Prioritise Mobility over Flexibility
The terms flexibility and mobility are often used interchangeably. The distinction between them, however, is crucial for maintaining your joint health and ability to move well long term.
Let’s start by talking about flexibility. Flexibility is determined by the length of a muscle. If our muscles are long then we can get into a range of motion with assistance. Imagine doing the splits on the floor. You use your body weight lower you down into the splits. Another way to talk about flexibility is the passive range of motion. When we refer to stretching people often mention surrendering into the posture. This is not the only way to achieve flexibility. Rather it is just flexibility without mobility.
Mobility defines our ability to move well. As we compared flexibility to our passive range of motion, mobility is our active range of motion. While flexibility is the length of the muscle, mobility is the range of motion of a joint.
A Popular formula we have seen to discuss mobility is flexibility + strength = mobility. This is true but simplistic. If we think of mobility as our ability to move easily, efficiently and freely then we need more than strength and flexibility. We need coordination, balance, agility and more. What is correct about this formula is that flexibility is that mobility requires strength and flexibility. The joints, muscles and other tissues also need to be free from any impingements or weakness and therefore can move into their full range of motion.
Let’s come back to the example of the splits. Mobility includes the ability to bring your legs into the splits without the use weight to bring you into position. For example kicking, jumping or holding your legs in the splits. This way creates greater control over the whole body.
Compensation in other areas of the body
Flexibility on its own can be problematic if the muscles do not have enough strength to support the joints and other tissues when moving into end ranges of motion. On the other hand, if we practice strength without flexibility it can force other areas of the body to compensate to achieve a range of motion and can lead to damage to joints, ligaments and soft tissue.
For example, if you were to practice a bridge without enough shoulder mobility this could cause stress on the lower back such as in the first photo. In the second picture, we see the shoulders are open and the lower back is free from pinching in the lower back. The upper back is performing more of the extension. This is much safer for the lower back.
A good place to start mobility training to focus on areas that are tight or weak. It can be easy to want to practice what we are already good at but focusing on our weaknesses is what the body needs most. If we don’t we run the risk of compensation in other areas of the body which can lead to damage. For example, take wheel posture. If someone were to perform wheel who has very tight shoulders they would compensate by putting pressure on their low back to maintain the posture. This might not cause any issues at first but eventually, this could lead to problem’s in the spine due to the lack of mobility in the shoulders. There are many exercises you could perform to improve mobility depending on the areas of your body that needs work. Think about finding ways to incorporate flexibility with strength training at the same time while also exploring your end range of motion.
See our online schedule for Functional Movement Classes or Movement 101 where we will explore mobility, conditioning and movement
To learn more about mobility, See the work of Dr. Andreo Spina. Click here to listen to an interview with him on mobility, movement control.