Difference Between Mobility & Flexibility (The Importance of Mobility)
Many think that flexibility and mobility are one and the same, when actually they are very different. Understanding the difference between these two concepts will enable you to gain access to more range of motion, but you will also have OWNERSHIP of a greater range of motion. More “ownership”, means more strength throughout that range, significantly reducing your risk of injury.
What is Flexibility?
Flexibility, aka “Passive Range” suggests you can “stretch” to a certain position with assistance. When you hold a static stretch with the assistance of a limb or support, you are training muscular flexibility – the ability to lengthen tissue passively and without contraction.
Let’s use our wrists as an example; if you were to use one hand to help pull the other hand’s fingers backwards towards your forearm, extending your wrist, this would be an expression of flexibility. Your muscles can achieve this length and “stretch” with the help of your other hand pulling and assisting to get them there BUT the question is, are they able to contract at this range and control this end range without that assistance?
What is Mobility?
Mobility = Flexibility + Strength and Control.
Mobility, aka “Active Range” suggests you’re able to ‘stretch’ to a certain position without assistance. Mobility relates to the joints and their ability to contract through their full range of motion. No assistance needed, just active muscle contraction and control.
In the example above of our wrists, we used our other hand to extend our wrist back as much as possible, whereas mobility requires us to contract the muscles that achieve the movement of wrist extension. We simply try to extend our wrist by contracting the front side of our forearm, our wrist extensors.
You’ll notice there may be quite a discrepancy when comparing your wrist flexibility vs mobility. Many of you would be able to pull your wrist right back beyond 90 degrees and yet when you don’t use your hand to assist you and just rely on your wrist extensors, your hand/wrist gets nowhere near a 90 degree angle!
NOTE THIS DIFFERENCE IN RANGE BETWEEN THE TWO – IT’S IMPORTANT!
This difference in range is all the room for injury…. Because you can access a wider range than your muscles are capable of contracting within and controlling.
If your muscles can’t contract and control that range, you don’t have ownership of that range and are therefore at a higher risk of injury! The greater the gap between your passive range and active range, the greater your risk of injury. The more flexible you are without strength throughout those ranges, the more prone to injury you will be.
The more mobile you are, the more strength and control you have within movement. It’s simple.
To gain more mobility, you will need to improve your flexibility first. Flexibility or “passive stretching” will open up the range you’re seeking to access and then muscular contraction within that newly attained range will solidify it.
Take away point:
- Flexibility = passive range, no strength and control
- Mobility = active range, strength and control
- Mobility = flexibility + strength and control
Sit still – get stiff – jeopardise movement. We need to move more for our body to adapt to allow for greater freedom of movement. Remember, motion is lotion!
One of the best ways to improve your mobility is through weight training. Provided you seek out well certified coaches of movement, with the progressions necessary for you, weight training can help to open up a whole new world of movement. Muscle fibres generate tension and our muscles shorten and lengthen to create movement. The trick to mobility is to train our muscles to contract when they’re in their lengthened range. You can do this with your body weight, but to reap substantial benefits additional weight loads (i.e., weight training) are necessary. Weight training is such a useful tool to boost your mobility because it creates a type of stress on the body that coaches muscle tissue to be strong through different planes of movement, across different ranges and under varying loads.
Take away point:
- Passively stretch the muscle to acquire new range, then actively contract the lengthened muscle to solidify that new range.
- Weight training provides additional loads that can further help your mobility.
When it comes to controlling movement and limiting your risk of injury, it’s important to train to be mobile, not just flexible. The greater the discrepancy between your flexibility and your mobility, the more room for error. You can improve your strength and mobility with a combination of passive and active stretching, as well as resistance training. Get to it!