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Flexibility vs. Mobility: They Are Different and What You Should Know

The words flexibility and mobility often get confused or are used interchangeably. It's important to understand the difference so you can incorporate them into a rehabilitation or fitness routine properly.

Mobility is often neglected or misunderstood. It's plastered all over social media sites, with fitness gurus and physiotherapist telling us it's important, but what is mobility and how does it differ from flexibility?

What is Flexibility?

The true definition of flexibility is the ability for a muscle to be lengthened.

Basically, how far a muscle can stretch. Think of it like an elastic band. If you pull the ends apart it stretches. It's flexible. If it doesn't stretch, it's inflexible and could even snap. Muscles act similarly. Over stretched and whoops, now we have a muscle strain.

There is also another component to flexibility, and that is the joint capsule. Every moveable joint has a surrounding capsule, almost like a layer of Saran Wrap. If the joint capsule is too tight it will restrict range of motion. Doesn't matter how stretchy your muscles are, if the joint capsule is restricted, the joint

won't move through intended range.

Common flexibility exercises would include things like hamstring or calf stretches, where you assume a position, put a muscle on stretch, and hold for 10-30 seconds. The goal of these sustained positions is to created more muscle length.

What is Mobility?

Mobility is a joints ability to control movement through a full range of motion. Mobility is flexibility's older sibling, you need to be flexible in order to be mobile. You also need other attributes like:

  • Muscle and tissues ability to lengthen

  • The joints ability to move through full range of movement

  • The nervous systems ability to relax to allow movement

  • The neuromuscular systems ability to control movement through full range

A mobility exercise must have all the above components. Common exercises would be a yoga flows, where you are moving, stretching, and controlling the movement at the same time.

Aren't Both Mobility and Flexibility Important?

Of course! The problem comes when you only focus on flexibility. It's okay to be flexible and have great tissue length but can you control it? If not, it's not functional and hyper-flexibility can lead to injury as well.

When you have good mobility, you are able to perform positions and patterns to an optimal level.

Take a squat for example. You may have great hamstring length when you stretch, but if your hip joint capsules are tight or have you have poor strength, the position will be restricted or performed with poor technique.

To keep your body performing at its peak level, it's best to incorporate both mobility and flexibility into a warm up and/or recovery routine. You could include things like:

Myofascial Techniques are various techniques that help release muscle tension and trigger points (taught bands of muscle). They are can be included before or after activity. Common MFR Techniques include foam rolling, massage gun, or trigger point release with a ball or your thumbs.

Static Stretches are slow and controlled stretches held for 10-30 seconds and are perfect exercises to include after activity. Static stretches focus on flexibility, and can decrease musculotendinous stiffness.

Mobility Drills are exercises that focus on training your range of motion around a joint. They actively contract and relax muscles through a joints full range of motion. Some mobility exercises may isolate one specific joint, while others are more complex and incorporate multi-joint movement patterns.

Technique Specific Exercises think of these exercises like "priming exercises", the focus on muscle groups and control of specific movements that you may be struggling with, prior to doing heavy lifts or more compound movement patterns. An example of this would be isolated rotator cuff exercises prior to doing a heavy overhead press. You are warming up the rotator cuff and focusing on good activation prior to loading it with heavy weight.

If you'd like to learn more about mobility exercises or want to incorporate them into a fitness or rehab plan, book an appointment with any of our knowledgeable physiotherapists today! You can call our clinic at 604-553-1203 or book online by clicking here.


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