Do you know that being mobile doesn’t always mean being flexible? Many use “flexibility” and “mobility” interchangeably, but understanding the difference is key to achieving your wellness goals.
In short, mobility exercises enhance your movement and can prevent injuries, while flexibility exercises increase your range of motion and reduce muscle soreness. Both activities are valuable additions to your physical fitness routine. Let’s dive a little deeper.
While flexibility and mobility sound similar, they are different in terms of movement. Flexibility refers to the ability of a muscle to lengthen during movement. It is passive, and stretching is one of the best ways to determine flexibility. Your body type and genetics also influence how flexible you are. When you think of flexibility, think about when you try to touch your toes.
Mobility, on the other hand, is the ability to control movements through an entire range of motion. Mobility does require flexibility, but to be mobile, you must also have healthy joints, a relaxed nervous system, and neuromuscular control over your movements. For example, to have full mobility squatting, your hips and knees have to bend at the proper angles, and your core must work with your knee and hips to control your trunk position. If one of these links is not mobile, then you have an increased risk of injury because our body will naturally protect itself if a joint starts to move into a range that it is unable to control.
Passive and static stretching are examples of tools used on muscles to achieve increased flexibility. Passive stretching involves someone else or another force stretching the muscle for you, while static stretching is when you stretch the muscle yourself. Consistent static stretching can often improve flexibility. Additionally, recent research has concluded that foam rolling increases muscle flexibility. So, aim to foam roll and static stretch regularly to increase flexibility.
To increase mobility, incorporate specific movement drills into your routine. Adding dynamic warm-ups to your regular fitness routine is an excellent starting point. These movements, such as hip swings, shoulder circles, cat-cow, and the prying squat, take your joints through their full range of motion and prepare them for exercise.
Side-lying Thoracic Rotation: Begin by lying on your side with your knees bent, your bottom hand holding your knees, and your top hand extended straight forward. Lift your top arm straight up and over to the floor on your other side. Hold, then relax and repeat. Ensure that you keep your knees together and only rotate your upper back and upper arm. Your hips should stay facing forward.
Hook-lying Lumbar Rotation: Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet resting on the floor. Keeping your back flat, slowly rotate your knees slightly toward one side, and then back to the other side. Ensure that your back and shoulders stay flat on the floor.
While the terms “mobility” and “flexibility” may often be used interchangeably, it’s clear that they represent distinct components of your overall well-being. Incorporating both mobility and flexibility exercises into your fitness regimen can dramatically improve your physical health. Remember, mobility exercises boost your movement quality and reduce the risk of injuries, while flexibility exercises expand your range of motion and alleviate muscle soreness. By understanding these differences, you can craft a well-rounded approach to achieving your wellness goals. So, whether you’re striving for greater agility or aiming to touch your toes with ease, your path to a healthier you begins with a clear understanding of the roles that mobility and flexibility play in your fitness journey.
Fitness Director, PFC