Mobility vs. Flexibility

When you talk about flexibility don’t you mean mobility? If you are flexible you have great mobility - don’t you?

Flexibility and mobility are correlated but are in fact two separate things. Some people are more flexible, and others are more mobile, though both are required for optimal efficiency of movement. It is important to understand the difference so that we are able to discern what it is we need for our own bodies and to ensure upkeep of healthy movement.

Flexibility is the ability to move a joint passively (moved by outside forces) through its range of motion. This is dependent on muscle elasticity. To test out if you are flexible, lie on your back and lift one leg up to the ceiling, then wrap a towel around your foot and draw your leg closer to your chest. This tests the passive movement of your hip joint, but is completely reliant on the available stretch of your hamstrings.

Mobility is the ability of a joint to move actively through its range of motion. This is dependent on how much strength can be applied to control movements. A level of flexibility is required in order to attain mobility, as the muscles surrounding a joint need to be flexible enough to support joint movement. An example of this achieving a deep squat position.

All too often we hear claims like “I’m not flexible enough to move in and out of that shape!” - but the fact of the matter is that most people are adequately flexible. It is a lack of mobility to move through ranges of motion that is often the cause of injury or tension when moving. This lack of mobility comes from a lack of strength.

Essentially, suboptimal mobility means that there is a lack of strength to carry out a movement pattern. That is, your muscles have the range of stretch, but they aren’t strong enough to allow you to safely get into and out of the movement.

Mobility training employs the nervous system to control movements and to facilitate the stretch reflex within our muscles. By working on mobility, we aim to bridge the gap between existing passive joint flexibility and active joint capabilities.

Is it better to be Mobile or Flexible?

Working on improving flexibility alone is not particularly advantageous. Of course, if you have goals like achieving a front split or touching your toes, go right ahead - it’s not a bad starting point! However these achievements are not likely to benefit you in any other areas of life. Mobility work is a one-stop-shop. In working on mobility, it is required to employ both strength and flexibility in order to increase range of motion with a focus on control. Mobility work includes:

  • Myofascial techniques - foam roller, massage ball, soft tissue treatment

  • Focus on eccentric contractions when training - lengthening of muscles under load. Think of a controlled plank lowering to a hold just above the floor

  • Targeted stretches to appropriate muscle groups

  • Dynamic warm up before training - increase muscle temperature and blood flow

Issues with mobility may be related to improper use of stabiliser muscles, a lack of balance or coordination, and as previously mentioned, control deficits. Often we eng

age the larger muscle groups and the smaller stabilisers are neglected, resulting in a weakness.

If you want to keep yourself as healthy as possible through the ages, mobility work is really important.

The first step is to get an idea of where you are at the moment. Our therapists can screen you and assess where you may have or potentially have risk for weakness and provide you with a treatment plan and at home exercises that will contribute to strengthening these muscles.

How does soft tissue work relate to mobility work?

When you are assessed by one of our therapists they will be looking to see which muscles are being overused or underused, which are stretched long, or contracted. Once they know how you are using your body, they will treat the muscles that need to be lengthened, without working on the muscles that are already stretched long. They will also give you some exercises that will assist with your body making adaptations so you strengthen the muscles you’ve been neglecting and reduce the overuse of others.

At muscle medicine we base our work on a holistic view of the body. We aren’t looking at your muscles in isolation, but how they are working with your body.

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