Understanding the Difference Between Mobility and Flexibility

Most people think that mobility and flexibility are one and the same, when in fact they are two very different concepts; however, they go hand in hand. Understanding the difference between them can help you on your path to become a better golfer, tennis player, pickleball player, or better at performing everyday activities.

Flexibility is defined as the ability of a muscle or muscle groups to lengthen passively through a range of motion. Specifically, flexibility refers to the ability of muscles, ligaments, and tendons to temporarily elongate. When you lack flexibility, and you can’t move through your natural range of motion, pain and injury can occur. Everyday life activities like getting out of bed, bending over to pick something up, or reaching up in a cabinet to grab a cup can become more difficult. Even posture is affected by your flexibility. In fact, poor posture may affect blood flow which can limit the supply of oxygen and nutrients to our joints. Therefore, maintaining flexibility can help you avoid injury and is important for your overall health.

On the other hand, mobility is the ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion. How mobile a joint is takes into account not only how flexible you are but also how well the joint itself moves within the joint capsule. This can be affected by a number of things including motor control of the joint and the surrounding muscles.

Mobility training is based on movement and motor control and should be done before your workout as it is more effective than traditional stretching for preparing your body for exercise or sport. With mobility work, you are focusing on movement, strength, and stability of the joint and the surrounding muscles. If you do not have good motor control (including good strength and stability), your nervous system will limit your motion as a means of keeping you safe from injury. There are other benefits to mobility training as well. This type of work helps prime your muscles and joints for the harder work during your workout or activity, and by doing mobility training prior to your workout instead of traditional stretching, it helps improve your overall strength.

After your workout, you can work on flexibility. Stretching after your workout can help relax tense muscles, reduce strain on your body, and reduce risk of injury. This can also help to improve circulation and decrease delayed onset muscle soreness.

Here’s the bottom line, both mobility and flexibility are important, and you must incorporate exercises to improve both into your workout. Lacking in either can potentially put your body at a high risk of pain, injury, and limited function. When you lack flexibility and mobility, you limit your body’s overall kinematic potential and even more importantly, you may not be able to perform everyday activities without pain or disfunction. The key is to do a little bit every day and you might find that you are moving better with less pain, and you are performing better out on the golf course, the tennis courts, and/ or the pickleball courts.

Shaun Wilson,
Personal Trainer
TPI 2 Fitness Certified, TPI 2 Medical Certified, and TPI 2 Power Certified

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