In your quest to achieve your fitness goals, you’ll hear words like endurance, fat loss, and strength. But what matters most when working out are the joints, bones and connective tissues, which must be in good condition for you to be able to perform all those movements. This means that if one joint fails to work properly, you might not be able to work out at all. That’s where flexibility and mobility come in. Most people tend to use them interchangeably but they are totally different. Most exercises involve body movements, and if you can’t bend well enough, there are certain movements that will prove difficult and painful. That’s why it’s important to be able to stretch your muscles and move your joints. So, what’s the difference between flexibility and mobility?
Flexibility refers to the ability of your connective tissues (tendons, ligaments, muscles) to temporarily stretch or lengthen when needed. It’s more like how a rubber stretches when you pull both ends.
Your muscles have elastic components that make it easy to stretch to a certain limit. In other words, flexibility means that your muscles are pliable and stretchy. In the fitness world, flexibility is very important because if your muscles, ligaments, and tendons are restricted due to inflexibility, you can’t achieve your natural range of motion. And this could lead to pain in your joints.
This means that doing your daily activities like using the toilet, bending to get your shoes, reaching for a book from a top shelve and using the stairs can become difficult. Most people are flexible, but those who train are more flexible because they’ve learned to stretch their muscles, ligaments, and tendons to the absolute range of motion.
In a nutshell, mobility is how a joint moves. It is the ability of your joint to actively move through its intended range of motion. Mobility doesn’t only reflect how muscles stretch over a joint, but also how far the joints are able to move within the joint capsule. While flexibility is the ability of a muscle to stretch, mobility is the strength to hold that flexibility. It’s the control over your natural range of motion. A good example is when you’re able to touch your toes while sitting on the ground in a typical forward fold. That’s flexibility. Now try to touch your toes while standing up with one leg raised in the air. That’s mobility. A person with good flexibility may or may not have the balance, strength and muscle coordination to execute the same movement as a person with a good level of mobility.
If you focus on your mobility, you can be able to move without restrictions or pain when strength training or doing your daily activities. For example, if you’re trying a yoga pose and you manage to get into that position, say a yogi-squat, if you can control yourself in that position, your mobility level is great. Being flexible isn’t enough. You need to be actively mobile to prevent injuries from happening.
What’s More Important: Flexibility or Mobility?
Mobility is a wider term that encompasses other components that contribute to movements like flexibility, strength, soft tissue, joints, and joint capsules. If you’re just starting out in a yoga class, your soft tissue is not pliable and will have formed itself into knots. Since your muscles are restricted, a mere stretch cannot help ‘release’ them. It takes more effort in order to get the knots out of your muscles and release the restricted muscles. Mobility and flexibility are all interconnected, and one can’t be used instead of the other.
Benefits of Mobility
- You can activate dormant muscles.
- It helps to release restricted muscle tissue and enables you to stretch deeper.
- Reduces chances of injuries.
- Releases tension in your body caused by stress.
- Reduces joint pains by releasing knots in your muscles.
Common Areas that Need to be Mobile/Flexible
Most people are affected by bad posture while working, and the common areas that suffer the most are the shoulders, neck, lower back, mid back, knees, hips, hamstrings, and calf muscles. To improve your mobility, you need to do dynamic stretching where you directly engage the affected muscle. If you lack enough strength to support a flexible joint, you’ll be more prone to injuries. That’s why mobility training plays a crucial role in your fitness program. However, this doesn’t mean spending a whole hour stretching your muscles in the gym.
You need to identify the muscles and joints that give you trouble when doing certain movements, and then find mobility drills that will address that particular muscle or joint. Foam rolling is effective when it comes to loosening tight muscles, but not quite enough on its own. Flexibility is essential to movement, which lubricates the joints allowing you to increase the range of motion within a joint. You can improve your mobility by practicing a little bit every day.
All images by Pixabay