Mobility Vs. Flexibility – What’s the Difference and Why Does It Matter?

Pittsburgh Fitness Project. Coach Will Stretching. The terms flexibility and mobility are used interchangeably, but they're not quite the same. Mobility vs flexibility, how do they differ?

The terms flexibility and mobility are often used interchangeably, but they’re not quite the same. Mobility vs flexibility, what’s the difference? Why does it matter? Flexibility is defined as “the ability of a muscle to lengthen passively through a range of motion.  Mobility is “the ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion.”

Mobility vs. Flexibility:
Understanding Stretching and Flexibility

Stretching increases flexibility temporarily by essentially convincing your nervous system to access an increased range of motion. Your muscle is granted a bit more motion immediately after you stretch, but it is not permanent. When you practice stretching on a consistent basis, this range becomes more accessible. It doesn’t necessarily mean your muscles are getting “longer, rather you are increasing your tolerance to the stretch over time. Flexibility is an important component of mobility, but it’s just one piece of a larger picture.

Understanding Mobility

Whereas flexibility is the ability of the muscle to tolerate stretch passively, mobility refers to the active range an individual can control. Mobility involves the interaction of muscles, ligaments, joints, and input from the central nervous system. It’s the ability to carry out movements without restriction.

Why is mobility important?

Mobility means having strength and control within your flexibility. This allows you to get in in the safest, most advantageous position for various tasks, like reaching something on a top shelf or squatting down to pick something up.  It is also important for athletic activity by allowing you to move into positions with control and decrease your risk of injury.

Mobility vs Flexibility: How can I improve Both?

1. Perform range of motion exercises regularly

Dynamic stretching is a type of active stretching. This includes movements like arm circles, hip circles, lunges, cat-cows, and thoracic rotations.  This helps to improve mobility because it requires active movement of your joints.  Dynamic stretches are superior for warming up prior to exercise as they help to increase blood flow to the muscles and connective tissue.

Static stretching involves holding a sustained stretch. Research suggests that static stretching does not permanently lengthen the muscle, rather it teaches the nervous system that new ranges of motion are comfortable and not dangerous. This type of stretching is best performed as a cool down after a workout.

2. Practice resistance training several times a week

Strength training focusing on full range of motion is an effective way to improve your mobility AND flexibility.  By strengthening the muscles surrounding your joints, you improve stability and active control, allowing you to move with greater ease!

3. Take breaks from sitting

If your job requires you to sit for extended periods of time, consider setting an alarm every few hours to get up, stretch, walk around and just move your body.

4. Incorporate flexibility and mobility drills into your recovery routine

Rest days are JUST as important as the hard work you put in the gym. Muscles adapt and become stronger when your nervous system has a chance to regenerate. Stretching activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your “rest and digest” functions. It can also help to promote calmness and relaxation.

Mobility vs. Flexibility: Recover After the Drills

Our new Recovery Lounge offers various modalities to help you reset and recover. Ask about our free days pass to try our infrared saunas, compression therapy, massage chairs, and light therapy boxes.

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