Mobility versus Flexibility: What is the difference? What is more important?

Mobility versus flexibility

Firstly, it is important for us to recognise why flexibility/mobility are important. It is only now as I steadily creep into my 30’s (eeek) and I get stiffer and finder it harder to recover from everything (not just hangovers) that I fully appreciate this. Flexibility/mobility is vitally important because it:

 

  1. Helps reduce our risk of injury – ever had your inflexible/immobile dad or uncle or whoever it may be put their back out lifting an object off the ground. This is most likely to be a result of a lack of mobility.
  2. Improves our quality of life – with an increase in flexibility/mobility we have less stiffness and pain when performing every day movements i.e. gardening, getting on the floor and getting up from the floor after playing with your niece, nephew, child, grandchild etc.
  3. Improves performance – an increase in ROM (range of motion) means less restriction in our movement, less energy needed to perform movements, and therefore a greater ability to generate force and power.

 

Flexibility and mobility are not mutually exclusive but they are not the same…

What is the difference?

 

Mobility

How a joint moves. The ability to perform functional movements i.e. a squat without restriction in their ROM.

Flexibility

The length of a muscle and ROM at a joint.

 

Therefore you could say mobility is an umbrella term that includes a range of components, including flexibility. If we can improve our flexibility we may be able to improve our mobility BUT there are other factors that may limit our mobility also; such as strength, balance, and co-ordination. We stretch to improve flexibility, but to improve our mobility we might stretch and or perform some soft tissue work such as foam rolling (myofascial release) and or some banded joint mobilisation work.

 

An individual may have the flexibility or ROM at their shoulders to hold a good overhead position and the ROM at their ankles and hips to squat but they may still struggle to perform an overhead squat due to a lack of core strength, or shoulder strength, or co-ordination.  Or you may have the flexibility to squat and pick up an object and place it onto a shelf in your house but you can’t because you lack the core strength to do so and when trying to do so you round your back and cause an injury. Or you have the strength to lift the object but lack the flexibility to put your body into a safe position to do it and cause an injury this way.

 

Therefore, I would argue that mobility is more important than flexibility alone. This means that regular exercise incorporating both resistance training (using weights and or body weight) combined with flexibility training is the best way forward for us to live a healthy, happy, bad back and stiffness free life.

What are your thoughts? 

Keep your eye out on my Instagram for posts surrounding this topic. Future blog posts will also explore this in more detail.

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