The Difference Between Mobility and Flexibility
It is common for athletes to not understand the difference between mobility and flexibility. Most people will use the two interchangeably, however there is a big difference that you need to know.
Joints and Muscles
Before going over mobility and flexibility, first let me explain what muscles and joints are, and what they do.
Joints are when two or more bones come together. Some examples are found at the shoulder, hips, knees, elbows and wrists. Muscles are what help the bones move, each muscle is attached to a bone by connective tissue. When we move, muscles activate to make the bone do the action we want. For example, our bicep moves our arm to pick up a glass of water to bring to our lips.
Difference Between Mobility and Flexibility
Flexibility refers to a muscle's ability to stretch temporarily when needed. Think of the muscle like a rubber band, if you can stretch it long, it’s flexible, if it’s stiff, then it’s inflexible.
Mobility is the ability of a joint to move through its intended range of motion. For example the hip joint should be able to move forwards, backwards, sideways and rotate. If you can’t perform all of these movements effectively then you have a mobility issue. Especially in athletics, this can lead to inefficiencies and makes you more prone to injury.
Flexibility is only one factor contributing to mobility, other main factors include: joint structure, age and sex, connective tissue, muscle bulk and activity level.
If you have trouble touching your toes and no amount of stretching your hamstrings seems to make a difference, flexibility is most likely not the issue. The body is a very complex system, most often the reason for a feeling of tightness is actually due to an issue somewhere else in the body. A big cause of tight hamstrings can be caused by your posture. If you have an anterior pelvic tilt (as shown in the image below) then this is most likely the issue.
An anterior pelvic tilt is caused by tight hip flexors/lower back. This causes a pulling on your hamstrings which is actively stretching them all day. This is why in this situation stretching an already overstretched hamstring will do no good.
How to train mobility?
Mobility training is best performed by actively moving your body through different ranges of motion. This is why yoga has been proven to be so beneficial for mobility. Rarely in a yoga class do you stretch statically. Your muscles are always active while you are putting yourself through larger ranges of motion. Incorporate more dynamic stretching movements into your mobility routines and you’ll see much greater results!
Check out my instagram @samjonessportsperformance for videos helping total body mobility!
Baechle, Thomas R. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 3rd ed., Human Kinetics, 2016.
“Here's the Difference Between Flexibility and Mobility – and Why It Matters.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, health.usnews.com/health-news/diet-fitness/fitness/articles/2018-05-29/heres-the-difference-between-flexibility-and-mobility-and-why-it-matters.