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Mobility Vs Flexibility: Why Do They Matter?

Here at Resilient Fitness (RF), we put a lot of emphasis on function. We want each of our members to train their strength both in and out of the gym; after all, one of the best rewards of strength training is an improved quality of life. But, as we’ve talked about before, strength is just one element of fitness. Another big element that we emphasize is mobility and flexibility. But what do those words truly mean? And how do they relate to function? 


Mobility is a word we use often at RF, but it’s important to note that mobility is different from flexibility and, though they can and often are related to one another, they are not terms that can be used interchangeably. Flexibility is the ability to lengthen a soft tissue, including muscles and/or tendons and ligaments.  Mobility, on the other

hand, is the ability to move the joint and accompanying muscles through a full range of motion (ROM).  So, flexibility is needed in order to have good mobility, and good mobility requires flexibility in order to move the joints through their full ROM.  


While mobility can (and often does) include flexibility, there is more physiological involvement, including joint and muscle stability, muscle strength, proper joint alignment and muscle symmetry.  It is not enough to just be flexible; if the muscles are flexible but have no strength to move the joint through its full ROM, then the athlete will still have poor mobility.  Part of staying mobile is including strength training in addition to flexibility training to keep the muscles and joints healthy.  Moreover, mobility is critical not only in athletics but in maintaining an overall good quality of life. For example, let’s say a person has poor mobility in their back and hips and therefore has trouble getting in and out of chairs.  As a result, the person has changed the way they position their body as they sit down and stand up, but that action in turn changes the way the person is sitting in general.  Now they are putting more weight on their left side when they sit and primarily use their arms and upper body to help them stand up.  Over time, this can lead to muscle imbalances and stiffness in not only the hips and back, but also in the surrounding joints and muscle groups.  This, in turn, can result in changed posture, changed walking patterns, and changed movement patterns that are not optimal. 


At RF, we aim to promote functional mobility, meaning we program and teach movements that include a blend of different joints working together to stabilize, support, strengthen, and move the body so members can function in daily life.  Without diving too deeply into anatomy, it’s important to note that there are different types of joints in the body and each type is designed to move a certain amount.  Some joints do not move at all, such as the joints in the skull, while some joints are freely movable, such as the shoulder or hip joints.  Oftentimes, to move the body from place to place, more than one joint must move simultaneously. For example, during walking, you are moving your knee, ankle, and hip joints on the lower leg to cause movement.  However, at other times, we may ask members to do a movement that requires them to keep one joint still while moving another, such as during a bicep curl when the shoulder joint stays stationary but the elbow joint bends.  Being able to control moveable joints by stabilizing them, strengthening them, and supporting them is a critical part of mobility. 


While we’ve said mobility and flexibility are not the same thing, both are equally important for overall movement and quality of life.  At RF, almost all of our members are busy people and it can be hard for busy people to carve out big chunks of time for mobility and flexibility training. I already barely make it to classes, members might say. How am I supposed to add more training time? Don’t worry, we got you! Here’s a few ideas for how to start small:


  • Come 10 minutes early or stay an extra few minutes after classes to stretch and take inventory of the body (What’s sore? What’s tight? What patterns feel good? Which ones need work?) 


  • Sit on the edge of your bed for a few minutes before you get up for the day and stretch. Do the same thing before bed. 


  • Add stretches and movements to “idle” time throughout the day (stretch your hamstrings or shoulders while you’re sitting down and watching TV, stretch your calves and ankles while you’re brushing your teeth, etc)


Remember, some is always better than none!  There is nothing wrong with starting with 5 minutes a few times a week and then continuing to build from there.  We are also available to meet with members who may want a customized mobility plan or more ideas for how to incorporate mobility and flexibility into their daily lives. Lastly, keep an eye out for announcements about upcoming opportunities for mobility and flexibility training in 2024.  As always, it’s our goal to make sure our members stay strong for life! 


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