro area)
Please forward this offer on to your friends who could benefit from this service.