You’ve probably heard the words flexibility and mobility used interchangeably, but – while both are important to be limber and agile – they are actually quite different. Whether you want to touch your toes, do the splits, or leap out of bed without any aches and pains, here is everything you need to know about mobility versus flexibility. And how you can improve yours.
Mobility vs flexibility
While mobility refers to how a joint moves, flexibility is the ability of a muscle to lengthen through its full range of motion. Mobility is an umbrella term for the many elements that contribute to a joint’s movement with full range of motion, including restricted muscle tissue, joints, the joint capsules, motor control, AND your soft tissue. Therefore, flexibility is part of a joint’s mobility.
Why they matter
Flexibility will benefit your joints by helping you achieve good mobility. Keeping joints mobile helps to keep them healthy, decreases pain and reduces the risk of injury. Flexibility and mobility allow you to place your body in the safest, most advantageous position for utilising your strength. If you have strength but no mobility, you are working against the pull of your muscles and moving less efficiently through life.
Risks of poor mobility/ flexibility
If you have poor mobility, you are more susceptible to injury. Take a deadlift for example. If you struggle to comfortably reach down to the bar while maintaining good form, you will overload and injure your lower back when you are lifting through that range.
If you have poor flexibility, those muscles will fatigue faster and run the risk of tearing during sport or exercise.
Mobility plays a huge role in improving movement quality and strength. You will be stronger and safer lifting a weight through a range of motion if your body can comfortably achieve that position. You’ll enjoy better athletic performance as your body will be able to perform for longer periods as your muscles can function optimally and do not have to compensate for poor mechanics. Increased flexibility will also improve your sporting performance. You’ll experience increased joint movement, thus decreasing load and risk of injury. With your muscles functioning optimally, you’ll be less likely to fatigue.
How to build mobility & flexibility
Static stretching is good for flexibility as it isolates certain tight muscle groups. Pilates and yoga are great to work on general mobility as they will stretch, strengthen and mobilise your joints. Everyone should incorporate general mobility exercises into their warm up/down routine, eg through deep squats, hip hinging, thoracic extension and rotation.
Other easy ways to improve both include keeping active, foam rolling, massage etc. Foam rolling, spiky balls, and trigger pointing massage tools are all useful aides that will help with soft tissue tightness, but they need to be used in conjunction with general mobility exercises for easier, pain-free movement.
Pete Hunt is a highly skilled physiotherapist with nearly three decades of experience working in sports physiotherapy and private practice. The Director of The Alignment Studio, he has a special interest in musculoskeletal and sports injuries, orthopaedic rehabilitation and postural syndrome. With a caring, communicative approach, Pete uses a combination of joint and soft tissue mobilisation and exercise prescription to treat his clients. He’s also passionate about education for injury prevention and lasting results.