In this article we share our working definition of, "Mobility," as it relates to the work we do most often with our clients. If you are wondering, How is Mobility different from Flexibility?, Should I be concerned with Mobility Training?, or What does Mobility Training look like?, we have articles for all of those great questions. Find them in our catalogue soon.
The place where Flexibility, Coordination, and Strength intersect. The ability to move with ease and control.
This is our working definition of Mobility, and the way we think about Mobility Training with our clients. Note: This is not something we were taught, or came up with a long time ago. Rather, it is the way we have come to think about Mobility after working with individuals who move purely for the love of movement and/or who struggle with movement limitations. See the difference? This is the definition our clients have given us by showing up with the same goals, requests and issues over and over. Their issues tend to look like:
Knee pain and/or an inability to squat, kneel, or get down to the floor and back up easily.
An aversion to playing with the kids or grandkids.
Trouble bending down to put on shoes or tie them.
Resistance to taking long walks with a friend or the dog.
Back and neck pain and/or limited capacity in their golf swing, tennis game, or ability to turn and see behind them, for example, when backing out of the driveway.
An inability to climb into the boat after going for a swim, or climb out of the pool after taking a dip.
Trouble reaching overhead to pull things down off of a high shelf or the top of the refrigerator.
Other clients want to work toward a specific skill with high mobility demands, like a back roll, a muscle up, or getting into (and out of!) the splits. Our definition of Mobility allows us to discuss and structure training programs that fit the different needs of our diverse clients.
*Ours is not the only way to think about nor define Mobility - other professionals, like Physical Therapist and Massage Therapists may have slightly different definitions and uses for the same term.
The Break Down
Let's break down our definition and see why we believe each aspect of it is important, and how they relate to each other and to an overall ability to move with ease.
1. Flexibility - Flexibility is a joint's ability to move to the end of its normal range, or how far a joint can flex, extend or rotate; also known as, Range of Motion. The most important word in that sentence is, "normal." What is normal for one person is not necessarily normal for someone else. Depending on body structure, the demands placed on the joint, lived experiences, like injuries and hand dominance, etc. all factor into what a particular joint's normal range is. Even within one body, normal range of motion can be very different from one side to the other.
We have an article coming out soon that will explain in great detail the different ways Flexibility can be expressed and trained, and another article that will focus on the differences between, "Mobility vs. Flexibility," because these two terms tend to get confused. So, for now, we'll just say: Greater flexibility coincides with greater mobility.
2. Coordination - Coordination is the body's ability to organize to complete a given task. Coordination means, among other things, expressing balance, reaction time, proprioception, vision, and elasticity. It means finding the rhythm where one muscle contraction happens in sync, or in sequence, with another so that a task becomes accessible or a movement comes with ease. When coordination is being highly expressed, movements look and feel fluid and effortless.
3. Strength - Strength is the body's ability to produce force. When strength is being highly expressed, a person looks and feels in control and capable of the force demands of the movement.
For a deeper dive into how we use this definition to generate guiding questions and design Mobility Training routines, see our article, "How Can I Improve My Mobility?" which lays out a step by step system for building your own Mobility Training program.
How the parts work together
We can think about Flexibility, Coordination, and Strength as they relate to Mobility by looking at one simple task: Stepping over a baby-gate. Do you know what kind of gate I am talking about? We have one that keeps our kids out of the dog's sleeping area - otherwise, our 2 year old would end up taking naps with the pup most days, much to pup's aggravation!
To step over the baby-gate - which we do because it is much easier than opening and closing the dang gate - requires a pretty high level of Mobility. One needs the Coordination to stand on one leg for a few seconds and the Flexibility in the other hip joint, and Strength in that thigh and hip flexor, to draw that thigh all the way up to the belly. Then, the Strength and Coordination to control the swing of one leg over the gate and transfer weight to it, while doing it all over again with the other leg. Not an easy task, but one we perform several times each day.
This is EXACTLY what we mean by Mobility - simply the Flexibility, Coordination, and Strength to go about our daily tasks, to get through life, with ease and control. We love it when our clients don't have to THINK about Mobility any more because the daily tasks that used to be troublesome, painful, or inaccessible, are no longer problematic.
We are currently working on more articles about Mobility, Flexibility, and Functional Movement. Let us know what articles or topics you'd like to see - what does Mobility mean to you? Does our definition miss something crucial? Find us on social or email us at TrainMovePlayPT@gmail.com.