Sarah and Martin Moesgaard
Mobility vs. Flexibility
Mobility, Flexibility, Range of Motion... are these all interchangeable terms? Not exactly... Read on for a discussion of the differences between these terms and why it matters.
Defining Mobility and Flexibility
We've already posted full articles on our definitions of Flexibility and Mobility, so you can find those if you want the fuller picture. Here are the basics:
Flexibility and Range of Motion we consider to be the same thing: two terms, same meaning:
Flexibility is a joint's ability to move to the end of its normal range.
*We had a super sweet graphic and a long break down of the 4 Expressions of Flexibility in our article, Flexibility: Defined, so, visual learners, go back and see that article.
And, as we mentioned back in our article, Mobility: Defined, our working definition of Mobility is...
Mobility is the place where Flexibility, Coordination, and Strength intersect. The ability to move with ease and control.
*We also had a nice graphic on mobility, so go back and see that article if you are, like me, a purely visual learner, or just want to read more about our definition of Mobility and how we arrived at it.
Mobility Vs. Flexibility
So how do these two terms work together? You know we love a good diagram, and this one is simple....
Flexibility is one aspect of Mobility. When we discuss Mobility we are discussing Flexibility AND the Strength to control it AND the Coordination to organize it.
A joint with a huge range of motion (read: very flexible) can be unstable and, possibly, painful. (Just ask any woman who has experienced the effects of the hormone relaxin in pregnancy and had major sciatic pain from all that pelvic flexibility!)
But even if there is no pain present, Flexibility without the Strength to control it or the Coordination to organize it, is Flexibility that is in accessible. Or, said another way:
When we partner Strength and Coordination to control and organize with Flexibility training, then we have a higher potential for movement.
For someone who moves purely for the love of movement - who trains for the joy of putting their body through new challenges and putting new demands on their-self - this balancing act is key. Most of us will train what we are good at. Some of us were gifted with open hips and guess what? We LOVE hip openers! Horse Stance, Lunges, Squats... bring 'em on all day! But all of that opening might eventually cause instability in the SI joints. So, for us, pure Flexibility training will probably serve us better when partnered with some Strength and Coordination training.
Conversely, some movements or skills seem like they demand a lot of strength, but that strength is only useful if the range of motion is accessible. For example, to hold a handstand, we may be tempted to keep training arm, core, and back strength when what is really needed is more openness, or flexibility, in the shoulders and thoracic spine. For this, Flexibility training is appropriate.
We can only strengthen what we can access and coordinate.
Sometimes we hear from clients, "I want to be more flexible. I can't even touch my toes. I want to do some flexibility training." And our response is... OK! If what you REALLY want to do is touch your toes, then, Yes, flexibility training can get you there. But let's talk about the WHY? Why would you want to touch your toes? If the bigger goal is something like, you want to put on your shoes more easily, then we can look at all of the demands of that task, like compressing forward for a few minutes at a time, maybe balancing on one leg long enough to lift the other foot up onto a bench, or crossing one foot over the other knee in a comfortable seated figure 4 position. Now we are talking about balance, core strength, coordination, and fuller range of motion in the hips and knees, and also flexibility in several muscles, like the hamstrings, outer hips, glutes, and upper back. For all of those demands, mobility training is probably going to help you reach the goal more efficiently.
Why does it matter to me?
Why bother with the subtle differences between these terms that seem so interchangeable? When you know the nuances and subtle differences between terms like Mobility and Flexibility, you can better communicate with your trainer, ie. ask for what you really want and communicate your goals clearly. You can also better understand what your trainer is saying to you and why he is including certain types of exercises in your program.
Knowing your terms well can also serve you when working alone. You can search for the most accurate information, and, if you are developing your own training program you will learn how to follow feeds and hashtags that get you the most accurate and effective videos, demos, and articles to help you reach your goals.
At TMP, we are all for efficiency and clarity when it comes to working toward your goals!
For more articles like this, read Coordination: Defined and Strength: Defined. Find them in our catalogue now or, if you don't see one, check back soon...