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Most people use terms flexibility and mobility interchangeably but actually it’s not the same thing. You can be super flexible but have a hard time performing basic movements and day-to-day tasks.
In order to understand what is the difference between flexibility and mobility, it’s important to understand what these terms actually mean.
Flexibility vs. Mobility
Flexibility is defined as the ability of a muscle or muscle groups to lengthen passively through a range of motion. In other words, flexibility is the ability of a muscle to temporarily stretch when needed. It’s how far you can fold, bend, or reach as your muscles stretch to their maximum length. This is a passive movement usually like bending over to touch your toes.
On the other hand, mobility is the ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion. Is a wide term for the many elements that contribute to movement with full range of motion, including restricted muscle tissue, joints, joint capsules, motor control, and your soft tissue. Essentially, it is the ability to generate force through your whole range of motion – even at the edge of your flexibility.
For instance, if you think about your shoulder joint, which is shaped like a ball-and-socket, it’s designed so that you can move your arm forward, backward, side-to-side and in circles. If it can move like it should, the joint has healthy mobility. If, however, you can’t move in all of those directions that’s a lack of mobility.
So, flexibility is the ability of a muscle to stretch. Mobility is the ability of a joint to move.
What Determines Mobility
There is a misconception that lack of mobility is only due to muscular flexibility limitations. That’s because muscle flexibility is only one of many factors in how a given joint moves. The primary determiner of how a given joint moves is its structure – the shape of its bones, how they meet and how the joint’s ligaments and tendons connect to those bones.
Besides that, many additional structures define how good a person’s mobility is. The range of motion will be influenced by the mobility of the soft tissues that surround the joint. These soft tissues include muscles, ligaments, tendons, joint capsules, and skin. And (even above all) mobility takes into account the component of motor control within the nervous system.
If you are trying to stretch a muscle over a joint that has a mobility restriction you are going to get nowhere fast. The muscle will never be able to lengthen to its full extent as the joint won’t allow it to move far enough. On the other hand, inadequate flexibility will have a negative effect on the body in 2 following ways:
1. Joints require movement through a full range of motion to maintain the health of cartilage and other structures within the joint with increased blood supply and nutrients to joint structures with an increased quantity of synovial joint fluid. This effect can be particularly noticeable in weight-bearing joints such as the hips and knees.
2. Muscles that are inflexible tire more quickly, causing opposing muscle groups to work harder. Muscle fatigue can lead to muscular injuries and the inability of the muscles to protect joints from more severe injuries. For example, the hamstrings play a role in stabilizing the knee.
Muscles can have good flexibility but be overactive (hypertonic) because they are trying to make up for a lack of stability elsewhere. Muscles that cross multiple joints are muscles that tend to move us. Stabilizing muscles tend to cross only one joint. When the stabilizers are not doing their job well – or a person’s posture does not allow them to do their job – mover muscles try to stabilize. But because they cross multiple joints, they end up limiting joint mobility.
Stretching And Flexibility
Training for mobility vs flexibility also has different approaches and limitations. Flexibility techniques, such as those you’ll find in yoga, focus on stretching the soft tissue of your body that is pliable enough to stretch. However, if you are like most people and have not spent your entire life in movement (and even if you have) much of this soft tissue will have formed itself into knots, AKA restricted muscle.
This restricted muscle cannot be “released” by mere stretching or flexibility work. You have to do something in order to release this restricted muscle and get the knots out of your muscles.
How to Get More Mobility
This is where mobility comes in. When you understand the link between flexibility and mobility, it becomes clear that stretching exercises are one part of the mobility equation. To improve mobility, it’s important also to train the body’s stabilizing muscles (such as those of the core), perform exercises that take your joints through a full range of motion and consciously work to improve your posture.
If you are not utilizing mobility techniques in addition to flexibility-focused exercises, you are depriving yourself of a practice that could dramatically improve your range of motion, your overall strength, and so much more. These techniques help your mobility by:
- Activating dormant muscles
- Improving motor control through developing muscle awareness
- Releasing trapped or restricted muscle tissue which can then be utilized by the body to stretch deeper or exhibit strength
Mobility techniques can also help to:
- Reduce your risk of injury
- Correct muscle imbalances caused by muscle tightness
- Decrease pain in your joints by releasing muscle knots in muscles attached to joints
- Release tension in your body caused by stress.
In the following articles, I’ll be talking about mobility exercises for full body and specific body parts.
And when it comes to stretching, there are the following articles, so far, you might be interested in:
Thank you for reading this article. If you have any question, or want to leave a comment – impression, suggestion, your thoughts, experience… please do so in the comment section below, and I’ll be happy to help you out.