Flexibility and mobility are some of the fitness jargon making a comeback as of late. The resurgence of their popularity is evident in the rising popularity of certain pieces of equipment. In particular, foam rollers, bands, and "mobility" workouts abound in many commercial gyms in the United States and worldwide.
Like anything regaining a foothold on the health and fitness industry today, these concepts are as old as time. There is a reason your gym coaches or your PE teachers give you flak for failing to "warm-up" before your gym class. Also, the physiological concept behind the warm-up may give you a clue of the term's etymology, as you will see later on.
There is also a good reason behind your favorite athletes performing static stretching. You must have stretched your hamstrings at some point during your CrossFit class or BJJ open mat.
The "why" behind flexibility and mobility have been repeated countless times. While many know the importance of both, the often merging of the two concepts clearly indicates how misunderstood they are.
Many of us might have an insufficient understanding of flexibility and mobility. We either use the two terms interchangeably or fail to establish the link between the two — like the health of our
muscles and joints and how it carries over to benefits like having a lower risk of injury.
This article will discuss flexibility, mobility, their differences, and why you need both for movement and strength.
Mobility vs Flexibility
Flexibility and mobility are often confused to mean the same thing. This is hardly true.
Indeed, you can use both terms when talking about movement. And the differences might seem few like the differences between Coke and Pepsi. However, you can have too much of one
without the other if you continue to conflate them. So what is the difference between mobility and flexibility?
Flexibility is the ability of your muscles and joints to lengthen and move through a range of motions without feeling pain or restriction. Your muscles are not lengthened by default. Rather, they need to be stretched to counter the instances in which they contract.
In other words, you need to make your muscles longer so that they can move in an ideal range of motion. Here is why.
Every day, you perform hundreds of movements. These movements involve the shortening and lengthening of your skeletal muscles.
Your skeletal muscles are the groups of muscles that are connected to your bones. These include your biceps along your humerus and your hamstrings that you can locate behind your femur.
As you pick things up, your biceps shorten upon contraction. The same thing happens to your hamstrings when you sit for hours. The shortening of the skeletal muscles shows their ability to contract. While this is beneficial in many ways, it can lead to stiffness. And stiffness has
been linked to a higher risk for injury in both trained and untrained individuals.
Injury is a common occurence that you might notice from time to time. The most immediate one is having a limited range of motion when you move.
To stave off the negative effects of stiffness, you have to find some ways to re-lengthen your muscles. You can achieve this in many ways, but the most popular and widely practiced is static stretching.
In static stretching, your muscles are held in the opposite direction of their contraction. For instance, to achieve flexibility of the hip flexors, glute bridges on a stable surface or an
unstable implement like the Unity Trainer can lengthen the hip flexors by contracting the muscles on the opposite side (the gluteal muscles).
In short, if your muscles can move in a range of motion without pain, it means they have the ability to lengthen. The ability of your muscles to lengthen as it moves along a range of motion is what we call "flexibility".
When you "stretch," you attempt to lengthen your muscles by doing any of the following:
● pulling (like in a tricep stretch)
● resting or placing your foot or hand on a surface and twisting or bending away from the
muscle (like when you rest your feet on a wall and bend to stretch your
● bending in the opposite direction (think of how the sun salutation position in yoga acts on the
● adduction (especially when on the floor with your legs apart to stretch the groin)
In all of these positions, the muscle being stretched or lengthened does not exert any force. In fact, there is no effort on your part to move the muscles you are stretching.
So, what is mobility, then?
Mobility is the ability of your muscles and joints to move along a range of motion. In other words, you display mobility by being able to move a joint actively and freely. In mobility, muscles are also involved. However, what distinguishes mobility from flexibility is the involvement of joints.
In short, stretching brings about flexibility, while moving a joint in different ranges of motion displays mobility.
To illustrate mobility, imagine stretching your hamstrings by bending forward until your head reaches your knee. If you can do this, you are, by definition, flexible. But it does not mean that you are mobile. You are mobile when you can perform a Romanian deadlift or a stiff leg deadlift.
Perhaps another example will drive the point home.
You may be able to stretch your hip flexors and groin by holding a front-facing split or a sun salutation pose in yoga.
However, performing a one-legged squat is another story. Controlling the range of motion in a squat requires more than flexibility. It requires control through active joint involvement. This is mobility.
See the difference? The difference lies in the degree of joint involvement and "active" engagement.
What Are the Benefits of Flexibility and Mobility?
Your body's ability to move in different planes and ranges of motion contributes to your health and quality of life. An improved range of movement has a direct carry-over to how much
muscular strength you can develop. You will also be less prone to injuries and muscular imbalances as you grow older.
Here are some of the advantages of being a mobile and flexible person:
Poor posture is the result of too much sitting. Sitting for long periods of time cause certain imbalances in musculature and joint orientation. Two areas contribute to the pathology of kyphotic posture — the shoulders and spine.
When you sit at your desk for a long time as you type on your laptop or computer, your shoulder assumes internal rotation. Internal rotation is not harmful in itself. However, after a while, it forces
your upper back to lean forward. Leaning forward as you sit for long periods of time will create a "hunchback" posture.
Your spine follows suit, causing you to slouch as you sit and stand.
These maladaptations are the result of your hip flexors and pectoral muscles being too stiff. Hence, in addition to assuming proper posture each time, stretching these muscle groups can help you have a more upright posture.
Lower Injury Risk
With better mobility and flexibility comes a reduced risk for injury.
Certain muscle groups that become too tense tend to be more susceptible to tears. For instance, runners tend to develop tight hamstrings due to too much activation of the glutes and nearby muscle groups. Over time, the hamstrings become tight. Unaddressed, the hamstrings eventually tear or become strained.
If you stretch, your muscles can retain their elasticity. Like a rubber band that can bend in many directions, your muscles are less likely to tear in the gym or on game day.
Improved Movement and Performance
Your joint movement and the different kinds of positions your body can assume can improve if you stretch and do mobility training.
After all, muscles surround the joints. Your joints can only move insofar as the surrounding muscles allow them the freedom to. The more flexible and mobile you are, the less likely you will be inhibited by tight or stiff muscles.
By addressing any lack of mobility or flexibility, you can improve your lifting mechanics, stability, and everyday movements.
Flexibility and Mobility Tips
You can increase your athletic and natural mobility by incorporating flexibility and mobility training into your program.
The beautiful thing about training for mobility and flexibility is that they elicit little to no stress on your body. Of course, this depends on how mobile and limber you already are. Nevertheless, the lack of stress means that you can train your mobility and flexibility almost every day, unlike heavy lifting and high-rep callisthenics.
Here are some things you can do to improve the quality of your movement:
Static stretching allows your muscles to lengthen passively. As mentioned earlier, you will need nothing more than the floor and your willingness to bend your muscle in the opposite direction.
Many lifters have avoided static stretches due to the amount of time it can take.
If this is something that you can agree, ditch the tricep stretches and splits.
Instead, grab your Unity Trainer and follow the full-body stretch video below. You will be surprised that it only takes 10 minutes to open up your muscles and joints with one of our guided flexibility flow workouts.
Foam rollers are one of the many tools that have become fashionable lately. There may be a good reason for its popularity because of what it does for your muscles and joints.
For many foam roller users, the tool is useful for myofascial release. Instead of getting an expensive massage from a PT, you can pick up a foam roller and use it on areas with the most
Foam rollers release tension in many areas. Rollers are best for muscles like the upper back (never the lower back), lats, squats, glutes, and hamstrings.
A mobility flow or "dynamic stretching" is a way to prepare your joints and muscles. It permits
circulation to your joints and muscles, making you ready to lift, run, or jump. However, don't think that dynamic stretching or mobility flows are just for movement prep.
Keep in mind that the promotion of blood circulation delivers oxygen and nutrients to tissues. In addition, the capillary pressure created by circulation prevents mobilizing tissue fragments
in the muscles or bloodstream. In other words, getting your blood to flow prevents scar tissue from exhausted muscles from pooling.
The circulatory effect of mobility training makes it an excellent choice for active recovery. They are also great for days when you feel bored.
Mobility vs Flexibility: Which One Is More Important?
Now that you know the differences between the two, you may be wondering which ought to
As with anything related to your health and quality of life, an either-or approach is not advisable. You will need both mobility and flexibility — whether you are an athlete or an ordinary desk jockey.
We subject our joints and muscles to a plethora of daily activities. These activities will require the full range of motion of your joints and muscles. They will also require the full expression and articulation of your joints, which are elements of mobility.
Think of it this way:
Flexibility determines how far your muscles will allow you to move.
Mobility is the result of you being able to move.
Flexibility is the prerequisite.
Mobility is the expression of your flexibility. It is the characteristic that carries over to your strength, coordination, balance, and control over movement.
Even your ease of movement results from things like hip mobility, joint mobility, and ankle mobility. Also, explosive muscle activity cannot occur without the capacity of the muscle to lengthen.
To sum it up, you need both flexibility and mobility for almost any activity. To train both, you can't go wrong with the Unity Trainer, the most modular and ergonomic bodyweight trainer on the market today!